The makeshift feel of Santa Teresa persists thanks to its repeated flooding. A landslide in February 2015 washed out the only bridge into town. Before that, there was flood damage in 2010, 1998 and a decade before. Thus vulnerable to the elements, Santa Teresa struggles to position itself in tourism, despite being a back-door gateway to Machu Picchu.
Welcome to the jungle! Quillabamba’s tropical vibe is palpable, with heat that becomes oppressive by 9am, music that blares all night, and the land-that-time-forgot feel to most hotels and restaurants. Quillabamba itself has few attractions and sees little tourism, but there are some outstanding, watery natural attractions nearby.
Peaceful, pretty Huancacalle is best known as the jumping-off point for treks to Vilcabamba, but many more hikes from three to 10 days long are possible from here, including to Puncuyo, Inca Tambo, Choquequirao and Machu Picchu. The town’s biggest building is Hostal Manco Sixpac, run by the Cobos family of local guides. It’s the only lodging with hot water.
The real ‘lost city of the Incas,’ Vilcabamba – also known as Espíritu Pampa – is what Hiram Bingham was looking for when he stumbled on Machu Picchu. The beleaguered Manco Inca and his followers fled to this jungle retreat after being defeated by the Spaniards at Ollantaytambo in 1536.