Cycling, Rafting & Hiking Your Way To Machu Picchu: The Inca Trail Alternative That’s Just As Amazing
Forgo the Inca Trail for something a whole lot more adrenaline-filled...
When it comes to holidaying/backpacking in Peru, a visit to Machu Piccu is a must.
As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and arguably the most iconic Incan memorial in the world, it’s not a matter of when you’ll visit, but how.
There are two tried-and-tested routes to date - the kick-back-and-relax train journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu’s closest township, Aguas Calientes (followed by a short bus ride to the entrance), or the iconic route hiking along the Inca Trail, which takes five days on foot, at high altitudes, and - while spectacular - is increasingly crowded due to the rapid rise in tourism.
But there’s an alternative you may not have heard of, which straddles the exertion divide, takes in some of the Inca Trail, and offers equal parts culture and LOLs.
Here’s why Biking, Hiking, Rafting and Zip-lining your way to Machu Picchu is the literal best…
Mountain biking funtimes with none of the pesky uphill
Like any good Machu Picchu trip, you’ll start at Cuzco, before heading off on a drive through the Sacred Valley. Yet while you have a 2.5 hour bike ride ahead of you on day one, it’s very exertion-lite.
The van will drive you to the crest of the Malaga High Pass (a whopping 4,350m high), before strapping on safety kit, and then zooming the entire way down the mountain. While most of it is on-road, you’ll have the option to zip off-road (hello cows), and stop off at archeological sites along the way.
Best of all (apart from the complete lack of gear change), is that the landscape changes radically as you descend - from snow-capped mountains down through to humid jungle, alongside rushing rivers and lush fruit plantations.
Oh, and did we mention the scenery? Because some of the vistas are IMAX-ish in scope and scale. An enjoyable adrenaline rush with minimal effort? YES PLEASE.
Raft your way down the Urubamba River
After you’ve decamped in Santa Maria village, you’ll be given the option to hop aboard a boat and (attempt to) whitewater raft your way down the Urubamba River.
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the initially lazy flow. Before long you’ll be battling class III and IV rapids, spinning around in whirlpools and team-bonding your way through to keeping the boat upright.
Even better, towards the end you’re heartily encouraged to jump into the river. The brave amongst you are in for a treat, as your lifejacket buoys you down the warm rapids. Looking up at jungle-y branches as you coast down the river is as close to the Baloo dream as you’re ever going to get.
Trek through the Sacred Valley (and part of the Inca Trail)
While you’re not committed to a five day Inca Trail slog, there’s still the option to experience a flavour of the stunning hiking that Peru has to offer. And it is stunning.
While it’s only a day’s worth of proper trekking, it’s by no means easy - you’ll scale hundreds of metres, and your calves will feel it.
Thankfully, with a brilliant guide (hey Junior *waves*) giving you fascinating local cultural facts along the way (you’ll be walking along part of the Inca Trail, so you’ll have questions aplenty), some truly mind-blowing views, and a healthy array of fruit to eat off the plants, and animals to meet along the way, you’re going to be too distracted to care about the exercise.
Our particular highlight was stopping off at Monkey House, perched high atop a deliriously vertiginous Urumamba Valley mountain.
Not only can you meet the rest stop’s infamous Mona Lisa monkey (don’t worry, she’s free to roam wild, and just comes in for bread), but they even had pet dogs, macaws and coatis, too.
Throw in a natural hot springs ready to meet you at the end of a day’s worth of walking, and it’s pretty much one of the best one day hikes in the world.
Zipline through the canopy
Give your feet a rest, by soaring through the canopy above Santa Teresa. Vertikal Zip Line boasts five ziplines interconnected by 12 platforms suspended 250 metres above the valley.
With multiple zipline styles (the bolder amongst you can try flying upside down), and the longest stretching up to a kilometre, it’s an incredible, energised way to experience the environment.
Meander to Machu Picchu
The final stretch of the trip is another hiking jaunt - only this time mercifully horizontal and incline-free. Mosey along the railway tracks, through gorgeous rainforest, and spot the back of Macchu Picchu loom high above.
Get a decent night’s sleep at Aguas Calientes before hopping on a short (very early morning) bus ride up to the iconic monument itself.
Brace yourselves, chills are coming.