The Salkantay trekking to Machu Picchu is a unique four-day hike through extremely diverse scenery. We passed snow-covered peaks, turquoise lakes, coffee plantations, hot springs and more on route to Peru’s Wonder of the World. The tropical storms and frozen fingertips only added to the adventure. On day four, we explored the majestic Inca city before the crowds arrived.
I ended up traveling to Peru because one of my best friends was volunteering in Cusco at the time. He couldn’t do the whole trip with us, but did tag along for this great part. We booked our four-day, three-night Salkantay trekking with American Inca Trail Peru. Being on a student budget, they came out as the clear winner of my screening. I wouldn’t hesitate to book with them again; food was plenty and delicious, annoying group members were limited and everything was nicely organized. Enjoying the scenery and not falling of a cliff were the only things on our mind.
Day 1: Cusco – Soraypampa
Before dawn, we were picked up from Plaza de Armas in Cusco. After a bumpy three-hour ride to the trailhead, our backpacks were loaded onto the back of a mule. Two though Americans refused to partake in this girly behavior, and carried their 20-kg backpack throughout the trip. I was more than happy to confide in the mule and opted for the smallest daypack I could find.
We worked our way up through the valley, until we reached the first camp site. Our tents were set up against the backdrop of the Andes’ snow-covered peaks. The real challenge of the day still awaited: an optional trail to Humantay Lagoon started behind the campsite. Although the word trail might not be in place here. It was more like a self-guided scramble, with the abyss looming on both sides.
When we made it up to the ridge, it took quite some convincing to get me off my but for a picture. I put my fear of heights aside for what was the bluest lake I had ever seen. The whole descent I did in a crab-like position, ripping my leggings over Peru’s sturdy mountain vegetation.
Day 2: Soraypampa – Chaullay
Today, we would come face to face with Mount Salkantay. If desired, from the back of a horse. When I noticed the steep and narrow trails used exclusively by the horses, I was very happy to have my feet firm on the ground. We climbed about 800 meters before getting to the highest point of the trekking, at 4,608 meters above sea level.
Once at the highest point, a side track led to another stunning turquoise lake. We were lucky enough to make it to the lake before a thick fog covered it whole. Within 15 minutes, there was no more lake to be seen.
The fog turned into rain as we made our way down. Regardless, the descent was absolutely stunning.
By the time we made it to the lunch tent, it looked like a monsoon had come down on us. When the hot tea turned cold, moving in the rain started to look more appealing than freezing inside. I was glad I didn’t postpone the hike any longer, since rain kept pouring down for another hour.
In just a few hour’s time, the landscape had changed completely. The snow-covered peaks had made way for lush green vegetation. After two hours of hiking through the jungle, we arrived at the campsite. The hot tea was in turn replaced by cold beers.
Day 3: Chaullay – Aguas Calientes
Yesterday’s tropical storm turned out to just be a warm-up for today’s weather. By the time we got to the first stop, we were already soaked. For a peso or two, we could pick our own granadillas from a local lady’s garden. The granadilla is a type of passion fruit native to the Andes. This was more challenging than it sounds, as you had to pick them with a stick. As I find them absolutely delicious, I was determined to succeed in the harvest.
Notice my soggy red fingers after two hours of walking in the rain. Luckily, there were more local delicacies on the way to distract us. We fueled up with fresh roasted coffee at an improvised coffee shop. Giant avocados were hanging from the trees, calling to be eaten. Afterwards, we got on a mini-bus to the Hydroelectric train station. On the way, we stopped at the hot springs of Santa Teresa. Turned out we had not quite reached our limit to soak today.
After this relaxing dip, we were in no mood to walk another two hours in the rain next to the railroad. We decided to cheat and pay for the train to Aguas Calientes. Judging by the look on braver people’s face when we passed by, it was a good investment.
My favorite part about camping is the appreciation of basic comfort that comes afterwards. It has been almost two years and I can still feel the amazing shower in Aguas Calientes!
Day 4: Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu
Today was the day! We woke up before dawn to start hiking to Peru’s Wonder of the World. The morning exercise was real, as it took more than an hour of stair climbing from Aguas Calientes. For being such short people, the Inca’s carved some crazily high steps! An easier but much less rewarding option is taking the bus.
We made it to Machu Picchu right before sunrise. Most importantly, we got there before the hordes of tourists started flooding in. The site and its surroundings were even more majestic than I had imagined.
After a guided tour of the Inca citadel, we signed up for some more stair-climbing. The hike to Machu Picchu Mountain is not for the faint-hearted, as the spectacular views come with dizzying heights. The view over Machu Picchu from the top was truly breathtaking.
Next, we hiked up to the Sun Gate, once the main entrance to Machu Picchu. This is the end point of the ever-popular Inca Trail. I can imagine it must be pretty impressive to lay first eyes on Machu Picchu through this gate. But in my opinion, the extremely diverse and stunning scenery of the Salkantay trekking cannot be beaten!