Updated: Nov 15, 2019
This was number one on our bucket list. In fact, our bucket list started over 4 years ago on safari in Tanzania and we both agreed, this had to be done. So it is fair to say, this was hotly anticipated.
As Machu Picchu was a definite on our trip, we booked before we went (you can book when you arrive in), acting as the '2 months away' marker on our adventure.
We have included some tips at the bottom of this article that we found useful or wish we'd done. We booked our trip through Milhouse Hostel, which after talking to some of the other guys on the trip worked out good value.
The tour company was KB Tours and I would highly recommend looking out for them when you book yours. Our guides Brandon and Suzie (plus the team) were super helpful, enthusiastic and knowledgable about the trail.
To get us in the groove, we had a 4.30am pick up from our hostel and we were taken to our first checkpoint Mollepaya to pay 10 Soles (about £2.50) for entry and 10-15 Soles for breakfast (all included in our package). And then,, to the loud sounds of Peruvian music (im sure to keep us awake), we made our way to Challacancha to start the trek.
With a mixture of nerves and excitement we listened to our briefing and then we were off! The start of pur 100km journey through glaciers, mountains, jungle, small villages to the iconic Incan ruin.
Day 1 is in total a 6 hour trek, if you include the optional Humantay Lake, which we highly recommend. It takes you 13kms in total and approximately 6 hours of 'Peruvian Flat' which is essentially an undulating terrain. On route you see the striking valley leading to Humantay Mountain. We were lucky enough to see a Condor within 1 hour of walking which Suzie assured us would bring us luck.
Once we reached the camp at Soraypampa after 3hours of moderate trekking, we settled down to lunch and were shown our camping huts.
After lunch we were delayed in our trek to Humantay Lake thanks to a large thunder and hail storm. They said the weather can change quickly and this day highlighted it. We went from brilliant sunshine to dark clouds, large claps of thunder, hail and then back again!
The final part of the day is roughly a 2hour 30mins trek to Humantay Lake. This was hard going, but well worth it!!
Day 2 was another early start at 5am with a Coca Tea and flashlight, they don't do subtle in the Andes! Had a terrible nights sleep at high altitude (3,900m), it was cold and at times difficult to breathe, especially on a late night toilet run.
The Chef's prepared a feast of a breakfast, to prepare us for the probably the hardest day. We had to complete 11hours of trekking and 22kms and the worst of it, lunch wouldn't be for another 6hours!!
The trek starts with a 4 hour climb to the Salkantay Pass, the highest point on our adventure at 4,650m.
The climb to here is difficult but the view is astonishing. Our guide also treated our group to an Incan Ceremony, to say thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and also to grant a wish to the mountains. A really fitting tribute in such beautiful surroundings.
We were also super lucky with the weather, being able to see the top of Salkantay Mountain with no clouds. It is is the 2nd highest mountain in Cusco at 6275m.
We then started descent to Huayracpampa (4,000m) for a well earned and long awaited lunch. On the second night we stayed in Chaullay, which is a stark contrast to our previous night's accommodation.
The 22km had taken us from snowy glaciers to dense jungle and also a better night sleep (after lathering ourselves in insect repellent)! A beer (or two) here was well enjoyed after probably the hardest section of the journey completed.
On day 3 we were given a lie in! We didn't have to be up until 5.30am! After breakfast and packing we set off at 6.30am, promised sunshine by our guide the night before, so naturally we were destined for rain and the weather didn't disappoint.
But it did give you a views straight out of Jurassic Park, with misty, jungle covered mountains cut through by a flowing river.
This was probably the easiest day and it was needed after the previous. Only the 5 hours in total, but it was also the hottest. Following the Santa Teresa river, we meandered our way through the dense jungle our guide stopping us at points to pick out the flora and fauna on route. Some outstanding views and difficult to believe that only 24hours previous we were amongst harsh rocks and glaciers.
The motivation for this day was the promise of hot springs, which after 3 days of no showers was well worth the 25 soles each (£7). If you do decide to go, wear insect repellent. We didn't and it was to our demise!
Staying in Santa Teresa, we were bused in from La Playa, which felt like cheating a little but it is only a mountain road that links the villages and no trail, and also we didn't care, we had hot water, a buffet meal, music, beer and a free shot to enjoy! The guides made a fire, the bar was open and dancing was a plenty.
Waking up on day 4, although we had another lie in until 6.30am, was difficult as we were still feeling the effects from previous night :)
This was a 3hour trek to Hydroelectrica, along the mountain road, again following the river. We wondered with only 6hours to do on this day why we needed to be up so early, but I guess it is to avoid the heat (approx. 30+oC). I couldn't imagine doing it in the middle of the day!
We arrived at Hydroelectrica 3 hours later and collapsed into the hammocks at the meeting point.
After lunch, we walked onto Aguas Calientes, our final stop before the climax of Machu Picchu. You follow the train tracks here for roughly 3hours, completing 22kms for the day on fairly flat terrain.
Aguas Calientes is a very different place to any of the stops on route, being based at the foot of Machu Picchu it is obviously heavily influenced by tourists. We'd compare it more to European ski town and than a typical Peruvian settlement. Still it had good restaurants and a hostel with a double bed and ensuite - absolute luxury!!
Thankfully for day 5 (aka Machu Picchu day) we had 6am tickets i.e. the 'early tickets'. Although it means a 4.30am get up, you get in at the quietest period and beat the biggest midday rush - worth after all you've put in so far.
The trek up is hard and if you've found the rest of the trek really difficult, we'd recommend getting the bus. It's 45-60mintues of 1,600 steps, in a steep ascent. Very hard on the legs, especially coming back down. The effort however is well worth it! Getting pictures with hardly anyone but Llamas in the Citadel is priceless. It's definitely not possible at any other time of the day.
It is also gives you time to explore, seeing the Sun Gate and Inca Bridge which take roughly 2hours themselves. Again, we were extremely lucky with the weather.
We spent 4hours up there wandering around and imagining what it must have been like in it's day. 80% of it is still in tact, so it is not difficult to imagine what a sight this must have been and how grateful we should be the Spanish never found it, allowing it be preserved so well.
There are two ways back to Cusco. We had the train which allows you more time in Machu Picchu and Aguas Calientes, replacing a 3 hour walk and 6 hour bus ride with 2 hours on a train and a 2 hour bus connection. Definitely worth looking into.
We arrived back at our hostel at 10.30pm, safe and sound (other than numerous insect bites), for our best night sleep in days! Salkantay Trek makes you really appreciate a pillow :)
We had the best time on our trek, it lived up to our expectations but alot of that had to do to our group. Such a great group of people to enjoy it with! Thank you Chaskas!
And there it is! Our biggest thing on the bucket list ticked off! Now onto our next adventure and to add more things to the list.
Total cost each: £250 (plus any alcoholic beverages :))
Tips on what to bring:
Water and water bottle
Water purification tablets
Energy drinks Snacks - dried fruit, sweets, nuts, etc.
Hiking poles (along time on your legs and helps protect the knees)
Trekking boots or trainers
Battery pack (there is no electricity available during the trek)
Waterproof cover for your pack
Personal first aid kit (antihistamines, pain killers, plasters, bite relief are essential)
Bring extra cash to buy snacks and drink Bathing suit for hot springs
Items to help with altitude sickness - all can be picked up in Cusco
Chocolate or sweets
Natural Altitude sickness tablets
Tips for Salkantay and Machu Picchu:
Book early to guarantee a 6am slot to Machu Picchu
It costs extra but consider the train back to give you more time
Check what is not included in your trip i.e. national park entrance, food/drink, accomodation
Consider Bus to the top - gets you there quicker and saves energy
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NB. If you are looking at booking the Salkantay be prepared for early mornings and alot of walking. We booked it because it is half the price of the Inca Trek and seemed a more 'authentic' experience than the jungle trek.