The Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu

Written by Jane Harris No Gravatar

One week before returning to the UK we have finally cracked the budget travel thing. Five day treks along the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu vary in price from two hundred to almost six hundred dollars per person. The main justification for this discrepancy appears to be that the more expensive companies take along an extra mule in case participants feel unable to complete the route on foot, provide better meals and in some cases pay their cooks, porters and guides better. Figuring that we’re both reasonably experienced hikers and in the knowledge that we could always supplement the meals on offer from our backpack of snacks and tip the staff generously for their services we went for the cheapest option. It proved to be a good decision. The tour was excellent and we followed the same trail, shared the same camp sites and queued for the same pitiful toilet facilities as those paying a great deal more.

The trek began on Monday morning. We were collected from our hostel at 4.30 and driven to the start of the trail where we met our six trekking companions and Efraim our guide. From there it was an arduous seven hour climb to our first camp site. Hot drinks and popcorn filled the gap before dinner after which we climbed into hired sleeping bags in preparation for what would be the coldest night of the trip. Temperatures dropped to minus six degrees centigrade.

The next morning we set off for the 4,600 metre Salkantay pass – a site considered sacred by the Incas. A three hour high altitude climb through snowy peaks was followed by a further six hours downhill. Over the next two days we completed the remainder of the 66 km route through jungle landscapes interspersed with fields of coffee and coca. Orchids grew through dense hedgerows as did herbs and the occasional wild squash. An undulating path finally flattened out as we followed a railway line from the aptly named village of Hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.

The next day we had two choices – taking a bus or walking the 1,400 steps to the top. This was a more difficult decision than it might at first appear. Once they get to Machu Picchu most people want to have the option of climbing Waynapicchu – the huge peak that dominates almost every picture of the ancient site. But in a bid to limit erosion the government has set the number of visitors allowed up to the peak to 400 per day. With 2,000 people visiting the Machu Picchu per day competition for a Waynapicchu pass is fierce.

What results is a bizarre pre-dawn race to the top. The walking route opens at 4.45am, the bus route at 5.15am. The bus takes 20 minutes. If walkers are fast they can make it in 45. Stuart and I decided to walk and despite my lack of pace at times were both at the top in time to secure a pass.  That was, however, something I lived to regret because I found the vertiginous drops to either side of the peak frankly terrifying and spent much of my time at the summit in tears as a result.

Despite that ordeal we spent an amazing day amidst Machu Picchu’s ruins. Our trek ended with a walk back down to Aguas Calientes where we soaked our weary limbs in local hot hot pools before catching the train back to Cuzco

The Salkantay trail was hard – much, much harder than we’d anticipated and at times we were counting down the hours until it was finished. But it felt like a great achievement and a fitting end to our time in Peru. If walking 66 km over 4,600 peaks is your thing, I’d thoroughly recommend it.

One Response to “The Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu”

  1. SarahNo Gravatar says:

    Sounds good – if a bit arduous . . . I’d have chickened out and opted for the bus!! Great pictures!

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