5 Ways To Make Your Machu Picchu Trip Even Better

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Machu Picchu is perhaps one of the most historically important places in South America and  has a rich history that will always be remembered.. Of course visiting is more than likely going to be a once in a lifetime trip, so you need to get it right. Here are some great tips for making your Machu Picchu tour as good as it should be.

Go at the right time of year

Beating the weather and the tourists can be one of the best ways to improve your trip to Machu Picchu. The dry season in this region of Peru runs from May to September. The best time to go is at the start or end of the dry season, to get a good balance between weather and the number of tourists. It is also important to note that the Inca Trail is closed during February each year, so that it can be repaired. So you should also factor this in.

HDR tonemapped

Book early

Booking early is crucial, especially because the Peruvian government has actually placed a restriction on the number of people allowed to enter Machu Picchu each year. You should book early to avoid disappointment and to start your preparations for the trip.

Have a look around Cusco

No visit to Machu Picchu would be fully complete without first taking a few days in Cusco to first get used to the altitude and also to see the multitude of other Inca sites in the area. Altitude sickness can really plague even the fittest people, so it really is crucial to get yourself used to the high altitude of the Andes. It really is not advisable to start hiking the day you arrive, take it slow and easy and most of all have fun, because altitude sickness is anything but!

porters

Porters

When hiking the Inca trail it can get really tough, especially with all the heavy bags that you may have with you. Porters are local people (Quechua people) that can help you to carry your baggage on the Inca trail. These people know so much about the area and speaking with them is the perfect way to enrich your experience. They will also usually have many stories about the area and people they have travelled with before.

Prepare for wet weather

We already talked about the right time of year to head to Machu Picchu, but it is important to know that even during the driest months there is bound to be some sort of rain, fog or dampness. This is especially the case when you are at such a high altitude, therefore it is a good idea to bring a pair of shoes with good grip and perhaps some sort of waterproof capability. Some waterproof clothing will also be a lifesaver at Machu Picchu, particularly if you are hiking the Inca Trail.

 

Home Sweet Home. I mean…Tent Sweet Tent.

I been asked over and over again what it was like for me to live in the forest, and it occured to me how unbelievable it might be to some people that, along with three other people, I lived without electricity (well, we had a generator that we were able to use about once a week), running water, or regular contact with the outside world. We lived in tents, cooked over a fire, bathed and washed dishes and clothes in nearby freshwater sources, and used ‘latrines’ (AKA holes in the ground).

Despite all of these inconveniences, life in the forest was freaking amazing. We were surrounded by wildlife everyday; one of our camps had a semi-resident group of Pogonias monkeys that, on one morning, decided they would jump around in the trees over our camp.

During our time in the forest, we basically had two on-trail camps that we stayed in, one after the other.

The first was christened ‘Etepo Beta’, and sat on the edge of a cliff, overlooking the ocean. The camp was pretty awesome, but definitely had some unique topographical issues. For instance, our freshwater source was at the bottom of a soul-crushing ravine that involved a fair amount of controlled butt sliding to get down. It was literally sheer at some points, and I swear I had to use all available handholds to get back up again. Bathing here gave a new meaning to the word clean; by the time we got back to camp we were usually sweating again, so when we said that we were ‘clean‘, what we usually meant was that we had bathed at one point during the day.

Etepo beta bathing area. What you don’t see are the thousands of little crayfish that liked to nip at our feet and seemed to have exponential population growth during the time we were there.

Living in a tent was also not bad at all – I actually slept really, really well. Yes, when it rained incessantly (which it did…a lot), the tarp under my tent usually held some water, which made sleeping on it something akin to a waterbed. But, all in all, it was like a little haven of privacy for all of us.

My tent is the one all the way to the left!

Our kitchen/living room/hang out area. Our bubi porters built us the awesome shelf thing under the tarp.

Hanging out in our ‘kitchen’ on a early evening.

My boss found this plastic chair on the beach, and hiked it back up to our camp…the first of several good beach finds.

At any given point in time, at least 50% of my belongings were soaked or wet. Usually 95% of my belongings were at least damp. Drying out shoes was a losing battle…but I still gave it a go whenever I could, because there is nothing worse in the morning than a wet pair of boots!

After days and days of rain, I would just wake up hoping that enough sunshine would make it through the trees to dry my clothes. Fortunately, at the next camp we could use hot beach rocks to dry our clothes much faster.

Our second camp was like paradise. Really, it was. It was right on the beach and directly next to a nice river – one that did not involve a somewhat dangerous climb. Named ‘seven caves camp’, for the seven caves that were found along the coastline at that point, it was my favorite place during my time out there.

Boss and Seth doing laundry in the river right by our camp.

The kitchen/living area at our second camp was way bigger; Seth is sitting on a plastic chair (different from the first one…this was like a patio chair) that we rescued from the beach trash and sat on in camp.

When we did take days off from doing census we often worked on data entry or doing camp chores. This is me trying to sit away from the generator fumes :-)

Washing dishes was so much easier now that the water was close by.

The last night on the beaches, we had to hike to a different location that was easier pick up point for our boat ride out. We took about two hours to set up camp on a tidal beach that was basically surrounded on all sides by cliffs, ocean, and a river. This involved cutting a camping area in a narrow, densely vegetated piece of land.

Me with a machete…

Me actually using the machete.

For what it’s worth – I would go back in second.

Exploring the Island: The Siopi River

As most of you should know by now, I spent just under three months in the rainforest of Bioko Island working at a field assistant for the BBPP. One of the perks of the job is that we worked in virtually unexplored areas; we hiked into areas that even the locals don´t even frequent. Being able to explore untouched beaches, rivers, and waterfalls became part of everyday life. Even on the worst days, I could always tell myself that I was witnessing nature in a way that only a handful of people had ever seen.

A particularly memorable exploration was when we decided to take a hike up our bathing river (called the Siopi River by our local guides) to see what surprises awaited us at the end. Clambering over slippery rocks and under fallen trees, we slowly made our way upstream. We were so rewarded; the dense vegetation opened up to allow a three-tiered cascade to rush down into a beautiful, deep pool of clear, blue water. The water pressure from the cascade was so strong that it was like swimming in one of those endless pools…except way more awesome.


Hiking to the cascades involved a few interesting maneuvers…like balancing along a log.

Hanging out on the top of the cascades.

Climbing up the cascade was so much fun. There was so much cold water hitting my face that I just shut my eyes, felt for the best handhold, and pulled myself up, rock by rock. Clambering up the rock face was definitely fun…but more even more awesome than that was the jump down.

And yes, I totally scream like a girl.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAokbRGLLSo&hl=en&fs=1]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dvx3QvBWoyo&hl=en&fs=1]

African Grey Parrots in the wild!

During one of the last days of my fieldwork time on Bioko Island, a coworker and I were lucky enough to stumble upon two wild grey african parrots just hanging out in a tree. They were more than happy to chirp away for us; it was amazing to see them in the wild and not in a cage at a pet store.

On the last day of our time in the rainforest, we observed huge flocks of the parrots flying south down the beaches. Not only was I not aware that they could fly longer distances, but some groups were even flying out over the ocean. The next morning, we once again saw them flying overhead, but this time they were flying north. Who knows what was going on there!

Anyway…enjoy nature´s soundtrack!

:-)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NcDnK99MMpI&hl=en&fs=1]

Turtles and things.

So I have to admit that I never got to see any turtles while I was at Bioko; they were coming up onto the beaches to lay their eggs at night, but occasionally, one would still be out of water during the early morning hours.

A coworker and friend of mine got some short videos of one such encounter!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5udyHMhKaEo&hl=en&fs=1]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_GHo8n-lUds&hl=en&fs=1]

How to leave a rocky, wave-filled, bay on the southern beaches of Bioko Island.

Step number 1: Set up a signal fire.

Step 2: Sleep on the beach until the boat gets here.

Step 3: Frantically flag down the boat with any available materials…ie: neon yellow rain jacket.

Step 4: Desperately try to get an overloaded boat out over the breaking waves and safely into the open ocean.

Step 5: Leaving the bay. Note the fact that the boat was filled with water, the huge waves, and the fact that I sound reasonably scared.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bw8xVi09rHE&hl=en&fs=1]

Night time, rainforest style.

Nights were a really weird time in the forest; we didn’t have electricity so we would do everything by firelight or by headlamp light beam. It’s strange to describe the feeling of being confined to such a small area because of a lack of power, although I came to prefer having a headlamp on me…even when I got back to ‘civilization’. I think, as with everything about my trip, pictures say much more than anything I could ever describe (I am, after all, just an amateur blogger). That being said, I’ve put together some pictures that hopefully convey would the typical night was at Camp Drew & Crew.

Dinner was usually started before dark, but more often than not, we finished the final preparations using headlamp light.

On the days when our porters were with us in camp, they prepared the food while we took care of other camp business.

Dinner time!

Reppin´the headlamp.

Doing the nightly foot check. I wrote an article for the Naples Daily News about this whole can of worms.

Twice a week we turned on the satellite phone. We would take turns sitting by the phone – it was our only contact with the outside world.

Books became the ultimate entertainment…no facebook or myspace here!

Hot drink time was probably my favorite time of the day after bathing. There is nothing as delicious as a hot beverage at the end of a long day. I preferred hot milk (powdered milk, some sugar, and some cacao powder), while the two guys preferred coffee, and Polly was all for a fully chocolaty experience.


Hello from South Africa :-)

Hello people of the blogosphere!

Just an update on how my life is going. I got to South Africa a few days ago and have settled in nicely at the research outpost on the Loskop Dam Reserve, where I’m working as an assistant for a study on the local vervet monkey population.

Living on the reserve is pretty freakin’ cool, if I say so myself. As researchers, we get to visit off-limits areas of the reserve, which includes hiking off the beaten path (well, there are beaten paths…well-trodden animal paths) and driving on service roads. The whole area looks amazingly beautiful; red, rolling hills sporadically dotted with shrubs and trees.

Driving down the road we see so much game; giraffes, zebra, antelopes, baboons, monkeys, wildebeests, and a lot of other animals I don’t even know yet. Hiking through the undergrowth is amazing; especially when I realized that I was standing in the middle of a dried out Rhino mud pit. If you must know, I totally freaked out when I saw my first giraffe and my first (and only) zebra – not too embarrassing though…I’m working on keeping my cool in these situations J

I also “met” Zazu from the Lion King; well, I at least have a resident bird exactly like him that hangs out by my cabin. I’m still waiting to see the crocs, hippos, and white rhino; keep your fingers crossed for me!

The people here are also extremely friendly. Right off the bat I noticed that the apartheid isn’t as forgotten as we Americans would tend to think; social integration and black empowerment are popular topics of conversation and opinions are like a certain body part – everyone has one. This is not necessarily negative, just completely unexpected. I have to admit that I was naïve enough to actually think that the end of the apartheid in 1994 actually meant that it must have ended in the people’s minds; one more lesson I’ve learned.

It’s been difficult basically jumping from one job to the next. I do miss my friends and family back home, not to mention the people I befriended while I was in the Bioko rainforest. Hardest of all is the continuing saga of finding internet and getting phone contact. In Equatorial Guinea I basically ran out of time to get a cell phone; here I finally have a cell phone but the charger to it doesn’t work, so I’m still without reliable a phone…three weeks after I first started to get one organized. As for the internet, it’s capped here; meaning, we have wireless, but as a camp, we only get a certain amount per month before we don’t get anymore. So I find myself rushing online, checking one or two things, and then getting off as fast as I can. Sorry…no more picture uploads of my trip until I leave this part of the job. It’s funny how even though I was without internet for three months, and now only have the bare minimum, that I can still get lots of information out to you guys!

Anyway, I’m not feeling homesick; just missing the act of having long conversations with people back home. It is strange to not have the traditional network of people around me. I am still not used to completely relying on myself to keep my spirit high. Whenever I feel at all down, I just think about how awesome my opportunities are, and that gets me through the moodiness.

Alrighty – that’s it for now! More stuff coming your way soon J

Primate censusing – a day in my life with the BBPP

Want to know what my typical day entailed during my tenure as a BBPP field assistant? Take a look at these two videos, which I took during our primate census. This happened to be a really unique monkey encounter – I only saw drills four times in two months, and it was pure luck that I happened to catch it on video. The bioko drill is an extremely unique animal, and is endangered – I am so fortunate to have been able to see it in the wild.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m_xFnRG-Wrc&hl=en&fs=1]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcPmmBz5OqQ&hl=en&fs=1]