Instead of taking the train straight to Machu Picchu from Cusco, this trip adds a number of twists a turns along the way, through a very little-travelled part of Peru, where you can really experience local life, off the beaten track. There's a day of mountain biking from the icy Andes to the hot Amazon jungle, followed by a day of white water rafting. This trip also includes exploration of rarely visited Inca ruins, plunging into swim holes and zip lining over cloud forest. The final segment is a scenic, high-jungle train ride to Machu Picchu, the greatest archaeological site in South America.
|Day 1||Bike from the highlands to the Amazon basin||Santa Teresa|
|Day 2||White-water rafting in the high jungle||Huancacalle|
|Day 3||Vitcos and an unforgettable bike ride||Quillabamba|
|Day 4||Watery fun around Quillabamba||Quillabamba|
|Day 5||Zipline and scenic train ride||Aguas Calientes|
|Day 6||Machu Picchu!||Cusco|
Day 1: Bike from the Andes to the Amazon basin
You will be picked up from your accommodation in Cusco at 7 am and driven up to Abra Málaga (Malaga Pass), the high point of the trip at a dizzying 14,270 ft (4,350 m). Here we cross from the eastern side of the Andes to the west. On the upper slopes of the mighty Amazon Basin, we set off on bikes and will lose nearly 10,000 ft (3,000 m) of altitude over an incredibly scenic 44 mile (71 km) descent.
This is a classic South American bike ride, right up there with Bolivia's 'Death Road.' The ride is a long, gentle descent through spectacular scenery – and suitable for anyone who can ride a bike. By the time we get to Santa Teresa, at 6,230 ft (1,900 m), we’re in high jungle – a whole different world from the icy Andean pass where we started.
There’s time this evening to visit the Cocalmayo natural hot springs, the perfect place to relax and celebrate our achievements today, and the adventures to come in the next few days! Accommodation is available at a rustic eco-lodge outside Santa Teresa.
Day 2: White-water rafting in the high jungle
Virtually untouched by tourism and rarely commercially run, the Santa Teresa River offers the most exhilarating and beautiful rafting in the Cusco region, and today you'll take a plunge down its rapids.
In the afternoon we’ll drive to Huancacalle. The scenic drive up a remote mountain road through a vertiginous green valley is a treat in itself. We’ll spend the night in a family-run guesthouse in this tiny town, overlooking sheep-dotted paddocks and a rocky mountain stream.
Day 3: Visit an Inca ruin and take bike ride through the Andean foothills
In the morning we’ll take a short hike to Vitcos and the White Rock, two recently unearthed Inca sites set in scenic bushland. The hiking and site visits are worth the trip to Huancacalle in themselves, but we came here with an even greater purpose – the bike ride out!
We’ll spend the afternoon riding out down the same dirt road we drove up yesterday, freewheeling through farmland and villages for hours as we gradually lose altitude and the passing scenery changes from llama pastures to banana and coffee plantations. This is a spectacular, fun cruise which very few foreigners have done. We continue to Quillabamba where we will spend the night.
Day 4: Watery fun around Quillabamba
Quillabamba is a sleepy jungle town that sees few tourists. Its main attractions are outside town and consist of a series of different swimming holes, each more awesome than the last. Siete Tinajas is a series of seven pools under a jungle cascade, where we can paddle, climb, and pluck jungle fruit straight off trees! Sanbaray and Echarati boast elaborate complexes of swimming pools, slides, landscaped lawns and trout restaurants where hours can go by just lounging, swimming, eating ice-cream and people-watching. This is a day of the jungle at its best, as enjoyed by the locals.
Day 5: Zipline and scenic train ride
We’ll drive back to Santa Teresa today and experience Cola de Mono, South America’s highest zip line (flying fox). Once securely harnessed, we’ll each zip across a half-dozen sections of line slung across the stunning Sacsara Valley, a narrow gap between Santa Teresa and Machu Picchu. The scenery is spectacular and the ride surprisingly serene. Later, we’ll either take a short train ride or hike the pleasant 5 miles (8 km) to Aguas Calientes, where we will spend the night.
Day 6: Explore the ruins of Machu Picchu
An early start rewards us with sunrise at Machu Picchu – a highlight of any trip to Peru. A spectacular stone city surrounded by incredibly steep mountains, Machu Picchu needs no introduction and is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. A guided tour is a required start to orient you in this massive site, then you’ll have plenty of time to explore the area and some of the surrounding peaks on your own before we catch the train back to Cusco, where we'll drop you off at your accommodation.