Near death experiences in Cusco, Peru

Sponsored by Southern Cross Travel Insurance.

I’ve always been lucky travelling, but there is one trip that gives me anxiety just thinking about it. It was seven years ago – just before I started This Island Life, so excuse the blurry amateur photography.

We were doing the trek to Machu Picchu and we had a different adventure each day. The first day was downhill mountain biking which the brochure said was for beginners. This was no amateur ride. Our local tour guide dropped us off on a mountain peak that was so high we were actually in a cloud – there was zero visibility and it was raining. He gave us disposable plastic ponchos to wear that we later discovered were death traps as they would get stuck in the wheels and chain of our bikes. I was already feeling nervous – then our tour guide told us we had to go a minimum speed of 60kms per hour in order to make it to the bottom of the mountain before the road would be shut off for the night. If we didn’t make it by the deadline – the van would leave without us and we’d have to wait it out in the village overnight. Umm WHAT?!

He then told us that the mountain we were heading down had two-way traffic, including huge tour buses, so we needed to watch out for them and overtaking vehicles. There were no barriers on the outside lane – just sheer cliffs. The inside lane had a huge ditch between the road and mountain to catch falling rocks. Our guide told us that this was safer because if we fell in, we’d only break our arms or legs. It was at this point I turned to my boyfriend at the time and asked if he thought our travel insurance would send a helicopter if something happened. It seemed pretty clear that we weren’t going to make it down this mountain unscathed.

Luckily the ancient Incan gods must have been shinning down on us that day. One of the wheels fell off my boyfriend’s bike while he was riding it – he came off the bike, but was uninjured. Then I almost got caught in the middle of a head-on collision between a car and an overtaking tour bus, but both vehicles managed to brake in time. I was shaking like a leaf but somehow managed to make it to the bottom of the mountain in time, where I cried out of sheer relief.

Unbelievably, that wasn’t the only near death experience we had that day. We made it to the next village where we were to stay overnight. Our tour guide suggested we walk to a nearby natural hot spring to soothe our aching muscles. It was getting dark, but he said it wasn’t far. As we walked to the hot springs alongside the Urubamba River, our guide pointed to a part of the mountain that looked like it had broken off. He told us that there used to be a hotel there, but earlier that year there was a landslide due to heavy rain and flooding, and the entire property fell into the river. This did not sound good.

It was almost dark by the time we reached the hot springs. But the water was hot and our surrounds next to the river were serene. I was in the pool for no more than five minutes when we heard a huge crack of thunder followed by lightning lighting up the night sky. Within a minute the skies had opened up with the heaviest, most torrential rain I have ever experienced. Then our tour guide started screaming that we had to leave. I got out of the spring and went to get my clothes – he said there was no time to put them on, that we had about 10 minutes before the river would overflow and we would get trapped. Was he kidding me?! I pulled my sneakers on and was basically running alongside the river in torrential rain and a bikini, only able to see about a foot in front of me. By the time we reached the narrowest section of path, the river was already overflowing – we couldn’t cross it without risking getting swept in. Our guide instructed us to climb up the side of the mountain. I was literally on my hands and knees climbing through mud in a bikini in torrential rain in the dark. We made it back to the village covered in mud, having lost some of our clothes in the scramble to get out.

When we woke up the next morning, the seriousness of the situation set in. The flooding was so bad that the roads had been closed – the only way in and out of the village was by foot which involved crossing scary Indiana Jones-style bridges across the overflowing river. While that day was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had travelling, it did provide me comfort knowing that I had travel insurance. That if any of those situations had gone the other way, I would have been choppered out of those mountains of death thanks to my travel insurance.

I’m definitely not an overcautious person, but I wouldn’t dream of stepping foot out of Australia without travel insurance, especially after that trip to Peru. So when I meet people travelling who don’t have travel insurance, I can’t understand why they would take the risk. If you get injured or sick overseas, you could be out of pocket by tens of thousands of dollars – and if you have to get flown out of a destination in an air ambulance, it can be even more.

As soon as you book your next trip, take out comprehensive travel insurance so that if you find yourself adventuring a little too hard like me, at least you know what you’re covered for.

To help keep you safe while travelling in Peru, here are four handy tips:

  1. Exercise extreme eating caution

Be careful when trying local Peruvian delicacies like guinea pig and alpaca, as your gut won’t be used to it. According to research by Southern Cross Travel Insurance, overseas food-related illnesses cost more than six in ten (61%) travellers up to $5,000, and an extremely unlucky one in fifty (2%) a whopping $200,000 or more.

  1. Pack a medical kit

In remote areas like Cusco in Peru, it can be hard to find medication if you get sick. The four most common problems travellers suffer are gut problems, chest and respiratory problems, pain, and wounds, so make sure you pack a medical kit with this in mind.

  1. Stay selfie safe

With so many epic mountain landscapes and dramatic cliffs, it can be tempting to take a selfie at every turn in Cusco. It’s important to put safety before the selfie by making sure you’re not putting yourself in danger to get that perfect shot. Research from Southern Cross Travel Insurance has revealed that #selfiefails are leaving some travellers out of pocket by more than $200,000 as a result.

  1. Use licensed operators

Before you book any tour, experience or activity, make sure it’s with a licensed operator or you won’t be covered by your travel insurer.

Get a quote for your next trip at Southern Cross Travel Insurance.