Inca Jungle Trek

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The Incan city of Machu Picchu is the reason most people visit Peru. I went for the llamas but since there are wild llamas everywhere on the terraces of Machu Picchu… two birds, one stone.

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu. The most famous is the 4 day Inca Trail, but permits for this exclusive trek are typically sold out several months in advance (only 500 people can start the trail per day). However, there are many alternative treks that are becoming quite popular and don’t require months of advance planning. The Lares Valley Trek is considered a more cultural trek, whereas the Salkantay Trek is longer and more technically difficult than the Inca Trail. The Inca Jungle trek is considered the “fun” trek as it includes white-water rafting, mountain biking, and zip lining.

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Originally, I had just planned to take the train to Aguas Caliente, spend the night, and see the sunrise at Machu Picchu the next day. Most people will try to do this to beat the hordes of MP day trippers from Cusco or Ollanyantambo who start to flood the site around noon. However, after hearing every traveller rave about their respective treks, I decided I had to partake.

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I chose to do the Inca Jungle Trek as it seemed to be a trek for people who don’t like to trek (me). It only required 12 hours of walking over two days, and had plenty of different activities interspersed to mix things up. Additionally, it was one of the cheaper treks ($220 for 4D/3N) as we stayed in hostels instead of camping and only packed what we carried ourselves. Most of the other treks are quite pricey ($400-600) because you have to pay for porters to carry all the equipment and they cook gourmet meals… It’s luxury trekking really.

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The Inca Jungle Trek was a fantastic experience with changing terrain and breathtaking views every part of the way. It was not technically difficult at all and was a really fun way to get to Machu Picchu.

Day 1: Mountain Biking + River Rafting

The first day began with a 4 hr drive from Cusco through Urubamba and Ollanlaytambo of the Sacred Valley.

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After passing Abra Malaga (4350m) into the Amazon Basin, we boarded our mountain bikes for the ride to Santa Maria. The ride is mainly downhill so there is barely a need a pedal except maybe to keep warm at the beginning. It was glacial at top with everything shrouded in white mist, but we quickly descended into tropical scenery. The journey took under 2 hours and was gorgeous from start to finish.

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We traveled by van again for another 45 minutes to the hostel where we had a late lunch.

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At this point, you could go river rafting ($35) but I decided to skip it (only Class 2 rapids… psshh). Half of the group stayed behind and headed to the only bar in town to watch the Peru vs Colombia football match.

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Day 2: Jungle Trekking + Hot Springs

We woke up at 6:30am to start the next day, although most of us were up since 3am due to the chorus of roosters crowing. Whoever said roosters crow at dawn told a big fat lie.

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The second day is supposed to be the hardest with 8 hours of walking but the uphill part took only 45 minutes of it. The trail was not very difficult, and it was made easier by the frequent breaks we had to take as a group.

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After climbing through the mountainous jungle, we finally descended to the river banks. Part of the trail had washed away from the rain, and we had to play a bit of hop-scotch from one rock to the other on the way to the hot springs in Santa Theresa.

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We even got to experience Peru’s hi-tech cable car system to cross the river…

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Soaking in the Cocalmayo hot springs surrounded by gorgeous mountains was the perfect end to our long day of trekking.

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Day 3: Zip-lining + Trekking to Aguas Caliente

The last day before Machu Picchu was a lazy one. We spent the morning zip-lining back and forth between the mountains over the river. I had zip-lined a couple times before in Central America but this scenery was not to be missed.

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We did 5 zip lines with the longest run at 500m+ and then a suspension bridge walk ($35). It was super fun, especially going upside-down Spider-Man style on the ziplines!

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After lunch, we just had a final 2 hr flat stretch of walking along the train tracks to Aguas Caliente.

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Aguas Caliente is a picturesque river town located in a deep gorge below the Machu Picchu ruins. I found it beautifully charming, albeit very touristy as all MP visitors will pass through here. Everything is a lot more expensive here than Cusco.

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After dinner, we indulged in a bit of Peruvian happy hour before heading to bed as we had to wake up at 4am for our final trek to Machu Picchu the next day!

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