Here it is! It is April 26 2014 early in the morning and we are preparing to leave Cusco for our trek to the Salkantay. Why Salkantay? The last time I was in South America in 2008 to visit the Galapagos, I passed up on the opportunity to visit Peru. This was something that I had always regretted, and at the time, I promised I would come back to trek to Machu Picchu. To be quite honest, I was expecting to be disappointed going directly to Machu Picchu. Therefore, I began to look to add on some trekking in a location close to Machu Picchu. My search led me to the Mountain Lodges of Peru. The trek they offered seemed perfect. The famous Salkantay Trek, named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine, is a trek open to everybody, with no limitation on spaces or permits (at least for now). Connecting the city of Mollepata, Cusco with Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek is an ancient and remote footpath located in the same region as the Inca Trail where massive snowcapped mountains collide with lush tropical rain forests. Located less than fifty miles northwest of the city of Cusco in south central Peru by the Cordillera Vilcabamba and rising to 6271 meters above sea level (20574 ft) Mt. Salkantay is an outstanding glacier-capped summit worshipped for thousands of years by local indians. The name Salkantay is a quechua word meaning “Savage Mountain”.
Our Machu Picchu Lodge-to-Lodge Trek 7D/6N itinerary was as follows:
Day 1: Cusco-Soraypampa
The pickup began at 7 AM in Cusco. On route we took a short break to visit the Inca ruins of Tarawasi. We then traveled for an additional two hours, including passing through the mountain village of Mollepata, arriving at a place called Marcoccasa where we began our trek to Soraypampa with an overnight at Salkantay Lodge.
Day 2: Soraypampa
After an early breakfast, we then hiked for four hours in the area surrounding the Lodge visiting Humantay Lake. This proved to be a highlight as it provided an opportunity to swim in a beautiful lake with stunning surrounding mountains at 4200 m. This hike was meant to help acclimatize us to the elevation just prior to ascending the Salkantay Pass the following day. This hike only required the morning allowing us to return to the Lodge for the afternoon for some relaxation time including stretching, yoga and meditation as well as a dip in the hot tub. I know, it all sounds very stressful!
Day 3: Soraypampa- Wayraccmachay
After an early start, we hiked up the Rio Blanco valley, circling Humantay Peak across from Salkantay Peak. The highest point on the trek was at a pass at 4638 m where we stopped briefly for photographs and a few tears. What an accomplishment! From there we continued our descent towards Wayra Lodge, our destination for the evening. Of course, after such a strenuous hike, we decided to have our briefing for the next day in the hot tub (under duress of course) and appropriate lubrication with Pisco sours assisted us with our recovery. We have just completed the most difficult part of the trek, however, little did we know there was more to come.
Day 4: Wayraccmachay-Colpapampa
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at Wayra Lodge. Our day’s trek led us downhill above the Salkantay River, until we arrived just before Colpa Lodge where we were greeted with a Pachamanca lunch, which was a special Peruvian barbecue. Delicious! We then spent the afternoon relaxing in the outdoor hot tub (yes, again) with a visit to the nearby orchid garden. Little did we know that our main guide Raul was an expert on the subject having researched these very intricate flowers over ten years! He provided us with a slideshow of the numerous orchids he had taken over this period of time. Truly, an amazing guide! We then had another fabulous dinner with an overnight at Colpa Lodge.
Day 5: Colpapampa-Luchmabamba
This part of the trek led us down the Santa Teresa river valley through more populated rural areas. We passed through coffee plantation, banana, granadilla as well as avocado orchards. The evening before it had rained quite heavily so part of our trail was washed out. This changed our plans. Just before the small town of Playa, we boarded a private vehicle which drove us to the beginning of the “Llactapata Inca Trail”. The road was simply a dirt road with rather precipitous drops which provided several instances of appropriate trepidation. We hiked a portion of this Inca trail through beautiful farmland to our lodge known as Lucma Lodge. This lodge did not have a hot tub. We knew at this point we were truly “roughing it”.
Day 6: Luchmabamba-Aguas Calientes
This trek provided more of a challenge than the hike to the Salkantay Pass. We climbed uphill for 2-3 hours towards Llactapata Pass (2763 m) where we would come upon an amazing distant view of Machu Picchu from the recently restored Llactapata Ruins. This allowed us to see the exact topographic location that Machu Picchu rests in. Truly, the Incas were inspired in their choice of this location. After a brief lunch, we descended about 300o ft to the hydroelectric train station where we would take a train to Aguas Calientes, the town of Machu Picchu, where we checked into our palatial hotel for the night. A soothing dip in the warm mineral springs as well as a cool Pisco sour drink eased our aching muscles and knees. We slept well that night in anticipation of our visit to Machu Picchu the following morning.
Day 7: Machu Picchu-Cusco
After breakfast at the hotel, we made our way to the bus station for the ride up to Machu Picchu early in the morning. A complete guided tour of Machu Picchu was provided by Raul which really added to the overall experience. He kept us away from the crowds and augmented our knowledge of this sacred site. We certainly came away from this experience with a much better appreciation of the grandeur of the location as well as the engineering marvel that it represents. Our group split up at this point. A few of us took the opportunity for a more relaxed hike up to the Inca Bridge while the other brave souls climbed Waynapicchu Peak. We then returned by bus to Aguas Calientes for lunch before embarking on the train to Ollantaytambo. We then boarded a private vehicle to take us back to Cusco. Sadly, our group started to go their separate ways. We felt blessed to have enjoyed this amazing trek with such wonderful individuals. We promised to stay in touch. Fortunately, Anna and I were able to have our evening meal with Mike, Karen, Sean and Stephen. The evening flew by. We still had to pack which took us into the wee hours for our journey to Lake Titicaca early the next day. No rest for the wicked!
The total trekking distance was 64 km. We truly felt like we had had a unique experience with amazing and inspiring individuals as well as a superb guide in Raul and assistant guide Ricky. We would remember this trek forever.