The Sacred Valley, Quillabamba, Machu Picchu, Oh My!

Two days after our travel companions Dan and Nichole arrived last weekend, we embarked on an epic four-day adventure culminating with Machu Picchu.  Now, it’s important to know that there are a variety of options for visiting the sacred Inca site.  You can do it simple and cheap via a one (albeit long) day trip on the train. You can schedule a much longer trip, oftentimes seven or eight days, in which you visit all of the Inca ruin sites from Cusco all the way to Aguas Calientes, the city nearest Machu Picchu.  Or, you can do a private tour in which you determine the length of your journey, as well as the stops along the way.  The best choice for you will depend on your agenda, the time you have available, and your preference for a more or less rigid schedule.

For us, we determined that a four day trip made the most sense and we knew we wanted to visit Machu Picchu in a less conventional way.  This meant that we were going to take the private car tour.  Our host’s father, Daniel, has long been a tour guide in Cusco and he has a wealth of knowledge regarding the Inca (or more accurately, Quechua) people.  So, the five of us (and our driver, Carlos) left early on Monday morning to head to a few sites in the Sacred Valley. We visited Chinchero, Moray and Ollantaytambo during the day before heading to the jungle of Quillabamba on Monday night.  We spent all of Tuesday in Quillabamba and stayed for one more night before heading to our next stop in Cocalmayo/Santa Teresa on Wednesday afternoon.  At this point in the journey, we left our vehicle and hiked from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes on Wednesday evening.  This set us up for a beautiful Thursday morning at Machu Picchu, followed by a long trek home that night.

The four days we spent on the road seemed like a month because of the immense activities we experienced.  Since we don’t have a month to read about it, let me sum up why the Kimble-Rudenga itinerary was perfect for us (and may be perfect for you, too!):

1. Flexibility.   You aren’t tied to a specific timeline through private car transport.  There are options to stop off somewhere for lunch, spend extra time at certain sites and even pull off of the road if someone is getting carsick.  A private tour puts you in control of your schedule.

2. The ability to travel off the beaten path.  More than half of our four days was spent at sites that the train surpasses on the way to Machu Picchu.  The jungle in Quillabamba and the natural hot springs at Cocalmayo are “must-sees,” and you wouldn’t get to see them taking a direct route!

3. Enhanced knowledge of the Inca sites.  Daniel was constantly dropping knowledge during the car ride and at all of the archaeological sites.

4.  A more personal experience.  There’s definitely a different feeling when you have one tour guide for four people versus a large group.  Everything was so interactive (like climbing trees to pick your own avocado!) and being in a smaller group allowed for us to ask questions and really understand the culture and history.

5.  Better bang for your buck.  The price of the train ticket alone (not including entrance to the sites) is about a third of the cost of what we paid for our four-day excursion.

6.  Cultural experiences.  We made various stops at fruit stands and markets along our route, giving us an opportunity to try so many new things (ever tasted a pacay?).  Not to mention we were able to visit local farmers in Quillabamba and enjoy organic coffee, fruits, meats and vegetables!

7.  You can bring your dog!  Sofi experienced every bit of our four-day trip with the exception of Machu Picchu, so she definitely recommends a private car.

8.  Insane scenery.  Our route to Quillabamba allowed for a pass through the snow-capped mountains at over 14,000 feet!

9.  Working off the “car” legs.  The mountains don’t allow for cars to make it past Santa Teresa, so we enjoyed a 10-kilometer hike to Aguas Calientes.  The path follows the train tracks and gives a little sneak peak of Machu Picchu near the end of the trail.

10.  Memorable videos.  Daniel encouraged us to take time for pictures and videos, so we never felt rushed.  See below for a video of our journey from start to finish!

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