Salkantay Trek

Mike and I originally planned to travel through the central Peruvian Andes to get to Cuzco, but when we discovered that it would take at least 5 buses and 60 hours of travel time to do so we changed our plans. Instead, we took a bus to Lima. While there, we joined the South American Explorers Club. The SAE offers all kinds of services, but we were most interested in the free Internet, the information and maps available, and the free luggage storage. We left our bikes in Lima, so no more pedaling until we get back to Arizona and start getting ready for RAGBRAI.

After only one night in Lima we set off for Cuzco, the tourist capital of Peru. In fact, that’s where we are right now, but we’ve been here a while already. Mike’s parents are joining us tomorrow for a 2 week vacation. We wanted to get here a bit ahead of them, though, so that we could do another crazy trek through the mountains. This time we wanted to end up at Machu Picchu.

The actual Inca Trail was out of the question for us. You have to get permits for it months in advance and we’re just not that organized. Not to mention that most companies charge at least $500 to do the 4-day trek. Ouch. Also, we like to think we’re bad-asses and we wanted to carry our own gear, cook our own food, and consult our own maps. On the Inca Trail you are required to travel with a guide. Porters carry most everyone’s gear (very few people refuse this luxury) and cook meals. There are upsides to the Inca Trail (some nice ruins on the way, name recognition, and a morning descent to Machu Picchu), but in the end we were very happy with our alternate plan.

When we got to Cuzco we took a few days to get acclimatized and organized. We visited the SAE office here to pick up a topographical map and more advice. We rented backpacks and trekking poles again. We bought muffins and granola bars for breakfasts, sandwich materials for lunches, and pasta for dinners. On the morning of April 10th we woke up at 5:00 and set off on the Salkantay Trek.

Day 1

The computer alarm malfunctioned and we could have missed our bus. Luckily, Mike woke up knowing something was wrong and we bolted out of our hostal in under 10 minutes. This got us to the bus stop with a little time to spare even. We intended to take the bus to our start point in Mollepata. This would have worked nicely if a fresh landslide hadn’t been blocking the road. It delayed us a bit, but we ended up merely climbing over it and catching a different bus on the other side. After a quick breakfast in Mollepata we started our trek around 10:00.

The first day entailed a fair amount of climbing, though we don’t really have the stats for this hike that we had for the last one. All I know is that we went up quite a lot. Mostly we were walking around small family farms. The only people we saw all day were two other solo trekkers who had been on our bus in the morning. They had gotten lost (the trails were NOT well defined and we were glad to have our topo map) but were determined to book it to a predetermined campsite, so they left us behind rather quickly.

When we got to our campsite that night we discovered that there was a newly built road that came from Mollepata via a different route. It looked a lot easier than the hike we had done, but less interesting as well. Even so, we were a bit miffed that people could just drive up to where we were after hiking for a full day.

Jackie maps the route
Up to the Salkantay Pass
Tries not to get lost

Beautiful blue sky
Streaked with wispy, wistful clouds
Arches above us

Jackie’s cheesy grin,
Ridiculous sunglasses
Make a silly pic

The light fades away
On the first day of hiking
Revealing beauty

Day 2

The new road actually went about 4 kilometers beyond our campsite, and since it had replaced our trail we were forced to walk along it for a while. At the end of the road we discovered a super-fancy, gigantic, mountain luxury lodge. Surprise! That explained the road…

This was also the point where the trail started to get especially tough. Day 2 was our 1000-meter climb day, and the day that we would have to cross the Salkantay Pass. This pass was at 4650 meters (only 10 lower than the pass we did on the Santa Cruz trek).

As we continued up the trail we were joined by some other trekkers. One guided tour group of 10 trekkers pulled up to the lodge, unloaded, and started to follow us up. They had donkeys to carry their stuff, but surprisingly did not manage to beat us to the campsite that night. Another two independent trekkers, Nick and Kendall from the States, showed up (having taken the road the entire way from Mollepata the day before) and joined us as well. Their pace matched ours well for the ascent, so we talked a little bit on the way.

I’m not gonna lie: the pass was tough. Sure, it was a bit lower than the last one we did, but I felt it a bit more. We just kept going up. The mountains were gorgeous though — especially Salkantay (for which the trek is named). We made it to the top (ahead of the tour group, which had stopped for lunch) finally, but still had to descend 700 meters to our campsite. By the time we made it I was ready to collapse. We set up our tent and fired up our stove as the tour group trickled into camp, ate their already cooked dinner, and crawled into their already set-up tents. *Sigh*

Our morning vista:
Ubiquitous tent photo
With mountains behind

Jackie fixes lunch:
Avocado and onion
Sandwiches — yummy!

How do I describe
This beautiful mountain scene?
It is beyond words.

“A horse photo?
You can never have enough,”
Say Kendall and Nick

Mike’s “summit” photo
With a random horse jaw bone
Is better than mine

Over the pass or
Somewhere over the rainbow?
What’s the difference?

Day 3

We said goodbye to Nick and Kendall in the morning and never saw them again. They had a whopping 10 days total in Peru and were therefore a bit more crunched for time than us. We assume that they busted their asses off that day because we never caught up to them despite our decent pace.

This day entailed a lot of downhill. I was very glad to have my trekking poles, because my knees wouldn’t have made it otherwise. We went from frosty cold, high-altitude mountain weather to jungle-like heat. The plants and landscape changed dramatically, incorporating more flowers and bugs as we descended.

We encountered another group of guided trekkers and were impressed that they were all at least twice my age. I don’t think they were camping (since we saw them shortly after the second super-fancy mountain lodge), but they were still doing an awful lot of walking. Good for them. We also saw and passed the 10-person group from Day 2 again. They were with a tour company called United Mice.

We ended up between established campsites come nightfall, so we just set up our tent in the first flat-ish area we saw. Again, I was extremely exhausted, and I started fantasizing about full body massages and cloud-like beds. Ahhh…

On this hiking trip
The animals let us be
And posed for photos

Salkantay Mountain,
The tallest in the region,
Appears majestic

As we walk downhill
The weather becomes warmer
And berries abound

A dandelion
Shot up close and personal
Looks fascinating

Oh my God, watch out!
I think that donkey is sick —
He’s going to hurl!

Day 4

More walking, more downhill. We made it to a town called La Playa around lunchtime. Here the road started up again, so we saw several tour groups loading onto buses. We weren’t done though. The road went to a town called Santa Teresa, but we veered off for a more difficult and more interesting path to Machu Picchu.

We started climbing again, and it was a very hot afternoon. The new trail was very nice, however: donkeys were not allowed to use the path. Yay! No more donkey poo! We climbed for the rest of the day and barely made it to the top of the ridge by dark. We camped right there in a small wooded area.

Day four of the trek
Brings us farther from mountains
With the snow-capped peaks

Day 5

How many days is this trek anyway? To be honest, we didn’t know how long it would take when we started off. There are many variations on the trek listed in guidebooks and many different hiking abilities. We took the most difficult path, carried all of our own gear, and still managed to complete the trek 2 days faster than one guidebook budgeted. Even so, by Day 5 I was ready for a shower again.

We headed downhill once more. After only a half an hour we came to a clearing with a few small Inca ruins. Our guidebook said that Machu Picchu could be seen in the distance from the area, so we waited for the fog to clear a bit. As we waited the United Mice crew turned up, and they were surprised to see us again. We chatted for a while, then the fog cleared briefly. We caught our first glimpses of Machu Picchu, though it was quite a ways off. Still, few people take this route, so we were excited to have a somewhat unique perspective on the ruins. The clouds rolled back in, so Mike and I continued down the mountain towards the Hydroelectric plant at the bottom.

Some people take a train from the plant to Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Piucchu Pueblo), but we refused to do so, having walked so far already. Instead, we walked the tracks for 11 kilometers. This was far easier than any of the trails, but also rather boring. We saw tons of people on the tracks, but we had no idea where they came from. They didn’t do the same hike we did, at any rate.

After a couple hours we found ourselves in the Disneyland of Peru: Aguas Calientes. I’d guess that a good 99% of tourists who come to Peru find themselves trapped in this grotesque little town at some point. You have to go through it if you intend to visit Machu Picchu. It’s obscenely touristy (read: pricey). Also, it’s a mess. The town pops out of the middle of nowhere and reveals itself as a freakshow. Sure, there are nice hotels and restaurants, but most of the town is just tacky and overdone. There’s a ton of construction going on, though there doesn’t appear to be any organization or plan. Aguas Calientes basically exists for tourists, so it’s far from representative of Peru.

After a bit of difficulty, we located a $10 hostal with a semi-hot shower. We went our for burritos and then crawled into bed with the intention of waking at 4:00 the next day. We planned to walk the last stretch up to Machu Picchu in the morning. The camping part of our trek was done, but we still had some kilometers to cover.

We find a clearing
With an unexpected sight:
Old Inca ruins

Is it? Could it be?
There are too many damn clouds!
Where’s Machu Picchu?

Ah ha! There it is!
Our first view of Machu Picchu
From a nearby ridge

The last stretch of trail
Down the valley, on the tracks
Brings us to A.C.

This cable puente
Is scary but sturdier
Than the log bridges

Day 6

Coming Soon….

I’m saving our Machu Picchu experience for the next post, so check back in a few days!

2 Responses to “Salkantay Trek”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Amazing! How beautiful. ant kathy

  2. Anonymous says:

    WOW1 Can’t believe the ground you cover–just hiking! Up and down–but, what sights you see, and beautiful pictures you take.Especially liked the one above the rainbow! I get tired just reading about all your travels. How warm do you get–camping in a tent way up in the mountains? I’d yhink it’s pretty cold up there–especially at night! Love ya–take care of yourselves! GmaMust be pretty wonderful having Mike’s parents there!

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