Hiking the Salkantay to Machu Picchu

The main event had finally arrived!
When we planned this trip, numero uno on our list was to do the hike to Machu Picchu. We had tried to get in on the Inca Trail but that’s sold out a year in advance, so we decided to do an alternate route called the Salkantay. It is twice as long as the Inca trail and goes up much higher.

It passes through mountains, valleys and villages in the Andes of Peru. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Even though a lot of it was super difficult with the altitude and hiking for sometimes over 10 hours a day, it was so worth it.

We decided to go with the company Llama Path as a trekking guide. I had read amazing reviews and also that they pay and treat their workers extremely well, which we confirmed with our guides.

We were within a group of nine, us, six Americans and one Chinese guy. Plus we had three porters, three cooks, two guides and a bunch of horses.

The food that they gave us was the best food we had eaten all trip. It was full service breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every meal had multiple courses. I honestly don’t know how they carried so much food and such a variety. We didn’t eat the same meal twice. I think we had like 10 different types of soup.

They also gave us our own private tents and sleeping bags. And every morning they would wake us up with a cup of coca tea and bowl of hot water so we could wash our faces.

Our guides were called Silvio and Elisban, who were two of the nicest guys ever! Silvio was very knowledgeable about the track and the history of the land. And Elisban was just really nice and a super funny guy.

The Salkantay Trek

Day 1

On day one we began at 4.30am with a drive out to the start of the trek. Half of this was in a shuttle and the other was on the back of a truck with locals. It was reminiscent of the truck out to Semuc Champey, really cramped but a fun way to start off and set the mood.

We hiked on the flat for a few hours before we made it to the first campsite. From here we had lunch and then set off on a day walk to a glacial lake. No kidding, I think this lake hike was the hardest part for me. We were at super high elevation and the hiking thing was a bit of shock to the system. Even Elisban said that the lake hike was the steepest part of the whole trek.

But I made it up and I was so glad I did, the lake was beautiful. So serene and picturesque. The glacier and mountain reflected in the lakes perfectly still water. That was until Danny jumped in 😂
He wasn’t in for long though, considering the water runs off the glacier, I’d assume it was a bit cold.
After the lake, we went back down to camp and went to bed. We were told day two would be the hardest!

Day 2

Day two was the longest day of the trek, a total of around 11 hours hiking.

But it was also the most beautiful day. We were hiking right up through the Salkantay mountain pass. Because we were at even higher elevation, the guides taught us how to chew on the coca leaves while we walked. I honestly think it helped. After a few minutes I was managing to keep my breath and only focus on the physical hiking side of the walk, rather than the ‘I can’t breathe’ side!

Words can’t describe the beauty of the Salkantay Pass, I’ve never seen such a pretty place. Sorry NZ!
After we reached the top, it was time for a million hours of downhill. I quickly learnt that I definitely prefer uphill to downhill. It’s so sore on the knees!
We reached lunch after a while and then continued downhill for four more hours.
I fell asleep very fast that night!

Day 3

Day three was what Silvio told me was the ‘easy day’ – only 5 hours of walking!

The terrain on the third day was jungle like and warmer. And a LOT of mosquitos! We were following the river to a little village which we camped at for the night.
We only walked for a half day and were done by lunch time. We also stopped off at a coffee farm where my sanity was restored. It was run by a family who had a little boy who also had a pet teacup pig, I died a little from the pure cuteness.

After finishing the hike the group decided to check out the zip line nearby, and the hot springs. I passed on the zip line, but throughly enjoyed the hot springs after all that hiking.
As we were driving back the stars all came out and the Milky Way was fully visible. Unfortunately the clouds came over before we could take photos of it but it was still amazing to see it.

Day 4

On day four we had the optional extra of climbing another mountain so we could get to a lookout. From the lookout we could see Machu Picchu in the distance. Of course we all accepted and climbed up again.
Luckily we were able to see it once we were at the top because it was super foggy that day.

We then hiked down again (yay 😓) for a few hours until we got the lunch spot at the hydroelectric power station. From there we walked along the flat next to the train tracks on the final leg to Aguas Caliente town. Here we had dinner and stayed in a hotel overnight. This was bliss after camping and hiking with no shower!
Wasn’t for long though because at 3.30am we woke up for Machu Picchu..

Machu Picchu

Did you know that they think around 1000 people lived in the city of Machu Picchu when it was a real city? Well, 4000 people visit Machu Picchu, every day!
We got up at 3.30am, to get in line for the first buses that leave Aguas Caliente town for the Incan city at 5.30am and gates open at 6am.
We didn’t even get on the first, we got on the seventh bus. There were hundreds of people in the queue. Granted it is the biggest highlight of any South American trip. But it was still mental to think that this many people were here.

I definitely recommend if you ever go to Machu Picchu, that you try and get on the first bus. You even make it there before the Inca Trail people (who also have to line up to get in on their hike!).
We got to see the sun rise over the mountains surrounding the city and it was pretty magical. Considering how many buses got there before us, we still managed to be one of the first groups in.

Machu Picchu is incredible. I didn’t expect to be so in awe of it. Because you see it in a million pictures before you think you know what to expect but it definitely surpassed that for me. For one, it is massive! There are so many buildings and so much left to see of the ruins. It’s been preserved very well. The fact that it’s on the top of a mountain is surreal and the views around it are breathtaking. It’s like being in another world.

After we had our guide take us around and explain stuff, for which I was half asleep for, we did Yet. Another. Hike.
Wyanapicchu mountain is the mountain in the background of most photos you see of Machu Picchu. The climb is more of a ladder, it’s that steep. The views from the top were awesome though, and slightly terrifying. I’m glad I did it though to really top off the week, and experience.

After this experience, it was time for some R&R in the Sacred Valley!

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