Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu
Trek: Vilcabamba to Machu Picchu
Days: 5, not including Machu Picchu visit
Difficulty: Moderate to advanced – like all treks in the Andes (the steepest mountains in the world) good physical condition is required.
Highlights: This is one of the more “off the beaten path” trips to Machu Picchu that many people ask us about. It begins with an optional 50 kilometer, all downhill bike ride from the glacier of Veronica down to the edge of the Amazon jungle. From there, we ascend up to the magical Incan hideout known as Vilcabamba, where we will see some of the most impressive ruins in all of Peru. We will then make a three day trek through the Andes mountains, ending up in St. Theresa near one of the highest ziplines in South America before ending in Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.
We will pick you up at your hotel in Cusco for the lovely, 1.5 hour drive to Ollantaytambo, where you can also join the group if you are staying there already. From there it is a one hour drive to the top of the Continental Divide of Peru. This is 4316meter /14,300foot high Abra Malaga, at the base of the Veronica glacier. From here, the road plunges downard nearly 10,000 feet into the high Amazon glacier, from the ice to banana plants, and is one of the most beautiful and stunning drives in the world. Weather permitting, we will have the option of doing part of the descent on mountain bikes. The ride is all downhill and passes through several climate zones before finally arriving at the Amazon jungle outpost town of St. Maria.
Here we will get into our private transport van and make the nearly three hour ascent, right back up into the high Andes mountains via a drive up one of the most incredible valleys we have ever been to, into the heart of the Vilcabamba – famed refuge of the rebel Incas. We will spend our first night here in the Hostal Sixpac Manco, famed exporation outpost of Gene Savoy, ,Vincent Lee, Hugh Thomson, and many other explorers.
The next day, from our hostal here in this quaint village we will explore the many Incan archaeological sites here, including Vitcos and the White Rock (personal favorites of KB’s). This is the Vilcabamba where Manco Inca and his small band of rebels first hid from, and then held off, the Spanish conquistadores for nearly 40 years before they went further into the jungle to escape, to Espiritu Pampa. We will take a half day to fully explore this area, one of the most interesting and beautiful in all of Peru, before continuing on upward to our first campsite where we will enjoy a BBQ feast prepared in the shadow of some of Peru’s most scenic mountains and glaciers.
The next morning, we will continue up to the first mountain pass, trekking through gorgeous scenery up and over a second before arriving at Abra Mojon, a very scenic high point that was known to have been visited by the Incas. From here we will descend down the mountain a bit before making camp for our second night. As mentioned, this is one of the more remote trekking routes in the Sacred Valley and it is rare to see other groups. Todays pace is a bit more relaxed, and we have time to rest for a nice, hot lunch as well as get to our campsite well before evening so as to enjoy a relaxing late afternoon in the midst of the Andean glaciers. A special hot dinner is also on tap over an open fire, our cooks specialty !
The following day after a hot and hearty breakfast we will start the long descent to Yanatile and our third campsite in the warm upper reaches of the Amazon jungle. Along the way we will visit some Incan ruins and staircases that have only recently been discovered and continue to be uncovered bit by bit. This is a great opportunity to see a popular tourist attraction – before it has become popular !.
The next morning, we will walk down to the Yanatile river and arrive at St. Theresa, where we can either take an optional zipline tour or continue on to the HydroElectric station. For those not choosing the optional 6 day extension and begin our walk to Aguas Calientes where the trek ends, but not before we bring you to your hotel (included) and purchase on your behalf at no extra cost all your documents and entrances (entrance ticket to Machu Pichu and Huayna Picchu, roundtrip bus ticket, return train ticket to Ollantaytambo). These total about $135 per person, and are not included in the cost of the trek but we do purchase them for you (which takes a bit of work) and do not charge any fee for the service.
The second option is one of our favorites – the additional one day trek to Llactapata. This optional hike begins after our drive from the end of the main trek at Yanatile, down to just outside of St. Theresa, where we will register and begin the walk to Llactapata. This route is much less traveled than the Salkantay route, and makes for a very quiet and peaceful walk through the forest. It ascends gently for about three hours before arrivng at the site of Llactapata, another Incan site overlooking Machu Picchu that has only recently began to receive visits and is still in the process of being uncovered. We will have ample time to explore the site, relax on it’s huge front lawn of grass, or whatever before camping for the night a short distance below it. People always comment on how much they enjoyed this portion of the trip. The next morning, we will walk down to the Aobamba river and arrive at the HydroElectric station. For those not choosing the optional 6 day extension and begin our walk to Aguas Calientes where the trek ends, but not before we bring you to your hotel (included) and purchase on your behalf at no extra cost all your documents and entrances (entrance ticket to Machu Pichu and Huayna Picchu, roundtrip bus ticket, return train ticket to Ollantaytambo.) These total about $135 per person, and are not included in the cost of the trek but we do purchase them for you (which takes a bit of work) and do not charge any fee for the service.
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This is an overnight camping and trekking trip and includes everything you will need. Sleeping bag, Sleeping pads, tents, and all meals are included ! The trip is 5 days and 4 nights and will get you to Aguas Calientes on the evening of the fifth day. (Add one day and night for recommended Llactapata extension) Meals included are lunch and hot dinner Day 1, full meals on Days 2,3, and 4; and breakfast and lunch on Day 5. Six day option includes all meals on Day 5 and breakfast and lunch on Day 6. Also included is private vehicle transport to Vilcabamba from either Ollantaytambo or Cusco, a guide knowledgable about the area and its culture, and also includes either a porter or mule to carry all your gear except your small day pack – you get to just walk and enjoy the scenery! Our price is less than most agencies, but we have top of the line equipment, and on this trek that matters ! Great food, air beds, clean modern sleeping bags, etc. The cost for this trip is $595 per person, minimum 3 people. Add $125 per person for the Llactapata extension
Things to Know:
Although they are susceptible to the occasional shutdown due to a water or maintenance issu,, there are in fact basic bathroom facilities at all the camp sites. Filtered drinking water is included free on your trip, and bottled water is also available along the way if you wish to purchase it. The sun is very strong on this trek so be sure to have strong sunscreen and a wide brimmed hat. We recommend hiking in lightweight long sleeve shirts of a breathable material and lightweight full length pants. we have found that covering your skin in this matter is the best protection against sun and insects, of which there is a lot of both on this trek. There is an entrance fee to the site but it is included with your trip free of charge. The weather is consistently warm and sunny from May to November, and equally consistent rainy and intermittently sunny from December through the end of April.
They key to comfort on this trek, as with most in the Andes, is successfully layering. This means having on a few different pieces of clothing that allow you to quickly and easily adjusts as the temperature swings here in the mountains can be extreme, mostly depending on whether the sun is shining or not. We recommend long sleeve breathable fabric shirts, lightweight long pants, and an outside shell that doubles as both a windbreaker and rain jacket. Throw in a thermal shirt in the backpack and you will be ready for any temperature you will encounter. We recommend bringing several extra pairs of socks and underwear, as they don’t weigh much you can wear new ones every day. As your hiking pants will get dirt anyway within minutes of walking, many trekkers use the same pants every day but change out everything else. You do need to pack reasonably light as everything must be carried in my mule. Finally, don’t forget a comfortable pair of sleeping pants, cotton shirt, and sandals that you can keep clean and wear everynight at camp.
Here below is a more specific list of what to bring, please ask if you have any questions.
Footwear – Your footwear choice is critical to your comfort on this trek so choose carefully. lightweight hiking shoes are best, boots are not recommended. Running/trail shoes can be worn but only if you have experience walking long distances in them through steep up and down terrain. The most important thing is that whatever you bring to walk in, it should be comfortable and well broken in.
Socks - bring wicking and/or woolen socks, two to four pair depending on preference and season. Bring an extra pair or two of regular cotton socks for lounging at camp.
Pants – comfortable trekking pants (the type that zip off into shorts make a good choice), two pair Also a pair of comfortable pants for camping at night and a pair of shorts (optional)
Shirts – we recommend a long sleeve, lightweight breathable shirt for the majority of your trekking time, to protect you from sun and insects. One or two long sleeve warmer, thermal type shirts should be brought along with one or two short sleeve shirts for camp or when it is really warm.
Hats - a large, wide brimmed hat to protect you from sun and rain is one of the most important things to have and take care to remember to bring one. A second fleece hat for warmth is also recommended for the cool mornings and evenings.
Gloves - or mittens, especially if your fingers and hands get cold easily. There are some cacti on this trek, and along with the strong sun many of our guides wear a light weight pair of gloves while trekking.
Sunglasses - depending on personal preference, bring an extra pair if your eyes are sensitive to sunlight in case the first pair is lost or broken.
Sunblock - we think 30SPF is the minimum and we use 40 to 50.
Lip Balm - with additional SPF protection
Mosquito Repellent - bring any brand that you prefer
Headlamp - with spare batteries, this is a must bring accessory
Blister kit – our guides carry one as well, but never a bad idea to have along with you
Batteries - extra for your camera and other electronic accessories. No electric outlets are available during this trek and batteries are not likely to be available for purchase
Soap – a biodegrable brand is requested to protect our environment
Towel - quick drying type preferred, can bring both a shower towel as well as a small personal hand towel
Toiletries - per personal preference
Medicines - bring all prescription pills needed, there are no medical supplies available on this trek. Bring also any personal hygiene items, contraception, feminine products, contact lens solution, etc. Also recommended is a small bottle of ibuprofen tablets to alleviate muscle soreness and swelling