Machu Picchu on a shoestring (and a mountain bike, a zip-line and a raft)

About 6 months ago, after the tragic loss of my trusty Samsung notebook, I lost around 2500 words of notes on my South America travels and various other riveting exploits. As every seasoned blogger will tell you, always store your files on a backup source. Unfortunately, I’m not a seasoned blogger. Anyway, I am going to try and write my memories of that trip to get back into the swing of this blogging business, and to give some hopefully useful guidance on one of the New7Wonders of the World.

Machu general

Once in Cusco, every single tour operator sells a range of Machu Picchu excursions. These range from the official hiking trails, adventure trips or simply one day trips. We had heard on the backpacker grapevine of the option of mountain biking, white water rafting and zip-lining to Machu Picchu. This not only sounded massively fun,  evoking images of Indianna Jonesing it onto the ancient ruins, fresh from a battle with some rapids, it also led to the (incorrect) presumption that the trip would therefore mostly be downhill.

The trip was also said to be very reasonable in price, so after a couple of days in Cusco ( I may write a separate blog as Cusco is great but it went largely like this – free walking tour, drinks in Wild Rover, hangover, pizza) we decided to take our chance with one of the many operators. We chose the tour office connected to Point Hostel on Meson De La Estrella based on a friends recommendation.

As it was now almost a year ago I cannot remember the exact price but I’m almost certain it was around the $140-150 mark. This included: the adventure packages (+rafting), all food, transfers to the starting point from our hostel, 3 nights accommodation, the entry fee to Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain and the return train and bus journey. After maintaining a strong desire to visit for many years, and ruling it out due to the extortionate package deals from the UK, I could not believe I was finally going to get there for about £100 – and likely have great fun on the way.

As is common place in South America, the office we booked through was linked with other offices and I believe the parent company is Conde Travel – visit their website for more factual information at http://condetravel.travel/package/inca-jungle-classic/

Machu Pichu biking 2

Day 1: Mountain Biking

We were picked up in the morning to be driven to the starting point for the mountain biking, and joined Matt and Allie, an Anglo-Kiwi couple on their honeymoon, Jean (pronounced like Van Damme rather than like my Granny) an American guy travelling with his Bolivian amigo, Freddy. After a quick pit stop for breakfast we endured a relatively straight forward drive for a couple of hours until we began the ascent to the 4000 m above sea level starting point for the downhill biking.

The higher we climbed the worse the roads became, some of them in a worrying state of disrepair considering the sheer vertical drop awaiting any badly judged manoeuvre. The weather wasn’t playing ball with our plans to cycle down a mountain, with torrential rain and nigh on zero visibility we began to feel a little ominous about the impending bike ride.

Machu biking 1
Hiding my anxiety well, Jean – not so much?!

After donning our safety gear, which included a hastily purchased and inefficient poncho en route, and a safety talk made all the more imperative due to the weather conditions, we set off downhill in unison with another company following the same route.

The turns in the road were unbelievably sharp, and contending with the lack of visibility and the fact it is quite a busy traffic route I have to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy the first part of the descent. It is no exaggeration to say that a momentary lapse in concentration or too much speed on a corner would almost certainly result in an unscheduled skydive.

My enjoyment was tested further when we stopped for our first scheduled pit stop after an hour or so. As each member of the travelling group began to filter in, the time lag between the last person and the yet to arrive Aisling was increasing to a worrying level. Minutes ticked by and the organisers seemed to be getting concerned at this stage which did nothing to alleviate my growing panic.

During the descent a safety car had been following the group to make sure there were no stragglers and when this arrived with still no sign of her, the guides all went back in the car in search.

The vertical drop from the mountain road began to play on my mind, and I was mentally deciding how I was going to explain this on the phone to her mother when the car finally returned with Aisling in the back. Somehow she had managed to pull over at the side of the road unnoticed by the safety car, as she had again been defeated by altitude sickness.

High up 3 v 0 Aisling. 

The dangers of this bike ride are genuine, particularly in such weather conditions so do take extreme care at all times.

Thankfully visibility increased and precipitation decreased for the second stretch of the cycle so it became easier to enjoy but by no means easy. One member of the group took a corner too fast and had a pretty dramatic disembarkation of his bike but thankfully escaped injury, except a bruised ego after some stern words from one of the guides.

A final tip for the biking section would be to invest in an efficient poncho as my cheap effort had simply acted as a funnel for rainwater onto my trousers which were now soaked through 3 hours into a 4 day trip.

Day 2: Rafting and Hiking

In the same afternoon we arrived at the village to take part in the rafting. Thankfully, everybody from our van decided to get involved and we were all in the same raft. I’m not sure what grade the rapids were but for those wanting an adrenaline rush they were lively enough to maintain an interest for a couple of hours and for any beginners they were tepid enough not to induce concern.

Most members of our raft ended up in the river, some by accident but mostly be design and it was definitely worth the small extra expense. Some of the panoramic scenery on offer whilst meandering down the river would be worth the $15 of anybody’s money.

I can’t quite recall the name of the town where the rafting starts, or the name of the company it is organised with but it was very professional and the guides again made every effort for it to be as enjoyable as possible for us.

In the early evening we set off for our Eco lodge as darkness began to set, gaining a head start on those who were staying in the town where we had done the rafting. This small but very steep hike in the jungle was certainly a baptism of fire in terms of fitness but we were grateful to have that small head start the following day.

The Eco Lodge was great and we were educated on various topics by our well informed guides whilst there, and the food provided was significantly better than expected for a family home on the side of a mountain. They even dried our shoes for us in their oven, which added a certain kick to the eggs at breakfast the following morning.

We set off reasonably early for a day of hiking and I can’t recall a great deal of specifics other than we hiked a genuine part of the Inca Trail. It was great to be able to traverse such ancient tracks but also the narrowness of the path and the steepness of the drop from the mountain made me grateful that I had chosen the adventure package. The views were phenomenal throughout most of Day 2.

 

To round the day of hiking off, we stopped at some hot water pools on the way to our accommodation in a town for that night. This costs a little extra but is a very popular addition for Machu Picchu trips and is also a welcome respite for aching legs. We were able to have a hot water shower in the hostel/hotel we stayed at and ate out at a restaurant and sampled a couple of Pisco sours.

Day 3: Zip-lining

The following morning we all had an early rise to head off to the zip-lining. Aisling and I were split from others in the group in order to have the right number of people at different sites. There are various companies in the Sacred Valley and we headed to different ones, ours was Vertikal ( http://vertikalzipline.com/tours/http://vertikalzipline.com/tours/).

Before even setting off we witnessed a girl panic so much before even getting in the bus that she decided against doing it, with her boyfriend demonstrating sympathy on a similar level to me during the Salt Flat trip and leaving her behind (although only for 2 hours). Thankfully one of our guides came on our bus, and his reassurance was needed instantly as the first zip-line was 250 metres from the ground. Quite a discrepancy from the 50 feet we had been unreliably informed from one of our Up Close Bolivia amigos.

It should be noted that there was a rumour on the backpacker grapevine throughout places we had been before this trip that somebody had recently suffered a fatal accident on this tour. This turned out to be true, and although attributed to a lack of communication and an over-zealous group of friends rather than equipment malfunction this did nothing to relieve my desire to pants myself.

Perhaps fortunately the guide didn’t allow time for nerves and I was the second one thrust into the harness ready to go. My hands were definitely shaking like an absolute pansy, and unlike my previous skydive experience this required me to take the leap rather than a professional on my back. Anyway, I survived and it the whole experience is hugely enjoyable and very safe provided you listen to all instructions. We both plucked up the courage to try out various moves such as the Superman and Spiderman which involves hanging upside down – can’t say I loved this but I had to try it once Aisling did.

 

The remainder of the day involved more hiking, a lot of which was on the railway line that leads to Aguas Calientes – the base town to Machu Picchu. Again, the hiking wasn’t too strenuous although it is quite a distance, and walking along the railway line in the jungle fully completes the sense of an adventure. During the hiking you are able to get the first glimpse of the peak of the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu – we were nearly there.

Upon arrival to Aguas Calientes it became apparent as a town that had taken advantage of its prime location and focused all its efforts on appealing becoming ‘touristic’. This may not be to everybody’s taste after such an authentic hiking experience but as a base camp to Machu Picchu it serves its purpose. Our now combined group met for dinner that evening, and said goodbye to one of our guides who had been a fountain of knowledge throughout, and was heading back to begin another tour (Regrettably I cannot recall his name but he is the one with the pony tail in the pictures).

Aguas Cali

 

Day 4: Machu Picchu

We had been given the option of taking a bus from Aguas Calientes to the entrance to Machu Picchu. The cost was $18 return for an approximate 20 minute round trip, but it also meant a little longer in bed and not having to do  90 minutes of vertical hiking. We opted to be flashpackers and paid the difference, which we were glad of the next morning when it was pouring down with rain.

We met those who had chosen to walk at the entrance at a designated time and headed in, excited to finally see one of the most desirable of wonders – Machu Picchu.

The weather initially was not ideal as there was a lot of fog, although this added to an air of mystery around the ancient ruins. Our remaining guide provided us with more information during a guided tour and then we were free to explore. Aisling and I had paid for entrance to Machu Picchu mountain which looks down on the ruins.

Climbing up this mountain is incredibly difficult, with frequent steep steps for around about 60 minutes. The weather was beneficial to us at this stage however, as Machu Picchu was covered by a layer of fog as we ascended, meaning we didn’t get any view of it until we had reached the top. This made the unveiling all the more dramatic, and the climb worthwhile, as the clouds finally dissipated after around 2 hours to unveil the ruins in all their glory.

I’ll let pictures do the remainder of the talking before I use more words like dissipate:

 

Recommendations

Having not been permitted to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and ending up at The Great Wall of China on a Chinese public holiday, my experience with such famous landmarks to date had been a little underwhelming.

Machu Picchu did not underwhelm in any sense. The trip was fantastic from start to finish, culminating in one of the most breathtaking sites I imagine possible in the world today.

I would recommend the company we used and the adventure package, as why not have fun on the way – especially at that price! If I were to do it again, I would do it the exact same way, with a better poncho and a better cap.

I would also suggest Macchu Pichu mountain only to those with a moderate or better level of fitness, an the bus from Aguas Calientes might feel like cheating but it conserves your energy once inside which is what most people want.

 

Any questions on anything related to the trip, feel free to comment below or visit the links provided.

 

 

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Fredy Rojas Salazar says:

    Many had forgotten moments of this fantastic adventure , grateful for including me in your article , the rmeeting with best friend Jean , making new friends , all this makes it very special.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Heyyy!!! We’re going in mid August and will be backpacking from cusco to the ruins for two days via train. Do you have any recommendations of what to pack and where to stay in aguas Calientes? I’m so confused on the weather. Like is it cold and it stays cold or is it cold in the mornings then warms up enough for shorts when exploring during the day? Any advice will help! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi,

      First of all I went in March so I’m not sure how much the weather will vary! But cold wasn’t so much a factor as getting wet! It will certainly be warm enough for shorts during the day, particularly if you are hiking long distances. It is usually quite cold when arriving to Machu Picchu due to the early hour, but again not drastically so. Make sure to take sturdy and comfortable footwear and a decent waterproof rucksack as the main issue for me were my dry clothes getting wet in my bag! Invest in a decent poncho, perhaps before travelling. Where else will you be visiting? Regarding accommodation, I booked through a tour operator so all of that was included. I highly recommend the adventure trip I did but if you are set on doing the train and hike, then there are many places to stay in Agua Calientes ranging from budget to lavish in appearance ane price. If you are only there for one night, budget will suffice as you will be leaving the room at 4am or so!

      Like

  3. Love this post. Machu Picchu was such a highlight for us too and at no point did I feel underwhelmed. It was the one definite thing we knew we’d be doing in South America so it was a real ‘omg’ moment for us finally reaching Machu Picchu.

    We definitely chose the ‘cheater’ way and got the bus from Aguas Callientes but at 5am I don’t regret that decision at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yeah, we had done enough walking at that point! Looking at the photos now is making me want to do it all again – maybe minus the cycling down a mountain in torrential rain and near enough zero visibility!

    Like

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