Seems like this trek was forever ago and I am only looking through the photos now! I wish I could have shared all of these photos and stories sooner! It would have been a lot easier for me to remember everything! Haha.. but alas. Life at home is full of surprises [like getting engaged!] and real-life, adult responsibility. But I promise once I've finally sorted through all of my photos I will be more on it and my blog won't go neglected for too long! (;
When Shadi and I were deciding how to get to Machu Picchu we really wanted an authentic experience. Although the Inka Trek takes you on the original Inka trail used to get to Machu Picchu, our friends and locals highly recommended the Salkantay Trek. They all agreed that it was less touristy than the latter, with a less populated trail and diversity of landscape. Plus, it was a lot more affordable and we weren't going to complain about that!
Exchange rate: 3 SOLES for every 1 USD
Time zone: UTC-05:00, Peru Time Zone
Booking Company: Andean Spiritual Pathways
Tour Guide: Puma Salkantay
Length: 5 days/4 nights
Total Hiking Distance: 76+ kilometers
Included In Cost: Machu Picchu entrance fees, 1 night hostel accommodations in Aguas Calientes, meals, 2-man tent, sleeping pad, mule to carry 5 kilos (*for first 3 days only)
Not Included In Cost: accommodations in Cuzco, water, sleeping bag, snacks, optional bus ride fee to Machu Picchu, optional Huayna Picchu Trek (*highly recommended), 10-30 soles for hot springs.
WHAT TO BRING:
- comfortable, backpacking backpack
- change of clothes [including warm and cool weather items!]
- socks, really good socks
- approx. 2 liters of water per day [there is opportunity to purchase water through the trip]
- rain gear [rain jacket, poncho]
- walking sticks [I thought I wouldn't need them but they are incredibly useful and will save your knees]
- sleeping bag
- toilet paper [you'll using the bathroom outdoors a lot!]
- first aid kit [including moleskins. I found them to be quite useful on the trip and a couple of my trek partners were very thankful for them as well!]
- wet wipes [there are several nights with no showers. It's a Godsend to wipe yourself down after a full day of hiking.]
- bug spray [when you get to the base of Machu Picchu it is very tropical and mosquitoes are on the prowl]
- extra soles for snacks and amenity upgrades
- passport [NEED at Machu Picchu entrance]
- dry bags [waterproof bags]
- swimsuit [if you decide to go in the hot springs]
THE NITTY GRITTY:
Hiking the Salkantay Trek was probably one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I have ever done. Before this trip, I don't think I have ever hiked more than 10 miles in one day let alone 5 days straight! I mean, everything hurt. All the time. My back was constantly killing me from carrying 35+ lbs. of water and camera gear. On day two my knee gave way and I had a limp for the rest of the trip. And some days we were constantly soggy from the rain. So soggy that I had to wear plastic bags on my feet so my socks wouldn't soak up all the water harvested by my shoes! Sometimes on those rainy days it was so cold I couldn't feel my fingers.
But it was all worth it [if you can believe it.] There is something about the struggle that makes the end of a journey so rewarding. And it made Machu Picchu shine like gold.
Parts of the hike were pretty intense. I will have to say the first day was hardest for me. I don't think my body or mind was quite prepared for the trek ahead, and even though it was not the most intensive part of the hike, it was definitely the most challenging for me. By the second day I was more mentally and physically prepared. We still hiked halfway between Salkantay and Humantay mountains at altitudes of 4650m and an exhausting 22km. Luckily, no one got altitude sickness. But halfway down the hill my knee started to hurt and it hasn't been the same since. Getting old ain't so great sometimes.
It rained a lot on our trek. But that was to be expected since it was still wet season. I wish I could have taken more photos but the rain kept my camera packed away a lot of the time. Plus, I was pretty exhausted most of the time and the last thing I wanted to do was take a photo.
[Which got me thinking. I am a traveler first and a photographer second. Exhaustion and weather aside, it is so much more important for me to be in the moment and feel what I am feeling and doing what I am doing instead of getting "the shot." Photography is just a byproduct of my experiences. The adventure comes first. The photo comes second.]
The third day was very tropical and warm. We passed through a number of waterfalls going through the road and even broke a sweat. Actually, a lot of a sweat. The diversity of climates on this trek were pretty tremendous. We went from thermal layers and ponchos to peeling away our clothes to nearly nothing. By the time we got to Santa Theresa we were ready to jump into the natural hot springs. I am pretty sure it helped ease all of our pains because I was surprisingly not sore the following day.
I have to say that the fourth day was pretty lackluster. Besides crossing a sketchy bridge where there was once a commercial road, there was nothing special about Hydroelectric. We were just merely passing through to get to the destination. Getting to Aguas Calientes was pretty cool though. It is a town below Machu Picchu, nestled between two mountains, and lined by Willkanuta river. There was something dreamy about this town. Although most of the industry is geared towards trekkers and people on their way to Machu Picchu, I can imagine that it was once a very dreamy town.
At 3:45am on the fifth day we were ready for the finale. Four previous days of trekking to get us here. At this point, you can either opt for the bus or take the original Inka path up to the top. Unfortunately, my knee was in pretty bad shape and I had to take the bus. We entered the gates to Machu Picchu minutes after 6am. Shadi surprised me with a cupcake and got our trekking partners to sing me happy birthday just before we got in. It was the perfect way to celebrate my 28th birthday.. at the top of a mountain, in the middle of Peru, at one of the seven world wonders, in one of the most famous ruins, going to one of the places I have always dreamed of going to. It was a pretty unique experience to say the least.
The trip was topped off by an extra couple miles [and a whole lot of stairs] to Huayna Picchu, the mountain overlooking Machu Picchu. I highly suggest adding this to your trip. I couldn't stop thinking about how it was built and how impossible it was to go up and down those steps without falling off the side. But the Inka did it. And they did it good. The way they built these cities seems like a miracle when you actually get to experience it in person.
In the end, I can only marvel at the experiences and pat myself on the back for getting through it all. If I could do it all again I would.. in a heart beat. But hope for a little less blisters.
Salkantay Trek. Worth every ache, blisters, cold fingers, and sore knees.
*To get all more details on the Salkantay trek you can visit Puma Salkantay and check out a day by day itinerary of the excursion.