Holly Takes the “Trip of a Lifetime” to Machu Picchu

Some of you may remember my friend Holly whose trip to the Grand Canyon was covered here on Whit’s Wilderness. Today I’m covering another trip of hers—this time to Machu Picchu, and I think you’re going to love it! If Holly could just keep traveling, I could keep blogging about her outdoor adventures. Keep it up, Holly.

For this trip, Holly joined some girlfriends for guided ziplining, biking, and hiking across the Andean rainforest to the entrance of Machu Picchu…where she then climbed another 1,300 steps to reach the ruins. But she wasn’t done there! No, she then turned around and climbed another thousand feet up Hyana Picchu, and as the pictures I’m about to share prove, it was a hike worth the effort. Holly can now say she has checked a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World off her list. She sums it all up as the “trip of a lifetime.”

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Holly, thank you for granting Whit’s Wilderness this interview! Let’s start with your itinerary. Tell us when you arrived in Peru and what the schedule was like.

I flew into Lima on a Saturday night, and the next day I met the rest of the girls at the airport. From Lima, we flew to Cuzco. That’s where most people start, in Cuzco. That’s where the highest altitude is. {11,152’}

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Did you feel affected by the altitude?

My breakfast server at the hostel said not to worry, that half of the altitude effects are mental. It does feel unusual, like your head is a balloon, and I felt light-headed. But you chew cocoa leaves and they help. The first night we took it easy and didn’t eat heavy food.

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Once you arrived in Cuzco, how did you know where to go?

We worked with Loki Travel to arrange our tour, and they took care of everything. We met them at their office and they provided lodging. There were 18 in our group from all over—the UK, Australia, etc.

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Tell us about Day 1, the biking adventure.

The tour company drove us a few hours into the Andes, to a place that was over 4,000 meters above sea level. We were surrounded by snow-capped mountains and it was chilly. We donned biking gear, and rode downhill on mountain bikes.

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We crossed eleven rivers along the way. These were some of the most incredible views ever, we were above the clouds.

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When we got to the bottom, we went whitewater rafting. We were told there were crocodiles and piranhas in the river!

Where did you stay during this excursion?

We stayed at a hostel in the middle of the jungle, which was actually really nice. When you’re a girl, you have your prime pick of showers.

I guess chivalry isn’t dead! What was Day 2 like?

We went 10 miles the second day, through the jungle and rivers, stopping at different places, hearing about ancient Inca traditions, and seeing people in their homes on the side of mountains where they were harvesting crops.

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We painted our faces with native fruit they use as makeup.

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At one point we had to cross a river on a rotting suspension bridge…I felt like Indiana Jones. At another part they put us in metal chairs and pulled us across a river.

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That night, we had pisco sours and soaked in the hot springs. We had started at 7:30 that morning so were tired by the end of day.

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No kidding! I would have been exhausted. How was 10 miles/day? Was it doable?

I would recommend this to people who are physically fit and like being outdoors. It’s much more enjoyable when you can keep up and aren’t the last person to show up. One of the girls in our group said she wished she had done more training.

Moral of the story: if you’re OK roughing it, you will like this trip. This is not high-end!

Let’s clarify what you mean by “not high end.” Was there running water and electricity? How far were you from civilization?

There was running water and electricity, but the first night we did not have hot showers. We were pretty far from civilization, there isn’t any infrastructure out in the jungle.

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What happened on Day 3?

On day 3 we woke up and went ziplining. After we got off the ziplines, we drove to a trail head and hiked for three hours to the base of Machu Picchu. It was an easy hike that followed old train tracks.

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Now, for Day 4, when you finally reached Machu Picchu. How did that go?

We left our hostel by 4am and were #20 in line to get into the entrance. (Even though we got there at 4:30!) You have to have tickets ahead of time to get in line.

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At that point, we had to hike 1,300 stairs to get to the entrance to the ruins. There are only 2 ways to get to the entrance: either by hiking up 1,300 stairs or taking the bus. We chose to hike. The sun was coming up as we climbed the stairs, and we arrived at the entrance by 5:55 AM.

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Oh my! That is both early and strenuous. Why did you need to get up that early?

The ruins get crazy as the day goes on. There are so many tourists. The best photographs are early in the day before all the people arrive.

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How long did the stairs take you?

They take most people an average of 1 hour and 20 minutes, but I’m proud to say we made it in 55 minutes!

Was it worth the climb?

Absolutely. Machu Picchu lived up to my expectations. It really was crazy the Inca people created this civilization. They are small people, and these stairs are steep!

Tell us about the climb you did after Machu Picchu, to Hyana Picchu.

After MP, we hiked to Hyana Picchu. It was an extra $6 but it is the best view of all of Machu Picchu. We had to enter between 7 and 8 am and book far in advance. They limit the number of people because it gets narrow and dangerous.

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By the time we were finished, it was 11am and we were exhausted. We wanted to be sitting down and eating food…so we took the bus back to town.

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Were there any pieces of gear you found critical to the excursion?

I was really glad I had a light down vest, it was the best layering piece. I also brought a Columbia half zip which I wore over a tank top and the vest, and usually that was all I needed. It was hot during the day chilly at night.

Sounds like layering was especially key on this trip.

Yep. During rainy season (October – April) it is cooler during the day, but it’s still the jungle, so it does get muggy.

Shorts or pantalones?

I would recommend long pants because bug spray is not enough.You sweat it off. There are a ton of mosquitoes in the jungle.

Backpacks or regular luggage?

Since we had to carry our luggage at least one day, we needed backpacks. Some people didn’t bring backpacks, and fortunately I brought both a day pack and hiking backpack. When the guides carried our luggage, I carried my day pack.

How was the food? What was Peru like? 

Well, I had forgotten Peru was a Spanish speaking country, and so I should have watched some Spanish soap operas in advance to brush up on my Spanish! But in the end I was able to carry on a conversation, and felt good about that.

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The food was delish, they eat a lot of Alpaca.

Any advice for people going in the future?

  • Get up early and get to Machu Picchu before the rest of the tourists
  • Bring an extra shirt and change into it when you get to the top
  • Book early if you want to see Hyana Picchu

Thanks for the tips! Where are you off to next?

Nowhere until I take the GMAT!

You’re a gypsy on the inside and businesswoman on the outside. I like it.

Yeah pretty much. I wish I could just follow my inner gypsy all the time though!

Thanks for sharing your trip with us and lending your expertise. I am sure many of my readers will file this away for a future trip.

Sure thing Whit!

Photo credits: Holly Johnson, Johanna Chung, Susan Chang, Bree Wong

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