Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

I decided to take a guided tour of the Salankaty Trek to Machu Picchu with Machu Picchu reservations. It’s by far the most popular trek due to The Inka Trail, and let’s be honest there are hundreds of Inca trails, I’ve already walked them in Argentina and Bolivia, being booked up 6 months in advance and being 2-3 time the price. I’ve been told this is more beautiful but I’ve not hiked the Inca Trail so I don’t know. The main difference is that the Inca Trail takes you directly into Machu Picchu via the sin hate and you get to enter before the crowd. I’ll come to that in the next post about my time at the ruins but first I’ll show you how I arrived there.

There was a briefing in the office the night before at 7pm where we met our guide Renzo and everyone who would be on the trek. I was lucky enough to be sat next to Alice and Sam, an Australian couple who were heading home the Kong Way after having lived separately in London and Canada and were tonnes of fun. At the briefing they reiterated a few things to pack and gave us our bags for the horses. Yep we were gonna get pack animals which made a change for me. I went bag to the hostel and figured everything out ready for my 4am wake up.

I was the first on the bus as everyone else was staying in hostels close to the office. I was son joined by everyone and despite leaving a little late we were on our way to the breakfast site. It was around a two hour journey and then we arrived at a store to buy last minute supplies and then stopped for breakfast. I was pretty tired but made awkward conversation. There I met Alex and Yasmin from Germany, Henry, Kiera and Javneeka from England, Claudia from French Canada, Yara from Holland and Joe and Alisa from the US. There were 17 of us in the English speaking group. We were separated from the Spanish speaking group which was a shame as it’s one reason why you come travelling but we broke the rules and all joined up later on.

After breakfast we jumped back on be bus and there was one more hour until the starting point. On the way it began to rain so when we arrived I decked out in full waterproof clothing and quickly realised it wasn’t going to rain just yet so took them off again.

We stopped to take our first group pics.

There was a short walk along path before we reached the bottom of the hill we would have to walk up. Again, I use hill in the loosest possible terms. I can’t remember the exact elevations but everything was over 4000 metres. We were told today was a test day, that we could walk in our own time and to meet at Largo Humantay at the top, which is at the base of mountain Humantay. It was a steep climb and as I’m not used to hiking in a large group I wasn’t sure what pace to start at. I was talking to Alice afterwards as I was impressed with everyone’s hiking. Different people led, found it hard and found it easy at various points and as a group we were pretty good. I’ve done a lot of solo hiking and been able to keep my own pace but there were definitely people better than me and for some it was their first multi day hike. I found it tough at times when others found it easy so the lesson learnt is never underestimate anyone. So I set off at my own pase and I found i was at the front of the pack but I’d walked in this elevation before. And then it hit me. I was so out of breath, but at least I didn’t need the horses to reach the top.

And then we reached the top and all the pain was forgotten. We were given time to explore whilst everyone arrived so I looked around and then climbed up the ridge with Sam, Joe and Claudia. After Renzo introduced the area and waited for all the other groups to leave so that we had the lake to ourselves. There were also many day trips here as the lake is one you can do in a day if you wish.

After the talk we were told to meet at the bottom of the hill. I’m bad at going down and because the ground was a little wet it was made more challenging.

After we reached the bottom it was probably a few more kilometres to our camp and we headed in to the mess for lunch. The Spanish group was in the room next door and in true Latino style they were making a lot of noise and having a lot of fun. We however got to meet the animals, two puppies and a car who tried to eat all of our food.

The food on the trek was delicious, each meal had at least two courses one of which was a soup. Considering the chefs had to carry all of the food, cook for around 30 plus people on tiny camp stoves, clean up and then get to the next camp ahead of us I was hugely impressed. The food was so good.

We also discovered at this point that our bags had not arrived due to one of the horses running away. Luckily it didn’t have our baggage with it when it ran. Renzo and Tony, our other guide, managed to find some more guys with horses that brought them last minute and carried our bags saving the day. None of us minded as we couldn’t carry our own bags and if anything did go wrong it was sorted quickly.

As the group paired of into cabins I was left in an awkward position as the only single boy. Luckily for me Sam bad Alice offered for me to share with them so I didn’t freeze on the coldest night.

I had noticed that the sky had started to clear so went on a walk. I wanted to head back up to the lake as the whole mountain range was clear now but I was told it was not a good idea as we were rapidly losing light. It was probably a good thing too as I probably would have struggled to make it up there again. I took some photos from the bottom of the valley instead.

As I headed back to camp I Renzo was leaving with three girls form the Spanish group. Apparently one of them was really sick with altitude sickness and he was quick to get them down. I could see that Salkantay had also cleared. I walked up the hill behind our camp to get a better look and met Ennio and Alessandro from Chile and Timo from France and took the following pictures.

Arriving back at camp I was pleased to find that the luggage had arrived with the new set of horses. We were treated to tea where the groups mixed a little more and then separated again for dinner, after which everyone had an early night due to our 5am wake up call.

The next day we were woken at 5am with hot coca tea and as I left the tent the sky’s were clear but this was quickly replaced with mist that came rolling out of the valleys. Today would be different as there was no high level cloud so the sun made quick work of the most. After breakfast we started hiking and soon made it to our first stop where there was a clear view of the mountain and a chance to buy local goods.

As we left the valley we were told we could take the less scenic quick route or opt for the gringo killer which was a longer steeper path. I opted for the latter as I was told it would give better views and it didn’t disappoint. It was also on this section where we can across a lot of pack horses so I took the opportunity to photograph.

And now we had nearly made it to the top. After a short rest stop we started the final climb to the top of the Salkantay pass.

And here are the views from the top of the pass. Yep we had made it all the way up to 4600 metres.

We were given the option to spend more time at te top of the pass or take a short side trek to see another lake. Thinks something that not many groups do based on the amount of people there. I’m really glad we did as we got closer to the mountain, hiked in some snow and saw these amazing views. Sadly despite my nonstop stalking about it no one was really interested in helping me to build a snowman.

And from here it was all downhill to the lunch spot. We left the rocks and the snow behind and the valleys started to turn green again. The rest of the day for me was very reminiscent of the El Choro hike I did in Bolivia, which is not a bad thing as both are beautiful. Also there were some great boulders to be found.

We stopped again for lunch as the chefs had managed to get there ahead of us as well as clean up after breakfast and cook out food before we arrived. To be fair they were not taking photos but still its an amazing feat.

While we ate it started to rain a little and the clouds rolled in blocking the views of the mountains for the trip down. I was gutted as the scenery turned to jungle it would have been amazing to see the snow covered mountains and the same thing happened to be during El Choro. I later found out that the group that left the day before didn’t see the mountain at all so we were really lucky with the weather.

After a long 22km we finally reached camp and most people grabbed a beer as a reward. Again it was a quiet night as everyone was exhausted and needed to relax. It was much warmer here so I waited to find a tent to myself. I totally wast ditched in any way.

That night we were offered the chance to switch up the itinerary meaning that we traded a boring walk mostly along a road to have a harder hike on day 3 and a more restful day on day 4. Everyone went for the switch so on day 3 we hiked along the Inca path. It all started very sociably and we were invited to try some of the loca coffee and see a lot of how it was made.

Then after the coffee we had a gruelling walk up to the top of the mountain in the heat.

But yet again it was worth it and we had our first view of Matchu Pitchu.

And after a brief rest we started heading down and stopped at some ruins along the way. This was a defence outpost for Matchu Pitchu as there were only two entrances, with the inca trail being the other.

After hiking downhill a little more we came to the second viewpoint.

And then it was a long long hike down the mountain with tonnes of switchbacks which was hard on the knees. After an hour or more of steep downhill we made it to the end point for the day.

We were driven to the lodgings for the day, had an even more amazing lunch as our chef team had a proper kitchen this time and then something rather unusual for me, we went to some hot springs to relax. This hasn’t happened to me on a hike before and I have to say it was definitely a high point. Sadly I don’t have any photos but you don’t really want to see me in my trunks, well actually Sams as I had neglected to bring mine and he kindly offered me some. At this point Alice and Sam were looking after me like I was a child which is something I do seem to excel in!

When we got back we had dinner and then there was a party, when the WiFi could load the music. For once I was fairly well behaved as I was thinking about zip lining the next day. It was good to dance, mix groups and there was some limbo and even random line dancing broke out when another older group joined us on the dancefloor.

So we awoke the next day to a mysterious poo next to one of the tents, some hangovers and the most glorious blue skies of the hike. There was also a parrot hanging about over breakfast.

So to challenge my fear of heights I signed on to the ziplining with Alex, Yasmín, most the Spanish speaking crew and Jaz who would be my rock though the process. I was kinda fine until a saw the harnesses and realised that there was sewing between me and a nasty drop to the valley below. We kitted up and jumped in the van to the first line which was over 400 metres in length and it was at that point when both Jasmin and I thought we had made a huge mistake.

I couldn’t really bring my camera and I don’t know if the photos do it justice but the lines are so high over the valleys it’s crazy and also this is Peru. The last time I did anything like this was Centre Parks where I expect the safety standards are different and whilst I have full faith in the lines and the pulley, which I know can take a lot of weight, my mind kept coming back to the harness stitching.

The fearless Chileans went first and Jaz and I were second to last to give me plenty of time to think about death. This was compounded during the safety briefing that said if you didn’t make it to the other side then you needed to grab on or we would end up rolling back to the centre of the valley. All I could think about was flying around in the middle in the wind.

Needless to say I did the first one and it was so much fun to be flying so high across the valley sewing the river and all the houses below. There were 6 lines in total, a scary bridge and a 30 metre climb. My fear of heights is not quite conquered but it’s much better than it was.

We met up with the rest of the group, who had spent the morning trekking, for lunch and then started walking the final 11km along the train tracks to Aquas Caliente, a small town at the base of Machu Picchu. If you don’t do the Inca trail then you will end up here.

After a long hike we ended up at this sign thinking we had made it but there was still more to go. It wasn’t helped by the road being blocked due to a tourist bus having crashed earlier. Thankfully reports were saying that no one has been badly hurt but I’ve not seen any news reports to confirm this.

After another 30 mins we had finally made it to Aguas Caliente.

We would spend tonight in a hostel and glorious bed. All there was left to do was to buy supplies for the next day, eat dinner and be ready to get up at 3:30am for the trip up to Machu Picchu.

2 thoughts on “Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

  1. Pingback: The Sacred Valley – Pisac, Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, Moray and Salineras de Maras – Thirty Something Traveller

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