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 at all backpacker budget friendly. Plus, you've got to plan your trek accordingly because only a limited number of visitors can enter Machu Picchu per day, so spaces on Inca Trails with popular and reputable agencies book up months in advance.
But if you're an adrenaline junkie planning a trek to Machu Picchu, this 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 short of $700. There are loads 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 budget.
The Inka Jungle Trek is slightly more affordable at $269 or $279 per person, depending on whether you opt for the full 4 day / 3 night 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 had a great 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 activities like mountain biking and a trip to local natural thermal springs. Not included were a few additional adventure experiences, such as 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 Machu Picchu budget too.
Inka Jungle Trek: Itinerary
Things kick off early with a 4 a.m. pickup from 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 right 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 for Class I rapids. The instructors are also a very safe pair of hands, so you can enjoy the thrills without fearing for your life. Too much.
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 16km hike to Machu Picchu town, also known as Aguas Calientes. It's a long walk, which gets tiring fast because the terrain is really rocky and your feet take a beating. But you get a decent break with another lovely Peruvian lunch in the heart of the jungle. In fact, it's served in a beautiful wooden hut, surrounded by a garden of hanging white flowers and a few hammocks to lounge in and recover - albeit briefly.
But the most special moment is when you finally arrive in town, and step foot in one of the world's most historic cities only to look up at the sheer majesty of Machu Picchu mountain. This will give you just the adrenaline rush you'll need to enjoy a delicious dinner at Chullpi, which was probably 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 terrible 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. You have 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 mountain's peaks (which are significantly higher than the famous Inca ruins themselves), we decided to reserve our energies for that instead. But if you think you can handle hiking both parts, 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 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 a very retro feel. I felt like I was travelling through the 1940s. Not to mention its service is impeccable. You'll even get snacks! And it's your last opportunity to sit and stare at those beautiful Andes. I did. Literally the entire trip 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 Gringo trail backpackers that it's much more run of the mill and doesn't offer the same mix of outdoor activities. On the Inka Jungle Trek you'll also get to spend your nights in hostels instead of camping. Which, for a flashpacker like me, was certainly the preferred option. The hostels are by no means luxurious, but sleeping in a normal bed is just so nice after a long day of hiking. 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. You can book some great options with Get Your Guide.
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 such as this one book up fast.
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