MM Collection
Checking in from the Condor's Nest on Illimani, Bolivia. MM Collection
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September 22, 2011

Adventures on Inca Trail and in Amazon rain forest!

This September, our first Inca Treks of the season took off with four trekkers from Florida, Amanda and Joshua on our Inca Trail Trek option and Robert and Ludmilla on the Inca Trail Deluxe option. Both couples also were the first to try our new luxurious extension in the Amazon rainforest! The group had a wonderful time with great food, good company and spectacular views and trekking challenges. Amanda France sent us her wonderful blog of this eye-opening experience. She and her husband Joshua are already looking forward to their next trek with Mountain Madness! For those of you considering a trek in South America, Amanda's reflections will answer a lot of the nitty-gritty questions you might have about the trip!


Cusco, Peru

(All photos by Amanda France)

Itinerary for Inca Trail Trek

Day 1: Cusco, Peru
Day 2: The Sacred Valley
Day 3: Inca Trail to Huayllabamba
Day 4: Inca Trail to Warmiwanusga Pass
Day 5: Inca Trail to Winay Wayna
Day 6: inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Day 7: Amazon Extension - Puerto Maldonado
Day 8: Amazon Extension - Rainforest Canopy
Day 9: Cusco
Day 10: Last day in Cusco


Day 1: Cusco, Peru

"Day 1 actually started the day before when my dad dropped us off at the airport and we started our journey south via Taca airlines. We flew from Orlando to San Salvador and then to Lima, Peru. In Lima we had a 9 hour over-night layover, so we opted to book a room in the hotel Ramada so that we didn't have to sleep on the floor. Totally worth it. We were able to get a few hours of shut eye, shower, and not have to listen to airport announcements all night long.

Peru flag and Inca flag

Painting illustrating how the Incas believed that everything was connected by lines

"Our flight left Lima bound for Cusco at 5:40 am. It was only an hour flight which was nice. We landed in Cusco and were hit immediately with cold, thin air. We went from sea level to 11,000 ft in an hour. Once we got our bags (I was so worried they wouldn't make it and we wouldn't have our trekking equipment and would be forced to trek in gym shoes and a light jacket. Glad that didn't happen!) we headed outside and met our Mountain Madness guide, Julio. He took us to our hotel and we were able to sleep for a few hours before lunch. During that time we drank A LOT of water and some coca tea to help acclimatize. Then at lunch time we met with Julio again and we were introduced to the second couple that would be joining us on our trek, Rob and Luda. They were from West Palm Beach! Haha, small world that two sets of Floridians would be trekking in Peru together. But we had a nice lunch (all of the meals had already been paid for with our package). Then we headed out to see the sights of Cusco. It was so great having a guide to show us and teach us about everything that we saw. We went a bit higher and were checking out an Inca temple when Josh started to feel ill and ended up having to use some bottled oxygen. But after that he felt fine. It was neat seeing and touching Inca stone after having learned about it extensively in college and growing up. It's not like you see Inca stone anywhere else in the world.

Cusco hillside

Viva El Peru

"After we explored the city and some Inca sites, we had dinner together at a small restaurant near our hotel. One thing that we had to get used to was the times that Peruvians liked to eat. They preferred a late lunch and a late dinner--a very Spanish trait. Josh and I usually eat lunch between 11-12 am and dinner between 5-6pm. In Peru you eat lunch around 2-3 and dinner between 8-9. Just a bit late for us, but we adjusted. We were amazed that they were able to cater to our vegan diet, so no complaints! And it helped very much that our guide was a local and spoke spanish. Our high school Spanish did help a lot, but neither of us are fluent.

Luda and our guide Julio

"After dinner we packed and went to bed because we were headed to a new hotel and the Sacred Valley the next day. TOP


Day 2: The Sacred Valley

The Sacred Valley

"We left our hotel rather early the following day to head an hour outside Cusco to the Inca's Sacred Valley. Here in the Sacred Valley we stopped at an animal sanctuary (I got to TOUCH a condor!), we hiked up some ruins at Pisac, and spent some money in the local market. I bought a cool silver lizard necklace for 35 soles (roughly $12 US) and Josh bought a journal. We bought a few other small things, everything was so much cheaper than in the US and we were able to bargain, so it was quite exciting. After our adventures through the market, we headed to a neat little buffet outside of town. They had some interesting and yummy food. Peru does have a lot of meat dishes, but they also have plenty of fruit, veggie, pasta, and potato dishes to keep us vegans happy.

The animal sanctuary

The condor!

"After lunch we headed to another Inca site on the side of a mountain, Urubamba. There were quite a lot of stairs, but it was still fun, and very windy! We walked through the small town at the bottom of the mountain where people still live, and we saw what I would call a "guinea pig farm". It was basically 50 or so guinea pigs living on the floor of a house because they eat them in Peru.


Guinea pig farm!

"After our tours, we headed to a new and beautiful hotel in the mountain valley. On the drive up to the hotel however, we passed a lot of poverty. Poverty that you don't see here in the US. It was quite eye opening. After passing the poverty streets we headed to a gated hotel. It just really made you think. The hotel was nice, and it had amazing views of the mountains and surrounding river valley. Once we got to our room we had to pack our separate bags for the trek the following day. Then we headed down to dinner. Oh, but they were out of chocolate pie, so that was disheartening, lol.

Rob, Luda, Me and Josh

"We went to bed early that night in preparation for our trek the next day. TOP


Day 3: Inca Trail to Huayllabamba

"We met our local guide for the trek at our hotel over a nice early breakfast. His name was Mario and he had been on the Inca Trail over 400 times! He would prove to be a fantastic guide and teacher throughout our trekking adventure. We had to drive about an hour away to the trailhead in a small town by the river. There we met our porters and had to officially check into the trail. We had to present our passports (I got a stamp for the Inca Trail!) and make sure our permits were secure. Then we crossed a small bridge and were on our way!

The bridge is the start of the Inca Trail

"The trail was very easy at this stage. It was relatively flat and had a gradual incline. We followed the river as it wound in and out of the mountains. The scenery was beautiful and the company was great. We stopped and had lunch around 2pm on the side of a mountain in the valley. Now in our trekking group we had the 4 of us, our guide Mario, a chef, a head porter, and 7 other porters that carried our main bags, tents, and other gear. So they would run ahead of us on the trail and set up a tent and a cooking tent for lunch and for our over night camps. I was surprised at the type of service we were presented with when we had our first lunch stop. They had water our for us to wash our hands and they had a tent set up with a table and chairs for us to relax and enjoy our lunch. And enjoy it we did! We would come to get used to our chef's amazing 4 course meals at every stop. To my amazement and satisfaction, they prepared complete vegan meals for us. It was amazing. No wonder I didn't lose any weight on this trip, we had great food and a lot of it!

Lunch on the trail!

"After lunch we hit the trail for a few more hours of hiking. It was super easy hiking and before we knew it, we were at our camp site for the night. We camped in very small little village near some farms. It was great having the tents all set up when we arrived. We hopped in and changed our clothes and set up our mattresses and sleeping bags for the night. Then it was tea time. We talked, enjoyed some light snacks, and then prepared for dinner--which was really good. We finished off the evening with some tea and we all went to bed around 8pm. I was hoping to get in some star gazing while on this trip because there wouldn't be any light pollution because well, we were in the Andes. But with my luck it was a full moon on this trip, so every night all we saw was moonlight. Maybe next time I book a trekking trip I need to look at the moon cycles before I pick the dates! TOP


Day 4: Inca Trail to Warmiwanusga Pass

"After a huge breakfast (and I mean huge!) we headed upwards on the trail. No more easy flat and gentle incline paths. No. We had 5 hours of stairs ahead of us. I'm starting to think this was the reason why we had such a big breakfast. We clearly needed the fuel to climb up 4,000 ft of elevation. The day before I had listened to some music on my iPhone. It was classical and pan flute. But for climbing up the stairs I had to switch it to some Coldplay and some Queen. Classical arrangements just weren't going to cut it. I'm not going to lie, the first 5 hours of that day was crazy hard. It just kept going up. But finally, after almost 5 hours of walking up stairs, we hit the top of the Warmiwanusga Pass/Dead Woman Pass which is 13,000 ft above sea level. This was the part of the trek that I was most worried about. I had never been that high before, so I wasn't sure if I would be able to handle the altitude. Altitude ability has nothing to do with your fitness level, it has to do with your genes and how well your body can adapt. Well, I am happy to say that I handled it fine! We sat up top, I ate a snack, and took some photos without even as headache or being out of breath.

Rob on the trail


"But reaching the top of the pass wasn't the end of our trek for the day. We then had to head down another 1,000 ft of elevation to reach our lunch and campsite for the night. I felt great going down and lead the way. It took us about an hour to reach the camp. Josh struggled a bit, but he felt much better once we got to camp. I think everyone's knees were sore that night! I seriously felt like I had run a marathon. So hopefully that was good training!

At the top. We made it!

"We had lunch right when we reached the campsite. Again, it was a great meal. Then we had a few hours of free time which was spent reading and sleeping. I used that time to use some icy hot on my knees and put on my compression socks. Then we ate dinner and even had a bit of wine! I had tried to avoid alcohol most of the trip because it has the opposite effect on your body when you are trying acclimatize--it's a blood thinner and you are trying to thicken your blood when you are this high. But it was some local Peruvian Blanca Blanc wine and it was good. Not sure if it was the wine that helped me sleep or the fact that we had completed 5,000 ft of elevation change over the course of that day. TOP


Day 5: Inca Trail to Winay Wayna

Our porters

"This morning started out much the same way as the previous one. We had a filling breakfast and then headed upwards. We climbed to almost 12,000 ft at the second pass of the trail before heading down another endless trail of stairs. These stairs heading down were my most troublesome ones. The whole entire 45 minutes that it took us to climb down them was a struggle for me. My knees hurt and I kept slipping on the rocks. These are original stones that the Incas had laid, so the stones were uneven and I just couldn't get a good landing spot for my feet on each step. Every time I took a step down I kept getting that feeling where you catch yourself form falling. It wasn't fun. When we reached the bottom, Mario, Rob, and Luda climbed up to an Inca site that was built on top of a mountain. Josh and I actually decided to skip that site and continue on the trail and meet up with the rest of the group for lunch.

Down into the cave!

Amazing lunch! And did I mention it was always vegan?

Lunch tent

"After the stairs heading down, it was quite the enjoyable trail. It was mostly up and down gradations, but they were a bit more gradual. We walked through some caves and rock over hangs that were really neat. The trail was crowded most of the time during our 4 day trek. But for the almost 2 hours that Josh and I were moving along we felt like we were the only ones there. It was neat. We met up with the rest of our group at our lunch campsite which happened to be at the 3rd pass at almost 12,000 ft. It was a beautiful lunch site on the top of a mountain. Amazing food again!

All of us with our chef, porters and guide

Stairs. A lot of stairs going down.

"After lunch we headed down. And continued to head down. Passed some Inca sites, but kept climbing down stairs. Finally the trail started to level out and we passed some beautiful Inca terraces. We explored them and took some photos. We saw some llamas and marveled at how far we had climbed down from the mountain above us. The sun started to set and we headed towards camp. We rolled in to the site, changed, and sat down to a very delicious dinner. This was actually our last dinner together on the trail. We enjoyed some wine (we were heading down in elevation now, so no point in avoiding alcohol!) and we had the opportunity to personally thank (and tip) all the porters and chef. It is just amazing what these porters can do and it saddened us greatly by how much poverty they live with. Josh and I are getting together some clothes to send to them later on this fall.

Mario teaching us some Inca facts

"After the dinner festivities, we had to get to bed early. We had a 3:40 wake up time the following day so that we could get to Machu Picchu to see the sun rise. TOP


Day 6: Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

"I awoke around 12pm with the sound of heavy rain hitting the tent. This lasted until about 3am. We all woke up and were out of our tents and eating breakfast at 4am. We had to get a move on not only to catch the sunrise (we still had a 2 hour trek ahead of us) but the porters were heading down to the village to catch the train, and we didn't want them to miss it.

Sunrise over Machu Picchu

"We bid farewell to our new porter friends and hit the trail with our headlamps on. Unfortunately we had to wait in line at the checkpoint until 5:30 am for them to clear us to move forward in the trail. That was annoying, but that's the process. We moved pretty quickly on the trail to the Sun Gate. It was very narrow and now that I look back on it, it was really dangerous because on the right side of the trail was a cliff. I think the scariest part of that mornings hike was climbing up the "Monkey Stairs" because we actually had to climb using our hand and legs. It wasn't that hard, it was a little bit frightening because it was so crowded and hands and fingers were getting stepped on and some people didn't know what they were doing. We sped up and passed as many people as we could.

"We arrived at the Sun Gate with about 6 minutes to spare before sun rise. We sat down and watched as the sun slowly crept over the mountains and hit Machu Picchu below us. I'm sure seeing Machu Picchu after a 3 hour train ride is amazing. But seeing the sun rise on the ancient ruin after a 4 day trek is beyond describable words. So we took pictures!

"After enjoying the peaceful moment, we still had another hour hike to the site. Once we reached the ruin, we took some photos. It was great. Our hard work had paid off! We made it! What a great feeling. Then we used the bathrooms (real bathrooms with toilets! All we saw on the trail were holes in the ground and spots for your feet. I appreciate seats.) and we had a snack. We locked up our backpacks and then Mario gave us a 4 hour extensive tour of the ruins. I thought I knew a lot of the Incas and Machu Picchu before, but Mario taught us so much. It was great.

"After our tour it started to get really crowded and hot, so we bid farewell to Machu Picchu and hit the local lodge for some lunch. It was a buffet and man did we eat a lot. Having trekked since 4am creates quite the hungry stomach by noon. And they had water--clean water! I was so sick of buying bottles and bottles of water. I think I got up like 10 times just to get more water. It was great.

"After lunch, we headed on the bus down to the train station to catch our train back to Cusco. While we waited for our train we shopped in a local market and picked up some Christmas presents. Once our train arrived we sat down and enjoyed the ride. Absolutely beautiful. It had large windows and windows on the ceiling so that you could look at the valley scenery. They even provided us with some native dances and native customs on the way back. Very cool. PeruRail was neat!

"Once we got back, we took a wild ride through the Sacred Valley and finally reached Cusco. We took showers (having not showed for 4 days, this was a welcome relief!) and went to bed. I have never slept so hard like I did that night. We both totally passed out. TOP


Day 7: Amazon Extension: Puerto Maldonado

"We awoke early the next morning to pack for our trip to the Amazon rainforest. Then we enjoyed a nice breakfast in the hotel dining room on the top floor of our hotel. Julio picked us up after breakfast and we headed to the airport. We took a short 30 minute flight from Cusco to Puerto Maldonado. Wow, was this a remote airport. It had 2 gates, and no walls. Definitely the most remote place I have been. Our hotel picked us up and we headed to the river. We rode a small boat for 45 minutes down a muddy river until we reached our rainforest lodge, Inkaterra.

Puerto Maldonado airport

The bridge behind me connects Peru to Brazil

Our boat ride to the Inkaterra lodge

"We ended up in a nice river view room. All food was included in the package of this resort, and we had amazing meals here. For lunch we enjoyed some nice veggie cuisine. After lunch we were given a guided hike in the rainforest, which was neat. Well I thought it was neat before they warned us about all the deadly snakes that were around. I was most scared of the BushMaster snake. It bites you until it knows you are dead. No thanks! Once I heard about that snakes I stopped enjoying the scenery and just kept an eye on the trail path hoping no snakes crossed it.

Our private room

"After our trail hike, we rested a bit in our room in the hammocks. Then we headed to our night river cruise. We saw some caymans (small albino crocodiles) and a family of Capyburras. Once our cruise was over, we headed to dinner and bought a bottle of wine. Great meal. We headed back to our room, tucked the mosquito netting into our mattress and fell asleep before they even blew out the light on our outside lantern. TOP


Day 8: Amazon Extension: Rainforest Canopy 

"We woke up early, ate breakfast and had the opportunity to walk on top of the rainforest canopy. Something that I was really excited to do. We had to climb up to the top of a high tower, but once we got to the top we saw that they had connected bridges that went from tree to tree. It was really cool. We saw a lot of birds when we were on the canopy walkway. Once we got back down to the bottom, we saw 6-7 saddle back tamarin monkeys! That was really neat to see them in the wild like that.

Canopy walk through the rainforest

"After our walking tour, we headed back to our room to shower and relax in the hammocks. We both read our books and then headed to lunch. After lunch Josh and I both enjoyed a 2 hour long Amazon spa treatment. It was fantastic and very relaxing. It started to rain and it was very peaceful to listen to a thunderstorm in the rainforest.

"After our spa treatment, we enjoyed a happy hour at the bar in the main lodge. Apparently 2 pisco sours (no egg) is our limit. We also had to finish the bottle of wine at dinner. Hopefully Rob and Luda didn't mind us talking too much at dinner that night! TOP


Day 9: Cusco

"We had an early flight back to Cusco and ended up leaving the rainforest lodge around 9am. It was an interesting ride back to the airport. Again, more poverty. Once we got on our plane, it was a smooth ride back to Cusco. Julio picked us up from the airport, we got settled into our hotel (with an amazing room with a balcony!) and he took us out to eat an a really good organic restaurant called "Greens". They had amazing food there and AMAZING juices. I had a banana, peach, and strawberry juice--freshly made. oh it was delicious.

Leaving our lodge in the Amazon

"After lunch it started to rain, so we headed back to our hotel to crash. We had an amazing room, so we laid on the bed, looked out at the rain, and read our books. It was very nice. Then we headed up to the hotel bar for happy hour. We drank eggless pisco sours and played some chess. For dinner we ate in the hotel restaurant where they gave us way too much food. We must have still been tired from the trek because we fell asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillow that night. TOP


Day 10: Last day in Cusco

"We enjoyed a nice morning breakfast overlooking Cusco before we headed out to explore the city by foot. This was a free extra day we had scheduled into our itinerary and nothing was planned until dinner at 8pm that night. So we walked around, bought some last minute coffee and tea to bring back, and ate lunch at Greens again. The juice was too good not to eat there again! Then it rained the rest of the afternoon. We ended up laying in bed and watched some HBO while it rained. We packed our bags and got everything ready for or departure the next day. Then we met up with Rob and Luda at the bar and chatted and drank with them. Then we all headed to dinner.

Cusco rooftops

"The company was good and we all thanked Julio for a great job of guiding us around the city. Mario guided us on the trail and Julio guided us in the city, we had two wonderful guides.

"After dinner we headed back to our hotel and got ready for our trip home the following day.

"Overall we had an amazing trip. I still think about the fact that we were in South America! We hiked where the Incas used to walk and we had 4 course meals on the side of a mountain. Just an amazing trip. Mountain Madness did such an amazing job and it wasn't that expensive at all. I would recommend this trip to anyone that is looking for an educational adventure trip. Yes, it did require a good amount of physical fitness, but with a few months of training it's definitely attainable. It was a once in a lifetime experience."

~ Amanda France