The Epic Inka Jungle Trek and Why it's Brilliant for Adventurers
Choosing your trek to Machu Picchu is no easy feat. There are so many options at so many prices, many of which are not remotely backpacker budget friendly. Plus, you've got to plan accordingly because only a limited number of visitors can enter Machu Picchu per day, so spaces on Inca Trails with popular, reputable agencies book up months in advance.
But if you're an adventure junkie planning a trek to Machu Picchu, this blog post is hopefully about to make your life a whole lot easier. Because I'm about to tell you why you should book the Inka Jungle Trek (yup, instead of the traditional four or five day Inca Trail experience) as well as all the reasons why it's so bloody worth it.
Inka Jungle Trek Costs
So let's start with price. I researched extensively for an affordable traditional trek with a reputable agency but couldn't find anything less than $700. Of course there are plenty of agencies that will offer Inca Trail treks at a lower price, but they tend to be of much poorer quality. And after my disaster of a tour through Uyuni, I will never again lowball an adventure tour. It's simply not worth the stress or the risk, even for backpackers on a strict budget.
Nonetheless, the Inka Jungle Trek is slightly more affordable at $269 or $279 per person, depending on whether you opt for the full 4d / 3n experience, or the condensed 3d / 2n night trek. A number of agencies will offer this at an even lower price, but I chose Lorenzo Expeditions on the advice of a friend who'd travelled with them and loved the experience. For me, word of mouth wins every single time. (If you're reading this, thanks Dale!)
And let me tell you, Lorenzo Expeditions is worth every penny. I booked the 3n / 2n experience (due to availability as I'd wanted to go for longer) and enjoyed every adrenaline-filled minute. This price covered transport (including hotel pick up my first day), hostel accommodation for both nights, three meals a day, guided treks with our brilliant and knowledgeable guide, Ronald, and some additional activities like mountain biking and a trip to the thermal spas. Not included were a few additional adventure experiences, white-water rafting and ziplining - which I paid extra for, as well as the train back to Cusco and entry into Machu Picchu itself. So you'll need to factor those extras into your budget too.
Inka Jungle Trek: Itinerary
Things kick off early with a 4 a.m. pickup at your Cusco accomodation. But Lorenzo's team wakes you up with a killer breakfast and a strong coca tea whilst you get fitted into your mountain biking gear. Next thing you know, you're 4,000 metres above sea level, swirling your way through the Andes, as wind and rain brush against your face and you do your best not to slide off a cliff. A few hours later, wet and drenched in mud, you'll warm up with an authentic and delicious Peruvian lunch. But best not to get too comfortable, because you'll soon be back on the bus and headed to your white-water rafting experience. This was my first time rafting, so I was thankful to be on Class I rapids. Of course the instructors are a very safe pair of hands, so you can enjoy the thrills without fearing for your life. Too much anyway.
There's no rest for the wicked, because you're up just as early for a quick (and beautiful) dip in local thermal waters before heading out on your 16 km hike direct to Machu Picchu town, also known as Aguas Calientes. It's a long walk, which is sometimes challenging because the terrain is covered in rocks. But you get a great break for another lovely Peruvian meal in the heart of the jungle. In fact, lunch is in a beautiful wooden hut, surrounded by a garden of flowers and a few hammocks to lounge in and recover - albeit briefly. And when you finally do make it to town, you're guaranteed to crash out and get a solid night's sleep.
Plus, that moment itself is pretty epic, as you step foot into one of the world's most historic cities and look up at the sheer majesty of Machu Picchu mountain. This will give you the boost you'll need to enjoy a delicious dinner at Chullpi, which was perhaps one of the best meals I had in all of Peru. Even if you don't end up booking the Inka Jungle Trek, reserve at least one meal at this fantastic restaurant in Aguas Calientes. Dishes are local, authentic and highly original. And it doesn't feel like a tourist trap in the slightest.
And, then suddenly, the BIG DAY arrives. And your 3.30 a.m. wake-up call doesn't feel so bad because you know you're about to watch the sun rise atop one of the most beautiful places on earth. I regrouped with my Lorenzo crew first thing in the morning in the famous French bakery, La Boulangerie de Paris. We picked up our morning (or should I say - middle of the night) coffees and croissants before jumping on the bus to Machu Picchu. There is the option to hike to the entrance of the mountain too, but because we wanted to hike to the very top of one of the peaks (which are significantly higher than the famous ruins and you book separate entries too), so we decided to reserve our energies for that instead. But if you think you can handle hiking both, then do!
Lorenzo's tour ends after you've wandered through the ruins and your patient tour guide (thank you, Ronald!) has taken all the photos your heart desires. At which point you're left to your own devices to enjoy the mountain as you please and eventually work your way back to Cusco. This is ideal, as you can now savour your time on top of Machu Picchu your way, without being rushed about or forced to see something you're not really into. And because Machu Picchu is such a special (dare I say it, spiritual) place, this is really key. I opted for the two hour (ahem, relentless) hike to the top with a fellow Lorenzo-er and newfound friend. And despite a few moments of panic thanks to my fear of heights, I made it to the very top. And what a surreal feeling once there, embraced by nature and completely breathless, from the workout but also by the sight of such stunning natural beauty. It's truly a life moment I will never forget.
Once I'd wiped the tears away (what can I say, I'm a softie), it was back to Cusco. And seriously don't underestimate this part of the Machu Picchu experience. The journey back is truly lovely. The train is modern but with such a retro feel. I felt like I was travelling back to the 1940's. Not to mention that the service is impeccable. You even get snacks! Plus, it's your last opportunity to sit and stare at those beautiful Andes. I certainly did. The entire way back.
Why the Inka Jungle Trek is the Right Choice for Chic Adventurers
So if you're after some variety and a little bit of luxury on your Machu Picchu adventure, the Inka Jungle Trek is probably for you. Admittedly, I didn't go on a traditional Inca Trek for comparison, but I heard from many fellow Gringo trail backpackers that this trek is more run of the mill, largely because it doesn't offer the same mix of outdoor adventure activities. You also get to spend your nights in hostels, instead of camping out like on traditional trails. Which, for a flashpacker like me, was my preferred option. The hostels are by no means luxe, but sleeping in a normal bed is just so nice after a long hiking day. If you want to see more of the surrounding Sacred Valley area, you should opt for the longer Lorenzo experience or still consider traditional treks that will take you through the entire region. However, I balanced this out by booking a separate tour to the Sacred Valley altogether.
Whatever you decide, your Machu Picchu experience will blow your mind. But if you're looking for thrills and adventure with a bit of home comforts too, give the Inka Jungle Trek a go. And say hello to Lorenzo and Ronald for me whilst you're there.
How to Book: Visit the Lorenzo Expeditions website and start a Live Chat. They're incredibly responsive and will answer all of your questions ahead of any bookings. If you don't have defined travel dates, you can also risk it and book directly at their offices when you arrive in Cusco, but keep in mind that reputable tours like this one book up in advance.
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