Machu Picchu is a Quechua name and it means Old Mountain(Machu=Old, Picchu= Mountain).
My journey to the peak of Machu Picchu was extremely special.I wanted to make this trip as memorable and exciting as possible.And for me the way to do this, is by adding adventure into the journey. And so,after a lot of research, I decided that I would want to do the Inca Jungle Trek over a period of 4 days, with the final destination being Machu Picchu.
Most people prefer and opt for the Inca Trail, which is the classic trek and involves a trek covering the original Inca Path to the mountain.But since this is the most popular trek, it gets sold off months and months in advance(almost 6-7 months in advance),specially during high season i.e. June- Oct.The permits are directly provided by the Peruvian government, and the government issues only 500 permits for each day.
I had not booked in advance and thus Inca Trail was not an option.Frankly, for me just doing a trek for 4 days is not as exciting as mixing up the trek with some adventure activities.And thus I was more than okay with choosing an alternate trek to Classic Inca Trail.
One suggestion to all who are planning to trek up Machu Picchu is that DO NOT buy or book tours online in advance(except buying online permits for the Classic Inca trail), as you will for sure end up paying almost double of what you would be if you buy a or two day in advance from Cusco itself.I met so many travelers who paid close to USD 400 for the trek for which I was paying USD 230, just because they booked it online from an agency.Don’t worry.There is enough option to choose from when you arrive in Cusco and there is no way that you will not get to go on a preferred date.There is no limitation of the number of people permitted on the alternate treks(Salkantay trek, Inca Jungle are the most popular alternate treks to Classic Inca trek), and thus your going is guaranteed.
I booked my tour a day in advance and had been given a brief by the guide on what all to carry with me for the 4 day trip.I was going with an agency called Peru Colca Trek and had a good deal with USD 230 including all adventure activities.
On the day of the departure, I was picked up from my hostel at 7.45 am, which was a luxury considering that in previous tours of different cities; the pickup timings were ranging from 3 am too 6.30 am.
I was all packed, ready and checked out of the hostel when the bus came to pick me up.I was only carrying a small backpack for the 4 day trek and had left my big back pack in the luggage room of the hostel.For all days of the trek we had to carry our own luggage and thus the smaller the better.
I straight away went to the last seat of the bus and settled down for the long journey ahead.In my bus there was one Peruvian man,2 mothers and their grown up kids(the boy and the girl were dating, and had gotten their mothers introduced few years back.Since then the mothers were the thickest of friends.How cool is that.🙂 ),and another girl who was also traveling alone.Though she spoke only Spanish, we became good friends by the end of the trip.I managed to practice a lot of my Spanish as well with her.Most of the times, she was able to understand me ;).
So after making a brief stop to load our mountain bikes, we started our journey for the hills. This was the itinerary for the Jungle trek:
Day 1 – 50 km cycling(mostly downhill)
– White water rafting for 2 hours through some difficult rapids
Day 2 – 9-10 hours of trekking through the jungles
– Hot springs
Day 3 – Zip Lining for 3 hours
– 4 hours of trekking along the train tracks
Day 4 – 2 hours of trek up to Machu Picchu
– Further trek of 2-3 hours to either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayana Picchu or to the Inca bridge.
So as you can see, the 4 days were jam packed with excitement and adventure.
The bus drove on for about 2 hours and we were soon in the midst of mountains.The rains gods were feeling naughty, and they decided to make the cycling for us more adventurous by making it rain.The bus reached a height of about 4200 meters to the the top of Abra Malaga. There we were given our protective gear and were given our mountain bikes.After a brief on the safety and security, we got on our bikes and whizzed off.By now,I had become proficient in riding bikes, and unlike previous times, this time I was in the lead.Though it was raining and I was thoroughly drenched, yet the fun of the cold wind on your face,rain drops drenching you and wonderful music(from my iphone)in my ears, I was thoroughly enjoying my ride.
All the tour companies who organise the Inca Jungle trek have the same itinerary and thus I passed a lot of other tourists from other others as I rode along.
We took just 2 breaks as a group in viewpoints to click pictures, but most of the time we were on our bikes.I remember, at one point I was so wet and cold that I was literally talking to the sun god to over power the rain god and to bless us with some sun shine.Happy to say that for few minutes, we actually did get the sun, but then before we could fully dry up, the rains came pouring again.
Almost 3 hours after starting the cycling, we finally reached the end point and as soon as we took off our gear, we were mobbed.Mobbed by the insects.One piece of advice for anyone planning to go to Machu Picchu- carry loads of strong insect repellent. The insects in these areas are vicious.Their bites are painful and scratchy and they will attack in a matter of seconds if you don’t have the repellent on.Thankfully, I was told about this by other travellers and after seeing the red blotches on their legs, I was being extra careful.
After a short break where we had some coffee and chips, we then got back in the van and were driven about 25 minutes away to the Santa Maria town,which would be the place where we would be spending the night.We were all starving by the time we reached our guest house and thus were led straight to the dining area.Soon we had the three course meal presented to us which comprised of soup, chicken spaghetti and fruits for desert.This is the best part about the tours.They ensure that we are fed well and thus have the three course meals for us.
Right after the meal, those of us who had opted for the rafting were going to be picked up from the hostel.I was the only one in our group who was going,but the guide told me that there will be many others from the other groups who would be joining me.
I had about half an hour till the bus came to pick me up and thus I quickly went up to our dormitory to change my clothes and to get into the swim wear.This time I did the biggest mistake possible.I decided to put the insect repellent after I reached the rafting venue and wore clothes on top of my swim suit without applying the repellent.BIG MISTAKE.In fact weeks after my trip is over, I am still repenting that decision of mine.
I was the first to be picked by the bus and soon we made 3 more stops and the bus was now jam packed with other travellers who had opted for rafting as well.It took us just 10 minutes to reach the spot where after we got off we were given our protective gear.This is when the gruesome attack happened.
I had just taken off my clothes to wear the gear and before I could even reach my repellent bottle, I looked down to my bare legs and saw that they were full of black and red dots.The black dots were the small insects and the red dots was my blood oozing out from their bites. Woahh. I started feeling the itch and the pain from these bites at the same time.I took out a whole lot of repellent from the bottle and splashed it all over my exposed body parts.But alas, the damage was already done.These bites were going to itch me like crazy, and they surely did.
After gearing up with our life jackets and helmets, we were given some instructions by the guide and then all 15 of us got on 3 rafts(5 on each).We started slow and the guide tested us by shouting out commands to see if we had understood well and followed.Once he was convinced that we knew the basics, the raft was then directed towards the first rapid.
I was sitting right at the front of the raft, because that’s where it is the most fun.You get to be the first to face the rapid and the first to get drenched with force.So much funnn…
The first rapid was a small one and was easy to get through, but as we proceeded deeper, the rapids became tougher and more wilder.But we worked well as a team and with the guide shouting out the commands, we managed to stay inside the raft without getting swayed out by the gush of water.We were inside the raft,till the guide felt that it was time he should have some fun and thus he started pushing each one of us out one by one.I was pushed out when I least expected it and splashhh I went into the cold water.For a minute I was stunned, but then soon I gathered myself and started floating to enjoy the free flowing water.
After this was all fun.The aim was to drench the people in the other two rafts and a water war started.It was so much fun and we had a blast.There were more rapids and by the time we reached the end, we were experts in rowing perfectly.I am so glad I opted for rafting.It was a great experience and I definitely made some new friends who I kept bumping into many times during the trek.
After rafting, we were taken back to our hostels and I freshened up and got ready for dinner.I was very tired by this time and couldn’t wait to get into bed and sleep away.By 8.30 pm I did just that.I was fast asleep and dreaming of the fresh,cool water from the rapids.
Next morning at 7.30 am we were finishing off breakfast and were prepared for the long trek that we had to do that day.Today for almost 9 hours we would be walking.The trek was going to be through the jungles and we would get an opportunity to see the flora and fauna found there.I was charged and geared up after a nice,10 hour long sleep.
With our backpacks on our backs, we started walking.Some people had big backpacks and they had an option of paying 5 soles(appx USD 2), and their packs would be sent to the next stop directly.I was in a rough-it-out stage for the whole of my 5 week trip and hence I wanted to carry my backpack with me.It wasn’t too heavy and so I knew I would be able to do it.
We walked past the Santa Marina village and walked into the jungle.The path of the trek took us through areas where we could spot pine apples,mangoes, coca leaves etc being grown in their natural form.There were so many beautiful flowers and trees and fruits that we came across and our guide took his time explaining to us about each.
|Origin of the red paint|
After about 3 hours of walking, we came to the hard part which was uphill.For me that is the hardest part.I can walk for hours on a flat path,but the uphill climb is way too difficult.But I had to do it.Thankfully, we were taking breaks after 20 minutes of climb and I realized that I was much better at coping up than I was during Colca Canyon.Definitely my stamina had improved thanks to the tough Colca Canyon trek.
Our stops were usually at small houses where they would be selling water,chips, biscuits etc.At the second stop,which was about 45 minutes into the uphill climb, we were given a longer break.Here we had our faces painted with the natural red color of a flower grown in these forests.We were also explained how Chicha, the local drink of Peru was made.Then we were explained how the chocolate from the cacao beans was made in earlier times(before there were any machines to help out) and also shown the snake oil which had medicinal value.The dead snake snake was still in the bottle, while the drink was poured out for those who were keen to try it.I definitely did try it(roughing it out at every stage).For me the highlight was the chilled Chicha Morada I drank for just 1 Sole.After all the energy having being drained out in the climb,I was immediately fresh again with the tasty drink of Chicha. Wish I could have taken liters of it with me back home.It was that good.
After the half an hour break, we were off again for the remaining part of the journey.We had to trek uphill for another hour and after that would be all flat or downhill.So I braced myself for the next one hour of breathlessness, but again I surprised myself.I was able to do so without many breaks.The key was to go slow and take deep breaths.We walked on narrow paths which were at a great height, and tried to maintain our balance without looking down.In fact this part of the trek was a part of the original Inca trail and we were given a briefing about it when we stopped at the viewpoint.The view from here was out of the world.
Before we knew it, we were at the end of the uphill and now, we were going to go one hour down hill till we reached the spot where we would be stopping for lunch.
This one hour downhill was very easy and I walked while taking in the beauty surrounding me.I have never seen so many different kinds of fruits and flowers.Beauty beyond words.
|Briefing in process|
Soon we reached the small space where there were few restaurants in the midst of the trees.They had hammocks and I couldn’t wait to take a short nap after lunch.While we were being served our lunch, it started raining outside, and the rain gods were kind enough to wait for us to have a roof on us before started the shower.The climate immediately cooled down after the rain and by the time we had taken a quick nap on the hammocks, the climate was perfect for the remaining part of the trek.
Now we had another 2 and a half hours to walk on flat land before we would arrive the much looked forward to part of this day- the HOT SPRINGS.So we all increased our pace as we wanted to reach the hot springs before the sun set and kept walking with minimal breaks.The last past of the journey was walking next to the Urubamba river and thus we had to walk on a very rocky terrain.But the music that I was walking to, kept me energized and motivated all throughout and I completed this part with ease.Soon we reached the place where we had to sit on a small,shaky, wooden cable cart to cross the river.Since our group was leading, we didn’t have to wait much and crossed the quickest.
The last leg of the journey was the 20 minutes walk till the hot springs and then we were through the trekking part for that day. Whoopieee. We reached the hot springs by 4.30 pm and after buying our tickets, we changed into our swim wear and jumped in.The hot springs were nice and warm and very comfortable and we were in the springs for almost 1 and a half hour.Finally, we got out, changed and got into a mini van which took us to the Santa Teresa village where we would be spending the night.
Santa Teresa was more livelier than the previous town we had stayed in and even the restaurant where we had our dinner was better.This town even had a club and some of the group members decided to go shake a leg.I was in no condition to dance after having spent all my energy in the trek today.So all I wanted to do was to curl up in my bed with a book and fall asleep while reading it.Which is exactly what I ended up doing.
These two days have been amazing and am sure the last two days would be even better.
According to most of the people who had done the Jungle trek, the third day was the only boring part of the tour as there was about 4 hours of walking on a flat surface,next to the train tracks.But my experience was totally the opposite.This day was equally fun for me as the rest of the 3 days were.
We were given till 8 am to have our breakfast and be ready for the zip lining company to come and pick us up for 2 hours of zipping through valleys.All of the group members were doing the zip lining and thus the bus was full of chatter and excitement.The bus stopped at the venue where we were given all our safety gear and given a brief on how to be seated during the swing,how to handle the gear, how to lower speed and finally how to pull ourselves to the end in case we stop mid way.We then got back in the bus and got to a point after 15 minutes where we had to climb up a small hill to reach the zip line point.I have done more trekking in this 5 week trip, than I would have done in my entire life.But by now,I was used to it and getting better at controlling my breathing and climbing at greater ease than before.
Once up the hill(actually it was more of a mountain),we saw what we had volunteered to do and that was to get hung on one thin, long cable wire and then get pushed from one mountain to another.The distance between these two mountains was quite a lot and was at quite a height.But it looked fun.
The instructors gave us a demo and then I volunteered to go first.I love experiencing things before anyone else has, and this at times could be very risky.Nevertheless, I got latched on to the cable and then after checking that all was okay,the instructor gave me a push to get the zip line going.Whoosh…wheee…aaahhhh…I must have screamed out all kinds of sounds.At one point,I looked down and saw that I was right over dense trees and I could only imagine what would have happened to me if I fell at this point(Yikess).The swing across the valley from one point to another was exhilarating and I loved it thoroughly.Once I was at the other end safely,I sat down on a piece of rock and waited while the others finished the zip line as well.
After we all had done, we started walking down and I assumed that it was over.But no, there were 3 more zip lines that we had to do and followed by a shaky rope bridge crossing.
So we climbed back up the mountain to the same point where we had started the first zip line, but this time the direction of the cable was different.Off I went again and it was as fun as the first time.
Once at the other point,I was hooked on to another cable and whoosh I flew to the third point.Here, we had to wait for all to gather before the final zip line.The instructor suggested that we do the superman position and go the other way around with the body facing down.As usual, I was up for the challenge, and super(wo)man position it was for me.This by far was the most fun for me as I had a clear view of the ground and the area I was flying over.
The last part was the bridge crossing.This bridge was no normal bridge.It was a shaky,swingy and a narrow one.We had to keep our balance while crossing it and had to cross all the way from one side to another.The part that made it even more difficult was that we were all crossing in a line and so if because one person lost balance and fell, all the other would too.In fact even a little bit of shakiness, made the whole bridge wobble and all had to pause to control the movement.
Thankfully we were attached with a cable wire and in case we did actually fall off the bridge, we wouldn’t go down and would instead be suspended in the air(hopefully).So slowly and steadily, one step at a time I started moving.Shake shake, swing swing,rapid movement of the bridge. Pheww.This was tougher than I had imagined.It took me almost 25 minutes to cross from one end to another and the line behind me had to go slow as well as there was no over taking allowed(or even possible).Somehow I completed it and then was shown the direction towards the place where we were to go and leave our equipment’s and gear.This was officially the end of zip lining.
After giving back all the gear back, we were again asked to get seated in the bus which would be taking us to the place from where we would start walking towards Aguas Caliente,which would be where we would halt for the night.
In 45 minutes, we reached the Hidrolectrica station from where we would commence our 3 to 4 hour walk alongside the train tracks till Aguas Caliente station.
Before we started the walk, we were taken to a small restaurant and served lunch(3 course meal again).We bought our supplies of water and snacks for the way and then we were off.Since this was just a straight,flat path walk I was leading all throughout.I maintained a decently fast speed and soon was far ahead of the group.
For people who had told me this part was boring,I just have to say to them that “I disagree”.I loved the walk through the lush,green trees on either side.We crossed beautiful landscapes and even the weather was fresh and cool. Occasionally we would have the trains cross us and it reminded me of my childhood holidays with my family on hill stations which had the similar surroundings.I walked happily on and soon I reached the Aguas Caliente station where I waited for my group to catch up.
Once we all gathered,our guide gave us a brief for tomorrows trek, which was the grand finale- The trek up to Machu Picchu.We had two options tomorrow- either to walk up the steep mountain and to take the bus.We were shown the way that we would need to take if we planned to trek up.The gates to the bridge open at 5 am and hence to get an early start to avoid the sun, we were told to be at the venue by 5 am.Our guide would be meeting us at the top, near the Machu Picchu entry at 6.30 am and hence in the morning we would have to find our way till here.
After showing us the starting point of the climb,we continued walking for another 45 min till we reached the Aguas Caliente town.I must admit that I was very mistaken on the perception I had had of Aguas Caliente.I had thought that it would be a small,dirty little town.But it was the complete opposite.
Spread out over few kilometers,the town had all the modern amenities,was clean and had lots of multi cuisine restaurants catering to the needs of the numerous foreigners who come here every day. All travellers who go to Machu Picchu definitely come to this town and Aguas Caliente is like a base camp to Machu Picchu.I absolutely loved this town and though I was tired after the long day we had had; I decided to leave my bags in my room,freshen up a bit and then go out to explore this town.My Spanish friend(Carolina from Chile) and I also went and treated ourselves with a glass of Sangria in one of the restaurants.We then went to explore the huge local market from where I bought quite a lot of souvenirs.
The group was to re-assemble at 6.30 PM in the reception area of the hotel where we were staying, to be taken to another restaurant for dinner.I had managed to buy some fruits,energy bars and other food item for the trek tomorrow.I had heard that things up on Machu Picchu are crazily expensive and hence it is better to stack up on goodies before the trek itself.So I did just that.
By 8 we were finished with our meals and after a quick stroll around the town,I headed back to the hotel room to get some sleep.I had a big day tomorrow as I had to be up by 4 am and start trekking up to the world famous- Machu Picchu.
|Early morning line at the bridge|
Day 4: The final day
Tringgggg…the alarm goes off loudly and immediately I decide to turn it off and sleep some more.But wait a minute,what was the reason I had put this alarm so early??And then it struck me,MACHU PICCHU.The highlight of my trip.The most awaited part of the entire 5 weeks.The journey to one of the New 7 wonders of the world.Immediately,I sat up.
This was definitely a worthwhile reason for sacrificing one days sleep.Quickly I freshened up, packed up my small day bag, went to the reception to leave most of my luggage(would collect it on my way back) and waited for the other group members who had decided to walk and rough it up like me.I was not taking any short cuts.I mean after all the efforts made to reach here, I couldn’t spoil it and let it go to waste by taking a bus up to Machu Picchu.In fact I wanted to lecture everyone else as well who was planning to take the bus,to not be lazy and to climb up instead.But I resisted to do so.
At 4.20 am,in complete darkness we started the walk till the bridge which our guide had shown us yesterday.But there were so many other people who were also heading the same way,that it actually got me more excited.I was soon going to be one of the lucky ones who had climbed Machu Picchu.Yahoo.
Once we reached the bridge, we had to stand in a line with almost 50 people in front of us.The gates would open only at 5 am and till then we had to wait.We each had been given our entry tickets yesterday along with a packed breakfast.It is also necessary to carry your passport, as the same is checked at the time of the entry along with the entry ticket.
Soon the gates opened, and there was an air of excitement all around.Once through the gates, we crossed the bridge and then took the path which would lead us up to Machu Picchu entry.My strategy was the same- slow and steady.It was not a competition and I wanted to enjoy the view and the journey up.Which I certainly did.The first rays of the sun were now visible and I got some great shots.
|Queue at the MACHU PICCHU entrance|
The path was mainly up hill with few flat patches,which was the road built for the buses heading up or coming down.On and on I climbed,took enough breaks to catch my breath and at 6.15 am I found myself amidst a huge group of happy,excited people who like me had climbed up and had finally made it to the great- MACHU PICCHU.
I have no words to explain my emotions at that exact moment.All the previous few months, since the time I had planned to do this trip;I had dreamed of this moment.And here I was.Dreams do become Reality and mine just did.
After the emotions settled down, I looked around for my group and soon found them at the entry.There was a long queue at the entrance of Machu Picchu,but thankfully it was quick and I got through in 10 min.At this hour it was still very cold and it was also drizzling.So I had my warm clothes as well as my rain jacket on.Oh dear Sun,please come soon.I want to see this wonderful sight in all it’s glory and in full light.
Once inside,we got a whole load of the Inca history, the formation of Machu Picchu, the various segments in which this city was divided, the type of agriculture they did,the type of animals they kept etc.We also saw their main 3 structures- the Inti Watana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.,the school for the children,the area reserved for the upper class of Inca’s etc.It was very interesting to know so much about this amazing civilization and we all sucked out as much information as possible from our guide.After an hour of his explanation,our guide told us that now we were free to explore this city on our own and that he would be heading back to town in the bus.He gave us instructions on how to reach the train station to catch our bus back to Ollantaytambo from where there would be a bus which would take us back to Cusco.
|View from Machu Picchu|
After our guide had left us, I desperately felt the need to have some coffee and to dig into my snacks.Since we were not allowed to eat inside the premises, we had to step out of the entry gate for the same.The entry ticket permitted us to go out and come back in three times for free.I took a nice long break of 40 minutes before I head back inside to explore a bit more of Machu Picchu city.Some people had bought tickets to the other mountain as well,which was called Huayana Picchu which means ‘Young Mountain’,but I decided to go instead to climb up till the Inca bridge.This was free of cost and was almost at the same height as of Huayana Picchu;which means an additional hour and a half to go up and around 45 minutes to come down(only downhill while returning).But I was up for this challenge as well.As I mentioned before,I had massive energy being generated and I was making sure that I used all this energy to the fullest.
I started the climb up till the Inca bridge and again my music helped me enjoy my trek up.It took me almost an hour and a half to reach up to the point, where I sat down for a while to enjoy the beautiful view.I wanted to capture all this in my memory for me to remember for years to come.
Finally around 11 am I head back down and reached back at the base at around 11.45 am.After another round of snacks,I contemplated on whether to head back to Aguas Caliente by bus or on foot.And I obviously chose the latter.
|I finally did it 🙂|
Frankly, the climb down was the toughest task of the day for me since my knees started hurting and my legs were trembling by now.The down hill really stresses the legs and this I knew well by now.But somehow I managed to reach the bridge in one hour and then took another 35 minutes to reach the town of Aguas Caliente.
I felt on top of the world.A feeling of achievement swept over me.I had done it.I had climbed up Machu Picchu and then further up to the Inca bridge and come all the way down,all on foot.Proud of you Dee :).
After this,I treated myself to a lavish lunch buffet and then relaxed a bit in my hotel lobby till it was time to go to the train station to catch the train back.The train journey was a little shaky but pleasant overall.It took us 2 hours to reach Ollantaytambo,where I found a woman with a signboard having my name.She soon assembled the group and led us back to a bus which took us back to our respective hostels in Cusco.I was back in Pariwana Hostel by 10.30 PM and now all I needed was a hot shower and a good night sleep.
I would be spending one more night in Cusco, after which I had a morning flight to Lima and then an afternoon bus back to Guayaquil.
This was the end of an amazing 5 week journey across Peru and Bolivia and I am so glad I decided to do it.Bu far this has been my biggest achievement till date, and it has just sparked my love for traveling even more than ever.Can’t wait to start planning my next backpacking trip.
Hope you guys enjoyed my endeavors and experiences.Would love to hear from you on your experiences as well.I am sure I would be able to learn from them and be better prepared for my next trip.
That’s all from my end for now.
Keep reading for more of my experiences.