By: Jas Mitch
(Just a bonus baby llama pic from Cusco)
We arrived in Cusco with nothing booked and one goal in mind… Make it to Machu Picchu… We were conflicted about how to do this however. We knew there was no way to make it onto an Inca Trek as they book out months in advance which left three options: the Salkantay trek, the Lares trek or the Inka Jungle trek. After much deliberation (and the recommendation of some fellow travellers we met in Arequipa) we chose the Inka Jungle trek and within a few days of arriving in Cusco we were off!
Our first day involved many (65) kilometres of mountain biking (something which we are becoming a fan of here in South America) down a mountain called Abra Malaga, outside of Cusco to the village where we would be spending our first night, Santa Maria.
And then an afternoon of white water rafting (something I had never done before but absolutely loved!).
Our group was an interesting mix of youngsters, two Danish girls and a Scottish guy, all taking a gap year before starting university back home, a Canadian guy on a short break before heading back to work, two Argentinian ladies (I don’t know much about these two as they didn’t speak much English and kept to themselves mostly, they seemed nice though) and us.
On our second day we rose early and began a full day of trekking through the Peruvian jungle. It was pretty fantastic scenery and as we wandered along the path we were able to pluck fresh ripe mangoes from the trees that surrounded us. Pretty cool and probably the best mangoes I’ve ever eaten!
(still not sure what this was, but he just hung out on a table at one of our rest stops…)
(Coca leaves for a traditional blessing before walking on the inca trail)
We walked until about 7 or so at night, with a stop for a river crossing and some hot springs along the way - unfortunately this little stop over resulted in us being totally ravaged by sand flies! Evil little things caused my ankle to completely swell up over the next few days, making it pretty sore to walk on. That night we stayed in a small village called Santa Teresa. That night at dinner we joined with another group who would accompany is for the rest of our trek. They were a group of 2 Portuguese guys, 1 Portuguese chick and a Chilean chick as well… And thankfully they were all our age!
The next morning we woke at a more relaxed time and just chilled out in the small town we were staying at whilst some of our group went zip lining. We met up and ate lunch at the Hydrorelectrica before heading out for a relaxing 3 hour hike along the train line that goes to the town of Aguas Calientes, our last point of call before heading to Machu Picchu the following morning. We really enjoyed this lovely town with a stream running through the middle of it and surrounded by beautiful mountains on all sides. It was filled with tourists heading up to, or returning from, Machu Picchu and had an awesome vibe to it. We spent our afternoon wandering around the town, enjoying hot chocolates and having our first hot showers since we left Cusco before joining our group for our last dinner together.
(the train to Aguas Calientes passing us as we walked)
After attempting to get some sleep (which wasn’t much as I was way too excited!) we got up before 4am and were on our way by 4.30am to Machu Picchu! There were two options for getting to the entrance at the top of the mountain, walk or catch a $10 USD bus… We walked… It took us an hour and every time the bus went past I think we all regretted our choice just a smidge. But it was a beautiful walk and we felt just a bit more accomplished when we reached the top.
(One of the many dogs who joined us for the hike up to the Machu Picchu entrance)
Our guide met us at the gates to give us a tour and in we went! It was just as amazing as I had always imagined! We continued for about 30 minutes with the group before we had to leave everyone as we had Wayna Picchu entrance tickets and had to be in by a certain time.
Wayna Picchu is the large mountain that sits behind the Machu Picchu ruins. We were told along our travels to make sure we had tickets to this area and it was the best decision! This hike is difficult and steep but the views both along the way and at the top were absolutely phenomenal! It was a truly amazing experience!
After making it to the top of Wayna Picchu we notice a sign pointing towards a cave and decided to check it out. What we didn’t realise was how far down the path it would be! By the time we made it to the cave, which turned out to be a temple and was pretty cool, we had descended below the level of Machu Picchu and almost back to the lowest point we had started at in the morning! The climb back up was exhausting and we were buggered by the time we reached Machu Picchu again.
After a short break and some refreshments at a cafe just outside the entrance gates we headed back in and explored the actual Machu Picchu ruins, met some fabulous llamas who so kindly posed for photos with us, and took a crazy amount of photos! We loved it!
After over 9 hours of hiking and exploring throughout Machu Picchu we headed back down to Aguas Calientes, making back just in time to grab a very satisfying beer and pizza before jumping on the train back to Cusco.
I have wanted to visit Machu Picchu for as long as I can remember and am so glad to be able to say that it lived up to and totally surpassed every one of my very high expectations.