The most common way to trek to Machu Picchu is via the Inca Trail, but…being more into hiking and natural landscapes our Peru Travel Specialist, Ross, wanted to try something a bit different on his trip to Peru. Instead he chose to arrive at the ancient ruins via the lesser travelled Salkantay Trek, taking in the jungle and mountains en route.
Day 1: Early Start
Like all Peru treks we had an early start, leaving Cusco at 4am and reaching Mollepata by 7am. Here we met the group we were to spend the next 3 nights with and enjoyed a hearty breakfast to fuel us for the long journey ahead. Introductions to a fantastic local guide whose English was great and enthusiasm even better, were followed by introductions to our porters who would cook and look after us throughout the trek. These guys were strong as they not only carried all food and equipment and tents but did so with a smile! This was a real testament to their character as even with all of this equipment they were still quicker than us. I was slightly nervous as we were going to climbing to heights of 4600m and was unsure how I would cope with the altitude but the guide was reassuring and said he would be with us every step.
We started the journey full of beans and chatting away, keeping a reasonable speed. Shortly after we started we began to see the scenery change and the amazing landscapes surrounding us come to life. For this first day we climbed up and up to reach the first camping point of Salkantaypampa where the guides were already waiting for us with the kettle boiled and the campsite ready. After a tasty dinner we were more than ready to dive in to our sleeping bags and drift off into a heavy sleep.
Day 2: New Friends & Coca Leaves
Day two was all about the trekking and we knew we had a strenuous time ahead. Having made friends with the guide, Victor, I was looking forward to talking to him along the way to find out more about his fascinating culture. Having someone to talk to who was not only knowledgeable but passionate about his heritage was really one of the highlights of my whole Peru experience. After an early breakfast with the group we began the steep uphill climb, and at this point the group separated slightly as you are encouraged to go at your own pace with the guide making sure the whole group is OK.
We reached the high point (after a lot of panting and sweating) without much trouble with the altitude and I feel part of this was due to my guide handing me his pouch of coca leaves which we chewed as a traditional method of dealing with altitude sickness. As the entire group joined us, we had a chance to take in the splendour of the mountains and marvel at the stones stacked on top of each other as prayers to the mountain gods. Once we had laid our own stones, it was time to make the climb back down.
During the descent, the surroundings began to change yet again we began to notice less stones and more plant life. The vegetation was more and more abundant as we entered the edges of the jungle with views of the Andes still around us. I found the trek down more challenging than the way up as my knees were killing me. My feet were aching and had started to blister, but I was exhilarated nonetheless. When our campsite came into view, the heavens began to open and I couldn’t wait to rest in the dry. Taking a dip in the hot springs nearby to soak my aching muscles in the soothing warm water was such a welcome feeling. After such a challenging day, it was great to curl up in my sleeping bag and drift off into maybe the best slumber of my life (certainly the most needed!).
Day 3: Descent to the Valley
After waking up the next morning to another fine breakfast from the porters we headed further down, spotting cocoa plant fields and wild flora all the way. We arrived in Playa for a short lunch before jumping on a truck to head to the Hydro Electric, this is where we caught the train to Agua Calientes. Though lots of tourists where staying here, it was a real treat to stay in a hotel bed for the night. Before I hit the hay, I had a meal of the national dish of cuy, or guinea pig, which was rather small but tasty!
Day 4: Majestic Machu Picchu
The next day of my Peru travels was a big one and I had to get up early to begin my journey to Machu Picchu. I had wanted to walk the two hours to the site but rain had hit again (as it always seems to do on the day that I visit a world wonder!), so I grabbed the first available bus to the ruins. Normally the mountains are covered with mist but on this day it was hard to see that through the rain. Despite the weather, seeing the Inca city was breathtaking, and to imagine this was built so long ago and hidden so well was amazing to me. I felt so special to have arrived and having trekked so long; it really felt like a reward. As the guide told us about the history of the site, we were transported back to the time of the Incas and couldn’t help but wonder why such a place had been left deserted all of those years ago.
Walking up to the adjacent Wayna Picchu for the postcard views is well worth it. Though the steps are uneven and after a gruelling trek you might feel a little tired, it is well worth it. As you can see below, despite the fog and rain we experienced, we still managed to find a small window for a photo opportunity.