There are many ways to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. You can take a train or van directly, which is the fastest route, but can be a bit costly. Plus you miss a lot of the beautiful cities and sites in between. You can take the classic Inca Trail hike, which involves 4-5 days in the jungle, hiking along the same trails the Incas used to use. Or, you can do what I did, which is the 3-4 day adventure hike, combining hiking, biking, zip-lining, and a whole lot of awesomeness.
I went through an excellent, and highly recommended company called Lorenzo’s’ Expedition. I was a little nervous because I was traveling solo at this point, and I had no idea who else would be in my tour group. I mean, these were the people I was going to be stuck with, 24x7, for the next 3 days. What if I ended up with some creepy creeper? What if it turned into some horrible episode of reality TV with nonstop drama and wine being thrown in everyone’s face? (that might have been fun actually…)
But, as fate would have it, I hit the travel companion jackpot and ended up with Ben and Anna, an awesome young couple from Tasmania who were as witty as they were sarcastic, a perfect combination for the journey.
Our journey (or mythical quest to discover the ancient city of the Incas, if you prefer) began at 6:00AM with a 2 hour drive to the top of the Andes mountains, overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Incas below. At this point, our wonderful tour guide Wilbur kicked us out of the van, tossed some bikes our way (along some epic safety gear), and said “see you at the bottom!” (The van, of course, followed us all the way down to make sure nothing went wrong)
That ride was, without doubt or hyperbole, one of the most beautiful, scenic, and picturesque trips I’ve ever been on. The Andes were wrapped in fog, with hints of the Sacred Valley thousands of feet below, appearing for brief moments as we flew down the mountains at breakneck speeds. It was incredible.
That afternoon, after a short stop for lunch and the realization that when you use muscles you haven’t tried out in 10 years (like, say, for riding a bike) they generally aren’t too happy with you, we headed to the town of Santa Teresa to relax in the hot springs. If you’re ever looking for the best way to spend an evening after biking down the Andes, let me humbly recommend the hot springs of Santa Teresa.
The next morning, we had two options to choose from. First choice, a 3-hour hike through the jungle followed by a 4 hour hike along the railroad tracks to get to Aguas Calientes, the small town at the base of Machu Picchu. Second choice, zip-lining across mountain tops followed by the same hike along the railroad. You can probably guess which one we chose (THE ZIP-LINING!)
We spent the next 2 hours flying across valleys and over rivers, all while upside-down and screaming. Sooner or later there will be a video of it. But for now, here’s Lorenzo’s video that gives you an idea of the whole trip:
Before we began our railroad hike, our guide Wilbur took as to a seldom-visited Inca ruin near the Hydroelectric Dam, which powers most of the mountain towns. It was incredibly overgrown, but remarkably preserved, and it was interesting to see what Machu Picchu would have looked like before it was “discovered” by British explorer Hiram Bingham III (I say “discovered” because there were already Peruvian families living in the city, as there had been for hundreds of years).
After that we began our afternoon hike and 3 hours later we made it to Aguas Calientes! And, seeing as we had to be up at 4AM the next morning to hike up the mountain to Machu Picchu, we decided to call it a night before much longer.
The next morning, after a simply delightful 4AM wake up call, we hiked the hour and a half up to Machu Picchu. QUICK HISTORY BREAK: Machu Picchu was built by the Incans in the 15th century, covers 80,000 acres, and rests at just under 8,000 feet, on a ridge between Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu mountains. It is believed that Machu Picchu was built by Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the ninth ruler of the Inca people (he probably had a bit of help). Most archeologists think that Machu Picchu acted as a royal estate of sorts, a place for the Incan royalty to spend time, close to the heavens.
And, to put it simply, it is an incredibly magical place. No amount of pictures or words could ever do Machu Picchu justice, so I’ll just say, it was awe inspiring. And I was fortunate enough to be able to go up two days in a row, and climb the nearby Huayna Picchu mountain to get an even more breathtaking view.
And, while Machu Picchu was spectacular, it was not my favorite stop on the trip (FORSHADOWING!) So, be sure to tune in next time where I may or may not reveal what my favorite stop actually was…
Thanks for reading and see you next time!