I initially booked this holiday for May, but due to an ‘admin error’, exodus somehow failed to buy me an inca trail permit before they all sold out! I was not impressed (in fact when they told me, with only 3 months to go, I was very upset), and was forced to reschedule my holiday to later in the year.
That said, the Inca trail and Machu Pichu were fabulous; I will never forget that first sight of Machu Pichu and the feeling of having finally made it there. It was a real pilgrimage, with each successive Inca site on the trail or fabulous view of mountain tops through the clouds building up to that final arrival at Machu Pichu.
The homestay on Amantani was magical and a welcome change of pace and chance to relax.
The sound of the jungle at dawn.
On the trek, Exodus is good at setting off after the other tour groups, and consequently we frequently had the trail and the Inca sites on the way to ourselves. Arriving at the sun gate in the afternoon also meant there were fewer people and no queue to get through. The food on the trek was great, and the birthday cakes (*3) a much appreciated surprise. In fact the food in all the restaurants was pretty good, although priced for tourists. The hotels were all good (apart from Lima which wasn’t as clean as you’d hope for), especially in Cusco; some of the rooms had lovely views. The homestay on Amantani was lovely, with 3 guest rooms of 3 beds set around a courtyard and simply but beautifully furnished. If you pay the single supplement you do not get a dome tent to yourself, but a single man tent which is much lower – it was hard to avoid bumping my head or touching my feet on the inner layer, that said, I am 5’10 and per person there is more room inside than in a shared dome tent.
There are a few areas where exodus could do better. The website and staff make a big play of going back to Machu Pichu at dawn the day after the trek to beat the crowds and spending a full day there, which was the main reason I chose exodus. We didn’t get there at dawn but a couple of hours after, when there were already a fair few other groups there. And then we were told we had to leave at 12.30 to get back to Aguas Calientes in time to get the train back to Cusco. So I felt my time in Machu Pichu was more like a half day than a full day and was consequently very rushed – I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to in the main site, and there would have been no time at all to climb Huayna Pichu or see the moon temple. Some people had to queue for 45 minutes to see Intihuatana. It seems a shame to go all that way and not get chance to see it properly.
The website states that exodus use their own ‘chemical loos’. It’s a bucket lined with a thick bin bag with a seat on top. And it gets grim. I had to request it was put up on the first two nights (after initially being told it had been left on the bus) as I didn’t fancy the night-time (Diamox/squits-induced) trip up the hill in the dark to the squat-toilet shed.
On our free day in Cusco Wilbert organised a trip to the Inca site at Pisac which was spectacular, and other stops on route such as the animal rescue sanctuary (including condors), the view over Cusco and Sacsayhuayman from the Jesus statue and various tourist shops/markets and viewpoints. I would have liked an extra day or two in/around Cusco to see more of the sacred valley sites such as an actual visit to Sacsaywayman and the nearby sites, Pisac market, Ollantaytambo, time to visit the Qoricancha or artists’ quarter in Cusco, or just time to sit and relax with a coffee in Cusco’s main square. It was all a bit rushed, especially when you were supposed to be taking it easy when you first arrived at altitude. I would gladly swap all of the time in Lima (largely spent in traffic it felt like) for more time in Cusco.
In the jungle, for ‘health and safety’, we all had to trek along for several hours with luminous orange life jackets strapped to our rucksacks for the canoe trip on the lake. Eventually we all ended up sitting on them. Even the exodus trip notes photo shows no sign of them. Better to give people the option of taking them or not, as the colour, coupled with the chatting and size of the group, rendered our chances of seeing animals much reduced. During the 2 days we saw two pairs of capybara, another large rat thing, a squirrel, some mackaws in the distance, small monkeys in the trees, processions of leaf cutter ants, some turtles and some caimans rapidly sliding into the water, but no giant otters, howler monkeys, toucans, sloths, brightly coloured frogs or other mammals, and not as many birds as I was expecting.
Finally, there were a couple of days where we had breakfast around 7am but didn’t get any lunch until around 3-4pm – the day spent getting from Lima to the jungle lodge and the trip to Pisac.