Machu Picchu: The Inca Jungle Trail


Machu Picchu is the crown jewel in Peru’s rich history. Perched high up in the Andes on a picture-perfect ridge, the location of Machu Picchu is breathtaking. Unfortunately, it does make it more difficult to get to!… particularly with no roads in & out! But fear not. There are literally hundreds of tour operators in Cusco who are happy to help, & there are several options to consider.


Machu Picchu - Viewpoint

The Famous Vista of Machu Picchu

As well as the world famous ‘Inca Trail’, another popular option is more of an ‘adventure tour’ to Machu Picchu… ‘The Inca Jungle Trail’. It is typically a 3-day, 2-night tour, though it is flexible +/- 1 day. We went for the 3 day tour, biking & zip-lining our way to Machu Picchu… just like the Incas!?! You might want to make sure you have medical insurance for travel like this!

DAY 1: We headed off on a 5 hour bus ride from Cusco to a high pass 30 miles from the small town of Santa Maria. From this point, called Abra Malaga, we got geared up (in full body armour for some reason!) & biked it to Santa Maria, from the cool heights of the Andes to the jungle of the Amazon Basin. Tour companies will claim this is mountain biking… it is NOT,… but it is a cool road to bolt down.

Biking to Santa Maria - Inca Jungle Trail

The Road from Abra Malaga to Santa Maria

At this point, tours differ between operators. It is always possible to add things on to your tour as you go, but it is a little more expensive than the price you’ll pay in Cusco. After cycling, you can also do rafting for 1-2 hours for $20-$30. We decided not to, partly because we’ve done rafting before in stronger rivers, & partly due to laziness!

We finished up day one with a 1½ hour minibus ride to Santa Teresa along what must be one of the smallest, most dangerous roads in the world. Santa Teresa is a simple town surrounded by a rushing river, mighty mountains & jungle. You can relax in the awesome hot springs, a 40 minute walk from Santa Teresa next to the river… or just head to the plaza for a few beers!


Zip-lining - Santa Teresa- Inca Jungle Trail

Zip-lining through the jungle valley of Santa Teresa

DAY 2: The next morning we drove 20 minutes from Santa Teresa for zip-lining. There are two zip-lining companies both boasting multiple lines across a beautiful river valley. The one we went with had 4 zip-lines, finishing with a rappel back to base. The longest line is nearly 1 mile in length!!… Awesome! It’s definitely one of the best adventure activities we’ve ever done, up there with canyoning in Dalat and bungee jumping!

From the zip-lining, it’s a 45 minute drive to Santa Teresa’s hydroelectric station where lunch was waiting. Depending on your tour, you’ll either make the 3 hour walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, or take the train. We walked it, staring up at the backside of Huyana Picchu, across rivers, navigating the wooden tracks, & gazing at ancient terracing. It was a great little hike through some beautiful scenery… & flat the whole way! We arrived in Aguas Calientes, the base town for Machu Picchu, & wondered the market stalls around the train station & the plaza before hitting the hay early in preparation for a sunrise start.


DAY 3: The BIG one. Machu Picchu. The secret city of the Incan Empire… well, not anymore. It’s the most visited site in Peru with thousands of tourists each day. It is possible to take a tourist bus up to the front gates ($9, one way), or it’s a strenuous 1 hour hike up 700 steep steps. We left our hotel at 4:30am to get to the bridge (which opens at 5am), a 20-30 minute walk away from Aguas Calientes. DO NOT forget your passport & your entry ticket!! Across the bridge, the steps start & relentlessly continue to the top. I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND going as the gates open, at 5am at the bridge, & 6am at the top. This way you beat the crowds & the clouds, & the lighting is spectacular. Once inside, the surprisingly large city of Machu Picchu sits in front of you, in all its glory, as that picture-perfect vista you’ve seen a hundred times. But just like the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower & the Statue of Liberty, it doesn’t matter how may times you’ve seen it in photos, being there in person is still breathtaking. After a tour of the city, we headed out to the Incan Bridge, a 15 minute easy walk behind the Guard’s Tower. The bridge is an incredible display of Incan engineering, & the trail to get to it is pretty cool, cut deep in to an impossibly steep cliff face. After 4 hours of exploring the ruins we bounded back down the steps to Aguas Calientes to catch our afternoon train back to Cusco. Most tours offer trains back to Cusco at 6pm, but the train ride through the stunning Sacred Valley is so beautiful it might be worth trying to get an earlier ticket.

So, if you’re looking for some excitement & adventure instead of long hiking days, & you’ve got your international travel insurance,  then the Inca Jungle Trail might be the way to go! Here’s a summary of our tour:

DAY 1: Cusco – 5hr bus – Abra Malaga – 3hr bike ride – Santa Maria – 1½hr minibus – Santa Teresa

DAY 2: Santa Teresa – 20min minibus – 3hrs of zip-lining – 45min minibus – Santa Teresa Hydroelectric Station – 3hr walk – Aguas Calientes

DAY 3: Aguas Calientes – 30min walk – Bridge Checkpoint – 1hr walk – Machu Picchu – 1hr walk – Aguas Calientes – 5hr train – Cusco

COST = $200 pp, inc. meals, accommodation, entry to Machu Picchu, transport, & a tour guide

2_nomads at Machu Picchu

2 nomads at Machu Picchu

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