I booked my 4-Day Incan Jungle Tour through Loki, who subcontracted to Conde Travel. Overall it was a fantastic experience, although a lot of it can be attributed to the awesome group I was with, and our guide. Although we ended up at Machu Picchu with 16 people, only eight of us completed the four-day trek together, so we had ample opportunity to become like a little family. Half of the group were doing the three-day version of the tour joined in with us at the end of our second day.
I found the entire tour up to arrival at Agua Calientes on Day 3 really well planned. After that point it just became really jumbled, disjointed, and confusing. Other than the breakdown of the trip’s organization near the end, my only complaints about the trip were: 1) food portion sizes were way too small and 2) some of my fellow travelers got me hella sick on the last day :c…
Day 1 Summary
Morning: Downhill Biking. Awesome. Spectacular views, great breeze, all with very little effort. I hooked up my GoPro wrist strap to my running fanny pack to make a ghetto chest mount that actually worked decently well once I got used to it. My first few videos were just pointed at my handle bars and the ground right in front of the bike. Luckily, I thought about it and adjusted; sitting up straighter and using my hand to point the camera up a bit, resulting in some nice shots (to be uploaded later).
Early Afternoon: I decided to take a pass on the rafting portion of the trip and save $40 since I had booked my 3-day Apurimac River tour already. I was honestly FOMO’ing a bit, but half of the girls didn’t end up going either so it wasn’t too bad. I took advantage of the two-hour opportunity to view the biking videos I took and rest.
Late Afternoon: The hardest hike of the entire trip (in my opinion) took place after half of our group returned from rafting the Urubamba… It was simply hours of going uphill through the jungle with all of our stuff to get to our hostel for the night. One of the German girls was sick too which made the going even slower. Both Samuel, our guide and the manager of the hostel were carrying several cases of beer and pop on their backs the entire time. The only highlight of the climb was when we passed by two houses which had pet monkeys.
Evening: We arrived at our hostel right as the sun was starting to set. I was a bit concerned at first because this was really, really, basic lodging. There was some electricity, but no hot water, only two toilets, and two decent showers. However I was so super tired that none of it mattered and I passed out pretty easily after eating dinner.
Day 2 Summary
Morning: I woke up before my alarm clock went off and was greeted by a spectacular sunrise view over the rainforest. We had a small breakfast and learned a bit about the families who lived in the area… the crops they farmed (coffee mostly, but also coco, and various potatoes and fruits for consumption), how the kids went to school (walking 45 minutes uphill T__T), and their general way of life. I have got to say that I came out with some mad respect for them. I only spent one night trekking up their hill and living as simply as they do, and it wasn’t easy.
We then said goodbye to our gracious hosts and set off on the first three of six hours of hiking. The first part of the hike actually took place on part of the classic Inca trail, which basically meant that the path was super narrow and was a sheer cliff drop on one side. The views were spectacular though.
Afternoon: After stopping for lunch (which featured some spectacular guacamole), we continued on with three more hours of hiking in the hot sun. We were able to take a dip in the Urubamba river to cool off though, which was really nice. The hard part of the day ended when we reached the hot springs where we were able to relax and take some hot showers.
Evening: We took a bus ride on a super sketchy road to this tiny little town. After checking into our hostel, we cracked open some Cusquenas and waited for the rest of our group (those doing the 3-day tour) to arrive. Dinner that night was good, but small. We got tequila shots for dessert though, which was pretty awesome. Since it was our only chance the entire tour to party, we decided to take advantage and went out to the only club in the town. The dance floor was pretty dead when we arrived, but that happens sometimes when you are the ones bringing the party :D. The funniest part of the night was when Samuel turned up behind the bar serving drinks and later joined us on the floor. All in all a fantastic night.
Day 3 Summary
Morning: I was rooming with the German girls so I didn’t need to worry about setting an alarm or anything the night before. Some stereotypes are true. After a (small) breakfast, everybody except for the Finnish girls (who opted to sleep instead) went ziplining with the Inca Flyer company. I liked these zip lines much more than the ones in Belize—we were high up in the mountains so got great views on the really long lines and were even allowed to go upside down. I think I got some great shots, but still haven’t watched them yet. The worst part of the ziplining though was the completely pointless rope suspension bridge crossing at the end of it. It was 200m long, pretty high up, really shaky, and totally unnecessary.
Afternoon: This was the most boring part of the entire trek. We literally walked next to a railroad track for hours to reach Agua Calientes. The scene never really changed at all—the only good part was that at least pretty flat. We arrived at Agua Calientes before dinner, but here is where the tour kind of started to break down. Some of us had to go and get tickets to Machu Picchu while others didn’t; we were all going to be on different trains going back to Cusco, but wouldn’t know until dinner at what time our trains were leaving; our guide was just going to meet us at the top of Machu Picchu the next morning instead of climbing with us; we needed to go buy our own food at the markets for the next day, etc. It all just felt a lot more randomly cobbled together compared with the rest of our trip.
Evening: To me, all of the streets of Agua Calientes looked very similar—I nearly got lost making my way from the Machu Picchu Ticketing office to the train station to our hostel. I needed to go to the train station to make sure my train ticket was for the early afternoon so I could rest a bit more before my rafting trip. The British guys, who also booked through Loki, said that if I hadn’t paid extra up front (I hadn’t) I would be on the last train, leaving Machu Picchu at 9:50pm and arriving back in Cusco at 1am. When I found my way to the train station, I went up to the ticketing office for PeruRail and gave them my passport, but they couldn’t find my ticket. I was super concerned and went back to the hostel and talked to Samuel about it. He called the tour company headquarters and assured me that I was on the 4:20pm train, so I didn’t need to worry about it. I later found out that there were two train companies, PeruRail and Inka Rail, and I went to the wrong one to try and change my ticket. After I got my train ticket stuff taken care of, I was locked out of my hostel room (was staying with the Brits and a French guy), so I just hung out with the Dutch girls.
We went to the market so that I could pick up some food for the next day. I am super lucky that I had Spanish speakers with me. Immediately upon arrival, I went to one of the stalls and grabbed a plastic bag to start to pick some oranges, but this lady started to yell at me in incomprehensible Spanish. It turns out that this market was stocked by individual vendors, and you weren’t allowed to touch or pick out anything yourself… You just told one of the people what you wanted to buy, and they would get it for you. Although I am not normally a fruit feeler at the grocery store, I wanted to inspect this particular batch because I was in a country that I didn’t really trust for cleanliness, etc. After that escapade, we just talked and walked around the city until dinner time.
For dinner on our last night, we actually got a menu and were able to pick what we wanted to eat. Unfortunately, the portions were again tiny. I was pretty tired, so after dinner I just packed my stuff and passed out.
Day 4 Summary
Early Morning: I woke up at 3:50am before anybody’s alarms went off in our room. I had a pretty crappy night sleeping and had woken up pretty much hourly throughout the night. My throat was also starting to be sore, so I knew I had contracted something from one of the Brits who was sick -___-. I had my own little nylon dry bag in which I packed my camera, water and food for the day. Luckily we didn’t need to lug our big backpacks up the mountain since we could leave our stuff with the hostel.
Armed with flashlights and headlamps, we left the hostel at 4:30am. We made our way through the first security checkpoint by 5am and we began the ascent. It started out cold and warmed up considerably once we got going and the sun started to come up. We were told the entire climb would take 1.5 hours, but we made it in about 55 minutes, including numerous stops for the girls to catch their breaths.
Everybody in our group except for the Irish (who we assumed were taking the bus) met at the entrance gate at 6:30am so we went in without them. It was raining a bit and super cloudy at this point, and some of the people in our group were freaking out because we couldn’t see anything. I thought their panic was pretty hilarious and jokingly told them that they should be more American-like and optimistic. We’re called Amer-I-CANs, not Amer-I-CAN’Ts for a reason. Sure enough though, the clouds started to clear during the guided tour.
Mid-Morning: We took some time at the end of the tour to eat a bit, take pictures, and say bye to Samuel. Our little family broke up for the first time. The Dutch girls had gotten tickets to climb Machu Picchu mountain. the German girls had gone off to do things at their own pace, so it was just me hanging out with the Finnish girls.
We explored the main city area for a little while to get oriented and figure out where the branching points to the different paths were located. We decided to go to the Incan bridge first, because it was just a short distance (~15min) from the guardhouse. The path to the bridge was basically an old Incan trail—meaning it was pretty narrow and had some sheer cliff drops on one side. About halfway to the bridge, we needed to sign in at a booth. Although we couldn’t see the city at all, there were very few other people, and we had some nice views of the mountains and the forest in lieu.
Making our way back from the bridge, we decided to stop on some of the terraces overlooking the city to eat lunch. There were some girls that sounded really American to me sitting on the one above us so I decided to say hi. It turns out that one of them went to Cal, so we had a fun bit of trash talk going back and forth :D.
After lunch, we decided to make our way up to the Sungate. Along the path, we ran into the Germans, so climbed along with them as well. The hike was really scenic, took much longer than I expected (~45min), but was well worth it, as were rewarded with spectacular views Machu Picchu.
I lounged about at the Sungate for a while, but eventually had to say goodbye to everybody there. The Dutch girls and I had agreed to leave the mountain at 2pm so we could make our 4pm train on time. The climb down and walk back to the hostel was pretty uneventful, and we made it to the train station with time to spare.
Seating on the train was arranged in 4-person booths. The two Brits and I were in one with a random guy, who turned out to also be from the UK. The train ride started well, but soon thereafter we had an unscheduled stop in the middle of the track. We looked out the window and saw them carrying huge parts back and forth and got worried. The conductor couldn’t tell us much, other than the first car was having some engine problems. We went for a little while longer, but then were stopped again. This time, they gave us each two free postcards in an attempt to make everything better. We ended up being about 45 minutes late to our shuttle transfer.