Salkantay Trek: Our 5-Day Hike to Machu Picchu

Hello! :-)

In my last post I already touched on the huge topic of Machu Picchu and what options there are to get to the ruins and what to be aware of before taking a plane to Peru. So if you are looking for some useful information you can head there immediately.

We decided to do the Salkantay Trek by ourselves and took the challenge to hike for five days in all kinds of vegetation/altitude and finally end up at the ruins of Machu Picchu.

I am not trying to brag, but what my boyfriend and I did there was pretty impressive. Poor us (literally “poor” backpackers) didn’t want to let go of the thought of doing a trek to Machu Picchu. We knew there were a lot of options to choose from, but which one was the right for us? After all, the Inca Trail was way too expensive. Other organized treks also ranged in between 270 and 350 US Dollars for 4-5 days. I know this sounds like it’s a bargain, but if you are used to spending around 20 US Dollars a day, believe me these prices shock you to the bones. If I think about it know with having back the feeling of how much a Euro is worth here in Europe, I can totally see why the sentences above make me look like the greediest person on earth. So, yeah… reverse culture shock is definitely a thing, but thankfully I am already over it for the most part.

Back to the original story. Salkantay. We heard from a bunch of fellow poor backpackers that the alternative route to Machu Picchu, passing the Salkantay mountain was absolutely doable alone without the guidance of a tour. From the start, we “knew” this was going to be a piece of cake for us. So many people are walking this trek every day, how can it be that hard?, we thought. In Cusco, we organized a tent, sleeping bags, walking sticks and finally a good rain-jacket for Lars.

Day 1

Being quite optimistic, we took off on a beautiful Monday afternoon, took a colectivo to a little village called Mollepata and started our walk. Due to some health issues on my side, we didn’t make it that far, and decided to camp on a hillside. Our view was pretty decent. ;-)

Day 2

The next day started nice and early to cover the rest of the 30 km we started the previous day. It was a little hike in the beginning but it gradually got flatter and flatter, until some mighty mountains appeared in front of us leaving with a spectacular view for the last two hours of walking. In the little village of Soraypampa (it was literally in the pampa), we stopped for a lunch menu including a soup, main course and tea. Soraypampa is actually the first official stop for every guided tour, so there were many campsites, and people. So, we kept walking for about another half an hour where we put up our tent in the middle of nowhere and fell asleep with the Salkantay mountain watching over us.

Day 3

When we woke up he was gone. Unfortunately surrounded by fog, we hiked through the mountain range. But being all the way up at the highest point of our hike Abra Salkantay, at around 4,600 m, was incredible. We felt like we could do anything now, after carrying my 10-kg and Lars his 15-kg backpack + tent 2,000 meters in altitude upwards over the course of the last two days. We couldn’t see much of the Salkantay, but let’s say we could feel his mightiness. From now on the day was an internal battle with our weaker selfs as we had to climb those 2,000 m downwards again to reach a “camp”-able area again. The backpacks on our backs got heavier and heavier as we walked down the steep path. Countless locals passed us pulling mules behind them that had exhausted tourists on their backs. We slowly entered a warmer climate until we were surrounded by rainforest. When we reached the next two tiny villages, we were desperately looking for food as our only fuel that day consisted of fruit, some bread with avocado and some crackers. Asking around in the village, a woman from a kiosk offered to cook some pasta with tomato-tuna sauce for us. We agreed and added, we wouldn’t mind huge portions. So be it, the woman thought, and cooked 500g of noodles. We ate them without leaving anything on the plate. As the village was also a stop for the tours we decided to walk a little bit further that day to find a calmer spot. Surprisingly, after our meal walking was like a piece of cake again. The night ended up not being too calm, as we only found spots right next to the noisy river, and I had the constant fear of landslides taking us down with us.

Day 4

We were there in the end of April, which is supposed to be after the rainy season, but locals said that this year the season was especially long, causing lots of landslides all around Peru. I think some incidents were even reported on the news in Europe. On day 4 we were able to see what was actually happening all around Peru. Landslides wherever we looked. Gladly, the night was already over and nothing happened to us when camping next to the river. However, walking over landslides that had taken down the roads was scary enough. (I hope my dad won’t read this.) Day 4 was supposed to be a relaxing day. 1,000 m downwards spread over 30 km of walking. Sounds doable. It took way longer than we expected. But I must admit it was worth every step. We passed banana and avocado plantations, made our way through rivers and enjoyed the fantastic views. Midway we stopped to carbo-load with a huge portion of noodles, rice, fries, chicken and vegetable stir fry. In the next village of Santa Teresa we decided it was time for some relaxation in the nearby hot springs to give our muscles a chance to recover. After sun-down we gladly still found a good place to camp somewhere next to a quiet river.

Day 5

…wasn’t all that special. We walked about 800 m upwards to Hidroelectrica and the village of Aguas Calientes which is the village of Machu Picchu. The way passed along the train tracks that connect Hidroelectrica with Aguas Calientes. Besides some “American”-loud trains this was again like a walk in the park, just with a few kilograms tied to your backs. Actually, we walked around Machu Picchu (the mountain’s name is Machu Picchu) but didn’t really know.

Day 6

Determined to be up at the entrance when the complex of the ruins of Machu Picchu opens, we got up at around 4:45 am and left our hostel at 5:15 am to walk up the hundreds of stairs to the entrance. There was also an option to take a bus, but believe me it would have taken us longer to wait in line for the bus than just hiking up to the entrance. For the first time in days we would only carry a few sandwiches in the inside pockets of our rain jackets and the camera. Although, the hike was pretty exhausting it didn’t demand much from us. And then we were there. The place that (kind of) motivated us to travel to Peru. The place that we were hiking to for the last five days. We were somehow exhausted, but somehow happy and peaceful inside. The complex itself unfortunately was a little over-run. But that was what we expected after all. Still, it seems so unrealistic that people built all these houses and temples in the middle of nowhere. Like, actual nowhere. How did they even get up there? What motivated them to build all of this on the top of a mountain? Questions that will never be answered. The weather played a huge role for us to make the place even more mystic. The rain kept me from taking LOADS of pictures, so here are some of the few shots I took.

After spending a few hours discovering the ruins, we made our way back to pick up our beloved backpack and walk back along the train tracks to catch a bus back to Cusco.

Would I do it all again? Probably yes, but I wouldn’t visit Machu Picchu again. Unfortunately, it has become so touristic over the last decades that in my opinion all the effort and money you have to put in to get there, is not worth the hassle. There are many other places around Peru that are maybe only half as majestic but twice as nice to visit. The trek, however, was definitely worth every penny (and step). There were a lot of people, too, but by not camping at official sites we managed to avoid the crowds for the most part and could enjoy the nature as it was.

So, wow, just WOW! That’s what I say, when I think back to the trek. It’s been already five months since then, but my boyfriend and I still refer to it a lot. “We did the Salkantay trek, so why wouldn’t we manage to do this now?” That’s what we say at least once a week. :D And it works, I mean it was probably one of the hardest things I did in my life. We walked over 130 km in 5 days. It definitely changed the way I look at my capabilities. We grow up in a world where it is somehow predetermined what you are able to do, and what not. “Don’t be the weird guy! Go with the system.” So, the smallest things seem impossible. But they aren’t. All you have to do is believe it’s possible and then prove it.

Holy moly, if you are still here by now, thank you so much for reading. I liked typing this great memory down. And I hope I could entertain you a little bit, too.

Have you ever had an experience where you realized how far you can actually push yourself?

XX

Ella

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