We headed to Cuzco to meet up with my brother Patrick, and his friend Christine, who flew in to join us for the next 2 weeks. Our first order of business was booking our hike to Machu Picchu, which we decided to do the 5 day 4 night Salkantay trek due to the diversity in ecosystems along the trek as well as the fact it is much less popular than the Inca trail. We were set to leave in 2 days, and spent our time enjoying the fine cuisine of Cuzco, including the sister restaurant to Astrid y Gaston in Lima (only 1 course each) and heading to Pisac to browse the local handicrafts at the extensive market there.
The day of the hike began at 4 am with a few hour drive to where we had breakfast, and began hiking. Our first day had some tough uphill sections for the first few hours, but after lunch it was mostly flat to our first campsite. Unfortunately, it began raining with an hour left to camp, so we arrived rather soaked and very tired. Hot coffee, tea, and chocolate as well as snacks helped raise our spirits. It was an early night for us as it would be an early morning to begin hiking to reach the Salkantay pass.
On our third evening we spent the night in a little town that had hot springs that our guides preferred to those of the town of Aguas Calientes. The were by far the most beautiful hot springs I have ever been in, they were so clean (especially compared to those in Banos, Ecuador) and the setting was so serene. We had a great few hours unwinding in the hot springs, nursing our tired legs.
On our fourth day we had the option of hiking 4 hours with all of our gear, or ziplining and only hiking 2 hours. For us it was a very easy decision. The ziplining was an absolute blast, we did one line that was 1.5 km long and you were able to get going 80-90 km/h, we had one line that was extremely high from the bottom of the canyon, and one line that we landed on a floating platform and repelled down from the platform to the ground. None of us had ever ziplined before so it was a very fun experience, not to mention cutting out a few hours of hiking was a major bonus!
After ziplining we had to walk along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu where we would spend the night and leave at 4:30 am the next morning to reach the ancient city. We had a few Pisco Sours and a delicious supper, before hitting the hay early. We began hiking a little later than intended, so we hustled hard to reach the gates at Machu Picchu for opening at 6:00 am. There are buses that would drive you to the gates, but after hiking 4 days we felt it would be an injustice to take a bus. So up the approximately 1000 – 1500 stairs we went, the humidity doing us no favors, and reached the gates shortly before opening. It was a very exciting moment, as we had in ways forgot the end goal with all the excitement along the way. Our first glimpses of Machu Picchu, were much like those at the Salkantay pass…..
However, within an hour the rain stopped and the clouds began to dissipate and we were able to begin exploring the city. After seeing so many pictures of Machu Picchu it was very surreal to be there in person, and to imagine the city at the peak of its empire. It would have been nice to do a more indepth tour, our tour guides knew…the bare minimum. Not their fault, we cheaped out. But their explanations consisted of, “Okay my friends, this, is a house. It has windows. Okay friends, lets move on” Lol.
After a few hours of exploring the city we headed towards Machu Picchu Mountain to complete our final mountain climb. We chose the mountain over Huayna Picchu as it is more than twice as high and we had heard the view is better and far fewer people do the mountain. That was very accurate advice as there were only 16 people who completed the mountain the day we were there. It was another excruciating amount of stairs along some very precarious terrain, but once we reached the top we were able to see exactly how the Inca people integrated Machu Picchu into the natural surroundings. It was incredible.
Although we were exhausted, we were happy we made the final climb up Machu Picchu Mountain. Not only did it provide a very unique view of Machu Picchu it was a nice ending to an insane amount of hiking and climbing during our trip. I was very happy to hang up my hiking boots and begin the last few weeks of relaxation.
Would I recommend the Salkantay trail? 100%. We started in the mountains amidst freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather, descended into the hot and humid cloud forests, and ended up at Machu Picchu. I haven’t done other trails, and each trail offers its something special of its own, but we did really enjoy the Salkantay for the diversity of the surroundings and the challenge it offered. Certainly you can avoid hiking altogether and take a train to Aguas Calientes, and then a bus to Machu Picchu, but that would just be- easy?