Rainbow Mountains & Jungle Trekking
20th February 2017
My second stop in South America was Cusco-the land of Machu Picchu and llamas!
I ended up taking the overnight bus to Cusco instead of flying, because I wanted to acclimatise gradually and not risk altitude sickness. However you can fly directly from Lima. The bus was meant to take 21 hours, but actually took 25 and is extremely hilly. I’ve got to be honest it wasn’t the most pleasant ride so make sure you have enough music for the journey.
TOP TIP: Pack loads of water and snacks because a lot of the overnight buses in South America do not stop for food. Most of them give you basic food on the buses but I would enquire prior to assuming.
I spent a total of two weeks in Cusco, some would say it’s too much but I managed to fit a week’s worth of Spanish classes, trekked the Rainbow Mountains and also hike the four day Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu.
I didn’t speak a word of Spanish so arranged Spanish lessons and a family home stay through Amigos Spanish school. I stayed in the Recoletta area for one week, which was super safe and not too far from the centre of the town. If you’re serious about learning Spanish I highly recommend the family stay as it really forces you to learn quickly.
For the second week I stayed in a mixed dorm at the Cusco Pariwana Hostel, which was equally as good as the Lima if not better and a lot bigger. The hostel has a real fun vibe to it as soon as you walk in with a Ping-Pong table in the courtyard. With good Internet (because finding good internet in South America is not easy), a separate movie chill room and amazing food – this one is a winner.
I must say being a bit of a health freak it was difficult for me to find good food in Cusco as I found it was common for the locals to eat double carbs without vegetables for dinner. However, I did discover a little gem where I ate pretty much most days. Introducing, Green point… this place was super cheap with their lunch menu consisting of a buffet and three-course meal for only £7. The smoked eggplant on ciabatta bread and fresh Brazil nut coffee is a must try.
Other restaurants I would recommend going to in include Jaks and Pachupapa. If you’re on a major budget Sumaq is perfect for a cheap 3-course lunch with delicious creamy spinach soup and pesto pasta.
Cusco has a huge collection of cute cafes to choose from but here are some of my favourites…
The L’ateiler café is perfect for smoothies and has a beautiful rooftop view. La Bohme serves delicious crepes and has a nice area for journal writing and chilling.
Cafe Chocolate serve fresh coco tea and Dwasi coffee shop have the best fresh banana bread.
The Rainbow (Vinicunca) Mountains
This is by far a must do if you’re in Cusco. The picture says it all really!
There’s no need to pre book this tour as you’ll find hundreds of tour operators in Cusco all offering similar prices. I paid 70 soles for the tour, which included entrance and food (do check what the price includes as some tour guides make you pay extra for entrance).
The tour guide picks you up at 3am in the morning to go to Vinicunca (a few hour’s drive outside of Cusco) where you have breakfast before you start the big hike.
This was an extremely tough hike, so for someone who’s only ever hiked the Arthur’s seat in Edinburgh (250 metres) the Rainbow Mountains was a pretty high achievement. The mountains are 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) above sea level, which means there’s a serious case of altitude at the top. I would recommend hiking boots (as I only had Nikes) and hiking poles and also take sunscreen! For those that aren’t experienced hikers don’t worry, there are horses that can be rented along the way for around 70 soles.
So the famous Machu Picchu is of course another must do when in Peru. Many other travellers I met did the Inka Trek but as an inexperienced hiker I wanted a journey that involved a variety of activities, which is why I chose the Jungle trek. The tour company I used was Loki tours. Loki is also a popular party hostel in Cusco for those looking for no sleep at night.
The Jungle trek consisted of 4 days and 3 nights.
We mountain biked it down from 4,200 metres above sea level to 1,600 metres. You can really feel the difference in the temperature, as it gets warmer riding down. After this we had the option to go water rafting and ended the night staying in a lodge in the jungle.
This was by far the hardest day of the trek and consisted of an 8-hour hike walking a total of 20km from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa. There were many tour stops along the way learning a lot about the history of Peruvian culture including the importing of cocoa leaves and ayahuasca spiritual ceremonies. We also tried typical foods and came across many cute animals.
After our long hike we were rewarded with some chill time in the hot springs.
TOP TIP: Pack lots of DEET mosquito repellent!
This day consisted of zip lining in the morning followed by further hiking where we arrived to Aguas Calientes, which is the town where everyone stays to go to Machu Picchu.
With an early 4am start we had the option to either hike or take the bus up to Machu Picchu. The hike takes around an hour and don’t get me wrong is extremely challenging but such a good achievement once you get to the top. Once you get to Machu Picchu there are other optional mountains you can hike. I hiked the actual Machu Picchu montaña/mountain, which took 3 hours in total (over 2,000 steps). This was a tough hike with steep stairs especially as it was raining the whole time. I’d only recommend if you have more energy after the 4 days, as most people we burnt out by the end of the trek.
TOP TIP: Buy snacks before arriving to Aguas Calientes, as it is super expensive in the town.
Overall, I’d say the Jungle Trek was an amazing experience. You meet a fun group of people (mostly young) and end up really bonding over the four days, as the hikes are mentally and physically tough.
If you plan on having dinner in Aguas Calientes I recommend a little Italian restaurant called Incontri Del Pueblo Viejo for seafood tagliatelle and grilled llama meat. Quite pricey for those on a backpackers budget but the food and atmosphere was worth it.
TOP TIP: Minimalistic is key-don’t pack too much stuff, as you’ll end up carrying it all, but also be sure to pack a first aid kit in case of emergencies!
Other Must dos…
Plaza de Armas is the main square, which marks the colonial centre of the city and where the cathedral is.
San Pedro Market sells everything from fresh fruit and smoothies, to raw meat, pottery and cute little souvenirs. (I went for the Peruvian chocolate-they sell the best 80% cocoa dark chocolate, all those antioxidants!!!)
The San Blas area is so pretty and actually my favourite part of Cusco (mainly because Green Point was there). Opposite Green Point is The Yoga Room, which offers walk-in yoga classes for 25 soles. English speaking teachers teach all classes with a focus on meditation. The shop below and café also offers a selection of homemade soaps and beauty products, good coffee and hippie jewellery. The studio space is quite small for demand so I would recommend going early.
You’ll be fed up of it when you get there I’m sure but you’ll see many many Peruvian ladies offering massages around the streets. However, I do recommend going for the Inka and hot stone massage as a treat after any hikes.
AVT Quad Bikes
My friend and I rented out AVTs (95 soles) for the afternoon and went to see the Moray ruins and Maras salt mines. The Maras are over 800 years old, over 2100 squares long. It was a beautiful scenic drive!
This was by no means Christ the redeemer in Brazil but the hike to the mini Jesus statue is still worth a visit. It only took 40 minutes and having done the jungle trek two days before the level of difficulty was nothing compared to that. With the statue over looking the whole of Cusco, the best time to go is for sunset.
TOP TIP: Haggling is difficult in Cusco because of the touristic nature and taxis will try to charge you more if you look like a gringo.
I didn’t know any Spanish before arriving but luckily meet a lot of friends along the way who did, but as long as you know the basics and download SpanishDict (the best offline translator) you’ll be fine!
If you want the best view of Cusco, Limbus Bar is the place to be. It is a really hidden bar up these super steep stairs in the San Blas neighbourhood, but the view here is so worth the climb. This was the perfect 25th birthday celebration!
Mama Afrika, Mushrooms and Mythology are all bars/clubs located in the centre close to the Plaza. Most of them have free drinks and entry during weekdays. Pariwana hostel also had fun events going on every night too including karaoke and salsa classes.
Planning your trip to Peru soon? If you do have any other questions please do comment and ask!