Inca Jungle Trek – Modern Meets Ancient

‘We have a space open on the Inca Jungle Trek, would you like to go?’ said Luis Zarabia, the tour agency owner of Inka’s Destination Tours.

Unlike the traditional Inca Trail trek, this trek involved  high altitude mountain biking, ziplining, hot springs, white water rafting, and trekking. I stopped myself from yelling, ‘Heck Yeah!’ and just went, ‘Um, sure, I guess that might be fun…’ 😉

Day 1

The trek is a 4 day trek, and since you stay at hostels along the way, you do not need porters, or need to carry extra equipment. The only high altitude section is on the first day, at the high pass of Abra Málaga (4316m / 14,160 feet), but this does not involves trekking, only a 2-3 hour descent on mountain bikes down the paved mountain road. The mountain bike’s knobby tires slow the descent, and also add grip and stability for safety of the participants, but can go fast enough for the thrill seekers as well.

There is also the option of adding white water rafting, which was a part of this trek. This was actually the first time I’ve ever white water rafted, and I found it to be as thrilling as advertised. Later, talking with one of the 4 Canadians that were part of the trip, 2 of them told me that out of the 5 or 6 previous rafting trips they took in Canada, this one was the best.

That night, we stayed at a sort of eco-house, where they farmed their own food, water came from a cistern and the house was filled with monkeys, coatis, puppies, cats and kittens, as well as an assortment of parrots – one big blue one that occasionally said, ‘Hola!’

Day 2

The second day started with a great breakfast of banana crepes and coffee made from beans from coffee trees on their plantation that they roasted themselves. It was as delicious as you would imagine it to be!

We started the day with a history lesson regarding a local condiment that was also used as a dye. I watched as Aurelio, our guide, plucked the fruit and used the liquid inside to paint the faces of the 2 Canadian women, Ashley and Alex.

We then headed to the nearby waterfall for a very cold, but refreshing shower! Nothing like dunking yourself under the cold stream – first bracingly cold, then your body sort of adjusts to the cold, and you start to feel a sort of internal warmth that makes it bearable – even enjoyable!

Afterwards, we started on the trek to the village of Santa Rosa (about an hour) and onwards to the Inca road of Qhapaq Ñan, a part of the roughly 40,000km Inca road network. When I saw a sign for the “Inca Trail,” I  asked Aurelio if this was part of the traditional Inca Trail, and he shook his head ‘No,’ telling me: “There are 32,000 different Inca Trails. The Inca Trail everyone knows is just one of them.”

While the trek had its hilly sections, and steep steps down, since we didn’t have to carry heavy packs, or trekked in High Altitude sections such as with the Lares or Salkantay Treks, it felt fairly easy, and doable by most healthy and active people – young and old.

We stopped for lunch in Qellomayo, relaxing in hammocks, looking at the heavy chirimoya fruits hanging above our heads in the trees above.

Trekking through the Vilcabamba mountain range, I felt sometimes that we were in the middle of Africa – with it’s tall grasses and plains. Eventually, we crossed a valley on a 2 person cable car, travelled through a dark tunnel, and relaxed at the hot springs of Cocalmayo. The hot springs is a stopping point for several tours, and was filled with other trekkers soaking away 2 days of trekking. The site also had a restaurant and bar.

A short van ride later we stopped at the town of Santa Teresa at our 2nd hostel. Santa Teresa is a cute town. It’s currently a stopping point for trekkers who go onwards to Aguas Calientes, and while it has hostels and restaurants it seem less touristy than Aguas Calientes. I made a note to spend some time there in the future if I ever come back to this place again.

Day 3

This day we took a van to Lucmabamba to hike another section of Inca Trail (Qhapaq Ñan).

This day also involved Ziplining – another first for me! After putting on gear, getting a safety lesson, we had an introductory zipline, then were able to do more advanced ziplining – such as hanging upside down, tandem zips, and even a “superman” zipline, where you put your harness on backwards and hang connected from your back waist – a no hands zip soaring through the skies like Superman!

This part of the trek is mainly known for the hike to Aguas Calientes, otherwise known as “Machu Picchu Pueblo.” You follow the train tracks as you head towards Aguas Calientes. This section was more well-travelled than I had been led to believe. In blog posts I have read, it sounded like it was a rarely used alternative to the traditional Inca Trail trek, but it seemed like more of a well-known alternative as we passed many other travelers along the way.

Our group had dinner in Aguas, and you could feel the growing anticipation of finally (finally!) seeing Machu Picchu the next day, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!

Day 4

Day 4 started early at 3am. This trip involved the hike from Aguas Calientes directly to Machu Picchu. I guess there is an easier option of taking the tourist bus to the Citadel, but this way feels more like you earned your way to Machu Picchu.

Our guide, Aurelio conducted the tour, and he was as passionate as he was knowledgable regarding the historical impact of Machu Picchu.  He also allowed us to explore the citadel on our own, seeing with fresh eyes the intricate architecture, the well-thought our pathways and terraced steps of Machu Picchu. Words really can’t describe seeing this place – there’s an otherworldly feeling to the entire place, especially with the morning fog, and the sun burning the fog away revealing the citadel in all its glory!

All-in-all, I thought this was a fantastic option to visiting Machu Picchu. Unlike the Traditional Inca Trail, this one does not need to be booked months in advance. It also does not require too much additional training, or fitness that the high altitude treks like Salkantay or Vilcabamba require.

What it does involve is more modern adventure sports of white water rafting, ziplining and mountain biking, combined with the ancient archeological ruins, and following in the footpath of the ancient Incas.

A perfect combination of the modern and ancient, the historical and the adventurous. A great introduction to the Citadel of the Inca empire – Machu Picchu!