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Inca Jungle Trek Review: The Most Adventurous Route to Machu Picchu

Written by Orange Cares | Agosto 18, 2023
Inca Jungle Trek Review: The Most Adventurous Route to Machu Picchu

The Inca Jungle Trek is such an awesome way to get to Macchu Picchu! If you’ve been following this travel site, then you know there are two things we often look for in a travel experience:

  1. awesome adventure, and
  2. great travel values.

So when considering the many different ways to get to Machu Picchu, we were excited to find the Jungle Trek perfectly combines those two elements. The Machu Picchu Jungle Trek is high on adventure and low on cost!

What is the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu?

The 4-day Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu is a hike through the Peruvian jungle and so much more. The tropical trek incorporates loads of adventure activities into the journey that goes far beyond hiking. During the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu, you partake in all of the following activities along the way:

  • downhill mountain biking,
  • whitewater rafting,
  • hiking along the Inca trail, and
  • ziplining!

This Machu Picchu Jungle Trail has been surging in popularity since it was first offered nearly ten years ago. In fact, our Jungle Trek guide estimates it’s now become the second most popular trek to get to Machu Picchu, only after the famous Inca Trail. We now see the appeal. The Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu is awesome!

The adventure-factor of the Inca Jungle Trek is what initially caught our attention. Yet perhaps one of the best propositions of taking the Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu is the cost. The Jungle Trek is not only one of the most fun ways to get to Machu Picchu. It’s among the cheapest route to Machu Picchu too! Inca Jungle Trek prices are surprisingly budget-friendly.

We had always thought any trek to Machu Picchu would be crazy expensive. So we were pleasantly surprised by the Jungle Trek prices being offered by local agencies in Cusco. Jungle Trek prices do vary slightly from one agency to another. Jungle Trek prices are currently as low as around $150 USD for the entire 4-day trek when booked locally and last-minute in Cusco.

(Pricing last updated: April 2019. Note: Much more detail about the variance of Jungle Trek prices is found later in the post.)

When we did the Jungle Trek, we paid a Cusco travel agency $159 USD for this adventure-filled tour to Machu Picchu. This price included just about everything during the four days: our transport, guide, the mountain biking, the whitewater rafting, the zip-lining, all of our meals (in restaurants), three nights accommodation with beds in private rooms, and even the entrance to Machu Picchu.

The Jungle Trek must be one of the best value tours in all of South America, if not the world! We’re left wondering how these tour operators even turn a profit, Considering that the Machu Picchu permit itself is 152 Peruvian soles (~$47 USD), this means that the actual tour cost is $112. That breaks down to $28 per day including all of those adventure activities, good meals, and basic accommodation. We’re completely baffled. It is truly an incredible value!

But I digress. If you want to have an action-packed journey to Machu Picchu on a budget, then we firmly advocate taking the Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu as the best alternative to embarking on the famed Inca Trail.

So what’s it like to go on the Machu Picchu Jungle Trek? Read on.

We’ve written this comprehensive Inca Jungle Trek review in attempts to provide all of our travel tips and recommendations to anyone considering embarking on this adventurous route to Machu Picchu.

The Inca Jungle Trek Experience To Machu Picchu

We had an amazing experience the entire way across the Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu. The next few sections of this article provide our day-by-day account of the trek, before dishing out all the travel tips we’ve left for those thinking about pursuing this epic adventure in Peru.
Check out the Inca Jungle Trek video below to get a taste for what this incredible experience is like. Then read on for all the details!

Jungle Trek Day 1: Mountain Biking & Whitewater Rafting to Machu Picchu

The first day of the Jungle Trek begins with a scenic, yet gut-wrenching, van-ride up through glacier-capped mountains. It’s a pretty harrowing drive from Cusco through the Sacred Valley and way up to 4,300 meters in altitude. The adventure has just begun!

High in the Andes Mountains, we reached the first activity of Jungle Trek: mountain biking. The descent started in the chilly mountain air but we soon soared down into the jungle, dropping in elevation nearly 2,000 meters in total in a matter of a few hours!

The cycling trip is on a paved road, rather than a true mountain bike trail. Yet it’s still a very thrilling ride! And it’s all downhill. There was virtually no need to pedal during the entire ride. The breaks, on the other hand, were used very often!

Despite being on a paved road, this downhill plunge was not without hazards. Rivers spilling onto the roadway, potholes, debris from landslides, oncoming traffic, hairpin turns, and steep drop-offs on the side of the road all added to the adventure. It’s not a bike ride for the faint of heart, but that’s all part of the fun!

If you’re nervous about all this, don’t worry. You can hug the breaks during the entire trip down and go as slow as you’d like. Everyone in our group went at different speeds and split up. A support van travels behind in case any bikes have problems or if anyone wants to abort the ride. But don’t abort. It’s such a fun ride, just coasting down the mountain!

We were also given lots of protective pads, body armor, and even a full face mask to help keep us safe. We were had even more gear here than during our crazy cycle down what’s known to be the most dangerous road in the world. (Read our post about Death Road Bolivia here.)
Once in the jungle at the bottom of this downhill bike ride, it’s finally lunchtime. At nearly 4:00 pm, it’s quite a late lunch, so we were glad to have packed some snacks to munch on throughout the day. Yet we still had plenty of room to devour our almuerzo (lunch), to get energy for the next adventure of this Jungle Trek: whitewater rafting down the Urubamba River!

We thought it was a really fun river to raft down, but the water level changes things throughout the year. Our 90-minute rafting trip was mostly class 2 and 3 rapids with a couple of huge waves along the way. Most rafts tended to avoid the biggest drops, but one raft in our group went over an enormous wave and they flipped! At times, the river seemed deceptively tranquil but it turned out to be a bit fiercer than it looked.

Day 1 of the Inca Jungle Trek was a very full day of adventure. The rafting lasted into dusk, just in time to dry off before the cooler night air came through. The day ended in the quiet village of Santa Maria, concluding with dinner and a good night’s rest for all the trekking ahead on Day 2.

Machu Picchu Jungle Trek Day 2: Trekking, Inca Trail, and Hot Springs

The second day of the Jungle Trail involves lots of trekking. It’s a 21-kilometer hike in total, mostly on a warm and humid tropical Inca trail. That’s broken up by a number of stops in which our Jungle Trek guide gave informative lectures about the Incas, local culture, and history.
Perhaps the most interesting of these stops was learning about some of the agriculture of this jungle valley. We tasted stevia, toasted cocoa beans, a homemade fudge-like chocolate that was sweetened with honey. It was all capped off by something called “Inca Tequila.” Everyone is offered this shot of liquor which a snake has been soaking in!

To have a shot of any liquor during the middle of a morning trek seems counterintuitive. Yet adding a snake to the concoction takes things to the next level. But who are we to refuse? This snake-laden Inca Tequila actually wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either. Try it if you dare.

During the long day of trekking, the trail climbed up and down, but we didn’t find it to be too strenuous at any point. The highlight of the day is a short 300-meter stretch that traverses the ancient Inca Trail. Having yearned to trek the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, it was nice to get a tiny taste of that experience during our Jungle Trek.

This section of the ancient Inca trail hugs the side of a valley, which drops off to the Urubamba River down below. This portion is easily the most scenic section of the entire Jungle Trail route.
Ultimately the trail descends back into the jungle near the river where lunch commences. Plenty of hammocks abound in this tranquil area for a short siesta to regain your energy. The hike forward then flattens out and becomes quite fun. We encountered a rickety old swing bridge crossing high above the river. Then we scaled some boulders while trying not to get our shoes wet when stepping across a wild stream.

Finally, we neared our endpoint: the hot springs. But there’s one problem: the bridge is out. The solution to getting across the river is by way of a hand-pulled cable car. It looks crazy and there’s no safety belts or anything. Local guys stuffed their cheeks full of coca leaves to give them the energy to quickly whisk the entire group across the river. It was quite the experience!

After hiking across rugged terrain for 21 kilometers of the Jungle Trek, the hot springs come as a very welcomed reprieve in the late afternoon. It’s a heavenly finish to soak away the day’s aches & pains. The hot springs also doubled as a bath of sorts, as there are only cold-water showers for the first two nights of the Jungle Trek. After biking, whitewater rafting, and a long day of trekking – a few hours in this hot water was much needed!

But Day 2 of the Jungle Trek wasn’t quite over yet. This is also the “party night.” After getting cleaned up in the hot springs we were given two options:

  1. walk another hour or so along a dirt road in the dark to where we’re staying in the town of Santa Teresa, or
  2. stay clean and go by van for 5 soles (~$1.50 USD).

Everyone in our group opted for the latter!

After a good dinner of chicken milanese, the party began. Our guide had mentioned a few times that this would be the party night, and we thought it was just a joke. This is a fairly intense trek after all.

But it wasn’t a joke. Shots of Inca Tequila were passed around, the lights dimmed, and the music was cranked way up. A calm dinner with beers had turned into a legit party. Soon, pisco sours were being slid onto our table and dancing followed.

Local kids came to join the fun and stayed up past their bedtime as they kicked around soccer balls with the increasingly intoxicated travelers passing through their small village. Needless to say, the kids were easily winning these impromptu futbol matches.

Somewhat surprisingly, there’s actually a club in this remote town. Those really looking to party, proceeded in the club well into the early morning hours. We instead opted for bed.

Inca Jungle Trail Day 3: Zip-Lining and Closing in on Machu Picchu

The third day of the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu begins with a morning full of ziplining! It’s a great thrill on a series of four long ziplines that crisscross over the river valley below.

For those opting not to zipline, their day instead included a 10-kilometer hike along a dirt road to the lunch point. Almost everyone in our group chose to zipline, which then included a shuttle lift to the lunch point. We definitely recommend the ziplining! It was such a blast soaring back an forth high above the valley, in traditional fashion or like Superman!

After lunch, our trek down the Jungle Trail continued with a 2-3 hour walk along the scenic railway towards Machu Picchu. When hearing about this portion of the trek, it seemed that it would be a boring and rather uneventful walk along the railroad tracks.

Yet we found it to be a really nice flat walk alongside the river. They don’t call it a “scenic” railway for nothing! We eventually walked into the beautiful valley that surrounds Machu Picchu. Our guide even pointed out the Sun Gate, way up in the mountains towering above. We had almost reached famed Incan site!
By mid-afternoon, we made it to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes (now renamed as Machu Picchu Pueblo). It’s a funny little place that is only accessible by trekking or train, so there are almost no cars here (aside from a few that were shipped in by train). The pueblo’s sole purpose is for Machu Picchu tourism, so it is thriving with hotels and tourist restaurants that each offer a nearly identical menu.

We had plenty of time in Machu Picchu Pueblo to walk around, explore, and stock up on snacks for the big day ahead. Day 3 of the Jungle Trek ended with an early dinner at one of those tourist restaurants. It was here that we received our coveted Machu Picchu entrance ticket for the early morning that lay ahead. The feeling was like Christmas Eve as a child. We were so excited for the next morning but knew we had to go to sleep.

Day 4 Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

The fourth and final day of the Jungle Trek is the main event. This is the day everyone had been waiting for. We were ready to experience Machu Picchu!

But “Pacha Mama” (Mother Nature) had different plans for us. We awoke at 3:30 am to pouring rain! We weren’t going to let a little water spoil our adventure. So we dawned our rain gear and trekked towards the entrance gate, which opens at 5:00 am.

From there it was a one-hour hike in the dark, up steep terrain, to get to Machu Picchu. Alternatively, there is a $12 bus up to the ruins, but where’s the adventure in that?

Finally, we had arrived just as the sun came out and the weather began to clear. It was a glorious sight! We had reached Machu Picchu and the view surpassed all expectations we had of the grand Inca ruins! Machu Picchu is really a place you need to experience in person. Even the best pictures don’t do it justice. Truly magnificent.

Our guide during the past 4 days then took us on a 90-minute tour through the ruins informing us all about the ancient site. It was fascinating. Although sometimes it was difficult to focus on his explanations since the incredible surroundings and the resident llamas were welcomed distractions.
Once his tour commenced, we were on our own to explore and marvel at the ancient wonder for as long as we wanted. We were awed at how massive the site was and all the additional hiking trails you could take from Machu Picchu. There are hours upon hours of additional hiking you can do right from Machu Picchu.

We explored the Incan Bridge, hiked up to the Sun Gate, and even tackled the Machu Picchu Mountain (Montaña) that looms above the ancient site (additional permit required). It was atop the Montaña where you can get stellar birds-eye views of Machu Picchu down below.
While most people spend just a few hours at the ruins, we found that those with enough energy could easily spend an entire day exploring Machu Picchu and its surroundings. Because of this, we had actually planned to stay an extra night, just so we would have plenty of time at the ruins all day long.

Meanwhile, we bid farewell to our fellow Jungle Trek friends who opted for van transport back to Cusco. In order to catch their ride on time, they needed to depart Machu Picchu by 11:00 am.

We were so glad we had planned to stay the extra night, which allowed us to explore Machu Picchu all day long. Yet after trekking for nearly 12 hours straight on this day, our sore legs had indicated to us that it was finally time to leave this world wonder.

So we descended the mountain the same way we came up, reflecting on the sheer awesomeness of Machu Picchu and the entire four-day Jungle Trek.

How should I train for trekking to Machu Picchu - Orange Cares

Meals, Accommodation, & Guide – Jungle Trek Review

Jungle Trek Meals

Given the super low price of the Jungle Trek, we were a little nervous about what we would find, in terms of meager meals and shoddy accommodation. One of the higher priced operators of the Jungle Trek makes a claim on their website that other tours just give rice for meals and nothing else. We found this and their other claims to be blatant lies. We ate quite well.

The meals during our Inca Jungle Trek were surprisingly good! It tended to be mostly Peruvian cuisine that definitely surpassed our expectations. Meals during the trek tended to be even better than some of the restaurant meals we had back in Cusco! Often there was a set meal, while a few instances we were given a choice. Vegetarians were always accommodated for.

Dinner consisted of dishes like lomo saltado and chicken milanese. Lunch was grilled chicken with rice one day and spaghetti with tomato sauce & shredded cheese on another day. Breakfast was usually pancakes with banana, eggs, bread, juice, coffee, and tea.
The meals during the Jungle Trek were tasty. But we did sometimes find meals to be a little bit on the light side, given how much calories we were burning each day. So those with hearty appetites should pack some snacks.

Jungle Trek Accommodation

We were also happy with the accommodation provided. Traveling as a couple, our guide always gave us a private room, although that was not guaranteed. Other solo travelers, shared dorm rooms that housed 4-6 people.

Rooms were very basic, but beds and linens were always clean and comfortable. The first two places we stayed at had shared bathrooms with cold water showers. Whereas the final night in Aguas Caliente (Machu Picchu Pueblo) had a private bathroom with the best hot water shower we experienced in all of Peru. There was decent wifi available at all hostels, except for the first night in Santa Maria.

Inca Jungle Trek Tour Guide

It’s luck of the draw with what guide you get paired up with for the Jungle Trek. Our guide Richard was awesome. He was totally professional, helpful, patient, caring, and provided loads of interesting information throughout the trek. He was certainly one of the better guides we’ve had during our travels.

Travel Tips for the Machu Picchu Jungle Trek

There’s a lot you need to know before embarking on the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu. You should consider what to pack, the logistics of returning to Cusco, how to get the best price, when to go, and so much more. We’ve tried to detail everything you should know, to prepare anyone considering tackling the Jungle Trek.

The Best Time To Go on the Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

Be Aware of the Rainy Season but Don’t Rule It Out

If you want to experience Machu Picchu with those picture-perfect clear blue skies in the background, it may seem obvious to avoid the rainy season, December to March. But there are also some benefits to going during this timeframe. The rainy season also means fewer tourists visiting the site. There are 2,500 permits provided for Machu Picchu each day. Yet during our March visit, in the morning we shared the site with just a few hundred people. There were only a few other groups on the Jungle Trek at the same time as us. Meanwhile, our guide explained to us that during peak season, he has a very difficult time guiding people at Machu Picchu because it’s hard to find a place to stand to give the lectures.

Also, understand that the rainy season doesn’t mean it will rain all day, every day. Rather, there is an increased probability of rain during these months. During our March Jungle Trek, it never rained the first two days, sprinkled for an hour on Day 3, and on Day 4 only rained prior to us reaching Machu Picchu. Perhaps we did get lucky though. Talking to those who visited the site the day after us, we discovered they experienced lots of fog. So it can be a gamble, but going during the rainy season does not guarantee rain. And you can enjoy site not being swamped with visitors taking selfies and bumping into you.

For us, the lack of tourist hoards is a big draw in attempting the trek during the rainy season. The picture below was taken later in the afternoon when even more people had descended on Machu Picchu. Yet as you can see, it was still fairly sparse.

Considerations for a High Season Jungle Trek

High season, June to August, tends to have the nicest weather, but it is also the busiest time. You may find higher prices, perhaps the need for advanced booking, and you’ll definitely find more hoards of people. Also, for the Jungle Trek during high season, you must consider that the water levels on the Urubamba River will be lower, making the whitewater rafting slower, longer, and perhaps less exciting.

A Shoulder Season Jungle Trek Could Be Best

In our opinion, shoulder season (April-May, September-October) is the sweet spot to pursue the Jungle Trek. Rain probabilities lessen, as does the influx of tourists. This is a great time to consider going!

How Much Does The Inca Jungle Trek Cost?

The Inca Jungle Trek can range in price from $150 to over $600 per person for the 4-day Jungle Trek tour. Inca Jungle Trek tour prices vary greatly based on a variety of factors. Yet two aspects that will greatly affect pricing are:

  1. whether you book online in advance or when arriving in Cusco, and
  2. if you return from Machu Pichu town to Cusco by train or shuttle

How To Get a Good Price for the Jungle Trek

The best way to book the Jungle Trek at a low price is to book directly with an agency on the ground in Cusco. That’s how we secured booking the Jungle Trek tour for only $159 USD. There were other people on our Jungle Trail tour who booked online in advance and paid substantially more for the same tour.

We’ve seen Jungle Trek listed online for a much as $600+ on some sites, which is way above the prices being offered by agencies in Cusco. Beware.

Expect to find the following Jungle Trek prices, depending on how and when you book:

  • Book in Cusco, including all activities, return by 10-hour shuttle/hike:
    • $150-$180
  • Book in Cusco, including all activities, return by 4-hour train:
    • under $250
  • Book online in advance, including all activities, return by 4-hour train:
    • ~$400
  • Overpriced Jungle Trek tours:
    • $600+

Meanwhile, there are also Cusco hostels and online tour operators tend to offer the Jungle Trek tour at a price of around $250, but those prices often don’t include the whitewater rafting, the ziplining, nor the return by train. Again, beware of this.

Their partial pricing can be misleading. Those activities, that they’ll charge you for later, bring the true Jungle Trek price closer to $400 if you partake in them all. Whoever you book the Jungle Trek with, be absolutely clear on understanding what activities are included and what’s not included.

While the cheapest Jungle Trek prices are found on the ground in Cusco, there are some reasons you may want to consider booking online in advance, albeit at a higher cost.

Booking the Jungle Trek Tour Online In Advance

If you’re on a tight time crunch or booking during the peak of the high season (June-August), it could be worth making an advanced booking online. If you value your convenience, then booking online in advance may be the way to go. In Cusco, it takes time and can be a hassle to visit different agencies, negotiating sometimes in Spanish, to see who has Jungle Trek tours available for your desired dates.

Additionally, it is possible, particularly during high season, that Jungle Trek tours become sold out on the exact days you want to go. If you are traveling to Peru as part of a short trip, you might not want to spend your limited time scrambling to find a tour agency to book with, attempting to negotiate prices in Spanish.

Instead, you can reserve a spot now in just a few clicks, albeit at a slightly higher price for that convenience. It gives you the certainty of having secured a reservation for the Jungle Trek upon arrival in Cusco so you can instead enjoy your limited time exploring this beautiful city.

Yet if you have plenty of extra time in Cusco, can be flexible with your trekking dates, and/or not going during high season, we do suggest booking your Jungle Trek upon arrival in Cusco for those who want to get the lowest price possible.

Really, it just depends on your circumstances and your budget. If you do prefer to book online in advance, the best online Jungle Trek price we’ve found among the most popular online tour aggregators is this Jungle Trek tour for $399 (not including rafting and zipline).
However, this Jungle Trek tour on GetYourGuide for $439 actually presents better value since it includes all of the adventure activities, and even the return to Cusco by train too (a $70 value alone). So although it appears more expensive on the surface, it actually comes out cheaper.

Check latest reviews and search availability on your travel dates.

For perspective, the table below shows a comparison of the Jungle Trek tours and prices by the most popular tour aggregators that allow for secure online booking and payment. Be sure to click through the links to verify up-to-date pricing, see the latest reviews, and confirm info, as details can change since this post was last updated in April 2019.

Jungle Trek Prices if Booking In Cusco

Booking online is great for convenience. But in Cusco, you can negotiate with the hundreds (possibly thousands) of agencies to secure a more competitive price than booking online in advance. So what is the best company for the Inca Jungle Trek? Whoever offers you the best price!

Each of the Cusco agencies sell what seems to be nearly the exact same Jungle Trek tour. Some agencies may claim better food, hostels, or equipment, but we don’t believe that. All of the other Jungle Trek groups we ran into seemed to have a very comparable experience, stayed at the same/similar places, and ate at many of the same restaurants as us.

Yet each Cusco tour company may include different options in their Jungle Trek package. This can make comparing prices confusing when you’re getting quotes from multiple agencies in Cusco. We’ll try to clear up that confusion here, showing the approximate prices that agencies in Cusco are actively selling the Jungle Trek tour, which still remainsabout the same now in 2019:
The Jungle Trek prices tend to be different based on whether or not the agency includes the adventure activities and also what mode of transportation you return in. Whitewater rafting and ziplining can add as little as $20 to your total (a $60 value). Taking the train back to Cusco adds another $60-$70. We recommend both. Having the adventure activities included is definitely worth it. You should also consider splurging for the return by train to avoid the long and painful return by shuttle, and we’ll explain more about this in the next sections.

Note: You will find agencies with Jungle Trek prices higher than what we’ve outlined above. You can possibly even score deals with prices slightly lower than this too. Use these example prices as a point of reference. If you see prices much higher than this in Cusco, be sure to check around with additional agencies. (Note: If multiple agencies in Cusco are quoting higher prices, it is possible that costs have increased. Please let us know in the comments section of this article, so we’ll attempt to keep this post up-to-date.)

To get the best price Jungle Trek price, we suggest popping into a handful of agencies in Cusco to compare. We personally visited several agencies and found the best price from Lisbeth at Peru Andean Hop, who offered us the $159 price including all activities. (We’ve been notified that prices there have risen slightly, now $175.) You can use that as a point of comparison, as agencies in Cusco do have competitive pricing.

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Optional Whitewater Rafting and Ziplining

We really enjoyed both the whitewater rafting & the ziplining and highly recommend them! It’s these adventure activities along the Jungle Trail that really make this such a fun way to get to Machu Picchu. These adventure activities break up the trek with awesome thrills. Don’t miss them! If you’re not interested in the adventure activities, then we recommend considering a different trek to Machu Picchu. If you’re only looking to hike, and nothing else, then take the Salkantay Trek or Inca Trail instead (more on those, in a minute).

For those who don’t go whitewater rafting, you’ll just be sitting around the village by yourself. By opting not to partake in the ziplining, you’ll be on your own (without the guide) walking an extra 10 kilometers across a dirt road.

If you don’t have those activities included in your package, it is possible to change your mind and do the whitewater rafting and ziplining while on the Jungle Trek. But you’ll end up paying more than if you had the agency include it from the start. These activities are $30 extra each ($60 for both) when booked on the spot, while we were able to get them both included in our package for only an extra $20 total!

These adventure activities are what made the Jungle Trek so much fun and a complete bargain when having them included for an extra $10 each.

How To Return To Cusco After the Jungle Trek

There are three ways to return from the Jungle Trek that you should carefully consider. Most agencies in Cusco will not clearly explain this, so it’s important to understand your options before booking.

Included in the cost of most Jungle Trek packages is a return shuttle to Cusco. But it’s a long and cumbersome journey that cuts your time short at Machu Picchu. To reach the shuttle pick-up point, you must depart Machu Picchu no later than 11:00 am, to then walk 2-3 hours along the same railroad tracks you came in on during Day 3. Then the waiting begins for your shuttle van to arrive. From there, it’s a 6.5-hour van ride on some rough dirt roads. In total this route from Machu Picchu takes about 10+ hours once you factor in the walk, waiting for the shuttle, and the shuttle ride itself.

The early departure from Machu Picchu at 11:00 am will give you enough time to explore the site in the morning hours, but you won’t have time to pursue one of the optional hikes like to the Sun Gate, Huayna Picchu, or Machu Picchu Mountain. Furthermore, this option, which brings you back to Cusco after 10 pm, makes for a very long day after waking at 3:30 am that same morning. The rough roads make it virtually impossible to snooze during the nauseating ride back.

It’s all a pretty dismal way to end what started out as a spectacular morning in Machu Picchu. As such, we don’t recommend it. But don’t worry, there are two other great options to consider.

You can stay in Machu Picchu Pueblo an extra night, delaying the shuttle ride for the following day. This is what we did and we were so glad we did it this way. We got down from the Machu Picchu ruins around 4 in the afternoon and we were so happy to return to our room to immediately take a hot shower. Rather than departing the ruins at 11:00 am, only to spend the rest of the day rushing to get to that dreadful shuttle, we were able to rest, relax, enjoy a nice dinner, and indulge in some well-deserved beers. It felt like a great way to finish up such a momentous day.

On the following day, you can then have a leisurely morning, departing Machu Picchu Pueblo by Noon, to get to the shuttle. We can recommend beginning the day with a great economical breakfast at La Boulangerie de Paris French Bakery.

You’ll eventually need to walk the 2+ hours along the railroad tracks to get to the shuttle point at Hydroelectrica. But along the route is a very good museum about Machu Picchu that few visitors actually make it to. So consider checking out Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon. We found it to be a bit overpriced, but was quite informative, provides something to do and breaks up the return trek.

To stay this extra night in Machu Picchu Pueblo, a mere $10 per person was added to the price of our Jungle Trek (becoming $169). Meals during this time were also at our own expense, of course, as the Jungle Trek tour had officially ended.

Most of the travel agencies in Cusco don’t push or even mention this option of staying an extra night in Machu Picchu Puebla. You must ask for it. And we strongly recommend that you do. If you have the time to spare, doing this is worth it. Otherwise, we’d strongly suggest returning by train.

If you have more money than you do time, then returning to Cusco by train is the best way to get back to Cusco. This journey departs directly from Machu Picchu Pueblo, so no extra trekking is involved like the shuttle option. The late afternoon departures also allow you to spend your entire morning time slot at Machu Picchu and return that same evening. The train back to Cusco only takes about 4 hours, compared to the 10+ needed with the walking + shuttle option. The only downside to the train is the cost. It is an extra $70 per person to return by train, instead of the otherwise included shuttle transportation.
Everyone we’ve spoken to that has taken this scenic train back to Cusco adamantly vouches that it is absolutely worth the modest splurge. If you have the cash to spend, take the train to avoid that absolutely dreadful shuttle ride.

Questions to Ask Before Booking the Jungle Trek

Most of the agencies in Cusco are all using the same tour operators for the Jungle Trek, yet just selling it a bit differently and at different prices. Here are some things you should look for or ask about before booking the Jungle Trek to ensure all your expectations are met:

  • Is Machu Picchu entry ticket included? (It should be.)
  • Is whitewater rafting and ziplining included? (If not, ask for a price with both activities included.)
    What will the meals be like? (Expect hot meals, local Peruvian cuisine.)
  • Does the guide speak English? (If you don’t speak Spanish, ensure you have an English-speaking guide. Most are.)
  • Is there a full briefing with the actual guide the day/night before the Jungle Trek. (This should be provided.)
  • How many people will be on the tour?
  • (Take this answer with a grain of salt. One couple we met was told to expect a group of 10 people and they ended up on a private tour, just the two of them. We were also told to expect 10 people, but there were about 20 people in our big group.)
  • What is the difference in cost between returning by the shuttle and the train? (It should be about $70.)
  • What extra costs will you be responsible for covering during the Jungle Trek. (This should be minimal and we’ve outlined additional costs below.)

Extra Costs During the Jungle Trek

Here are some extra costs you can expect to pay out-of-pocket during the Jungle Trek. Note there is no access to ATMs along the Jungle Trail until arriving at Aguas Calientes on the afternoon of Day 3. So bring enough soles to sustain you at least until then. US Dollars were not widely accepted along the Jungle Trek although there were a few places along the route that would happily change your dollars to soles at an inflated rate.

So how much soles do you need? Here’s what you should budget for:

  • Optional hot springs on Day 2: The 10-sole entrance is usually not included in the Jungle Trek price, but be sure to enjoy the hot pools after trekking all day.
  • Optional shuttle from hot springs to Santa Teresa: It’s only an extra 5 soles to stay clean after your hot springs soak and avoid walking down the road in the dark.
  • Mandatory cable car river crossing: There’s no other way to cross, so you must pay 10 Soles to the local people who run this cable car.
  • Bottled Water: Many bottled waters are a necessity along the Jungle Trek to keep hydrated. Water is not drinkable from the tap or river. Thankfully, bottled water is readily available at random huts throughout the Jungle Trail. But expect to pay 2 and 3 times the prices found throughout the rest of Peru. Meanwhile, drink prices at Machu Picchu are astronomically high. Plan accordingly. You will get thirsty. Note: Non-reusable plastic bottles are banned from Machu Picchu, as of Dec 1, 2018.
  • Beer/soda/alcohol: Lunches included juice. Coffee and tea is included with breakfast. But any extra drinks need to be purchased on your own.
  • Snacks: There are snack bars and little shops to buy snacks along the way.
  • Tip for the guide: It is customary to tip your guide if you were happy with him during the 4-Day Jungle Trek. Our guide was great and we tipped accordingly. The other operators, like the ziplining guides, also made pleas for tips. We didn’t find it warranted, but you may want to consider a tip for them too.
  • Permit to Climb Huayna Picchu or Montaña: These trails that traverse mountains neighboring Machu Picchu are worthwhile add-ons to your Jungle Trek. This must be arranged with the agency you booked with when organizing your Jungle Trek. Huayna Picchu permits tend to be sold out at least a week prior even during low season. But Machu Picchu Montaña permits are often still available in the days leading up to your trek. This permit will add 48 soles ($15 USD) to your total and the agency you book with may tack on just a bit more.

More Jungle Trek Tips and Recommendations:

  • Pick the right seat. The van ride to and from the Jungle Trek can be nauseating due to the windy mountain road and high altitude. Sit in the middle front seat to avoid motion sickness.
  • Do The Full 4-Day Jungle Trek. There is a 3-day / 2-night Jungle Trek option that omits the entire trekking day (Day 2) of the 4-day Jungle Trek. It’s a fantastic hike that takes in part of the Inca Trail. Don’t miss this unless you’re really short on time.
  • Try the coca. If you’re feeling tired or the altitude is affecting you, do as the locals do and chew on some coca leaves. It’ll give you an energy boost and calm your nausea. Coca leaves are usually available complimentary during breakfast. Make a coca tea and grab a few leaves for the trek ahead.
  • Stay hydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water during the trek.
  • Protect yourself from the sun and mosquitos. The Jungle Trek does venture through the jungle after all. This is a more tropical Inca trail. The mosquitos love it here, so protect yourself accordingly for getting those annoying bites. Also protect yourself from the harsh Andean sun.
  • Know your alcohol limit. On “party night” some jungle trekkers stayed out to 4:00 am! Wake-up time is only a few hours after that. A few partiers handled that early next day miraculously well, while others were miserable during the Day 3 trek. If you can recover well, then have a good time! But if in doubt, call it an early night and party once you’re back in Cusco.
  • Stay and enjoy the ruins! The guide gives a 90-minute tour of Machu Picchu that only covers a small portion of the massive site. You’re then left to explore Machu Picchu on your own. We were baffled that many people in our group left immediately. There was so much more to explore! You’ve come a very long way to get to Machu Picchu. Stay and marvel at this world wonder! If you’re tired from the early start, go ahead and get a cup of overpriced coffee. This is a once in a lifetime experience. Be sure to enjoy it to the fullest!
  • Plan to climb Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Montaña. These additional treks from Machu Picchu require an additional permit. The agency that books your Jungle Trek can add this to your package. The permit is an extra $15 but when booking through an agency as part of the Jungle Trek, you may be charged slightly more.
  • Don’t return by shuttle the same day as you go to Machu Picchu. Although we’ve already covered in detail in a previous section, it’s worth repeating. Take the train or make plans to return by shuttle the next day.

Be Considerate to Others on the Inca Jungle Trek to Machu Picchu

The following tips should be common sense for most people. Yet during our trek, there were some unaware hikers that we wished were more mindful to their fellow travelers.

  • Be on time. Don’t make the rest of the group wait for you. If there’s a 7:00 am departure time, then be packed and ready to go at 6:55.
  • Use earbuds. Somebody in another group hiking the Inca Jungle Trail blasted his speakers throughout the entire trek. Meanwhile, those of us who were there to connect with nature, listening to the sounds of the birds and the river, were forced to endure his noise pollution whenever our paths cross. Don’t be that jerk.
  • Don’t litter. This should go without saying, yet we did notice a few empty bottles along the way.
  • Don’t smoke near other hikers. We were amazed at how many smokers were able to accomplish the Jungle Trek. If you smoke and want to go on this adventure, we say go for it. But please, just step away to have your cigarette. Don’t smoke where everyone else is trying to catch their breath after a steep ascent.

What To Pack for the Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu

We recommend to bring as little as possible, yet be sure you pack the essentials. Store your extra luggage at a hotel or hostel in Cusco while you’re off on the Jungle Trek.

Warm Weather Trekking Clothes: Remember, this trek is in the jungle – it’s warm and humid. The Jungle Trek goes through a completely different altitude and environment than the Inca Trail. Hence, lighter clothing is recommended. It does cool off at night, but while trekking during the day, you’ll want light dry-wicking clothing. To minimize the number of clothes you carry with you, we recommend bringing just a single warm outfit that you can wear each night after you’re clean and when it’s cooler out. But definitely pack clean trekking clothes for each day of your hike.

Rain Gear: If you are attempting the Jungle Trek during the rainy season, be sure to prepare for rain. A thin poncho may not cut it during a heavy downpour. Bring a proper rain jacket like this and also consider rain pants. It’s also a good idea to have a rain cover for your backpack to prevent all your belongings from getting soaked.

Shoes: Boots or trainers? Some people during our Inca Jungle Trek had full-on boots. We (and others) simply wore trainers. Boots are a good bet to give you ankle support but can be big and bulky to travel with. We felt fine wearing trainers on the Jungle Trek. However, we most definitely recommend a pair of trail running shoes. You must have a good grip on the soles. Don’t just wear a regular pair of sneakers, as that won’t cut it. We currently use New Balance trail running shoes which held up just fine during the Jungle Trek.

Bathing Suit: You’ll need something to wear in the water while whitewater rafting and in the hot springs.

A Travel Towel: Towels were NOT provided at any of the places we stayed at during the Jungle Trek. You’ll want one to dry off with after you shower, after river rafting, and while at the hot springs. We recommend a lightweight quick-drying travel towel like this.

Mosquito Repellent: We often advocate natural mosquito repellent since repellent containing DEET can really harm the environment if you swim with it on. But there were lots of mosquitos here, so you may want to consider a stronger DEET repellent like this to prevent yourself from being covered in bites. Just don’t wear it in the water.

Flashlight: You’ll need a flashlight to navigate the trail to Machu Picchu in the early pre-morning hours. We use this Mini LED Flashlight, which we love. We found to be the most powerful flashlight for its small size and price. Better yet, trek to Machu Picchu handsfree with this headlamp.

Sun Protection: The sun can be pretty brutal out here. Hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen is a must. We found prices for sunscreen in Cusco to be relatively expensive, so stock up before you go. Amazon has good prices on Banana Boat. Pack some lip balm that contains SPF too.

The Usual Toiletries: Soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, tampons, whatever. You know what you need. Don’t forget to pack your essentials.

Toilet Paper: Most of the bathrooms along the way did not have TP. Be sure to pack a roll.

Hand Sanitizer: Some of the remote toilets don’t have running water. Pack some travel-sized Purell. Consider baby wipes too. This will help you clean up.

Pain Reliever: Whether you’re sore from a day of trekking or have a headache from the higher altitude, pack something to help you deal with any pain that may arise. We like ibuprofen (Advil), but use what works best for you.

Snacks & Water: Some meals were at odd hours, like very late lunches. So it was good to have snacks to hold you off and give you energy. There are plenty of corner stores in Cusco to load up on your favorites. For an extra energy boost, try the coca cookies! There are opportunities to buy snacks along the Jungle Trail too, but the selection is more limited and prices are higher.

Cash Money: We recommend bringing a minimum of a few hundred soles. There are no ATMs until you reach Machu Picchu Puebla, so you’ll need enough cash to be able to buy plenty of bottled water, extra drinks, the hot springs entrance, snacks, the cable car, shuttles, etc. See prior Extra Costs section to see exactly what to budget for.

Passport: You MUST bring your passport with you to get into Machu Picchu. Don’t forget!

Be Sure To Have Travel Insurance: With all of these adventure activities, while trekking on steep terrain, there’s certainly lots of room for the possibility of accidents. Whether it’s just sprained ankle or something much worse, you’ll want to be covered to get you out of a horrible situation. We never travel to South America without it, as this minor expense covers injuries, accidents, theft, trip cancellation, emergency evacuation, and so much more. We use World Nomads as we find they have the best coverage for the price. Enter your travel dates here to get a quick quote before your trip.

Don’t Pack: Begining December 1, 2018, non-reusable plastics are not be permitted in Machu Picchu. It’s an environmentally-friendly move that means no plastic bottles, plastic bags, straws or styrofoam containers will be permitted in the ancient site. They’re still be allowed along the Inca Jungle Trek, but don’t bring such plastics into Machu Picchu.

Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu vs Inca Trail vs Other Treks to Machu Picchu

While posting about the Jungle Trek on our Facebook and Instagram feeds, we were regularly asked how it compares to other routes to Machu Picchu. We cannot say that the Jungle Trek is better or worse than the Inca Trail or other alternative treks to Machu Picchu. They are completely different experiences, which are all fantastic options on their own merit. All we can do is help point out some of the differences about the Jungle Trek to help you decide on which route is best for you. We don’t advocate one over another.

Jungle Trek vs Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is the original. It’s more about trekking along this classic historic route. The Inca Trail focuses more on the Incan history, culture, mystique, and tradition. We also think it probably has better vistas than the Jungle Trek, although that is subjective. Here are more objective points to consider between the Inca Trail and the Jungle Trek:

Costs: The Inca Trail costs more than the Jungle Trek. Low-cost Inca Trail tours start around $450.

Advance Planning: The Inca Trail often requires much advance notice, while the Jungle Trek does not. You can sometimes score a last-minute Inca Trail permit in Cusco, but you can’t plan on that. Many reliable sources cite a need to book an Inca Trail trip at least six months in advance during high season.

Activities: A key difference is that the Inca Trail is all trekking while the Jungle Trek includes adventure activities along the way. The Jungle Trek only has one full day of trekking on a trail, whereas the Inca Trail provides four days full of hiking along the ancient trail.

Elevation & Environments: The Inca Trail is higher altitude with mountain vistas, while the Jungle Trek stays lower in the jungle. The Inca Trail begins around 2,600 meters and climbs to 4,200 meters before descending to Machu Picchu. With the Inca Trail you’ll trek through much more diverse climates and environments. The Jungle Trek is flatter and stays mostly between 1,000-2,000 meters before climbing to Machu Picchu (~2,500 meters) on the final day.

Accommodation: The Inca Trail is camping, while the Jungle Trek you stay in basic accommodation in villages with beds.

Jungle Trek vs Salcantay Trek

Another popular route to Machu Picchu that we were strongly considering is the Salcantay Trek. This high altitude trek to Machu Picchu was cited by National Geographic as being even more impressive than the Inca Trail. The Jungle Trek and Salcantay Trek prices are around the same range and there’s often no need to book either in advance. Again, the Salcantay Trek is camping, whereas you sleep in beds during the Jungle Trek. The Salcantay Route is all about the amazing hiking through diverse landscapes, whereas Jungle Trek you have adventure activities between the trek through the jungle. The Salcantay Trek sure sounds tempting. But ultimately we were swayed to do the Jungle Trek based on the adventure and the great value for everything that is included.

Jungle Trek Key Differences

We think the Inca Trail and Salcantay Treks are likely to be visually more stunning than the Jungle Trek. On those trails, you’ll trek across more diverse environments. You may have a greater sense of accomplishment after reaching Machu Picchu on these tougher hikes while having the experience of camping along the way.

Meanwhile, we think the Jungle Trek is arguably a more fun experience overall, filled with action & adventure, warmer, lower altitude, and easier physically. Each route to Machu Picchu has its appeal and benefits. You really can’t go wrong anyway.

Where To Stay In Cusco Before the Inca Jungle Trail to Machu Picchu

You’ll definitely want to spend a few days in Cusco on either side of your Inca Jungle Trek. Cusco is where to organize the trek from, and we found it to be an awesome city. We definitely recommend a few days here if time allows.

So where should you stay in Cusco? Check out the following recommendations, depending on your budget and travel style.

Machu Picchu Jungle Trek Review

We hope you’ve found this Inca Jungle Trek review to be helpful in planning your own adventure to Machu Picchu.

The Jungle Trek is an awesome journey to the famed ruins with loads of thrills and an incredible value. We definitely give the experience our recommendation for adventure and value!

Please don’t hesitate to ask us any questions in the comments. Happy travels! And if you go, we hope you have the best Inca Jungle Trek imaginable!

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