There were many memorable moments throughout my travels across South America, but the most defining memory had to be Machu Picchu. Seeing one of the Seven Wonders of the New World is an unmissable opportunity; one best done now while the ruins are still in relatively good condition.
There are various different options for making your way to this iconic landmark, from hiking over the Salcantay mountain range to heading through the jungle or driving there. The most famous trek is the Inca Trail, it closes every February, which happened to be the time I was in the Cusco area. To be honest: Even if I could go, I would have avoided it, as the price is far too steep. Instead, I decided to head on the jungle trek with three of my friends. It was a four-day experience that involved a range of activities as well as some relatively difficult hiking. Also, rather than camping, we had an actual bed when we stopped off at towns throughout the Sacred Valley.
Before I go into my experiences with the trek, I do have to preface something. For me, the struggle to Machu Picchu made it all the more worthwhile to see, but if you’re not prepared for long-distance hiking at an altitude, then you should look at other options. The jungle trek is comparatively one of the easier treks, but if you’re like me, and you’ve never seen the inside of a gym, you’ll still find it tough. The key to success is the same as in anything that tests your willpower, from rock climbing to poker: personal drive and a positive mental attitude.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the matter and talk about the jungle trek!
The wise people who organized our tour decided to come right out of the gates with the most adrenaline-fueled experience of the whole four days. We began with an early rise at 5 a.m., then a three hours’ drive to the top of a mountain. Luckily, I’d overcome my fear of driving along the edge of mountains by then because we were about to begin downhill biking. That’s right! We went by road to the top of a mountain, only to descend on the other side. By road. That meant cars overtaking from behind, blind corners and a visible threat of landslides. If you’re starting to think this sounds a bit dangerous, you’d be right, but it was also one hell of an adventure.
After resting up in a small town, I woke up bright and early the next day to set out on an eight-hour hike. That may sound quite daunting, but it was okay for the most part. The first hour or two were tough, with a constant steep incline to the first stopping point, but after that, it was easy going. The day would have been perfect, except for that I hiked in wet boots, courtesy of the constant rainfall from yesterday’s biking. I guess I recommend avoiding this trek during the rainy season. Despite that, this day had wonderful hot weather, and the views from above the tree line were unforgettable. We also finished up in some remarkable hot springs for some much-needed relaxation.
Day three was straightforward. We started with an activity, followed by four hours of hiking along train tracks. Train tracks meant flat ground, which was a welcome relief after the previous day. The only thing that complicated the day for me was the activity: zip lining. I’d be a lie if I said I wasn’t terrified the entire time. We were taught how to slow our descent on the zip line using our hands, which we covered with thick gloves. That seemed like one of the worst ideas for someone who wants to keep all their fingers, but I came out with everything attached, so maybe I worry too much.
Day four. The big day! After spending the night in the impressive town of Aguas Calientes, sipping on a few beers and eating some delicious complimentary food, we woke up bright and early for the final climb to Machu Picchu. To beat the busiest crowds, you should wake up at 4 a.m. We settled for 5 a.m. and were still fine. The climb up the steps to the ruins is another tough one, but in the end, you’ll finally get the reward you came to see. The ruins of Machu Picchu are one of the most wondrous sights I have ever seen, only rivaled by the mountain ranges and rolling hills that I saw on the rest of the journey. You get a real sense of the vast history and intriguing mystery of the place and to see a structure still standing at that altitude is almost unbelievable.
I cannot stress how important it is to see Machu Picchu to expand your appreciation of history and culture. It has given me the desire to visit every wonder of the world, and I hope it might do the same for all of you.
This World Brief was written exclusively for World Footprints by Ana Galic.