Peru, 18 days: jungle or no jungle?
January 19, 2014 3:37 AM   Subscribe

Hi, We're going on what I thought would be a long trip to Peru in April... now that I'm planning the itinerary it seems way too short. Can more experienced travellers answer some questions?

The original plan was to go up north to cajamarca / tucume / huaraz for a week, then fly to Puerto Maldonado, do a small jungle expedition, then spend the last week in Ollantaytambo and Cusco, doing some day hikes in the sacred valley and going to MP of course.

Looking into travel times however, it turned out that travel in the north would take way too long by bus to see all of this in a week. Now we're wondering if it would be better to cross out the jungle part altogether and take a longer, more leisurely 9-day tour of the north by bus, or to make the north trip shorter (just go to Trujillo & Huaraz with assorted day trips there for 5 days) and squeeze in the jungle expedition anyway because it's a must-see.

JUNGLE PRO: it's something different as all the other bits seem to be in the Andes / I really like jungle
JUNGLE CON: maybe it's better health-wise to try and stay 'up high' in the Andes rather than break it with a jungle trip? Huaraz & Cajamarca are 3100m and 2700m up as well, and I've been in Cusco for 4 days once before and suffered from a constant headache, I wouldn't want to double that. + it's not like we're going to see jaguars anyway, so the money the flight and the expedition (quite a lot for our budget) would be better spent on the visit to the north than on viewing otters and caiman?

We really don't want to cut down on our time in the sacred valley. We arrive in Lima March 30th and depart from Lima April 18th in the evening.

(I tried to post this question in the LP thorntree forum but it doesn't appear. I will try again there later, but I appreciate the views of the MeFi crowd as well.)
posted by Skyanth to Travel & Transportation around Peru (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I did the jungle at the end of my trip so I wouldn't have to go through altitude sickness twice.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:13 AM on January 19, 2014

It sounds like you've been in the jungle before? It is definitely a unique experience but my personal preference would be to spend more time in fewer/closer-together locations, or basically to cut down on my time in transit which is always the unpleasant tiring part of travel (especially in Peru).

It is somewhat unlikely you will see the giant otters. Lago Sandoval is a good bet for spotting them (there is a family that lives there) but the forest surrounding the lake is second or third growth and less interesting than the forest further downriver from PM. I'm sure there are other places to see them but, for example, when we stayed at Refugio Amazonas I don't think there were any in that area. (In fact we didn't even see caimans but that was because the river was high and we couldn't go in the boat at night.) It's really amazing to be surrounded by the sounds and smells of the jungle and have cool birds and bugs and monkeys popping up all around you, but the inclusive jungle tour experience is prone to snafus which can diminish your trip: bad guide, annoying neighbors at the lodge, bad weather, generally prescribed feeling, etc. It's a toss up but more worth it if you have the time and money to get further away from Puerto Maldonado.

You are correct in your assumption that going to the jungle in the middle of the trip will mean you have to altitude acclimate twice. After landing in Cusco, if you head into the Sacred Valley straight away and come back to Cusco at the end, you may have a slightly easier time acclimating (Cusco is REAL high, SV and MP are lower.)

Bottom line: The Peruvian Amazon is amazing, but if it's not your once-in-a-lifetime chance to be in the jungle or the Amazon, I would tend to skip it and have a more relaxing, less whirlwind visit in the north and Sacred Valley (and the flight and pretty much necessary guide services really are an added expense). The places you will be going are already spectacular. On the other hand, if you or travel partner will be really sad to miss it, you could squeeze it in.

P.S.-- This won't save you time but WILL save you money on a flight to Puerto: there are now overnight (and maybe other times) safe buses to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco because they finished construction of that section of the new Intercontinental highway. Check locally about road conditions because the area is still prone to wash outs but overall it's in great shape now.
posted by dahliachewswell at 9:55 AM on January 19, 2014

As an option consider heading up to Puno and Lake Titicaca instead of heading to the jungle. You stay at altitude so no re-acclimatization. The train ride up to Puno was one of the highlights of my trip and this could easily be a 3 day excursion. I went to Puerto Maldonado as well and for me Lake Titicaca was a better time.
posted by troll on a pony at 10:39 AM on January 19, 2014

I went to Lake Sandoval (via Puerto Maldonado) during a month tour of Peru and it was one of the highlights of my trip. I saw giant otters almost every day, along with parrots, monkeys, giant spiders. I stayed in a beautiful ecolodge and the guides there were amazing. Just to give you another perspective!
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 10:46 AM on January 19, 2014

Oh and I saw caimans at Lake Sandoval too!
posted by Dorothea_in_Rome at 10:47 AM on January 19, 2014

> I did the jungle at the end of my trip so I wouldn't have to go through altitude sickness twice.

We did the same. The jungle is super relaxing and amazing, and it is very chill in a different way than traveling around the rest of the country. You're able to be out on boats or walking around, with no other noise or crowds. It's a great way to end the trip and get some R&R before leaving the country, and it works out perfectly in terms of altitude.

We did a middle-high end ecolodge type place, and it was awesome. One wall of our hut was completely open to the jungle and there were hammocks and great wildlife sightings in the area. It was worth it to go to a place with decent guides because it makes all the difference between a boring few hours in a boat, and seeing some amazing animals. Seriously - good guides know how to spot the signs of wildlife and lead you to them, rather than just hoping you'll come across them out in the open.
posted by barnone at 2:31 PM on January 19, 2014

As is mentioned above, keep in mind that jungle also means having to re-acclimatize when you get back to elevation, and you need shots for a bunch more tropical diseases. (yellow fever, malaria, rabies... I seem to recall a dengue fever scare not too long ago...). So I'd say no to jungle, stay up in the mountains. Maybe a side-trip to Lake Titikaka?

Slightly off-topic, but I can recommend basing out of Ollantaytambo rather than spending the night in MP. We realized this only after spending the night in MP. Ollantay is more relaxed, cleaner, and not as cut-throat touristy - and you get more for your money. Take the first train into MP in the morning (5) and you still get to the mountain at a reasonably early time (7ish), and you can beat the crowds back (11 or 1330). If you don't do the extended trek, three hours is about right (we walked most of the way up to the guard hut before going back down to the entrance, and toured the -entire- site, but didn't do the extended hike to Huayna Picchu.)

If you stay at El Albergue Ollantaytambo, it's right at the train station (but all the rooms face a beautiful garden, and it's not a very busy line, so noise was not an issue at all). Then you can just stumble onto the train in the morning and leave your bags in the room.

They also have a great restaurant, a cute bar, and they offer a farm lunch that's an approximate ton of different meats cooked in an earth oven with potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, fava beans, and an actual armload of herbs. You take a tour of the farm while it cooks, and you eat al fresco. Great experience, beautiful views.

wow, that turned into a wall of text. We had a great experience over Thanksgiving, so it's still fresh
posted by yggdrasil at 10:08 AM on January 20, 2014

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