The road to Machu Picchu
5 days and over 90 kilometers. Over a mountain pass and down to the jungles, we followed the famous Salkantay route to the ancient city of the Incas.
It was an early wake-up. The alarm rang long before the sun was even thinking of rising up. We packed only the necessities into our small backpacks and left rest into the reception of our rental flat in Cusco. Ready to go.
Solid couple hours of sleep on a bus before we arrived at the small town of Mollepata. We had a simple breakfast before continuing. After a short but wild bus ride along the curvy roads on the steep mountainsides, we stopped into a spot were was a pack of horses and donkeys waiting for us. We could each give something worth 5 kilos for them to carry.
We had a group of 12 people, a local guide, a horseman and three cooks.
We had an easy first leg of the journey. Four hours of walking high on the mountainside with views over the valley. Sun was up and the weather was warm. After an hour or so, we were able to see the tiny town of Soraypampa waiting for us in the distance. We were going to camp there for the night.
Soraypampa is in the altitude of 3800 meters a.s.l. Climatizing is important when you arrive in Cusco (3400 m) and few people had minor problems on the evening. This is why they skipped the extra trek to Laguna Humantay in the afternoon.
After lunch, we took the extra challenge to visit the beautiful glacial lake Humantay close by. Like I said, it is very close by but 400 meters higher so it took us three hours in total to visit it from Soraypampa. You can read more about Laguna Humantay from Glacial Lake High in the Andes.
I slept like a rock. I heard some of us were not so fortunate. Some were feeling so cold that couldn’t sleep or had problems with the altitude. When I got up early, before the sun again, the mist was covering the fields around the town. Our cooks brought us some warm coca tea to start the day followed up by a proper breakfast later.
The surrounding mountains looked so beautiful wrapped with an early morning mist, while sun trying to reach its first rays to this tiny far-off village high in the Andes.
The second day was the toughest. The first challenge was the Salkantay pass, which raises up to 4600 meters a.s.l. I’m kidding you not, I had to stop every few minutes to catch my breath while climbing up the path.
The whole trek is named after the Salkantay mountain (6271 m) . In Quechua it means wild, savage or invincible.
The weather was not favoring us today. We were surrounded by fog when we came down the mountain. The road was rocky and hiking poles would have been in good use here. As we came down the mountain, the landscapes turned slowly into a jungle while the humidity rose. In total, we walked approximately 10 hours since we left Soraypampa on the morning.
We rewarded ourselves with an icecold shower (no option for warm) which was the first chance for a shower since we left Cusco.
Day 3 was easy. We left our campsite early on morning and trekked through the jungle for few hours only. The slopes were steep and occasionally the path didn’t really have much space for misplaced steps. This was probably the most relaxed day and it felt easy after the previous day. Also, the lower altitude made a big difference, my feet felt lighter.
We said goodbye to our horseman as we climbed into a minivan. We had a short half an hour ride listening to the best latin hits on our way to Santa Teresa. The afternoon was free and hot springs an option. On the evening we rewarded ourselves with some beers and dancing around a bonfire. Santa Teresa is a small village some hours away from Macchu Picchu.
Our cooks made a great job keeping us happy with changing meals every day. We also had a teatime with popcorn all evenings.
Surprise! Apparently, we won some lottery cause we were rewarded with a free zip lining. This is normally an extra cost activity but for some reason, we got there for free. Most of our group had a few hour walk ahead, but we would get a minibus lift to catch them up.
The additional zip lining over the lush valleys was awesome. Such fun!
After catching up with the group and stopping over for a lunch, we had last few hours or trekking to do. We followed the railway tracks to Aguas Calientes which is the closest town, and a hub to reach Macchu Picchu. We had a gorgeous peek of the ancient city up in the mountain when we got closer. I felt like a true Indiana Jones. All this way over the mountains and through the jungle to find the ancient city of Incas.
Pills for motion sickness are advisable if you normally have even the slightest issues. The narrow mountain roads are quite wild and they use the brakes savingly.
On the evening we had time to rest in Aguas Calientes. It is a very touristic town so you could see that on prices. We treated ourselves with pizzas after all those miles walked. In the town is also hot springs which are perfect for relaxation. And for mosquito bites! Beware, there are tons of little mosquitos, feisty as hell. I looked like I had the chickenpox in my calves. And I saw some people being worse. So cover up and wear repellant in here!
On day 5 we got up before the sun again. It takes about two hours to climb up the mountain to reach Machu Picchu (2430 m). The distance is not long but the elevation from the town is approximately 1 km up which makes is more exhausting. There is an option for a bus ride as well but it’s fairly expensive (11$).
With the ticket, you can spend all day up there exploring the city, visit the Sun Gate and the old bridge. The montañas Machu Picchu (3050 m) or Huayna Picchu (2720 m) offers an extra challenge but has to be booked separately and in advance cause there are limited amounts allowed up daily.
I will write another article to cover the visit to Machu Picchu and the Machu Mountain.
In total the Salkantay Trek was one of the coolest treks I’ve done. The diverse landscapes and Machu Picchu waiting in the end made is something really special.