When I Chilled With Llamas on Top of Machu Picchu
Look at that picture. It’s awesome. It’s me, getting my llama lean on at Machu Picchu. Wayna Picchu is in perfect view in the background, the clouds had just parted, the weather was warm, and at that moment, everything was right in the world. It’s one of my all-time favorite self-pictures.
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I entered Peru from Ecuador and made a bee-line for Cusco. I already wrote about how much I loved Cusco; Machu Picchu was just the icing on the cake. For many, Machu Picchu is consider one of those need-to-see places before you die. Having been there, I can definitely see why.
As you ascend the final step and get that first glimpse of the mist covered ruins, you can’t help but feel like you are a part of something bigger. Its (almost) untouched nature will undoubtedly leave you with a sense of wonder and amazement.
When the Spanish conquistadors pillaged the Inca empire, they destroyed pretty much everything. But Machu Picchu, due to its unique geographic location, was never discovered and became lost in the sands of time. Centuries later, in 1911, it was revealed to the world by American explorer Hiram Bingham. As it stands now, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.
For backpackers along South America’s gringo trail, it is definitely one of the must-see places. But as well known as it is, there is still a lot of confusion on how to get there. One of the biggest misunderstandings about Machu Picchu is that you need to sign up for the official “Inca trail” trek online, months in advance and drop $500 to see it. Come on guys, this is Peru we’re talking about. You think every outfitter in Cusco runs on computers and internet reservations?
Luckily for visitors, there are multiple ways to get to Machu Picchu. They range from the lazy man’s train/bus option to the extended 5 day Salkantay trek, with numerous variations in between. And for every way to get there, there are about 20 outfitters willing to help you do it. Competition is fierce in Cusco and there are parties leaving every single day of the week. It’s a buyers market and you can definitely shop around to inspect the gear, see how they treat their porters and, of course, negotiate on pricing.
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I rolled into Cusco with no bookings or reservations and within 2 days, had negotiated the Jungle Trek down to a ridiculously cheap price of $130 (I still can’t believe it). The $130 included 3 nights of lodging, 4 days of food and all the transportation. About the only thing not included was booze and the entrance ticket.
Reasons why I didn’t book the official Inca Trail? It was nearly 4x as expensive, a pain in the ass to reserve and you’re sleeping in tents versus hostels. On top of that, the Jungle Trek had variety. Whereas the other treks you’re hiking for 7-8 hrs a day, 3 days straight, ours had a downhill mountain biking component the first day. Sure, the Inca Trail has a different route (I’ve heard the view at Dead Woman’s Pass is pretty awesome) and you enter through the Sun Gate located above the ruins… but I’ll live.
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Next: Hitting the road.