From Ancient Temples to Jungle Vibes ...
Cusco, the capital of the Incan Empire, the next major destination on our travels, starting the next phase of our trip. We started our explorations with a city tour, admiring the view of the city from Mirador San Cristobal, followed by a walk through the main square and San Pedro markets. We also visited Coricancha, an Incan temple which was covered up by the Spanish with the Santo Domingo catholic church. The temple ruins were only discovered due to an earthquake in the 1950s and are surprisingly well intact. We also ventured into the bohemian neighbourhood of Cusco known as San Blas. We admired artists painting in the streets and courtyards and enjoyed walking along the narrow cobblestone paths.
Of course, there is always more to see, so we hit the road again, this time heading for the sacred valley, one step closer to the infamous Machu Picchu. We visited an alpaca farm where we had the opportunity to learn about how the different textiles are made as well and purchase some local products. We continued driving to the Incan ruins of Pisac and spent some time exploring the ruins and the phenomenal terraces. We continued further on our travels to the town of Ollantaytambo, another Incan ruin site. We explored the site, which involved climbing many, many stairs, but it offered breathtaking views and proved to be a good warm up for the following day’s Inca Trail.
We stayed the night in Ollantaytambo and then caught the Inca Rail to the start of the one day Inca Trail. The Inca trail took us to the Sun Gate, where we caught the first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It was a completely surreal feeling, seeing Machu Picchu for the first time; a place that I have been dreaming of visiting for my entire life. There was also something magical about seeing it from the Sun Gate, having walked in the footsteps of the Inca’s and being treated to such a sight. It is a memory that I will forever cherish.
We walked from the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu itself and then caught the public bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes. I would not really rave about this town, it is a complete exploitation of being the only town near Machu Picchu, completely ripping off tourists and not offering much to talk about. We spent the night and then were up again the next morning ready for an in-depth exploration of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, the weather was not so co-operative, deciding to bucket with rain and being extremely misty. But you’re only in a place like Machu Picchu, once right? So, we powered through and explored through the rain, which lessened slightly but still didn’t make for the most pleasant walk. It was also extremely busy walking through the site, compared to the quieter Inca trail the previous day. It was still extremely interesting to walk through Machu Picchu, but I don’t think anything could compete with the Inca Trail and walking up to Machu Picchu the way we had done the previous day.
We left Aguas Calientes with the Inca Rail and headed back to Ollanaytambo, where we then drove back to Cusco. We had another day to explore Cusco the following day but a group of us had booked a trip to Vinicuna also known as Rainbow Mountain. This was a really exciting trip, but absolutely exhausting, definitely not for the fair hearted. It was a very long day trip, starting at 2:30am and finishing around 6pm. The valley and rainbow mountain were absolutely stunning, definitely a unique experience, one I had not expected from my visit to Peru. It has got to be one of the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging things I have ever done. We exceeded our previous maximum altitude, reaching 5200m above sea level, which made the 16km trek even more gruelling. But I would 100% do it all over again!
Having explored the Incan history and culture of Cusco and the sacred valley and trekking through the Peruvian highlands it was time for a change. We jumped on a plane and prepared ourselves for the jungle. We flew to Puerto Maldonado, a city in the Amazon basin, where we would spend the next few days trekking through the jungle, a very big shift from the Peruvian highlands we had been in before. The only way for us to reach our jungle lodge was by boat and a 3km trek, followed by another boat. Our jungle trek sounded really exciting and we were all eager to explore the amazon, except for one thing. The heavens had opened up and it was absolutely pissing down with rain for over an hour. Welcome to the jungle, I guess. We were all geared up and trekked on in our Gum Boots but safe to say we all got over getting stuck in the calf deep mud puddles and the humidity pretty quickly.
Once the trek was over the weather cleared a little so we could do a little wildlife spotting on our second boat ride. We saw different species of monkeys and birds and were greeted at our lodge by a caiman, an Amazonian alligator. We relaxed in our lodge whilst others went on a tarantula hunt, not one for me thank you. But we awoke early in the morning to go once more on the water, in hopes of finding sloths, monkeys and jungle otters. We weren’t so lucky with finding sloths unfortunately, but we did manage to find the only family of jungle otters in the area out for a spot of fishing. They were very playful and came right up to our boat, which was very special.
We collected our bags and headed back to the dreaded 3km jungle trek, but this time it was actually enjoyable because the weather was cooperating. I was lucky enough to be walking under a canopy of trees when some monkeys were spiritedly running across and playing in a nearby tree. It was a thrilling experience that I was lucky to have. We caught a boat to another jungle lodge where we could kayak along the river and see the jungle from the top of a canopy climb.
After a relaxing afternoon in the jungle we headed back to the main town of Puerto Maldonado for our final night in Peru. The following morning, we flew back to Lima, via Cusco, where we were meant to spend another night but due to flight cancellations we had to reschedule and fly to Buenos Aires that night, rather than the following morning. It was exhausting but it gave us an extra day in Argentina so there was nothing to complain about.