In the Shadow of Machu Picchu
Featured destinations: Peru
Published 24 June 2016
Round the World Experts consultant Charlotte Jay shares the story of her recent trip to Peru, where she hiked the Lares Trek to Machu Picchu and explored the Amazon jungle as part of one of Round the World Experts’ small-group Journeys.
Let’s start at the very beginning
Meeting a brand new group of people for the first time can be daunting, but when those people have come together for the experience of a lifetime, the fear eases a little.
In October 2015, I was that nervous person at Heathrow Airport meeting the rest of my group for our In the Shadow of Machu Picchu Journey to Peru with G Adventures.
I needn’t have worried: the excitement buzzed around us and we instantly felt like we had known each other for months.
Business is best
I was lucky enough to experience KLM’s Business Class cabin on the 12-hour flight from Amsterdam to Lima. The flat bed was a welcome comfort, and the cabin crew were so attentive, coming around with endless snacks and drinks. The food was of good quality, with three options for the main meal, and the entertainment was current, making for an extremely enjoyable flight. Pisco sour
City Lights to Jungle Frights
Lima traffic is an experience in which you are immersed without knowing: horns beeping, people changing lanes sporadically; we were glad to be within the safety of our private G Adventures mini-van. Arriving at our hotel we checked in smoothly and, after a quick freshen up, made our way to the private outdoor bar for a complimentary Pisco Sour, a heady concoction of pisco, lime juice, syrup and egg white, and the national drink of Peru. Our time in Lima was very limited; I just had time to go to a Peruvian supermarket before heading back for a bite to eat at the hotel before bed. © Charlotte Jay © Louise Taylor
© Charlotte Jay
© Louise Taylor
Our next stop was Puerto Maldonado, gateway to the Amazon. We took a relaxing three-hour motorized canoe ride, spotting passing monkeys and witnessing the famous Macaw clay lick whilst feasting on an alfresco lunch of chicken and rice. Reaching Tambopata Jungle Lodge, hidden on the side of the river bank at the top of a handmade wooden staircase, we couldn’t wait to climb up and see what the lodge had to offer us. The accommodation was simple yet comfortable, with electricity from 5pm to 7pm and the rest of the night lit by candlelight. Whilst in the jungle we participated in an insightful forest walk, spotting a tarantula, snakes, monkeys, bullet ants and many more creatures. We paddled in the river in a secret plunge pool and visited a farm to try some local fruits. Sleeping under a mosquito net, lulled to sleep by the sounds of the jungle, was an experience I will never forget. © Charlotte Jay
© Charlotte Jay
Imagine beautifully kept gardens, highly impressive architecture, and a square swarmed by culture: this is Cusco. I’ve visited many cities around the world and Cusco is up there with the best – little markets, vendors selling steaming hot empanadas, llama wool products in every window – it really is like something you see in the movies. I even sampled the infamous guinea pig, and indulged in a tasty alpaca steak. I had so much fun exploring the tiny stalls and shops dotted about the city, which was super easy to navigate and ridiculously photogenic. Cusco’s 3400m altitude hit me – walking up a small hill or flight of stairs left me a little breathless, but this was all in good preparation for our upcoming trek and end goal, Machu Picchu.
It’s important to spend a day or two adjusting to Cusco’s altitude before attempting any of the treks to Machu Picchu. Charlotte recommends the local remedy of coca tea to help ease the symptoms.
© Charlotte Jay
Making a difference: Planeterra Perfection
En route to the Sacred Valley, we stopped off at G-Adventures’ Peru Planeterra project, which provides jobs, facilities and new skills to the community, enabling local people to thrive in life. The vibrant colours of the hand-woven blankets and scarves jumped out at us as we entered the village, local people danced to drums and a group of schoolchildren gathered around us in awe at the prospect of meeting people from ‘foreign lands’. I was impressed at the great work G-Adventures do in giving something back to the community, something they replicate in all their destinations. © Charlotte Jay © Charlotte Jay
© Charlotte Jay
© Charlotte Jay
Trekking to the top of the world
The 20.5-mile Lares Trek has to be one of the hardest yet most rewarding things I have ever done. The 4,800m altitude alone was a struggle – every 10 steps or so I was stopping to catch my breath. But instead of being frustrated at this situation, I took the opportunity to admire the amazing scenery around me. Every direction I looked I saw a vast mountain or a lake so perfectly still it appeared you could have walked across it.
Our bags and equipment were carried by donkeys and llamas, a welcome luxury as the trek was steep in parts. We slept both nights in tents, glad of our thermals in the freezing temperatures. In contrast, the days were very hot so sun cream was essential. We indulged in wonderful three-course meals, freshly prepared by our own chefs, who met us at each rest point - definitely welcome after hours of walking each day. On the final morning our chefs baked a cake up a mountain on a stove. I was so impressed! © Charlotte Jay© Charlotte Jay
© Charlotte Jay© Charlotte Jay
Reaching our reward: Machu Picchu
For me to be left speechless is a rare occurrence, but visiting one of the New Seven Wonders of the World for the first time really got to me.
Walking along a narrow pathway, my heart started to beat a little faster, this was an experience I had waited for my whole life and I wasn’t disappointed. Machu Picchu was everything I hoped for and more.
Arriving at around 5:30am in time to witness the sun rising over this incredible Inca paradise added to the overall excitement. Beams of sunlight shone down on the ruins, highlighting the sheer grandeur of the place.
Exploring each nook and cranny, we discovered what life was once like at the 550-year-old complex. Making my way up cobbled steps, I forgot about my aching feet and what they had endured over the past week, as the goal was to reach the guard house for that classic postcard picture moment. Standing high above the remains of this important Inca settlement, I felt a sense of pride and achievement at how far I had come over the last none days. Making it to Machu Picchu, I had a ‘pinch me’ moment – the whole experience seemed too good to be true.
With blisters to prove the struggle, my feet had taken a beating, however I wouldn’t hesitate to do the Lares Trek again, although I would probably pay a couple of visits to the gym beforehand!
I will cherish my photos and memories forever and constantly remind myself how lucky I was to take part in this trip of a life time. This is a Journey that made me feel every emotion possible, leaving me wanting to explore this beautiful country further.
Charlotte travelled on our In the Shadow of Machu Picchu small-group Journey.