The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
Going there had been in my bucket list since I first landed in Peru, five months ago. Reaching it after hiking 74 km in the Salkantay Trek is what made it memorable.
Machu Picchu is what everyone says it is: magical. But what makes it even more magical is the way you can choose to get there: six days of hiking between highlands and jungle.
We left Cusco at 3 AM as a group of 14 strangers. The speakers of the combi were playing Bruno Mars’ Lazy Song, but that was not the day to do “nothing at all”.
We started hiking at Soraypampa, 3850 m.a.s.l. with uncertain weather. The path was either flat or uphill, and during these first hours of walk the group started to break the ice and get to know each other.
Once we arrived at the campsite in Soyrococha, we had a delicious lunch and coca tea before hiking one more hour uphill to reach the crystal blue water of Laguna Humantay where the snowy peak of Mt. Salkantay (6264 m.a.s.l.) reflected in all its beauty. A few people swam in the ice-cold waters of the lake, screaming of joy.
We all warmed up with some hot tea and then eagerly devoured our dinner. To much of my delight and surprise (it is quite unusual in Peru), we were served plenty of fresh vegetables together with the meal.
The next morning I was woken up at 5 AM with a smoking cup of coca tea. When we finally managed to leave the warmth and comfort of our sleeping bags, we were rewarded with a delicious breakfast with hot pancakes and coffee.
We prepared for what was going to be the toughest day of the hike: three hours uphill to reach the highest point, the Salkantay Pass, at 4600 m.a.s.l. It was foggy and cold when we reached the top, and we couldn’t appreciate the sight of the Mt. Salkantay.
We walked the rest of the day under light rain before gladly reaching our camp for lunch. While eating, we observed the light rain becoming heavy rain and the heavy rain transforming into hail. Our lucky star, though, was on our side, and the weather got better once we finished our lunch.
The clouds slowly cleared to show the stunning sight of the surrounded mountains.
We were slowly entering the cloud-forest: the sides of the mountains were smoking with the last signs of the fog; the sun was shyly coming out, drying our wet clothes.
The scenery drastically changed as we reached lower elevations, entering the ceja de selva (high jungle). We started to strip off our clothes while entering a sort of Shakespearean Midsummer’s Night Dream, walking through think vegetation and dark hummingbirds.
The landslide had come here, too, and on day three we were obliged to use a local family’s cable car to reach the other side of the mountain. We hiked through narrow and dangerous paths until reaching the village.
The night of the third day we slept in Santa Teresa, where a few bottles of rum were passed around a bonfire. Our dizzy bodies danced and played around the flames. The next morning it was a hard mission to get up, but it felt good to be walking again.
We hiked the last few kilometers alongside the train tracks and finally reached Aguas Calientes, where we would spend our last night all together. Instead of camping, we slept in a hotel but both the excitement and some noisy neighbors kept me up for most of the night.
The alarm rang at 4 o’clock. At 4.30 we started to walk towards the first check-point and then up the two thousand stairs that lead to the entrance. It was a tough climb, but helped by the light of my headlamp I finally reached the top one hour later.
Some girls ahead of me were screaming in German, but I didn’t need to know the language to understand what they were saying: the infinite irregular Inca stairs were finally over, we had made it to the entrance!
The arrival was glorious, the moment I climbed that last step unforgettable. No longer strangers, we shared the achievement with passion and joy.
The 6 AM fog slowly dissipated to show the Inca citadel, one of the Wonders of the World in all its splendor.
After Edgar’s two hour guided tour, I said goodbye to my travel companions and went to hike 2000 more steps to Montaña Machu Picchu. I spent the rest of the day visiting with the rest of the crew and still I think the time was not enough.
I left the site at sunset, walked down to Aguas Calientes where I spent my last night before hiking back to Hidroelectríca the next day. Seeing (and hearing!) a dozen of combi drivers randomly screaming the names of their passengers (all together, and from different places) was a show itself. My name was never called, but this was just another chapter to add to the How to Learn Patience in Peru list.
INFO about the trek:
Suggested price for the tour: 170$ including the entrance to Machu Picchu mountain.
What to bring: clothes for both warm and cold weather, rain jacket, hat and gloves, headlamp, purifying tablets, toilet paper, coca leaves, snacks and fruits for the day, extra cash.
Short and cheap DIY trek: catch a combi to Hidroeléctrica from Cusco (60/70 S roundtrip) and then walk alongside the train tracks (around 2h30′) until Aguas Calientes. The next day, hike up to Machu Picchu and enjoy!
Hostel in Aguas Calientes: Hospedaje Jairito, single room with private bathroom 20 S.
Cheap eats in Aguas Calientes: the market, as usual.
Spend a whole day in the site: even if you decide not to climb Machu Picchu or Wayna Picchu, there’s a lot to see and it’s worth arriving first thing in the morning and leaving when it closes (5 PM). The first check-point opens at 5 AM (in front of the bridge in Aguas Calientes), and the site opens its gates at 6 AM.