I had been wanting to see Machu Picchu for a long time, and figured that it was finally time to go! Seeing Machu Picchu in person is just as amazing, if not more so than seeing the pictures on the internet - you definitely won't be let down! This village in the mountains was created for a select few - aristocrats, scholars, etc. Lllamas and alpacas inhabit the beautifully lush, green scenery, and the complex contains intricately built stone structures. This civilization was far advanced for its time - even an irrigation system was built! I won't bombard you with the entire history of Machu Picchu because you can find that information online and on the tour; just know that it's one of the most amazing places on Earth and you must visit at least once in your lifetime!
So how do you get to Machu Picchu? If you didn't already reserve a spot on The Inca Trail hike (usually a 4-day hike, with prices ranging from $200 to $800 USD) or a similar route, you can take a pricey train From Cusco to Machu Picchu and back, the Hiram Bingham (name of the American explorer credited with discovering Machu Picchu) being the most expensive of the trains. The cheaper alternative is to go with the "car" option, which is actually a van which takes a bunch of people from Cusco to a place called Hydroelectrica. From Hydroelectrica, it's a 2-3-hour walk (depending on how quickly you walk and how many pictures you stop to take) alongside train tracks to a town called Aguas Calientes. You spend the night in Aguas Calientes and head to Machu Picchu in the morning. I would recommend arranging the tour in Cusco - the prices range from about $85 - $105 USD. Make sure you get a tour that will include your meals as some tours offer this service and others don't. All of the tours should include the transportation to and from Hydroelectrica, your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu, and a professional guide for the first 2-3 hours of your experience (the rest of the day is yours to do as you please). It's also important to know that you have to get up much earlier if you plan on walking from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. If you choose not to walk, you can take the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (and/or back), which is $12 USD each way.
I also visited Lima but didn't spend much time there. I went on to Iquitos, which is a great jump-off point to the Amazon River and Rainforest, and wow!!! The Amazon was an incredible opportunity - I got to see tons of beautifully-colored birds, butterflies, plants and fruits, huge centipedes and other insects, and much much more! Here are the details of what my unforgettable Amazon adventure entailed:
Day 1 - We visited an island called Monkey Island where many endangered animals/reptiles are - I held a sloth and a huge snake, saw exotic birds and monkeys, and went piranha fishing. I caught two different species of catfish, (one with 4 huge whiskers), one of my group mates almost caught one black-bellied piranha, and another almost caught a red-bellied piranha - we let all of the fish go after catching them. We took a night walk and observed many interesting species including a stick bug, a very large centipede, a large green frog, and a rainbow boa constrictor. We slept in a lodge on the Amazon River that night.
Day 2 - We visited a tribe and participated in a ritual welcome dance. I learned that piranha teeth are used to sharpen the darts which they use to hunt. This tribe then coats the tips of the darts with venom extracted from poison dart frogs, which is kept in a small pouch. Later that day, we visited a village which produces drinks from nature and plants, learned about some natural (aphrodisiac) drinks, and took a tour of a local village with Julio (our local guide). Dinner that night was served on enormous banana leaves. We saw huge trees, observed the jungle from a lookout point, rafted through the waterways at night and spotted a few caiman by the reflection of their eyes at night (they glow red) but we didn't get close enough to catch get a good glimpse. I found a black and grey parrot snake coiled around a tree and ready to attack, apparently an extremely venomous snake. It was visible at night due to the reflection which its eyes gave off. We slept that night in a camping area in the jungle enclosed by a mosquito net, and each individual mattress was also surrounded by mosquito nets for extra protection.
Day 3 - We ate breakfast and lunch with locals, walked through the jungle (in water up to our waistlines at times) looking for medicinal plants and learning about the ways people communicate in the jungle/notify others of their location, especially if lost - they do this by slamming a heavy stick against a large tree, creating a loud, bellowing sound which echoes through the forest. Along this walk we found very large ants called bullet ants and learned that they can be quite dangerous if provoked. We found fruits used by tribes to paint their faces, learned that sap from certain trees is used to alleviate stomach problems, and learned that leaves from certain trees are used to create a gel and alleviate itchiness caused by mosquito bites. We even survived a storm on the river in our small boat upon our return to Iquitos, Peru!