Inca Jungle Trek – Days 3 & 4

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 3 – Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes

Day 3 began bright and early once again. This time we headed to go zip lining through the jungle and over rivers in 5 different zip lines. We had a blast. Gabe and I captured some awesome videos on his Go Pro which we will have to show you all once we are back in America. We even had a suspension bridge we had to walk across which I thought was much scarier than the zip line. The zip line was really fun since we got to go over beautiful landscapes and it felt like you were flying. I think a big takeaway for me is that I prefer secure bridges in countries like America with all of their planks in tact!! 

  

Following zip lining, we ate lunch then starting hiking again to Aguas Calientes. Our lunch spot was at this place on the way called Cabana de Gabriel – what a coincidence! I had to take a picture:  

 

Here are some photos from our hike to Aguas Calientes:    

    
     

Aguas Calientes is a tourist town that is right down the mountain from Machu Picchu. It is the gateway to enter the city and has tons of nice hotels, restaurants and tourist stops. We got to this town around 3pm and had some free time to explore. We went to a restaurant with wifi, drank some Cusquena local beer and enjoyed the mountain scenery. This day ended very early because the next day was the highlight and reason for our entire trip to Peru – MACHU PICCHU! 

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 4 – Machu Picchu

Our alarm went off at 4:00am for us to begin getting ready for our day of hiking and exploration. We finally made it to the big day. For those who don’t know, we planned our entire trip around going to Machu Picchu. Visiting this Incan city in the mountains was on both of our bucket lists and we were dying to go see it for ourselves. We left the hostal and started our climb all the way from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu city. This hike began at 4:45am and consistented of around 1,300 steps up the side of the mountain. Some of our group opted to take the bus up instead but Gabe and I wanted to accomplish this difficult feat and see the sunrise over the mountain. This climb was one of the hardest hikes I have ever done. Each step was harder than the one before. Initially, it was so dark that we had  to use my iPhone light to illuminate the path. (We accidentally left my head lamp in Cusco with our luggage – big mistake!) As the sun rose over the mountain peaks, we were all dripping in sweat and gasping for breathe but we stopped to take in some of the breathtaking views. Finally after about an hour and a half we finally reached the top! I have never been so happy to sit down. 

Here are some photos from the climb up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes during sunrise including a map of the path we hiked up:   

    
  

We arrived to the entrance of Machu Picchu with huge long lines of tourists waiting to get inside when the gates open. We met our tour guide who then took us through the gates to Machu Picchu city. This city that was built around 1450 as a religious and political center for the Incans and thought of as a link between the Amazon and the Andes was unbelieve to see in person. After climing all those steps up it was unimaginable how these people brought all the soil, stones and everything up the mountain to build this entire city. Luckily, the Spanish during their colonization never found Machu Picchu because they would have probably would have destroyed it. We learned about some of the history of the city and walked around with our group taking in the gorgeous city. 

Some of my favorite photos that I took of Macchu Picchu:  

    
    
    
 

We had to leave our group behind a few minutes early to go to the most spectacular part of our journey, the hike to Waynapicchu (also known as Huyana Picchu). This is one of the two mountains that overlooks Machu Picchu that is available for tourists to hike. Waynapicchu is closer than its counterpart, Machu Picchu mountain, and gets booked up in advance because only 400 people are allowed to climb it each day. It also offers closer views, a more steep and rigorous climb and its own ruins, caves and rocks at the summit. We had to begin our hike up between 7:00 – 8:00am. We arrived at 7:58am to begin but sat down just past the ticket checkpoint to rest our legs and have a snack. We were still exhausted from the hike up earlier but knew we had to do this.  We were happy to finally be on our own and away from the group and decided to go at our own pace. This time ended up being perfect because the trail up was relatively uncrowded. They definitely were not kidding about the steep climb! The steps consisted of rocks that were smaller than our feet and made us focus on our balance in addition to being out of breath. The views from this mountain were unlike anything I have ever seen before. Not only did it feel amazing to accomplish such a difficult task, the aerial views of Machu Picchu and the 360 degree views of green mountains and snow capped mountains made us feel like we were on top of the world. We took our time climbing around the top of the mountain which had big boulders, some smaller caves and unforgettable views. The pictures speak for themselves… 

   

    
    
   

We thought the tough part was over then we realized that we actualy had to descend down the mountain on these same tiny steps. I may have been less out of breath but the balancing and the stress on our knees definitely took a toll on us on the way down. The sun had also come up and it was starting to get hot. We were thrilled to have done this hike early in the morning and not in the heat. We made it down around 10:45am and both felt like we could barely walk but felt so accomplished. We finished walking around Machu Picchu and then took the bus down because the thought of 1,300 steps down sounded like torture. 

Saying we were exhausted was an understatement. Each step we took was like climbing another mountain and we had to wait until our train left Aguas Calientes at 4:20pm. We grabbed lunch in our sweaty, smelly hiking clothes and discovered this nice hotel called El Mapi. I found the hotel bar that had wifi and comfy couches and we pretended to be guests and got comfortable. We then treated ourselves to hour long massages for $12 – I am going to miss Peruvian Soles! The next part of the day felt like another day itself. We both kept saying that hiking to Machu Picchu felt like yesterday. Finally we boarded our train to Ollyentambo. After arriving, we took a bus to Cusco and arrived at our hostel around 8:15pm completely drained and ready for bed. We grabbed a quick dinner at the hostel and went right to sleep. The next day we had to wake up early again for our flight to Iguasu Falls, Brazil. Our trip to Peru was incredible and flew by! I am so happy to have experienced all that we did and with such a great travel partner! (Don’t worry Auntie Missy you still take the prize!)

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Inca Jungle Trek – Days 1 & 2

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 1 – Cusco to Santa Maria

Our 4-day journey to Machu Picchu began bright and early with a 6:30am group meeting time at the Loki Hostel.  

Here is a photo outside of the hostel during sunrise: 

 

At Loki travel, there is an option to do 3 or 4 day treks and when we met our group, it appeared most people did the 3 day trek so they were seperating from our group that evening. This seemed a bit strange to us since the day they miss is the big hiking day through the mountains and part of the original Inca trail. Our group on the first day consisted of Germans, Dutch, English, Brazillian, Swiss and French people. We instantly became friends with this adorable Dutch couple that seemed to be around our age but unfortunately, they too would be leaving us that evening. 

I already knew that this day would be my least favorite because today’s main activity was biking down a windy mountain road. For those who do not know, I can barely ride a bike in a driveway let alone down a mountain with other people, cars and trucks in a foreign country. Gabe on the other hand has a bike in New York City and absolutely loves it. I was deemed photographer and van-rider for the majority of the day. We rode up to the top of a beautiful snow-capped mountain called Abra Malaga which has an elevation of approx 14,160 ft. above sea level. When we got out of the van we were freezing. We were literally in the clouds on top of this mountain! I hugged Gabe and wished him luck on his trek down the mountain while I watched from the van. The bikers went down windy roads down the mountain, initally nearly getting frost bite on their fingers and by the time an hour passed, it was hot outside. Gabe had a blast and I enjoyed broken Spanish conversation from the front seat of the van with a driver that did not speak one word of English. 

Here are some photos from Abra Malaga and Gabe’s bike trip:  

    
    
    
 

After we stopped at lunch in the tiny town of Santa Maria where we would be spending the night. We checked into our hostel which has way too many mosquitos for our liking! This area was extremely buggy and everyone in the group had bites all over! The  3 day people left our group at this point which left us with one Brazillian, five French people and two English girls. We were the only ones not in College which made us feel very old. The Brazillian spoke little English leaving us outnumbered by the French in terms of the spoken language in the group. 

Following lunch, we went white water rafting down the Olleyantambo River. We had a blast going down Class 1, 2, 3 and 3+ rapids. By the end, we were soaked and eaten alive by mosquitos but it was definitely worth it. Gabe took some pictures on his Go Pro which I will add later since my camera is not waterproof! After rafting we took freezing cold showers, had dinner with the group then went to bed early! We have somehow become early birds on this trip.

Inca Jungle Trek – Day 2 – Santa Maria to Santa Teresa

Day 2 of our trek began with another 6:30am wake up. Following breakfast, we all jumped into the back of this open air truck to head to the starting point for our day of hiking. The views were gorgeous and it was really fun sitting on the back of the truck. 

Here is a photo of us and some of our fellow group members in the back of the truck:  

 

We began our hike through the mountains. It was absolutely gorgeous. Although our hiking lasted all day, our tour guide gave us lots of breaks to give us some Peruvian history and teach us about making coffee, the use of coca leaves and about the native language before the Spanish colonized Peru called Quechua. Some of the places we stopped also had animals like monkeys and chinchillas. I was obviously terrified of touching these creatures but Gabe was brave enough to hold the monkeys. One was a bit more aggressive and even tried to grab my camera out of my hands!

Here is a photo of our group on the hike:  

 

Photos of some of the views from our hike and the animals along the way:    

    
    
   

Eventually, we reached our lunch spot and got to take naps in nice hammocks. We then continued the hike along the Urubamba river. Eventually we got to this bridge that we had to cross to continue the hike. I am usually fairly brave when it comes to things like this but this bridge was swinging across the river. It was even missing wooden planks at certain parts. I held onto Gabe’s backpack screaming the entire time – which he captured on his Go Pro and I am sure will be hilarious once we review the videos back in New York. 

Here is the terrifying bridge:  

   

Luckily, we made it across in one piece and finished our hike in Santa Teresa. The night concluded at these hot springs which sounded amazing but ended up just being this tourist trap and essencially like large swimming pools of hot water. We were exhausted so we went in anyway and it felt great but we were expecting more natural hot springs. The bugs that night were horrible and my legs were covered in bug bites! We went to bed early again but did not feel very well rested due to our severly bitten legs! One of the French girls in our group had so many bug bites on her leg it looked like she had chicken pox. Her entire leg swelled up and she had to go to la farmacia to get some medicine because clearly she had a bad allergic reaction – atleast ours weren’t that bad!

Cusco 

Day 1 –

We have finally arrived in South America. Our trip in, although consisting of three flights was fairly seamless. The only disappointment was leaving my neck pillow in the Lima airport after taking a snooze before our 8am flight to Cusco! I guess I will need to purchase a new one before my next flight. We arrived at the Cusco airport around 9:30am on Saturday and were so excited to be there. We had a driver from our hostel meet us at the airport with a sign that said “Gabriel Grossman”. This luxury service cost us a whopping $6. We were loving Peruvian Soles already! 

We finally arrived at our hostel, Loki Cusco. We were able to check right into our Deluxe Matrimonial Room which was enormous and even had a TV and panoramic views of Cusco – this may not seem like much if you don’t frequent hostels but usually rooms are filled with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. We were living in hostel luxury! The hostel was also one of the coolest I have ever seen. It had an outdoor volleyball court, outdoor and indoor searing in their bar and just had a great vibe – it came recommended from both my friend and Gabe’s friends and they did not steer us wrong. 

Surprisingly, we did not feel too tired upon our arrival. We made sure to hydrate because Cusco sits at 11,000 ft above sea level. We did not want to get altitude sickness and ruin the rest of our trip! We decided to go out and explore. We walked to the main square of the city called Plaza de Armas. On our way, we saw some couples dining on these patios on the second floor on a side street that overlooks the plaza. We decided to go up and take the last open table outside. The sun was really coming out. Initially it was quite cold but with the sun shining and the day progressing it warmed up! For our breakfast, we had our first taste of Mate de Coca. This is a tea that derives from the coca plant. This tea helps significantly with the altitude and is more similar to drinking a strong cup of coffee. It was delicious and gave us the energy we needed to keep exploring! 

Here is a view of the Plaza de Armas from our lunch spot: 

 
Gabe and I at Plaza de Armas:  

Next, we went on a free walking tour that departed from Plaza de Armas called Free Walking Peru by Marco. The tour guide had great energy and taught us all about Peruvian history while showing us the city. He told his own story about growing up in the Amazon and by age 7 was collecting coca leaves that he provided to drug dealers. He moved away from the Amazon and to Cusco but made a beautiful point that everyone should love their own home, regardless of where they are from because we don’t choose where we are from. Another fun fact he told us was that in the Peruvian native language Quechua, there is no word for friend, only brothers and sisters. This is because everyone is your brother and sister and gives back to the earth. I thought this was really special. We walked all around the town and went in a small music shop where we heard a number of Peruvian instruments including a 16 string guitar and a large horn that resembled a shofar. Our last stop was in a part of town called San Blas. This area is uphill but has incredible views of the city. Our tour ended with free Pisco Sours, a Peruvian cocktail. It was pretty delicious! After our small sip of Perivan alcohol we were beat from all the uphill walking and decided to head back to the hostel for a nap so we could make it out that night.

Us drinking our Pisco sours:  

Our nap truly rejuvenated us! It was very necessary. We kept questioning why we were so exhausted and completely forgot that we had travelled all the way from New York and arrived this morning. The day felt so long that it felt surreal that we had just arrived in Peru. After our nap we decided to just grab some dinner at the all you can eat BBQ at the hostel. We grabbed a few local Cusquena cervezas and sat with this group of Argentineans and Chileans. I practiced my Spanish and was starting to recall much of what I had learned in school. Following the BBQ and meeting some interesting people from around the world, we ventured off on our own to this live music bar that Gabe’s friend had recommended. It was called Km 0 and was this tiny place that had a small room with a Peruvian band. We got the last table luckily and sat and enjoyed another Pisco Sour with live music in the background. We were pretty exhausted still so we went home around midnight.

Day 2 – 

Our second day began around 8:30am following a rude awakening by the roosters of Cusco. Well, they really began making loud noises starting around 5am but we somehow managed to fall back to sleep. We ate breakfast at Loki hostel then headed out to hike up to the ruins just outside of Cusco called Sacasayhuman. We underestimated the walk up to the ruins. There were so many steps but we powered through knowing it would be great preparation for our trek to Machu Picchu the next day. 

Steps up to the ruins:

  
The ruins were beautiful and sat among a gorgeous landscape. The views of the city of Cusco were amazing as well. Here are some of the views:  

    
    
 
After viewing and hiking around Sacasayhuman, we went to San Pedro Market. This is the main market in Cusco and features different booths with local foods and also an area where locals dine and eat Peruvian food. Most of the markets I have been to in Southeast Asia and other areas are full of tourists so it was really cool to see a place that was filled with locals.  

 
Next, we walked to the square and decided to hunt for a delicious lunch. We found this nice organic restaurant called Greens and ended up sitting next to a family from Beverly, Mass – it sure is a small world! This place was pricier for a Cusco restaurant but definitely attracted other American families since it was on the nicer side. We had this delicious trout ceviche with mango and alpaca sliders. Alpaca is a meat commonly served in Cusco and tastes similar to lamb. It was actually delicious! I have become such an adventurous meat eater thanks to Gabe! 

Here is a picture of us wandering through Plaza de Armas and stumbling upon a baby llama:  

 
After lunch, we went hunting for some Cusco souvenirs including hats and sweaters because it has been freezing at night and in the morning in Peru and we did not come well enough prepared. While we were shopping, a British girl recommended this one particular shop with the sweetest Peruvian woman running it. We went there and loved this woman. She had great stuff for very cheap prices. She even gave us these adorable pins to wear as a token of her gratitude. After we bought some items, she started to dress us in these colorful Peruvian garments and insisted that she take a photo. We are certainly glad she did!  

 After we took another afternoon nap then had to report to the Loki travel office for a briefing for our trek that began the next day. The briefing was informational and just reminded us about our 6:30am departure from the hostel offices – so early! 

Following the briefing, we stumbled upon this amazing rooftop bar called Marcelo Batata. Gabe enjoyed a dirty martini while I had a ‘Piscopolian’ – a twist on the cosmopolitan with the Peruvian alcohol Pisco. 

Here is a view from the restaurant:  

 

Then we went to this incredible restaurant that came recommended to us called Fallen Angel. The decor in this guest house and restaurant was not like anything I have ever seen. The tables were bathtubs filled with fish with glass over them. There were crazy sculptures and art all over the place. It was one of the coolest restaurants I have ever been to. The food was delicious except for our main course which Gabe insisted on trying while we were in Peru. We ordered the Cuy or Guinea Pig. Yes, this 8 year vegetarian actually tried guinea pig. The gross creature even had its legs in the air and had teeth… It also tasted gross but hey, at least I can say I tried it. 

Here is our disgusting Cuy:  

 

The next day we left bright and early for our 4 day trek – more to come!