The Jungle Trail or the Amazon Trail is an alternative route to Machu Picchu through Santa Maria and Santa Teresa without the need of taking the train.
The enthusiasm of the tourists for the Jungle Trail is so important that since early October a decentralized office Dircetur (Regional Tourism and Foreign Trade Management), in the village of Santa Teresa, has been placed, which will provide more information to new entrants thus to Machu Picchu Pueblo, the district located below the famous Inca fortress. The idea is to control and guide the more than 100,000 people each year who decide to go this alternative route instead of going for the faster path: aboard the train linking Cusco and Ollantaytambo with Machu Picchu.
Go with an agency
You’ll find 4 day/ 3 night packages and many additional activities during the tour, so the Jungle Trail is a favorite among mostly young people. On the first day, depart from Cusco in a minivan with the agency of your selection, climb to the highest point on the highway, the Abra Malaga, more than 4,000 meters above sea level and join with other people at Nevado Veronica, where you will cycle down to Santa Maria. You will spend your first night here and if you want you can go rafting in the afternoon.
On the second day, you will go by an Inca trail bordering and overlooking the Vilcanota River. The panoramic view is beautiful and you will see typical landscapes from this part of the high forest with orchids and coffee and cocoa plantations all wrapped in the Amazonian heat. You will rest in Santa Teresa, but before that, you can take a relaxing dip in the hot springs of Cocalmayo (2 soles). They are more rustic and spacious than those of Aguas Calientes.
On the third day you have the option to glide across the zip line. The most well-known is the Cola de Mono (canopyperu.com). Then, a minivan will take you to Hydroelectric where most agencies walk two hours beside the railway linking Hydroelectric to Machu Picchu Pueblo. You’ll spend your last night of the tour in this little touristic town, where everyone stays before they visit Machu Picchu.
Finally on the fourth day, wake up early and climb up the steps or take one of the buses that run every 30 minutes. The whole day is dedicated to discovering the Inca treasure and then finally returning by train to Ollantaytambo or Cusco. There are various agencies that offer this option. We enjoyed the professional services of Lorenzo.
In Peru there are shared transportation options (transportes collectivos), where you can travel among other people. You can do the same route like this and it’ll be cheaper. First you take a starex in Cusco (Prolongación Antonio Lorena or Antonio Lorena Extension) to the town of Santa Maria. They make the trip in about 5 hours and costs 30 soles. Santa Maria is not a very nice place, so we recommend you continue on to Santa Teresa. Shared transportation or collectivos make the trip in about two hours and charge 10 soles. From there, take another car to Hydroelectric, about 20 minutes away for 4 soles. The last part you´ll have to walk for two hours alongside the railway. Since you´ll have to make vehicle transfers, we recommend carrying a small backpack and leave the large one in the city of Cusco. All the hotels and hostels offer baggage storage. At each stop you´ll have to wait until the vehicle is full, so you better leave early. If you leave at 6:00am from Cusco, you can have lunch in Santa Maria, Santa Teresa or Hydroelectric. It´s a total of 8 hours by car and 2 hours on foot. The idea is to start the last stretch on foot before 3:30pm, so you get to rest in Machu Picchu Pueblo.
This path offers lots to see, you can walk a part of the Inca Trail, passing through banana, cacao and coca plantations and end in the thermal baths of Cocalmayo (Santa Teresa). It would be a shame to be rushed and take a fast car when there is so much to enjoy. We recommend taking the same starex to Santa Maria and spend a night on the road. There are two comfortable, ecological and beautiful options:
The first is the family lodge called Qellomayo Yellow River (a double room for 35$ per night). It´s ideal for those who want to make the trek to the Inca parts (from Santa Maria, look for the path passing through Santa Rosa or go with one of the many agencies that take many tourists there. Consider carrying a small backpack). Yellow River is located almost in the middle of the walk along the river. In addition to offering three lovely rooms, breakfast (20 soles), lunch (20 soles) and dinner (25 soles) are served upon request. Tatiana´s cuisine offers local flavors with international touches and very quiet stay in a family atmosphere.
Another option is to head to Santa Teresa. The Ecoquechua ecolodge is located just outside the village. They propose packages including transportation, meals and visits to the Llactapata ruins where you will see Machu Picchu for the first time, but you can also reserve one night with breakfast. The buildings are full wood structures with beautiful finishes and private bathrooms. The food is gourmet and the candlelit atmosphere at night is very romantic.
Explore Machu Picchu
You have to book one more night in Machu Picchu Pueblo to explore the Citadel. Just to be sure you´re not missing anything . To return, you can take the same route back or take a train with PeruRail or IncaRail.