Date visited: November 2016
Jungle Adventure to Machu Picchu.
Deep in the Peruvian Andes our excitement was tenable. After 3 days on our Jungle adventure trek we had arrived in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, our last stop. 3.30am the alarm started, in honesty I was already awake. Like springs Bianca and I popped out of bed. Bags already packed the night before, clothes ready to slip into. I put my hat on grabbed my walking stick and by 4.00am we were out the door. Today would be the day we finally got to lay our eyes on the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu. Outside in the fresh night air, the Southern Cross and Orion’s Belt shone brightest in a sky, which illuminated our mountainous surroundings.
A locked bridge covers the ‘Urubamba River’ (Quechan for sacred river) where a small line of trekkers was already waiting in darkness. The Urubamba River skirts the base of the mountain, like a castle moat the Urubamba stops eager trekkers getting an even earlier start than everyone else. 5.00am sharp the gates are opened and tickets checked. The hustle begins. It takes the average person 60min to climb from river to ruin entrance. Talking is minimal and panting audible. Uneven, mud covered stone steps, some huge and thigh burning others steep and calf torturing. Bianca set a steady pace and we found a rhythm. All would be worth it at the top!
45min of leg burning horror!
It was 45min exactly when we emerged from the stair path to see the shiny gates of the entrance. Legs wobbly like jelly, enough back sweat to make Africa green again. We looked along the road and people were filing out of vans. Our jaws dropped. There was an easy option! Sleep still in their eyes they joined the same lines. Who are these cheaters we thought. “No they are just less able, we have fought for this, and this will be more special to us.”
Day 1: Adventure Begins
Our first day was a full one. A 3-hour minibus from Cusco drove us up to 4000m above sea level. The air was fresh and hard to breath. We dressed in body armour and mounted some bikes. Down we sped. Following a winding road for three hours. Speeding around bends, the panoramic views whizzing past. At the bottom the van waited. With barely a moment to catch our breath we were back in the van and off again. What a ride, what a rush!
Our adrenaline from the downhill mountain biking was still surging when we swapped bike helmet for boat helmet. White water rafting was our next adventure. After a few instructions we were on our way. “FORWARD” the instructor would call. In horrible unison we drove our paddles in and urged our inflatable boat head first into stage three rapids. “GET DOWN” he would yell, just before water would crash over the top. “FORWARD” the cry would come again… the rapids were unrelenting and powerful, cranking up the adrenaline further still.
That night we dined in our hostel. A local celebration was unfolding in front of us. It was the birthday of young man who had turned 24. Soon we were a part of the celebrations. Live music, beer and salsa dancing. We mixed with the family and their friends. Ultimately the adventure of the day caught up with us. Bed was calling.
Day 2: 21km in 8 hours
After breakfast we hiked. At first along a dirt road littered with mango trees. “Pachamama” the locals call mother nature was providing for our journey. Soon our guide veered down a small dirt path. The path continued to follow the river, the same river he had rafted previously only a new section. Through coca fields and countless more mango trees we kept hiking. In the distance, we could see a mountain. Our guide explained that was where we were heading. It seemed totally outrageous at the time. The track started to twist up the hill side and under the jungle canopy.
After a few hours hiking we reached the ‘Monkey house.’ A small eco-farm where we sampled snake rum, strange beans, nuts and an organic chocolate, flavored with natural honey and stevia which had a rich aroma and was pure deliciousness.
Ceremony for ‘Pachamama’
Onward we pressed, as our guide had foretold we would climb the mountain and climb every step we did! Along narrow paths at the top of sheer cliff faces we trekked, right on the edge, drops of hundreds of meters down to the river below. It was at the top point of the mountain pass where we stopped for a ceremony. We paid tribute and gave thanks to Pachamama for allowing us safe passage and giving us all we need in this world. It was something that at the time was very spiritual and right. Onward we journeyed. This was a long day of hiking. Further along the mountain pass the views only opened up further to new beautiful mountain-scapes. Down around the back of the mountain we descended. Back down to the river level. Along we walked a few more hours. We all knew what was waiting and this spurned us on. Just before sunset after a full day of hiking over 20kms, up and over a mountain, along and through a valley, finally we had made it to our destination. Hot pools seemingly sent from the Gods! Thanks again Pachamama, we rest our weary muscles and floated feeling weightless in the natural hot springs. A feeling I cannot explain sufficiently. Just know that it was the perfect end to an intrepid day.
Day 3: Zip into town
The next morning we zip lined across our favourite river. Harnessed up we were sent down wires at great speeds. Wind in the hair, gliding like a bird over the tree canopy. We zipped back forth and upside down in what was an exhilarating morning. From here we drove to the train station known as ‘Hidroelectrica’. It was the starting point for the next hike further into the jungle and the start of our approach to Machu Picchu. We followed the ‘Urubamba River’ still, only now high above us, on the top of the mountain range we could make out some man made structures. That was it! We followed the river around the base of the mountain for three hours until we reached the town of Aguas Calientes our base for the night and launching platform for our final assault up to Machu Picchu.
Day 4: Final Destination
Once through the entrance gates you get your first sighting of the ruins from above. Not through a screen but in person. That breathtaking moment makes the hard yards, the trek, and the pain up the mountainside all disappear. The sight truly is something spectacular. The Inca people built their city here for a reason. With a 360° backdrop of panoramic views, the most dramatic picturesque mountain peaks I have ever seen. The city built so brilliantly it has stood in place since the 15th century. Machu Picchu evaded the Spanish conquerors and was lost to modern man until 1911. This brilliant piece of extraordinary human history stood just before our very eyes.
We explored hastily at first. Our ticket included access to ‘Huayna Picchu’ the mountain seen immediately behind the ruins in photos. Our access period was from 7-8am and the time was already 6.30. We knew by the time we came down the tourist hoards would have arrived so we used our time and took some photographs of the empty site. We explored the high terraces below the ‘Sun Gate’ entrance before making our way through the site to the entrance of our next challenge.
No pain no gain
As if our legs had not already been put through enough, we had signed up for another hour of climbing near vertical stairs. Along the way we took much needed rests and caught glimpses of what was to come at the top. This unique angle looking over the ruins gave a new perspective. Up we climbed. We reached the top in just over 45min. Somehow the view was even better than the breath taking view we had earlier. The ruins clung to the mountaintops, Machu Picchu Mountain in the distance and the ‘Urubamba River’ crawling through the valley below. We truly felt on top of the world. This is an addition to ‘Machu Picchu’ I wholeheartedly recommend if you can book in advance enough to secure a ticket, then do so. It is a tough climb but hugely rewarding from the top. After descending back to Machu Picchu we were able to take our time. We explored further and were able to simply enjoy the magnificent ruins without worrying too much about the hundreds of other tourists. We had seen it earlier alone and were content to go slowly this time. Our legs wouldn’t allow for much more than that anyway.
Machu Picchu what a surreal and extraordinary place everyone must visit!
Why we chose the Jungle Trek…
As much as the next average-Joe, Bianca and I love the outdoors. Being in natures clean wilderness air, the wide-open spaces and the panoramic scenes begging to be captured in a photograph. The old-fashioned great outdoors, mate you can’t beat it! Although being honest with ourselves we are not much of intrepid hikers, one or two day’s tops it’s enough to fill our bill. Four days of hiking up, down and around rocky paths we knew could be just a touch too far for us. We really wanted to enjoy our experience and we were open to doing some work to make the experience special, we just wanted to draw a line and save ourselves from being chewed up and spat out as an exhausted mess on arrival. The Jungle Trek Provides the perfect blend of adventure, hiking and is a very authentic experience. We choose to book our tour with “Marvellous Peru” travel agency, they made everything easy and accommodated to our Huayna Picchu request. We can recommend going with this company as in our experience they were wonderful.
- First Day: Bus pickup in Cusco/Downhill mountain bike/White water rafting
- Second Day: 8hrs Hiking over mountain pass/Monkey house/Natural hot springs
- Third Day: Ziplining/Hike to Aguas Calientes
- Fourth Day: 4am Start – hike up to Machu Picchu/Guided tour or Huayna Picchu/Hike to Hydroelectrica/Bus back to Cusco
Book Huanya Picchu at least one month in advance as tickets sell out fast. It is only $10 extra and requires a bit of planning and organisation.
- Bring up plenty of water and some packed lunch snacks. There is a restaurant, although it is expensive and outside the park.
- Take a LOT of insect repellent. The sand flies along the trek are extremely vicious. Especially along the river and before the white water rafting.
- Sun block yourself and wear a hat. At altitude you are closer to the sun and the burn time is fast.
- Be respectful. Take all rubbish away with you. Leave all the ruins in place and with so many tourists you will need to be patient.
- When having someone else take your photo, give them a quick explanation of what you want. – “Please have us at the side of the frame not covering the ruins.” It is amazing what some people will do uninstructed. Also ensure your camera is in the correct easy to use settings so all they need to do is frame and click.
- Wear some sturdy walking shoes. Decent trainers will do. Not flip-flops if trekking.
- If you are less physically able at the time, take the bus to the entrance and spend your energy exploring the ruins rather than getting there.
- Take your passport for entry. You can also have your passport stamped with a special Machu Picchu stamp when you leave the ruins.
- Student discounts apply. You must show your student card when entering. Purchase an ISIC card prior to travelling to avoid any problems.
- Find or hire a walking stick for your treks. You will have to leave it at the entrance if not professional walking sticks. But they were a great help on the journey up.
- Get a good night sleep. You will be in for a huge day, so rest up.
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All our articles are written based on our own experiences and opinions.