(UPDATE! 5/14/14 I’ve gotten so many questions about the Salkantay Trek, I’ve created a whole page to answering the frequently asked questions from you! Click here for everything I know about water/food/money/camping/itinerary/safety on the trail! )
So we arrived in Cusco, Peru to do what pretty much everyone there goes to do: visit Machu Picchu. But since we’re thrifty drifters and we like to do things a bit more off the beaten path, we opted out of the well-trodden Inca Trail and decided on the Salkantay Trek.
This hike isn’t entirely off the beaten track, of course, and it’s quickly growing in popularity. It’s easy to book a Salkantay tour if you don’t have your own equipment, but if you are carrying your tent, some cook gear, and a sleeping bag, it’s quite easy to do this one independently. And we did.
Amy at the beautiful Plaza de Armas in Cusco.
Another one of Peru’s rather vague signs. Who is this sign for? To where does this road continue?
We had taken a collectivo to Mollapata and spent most of the day on a long and dusty road into the valley. Here, we are just about to reach the juicy part.
Here we are, earlier in the day. Full of pep!
And here I am a bit later in the afternoon…taking a quick snooze.
We are glad to have finally reached the trail and be off the road. Nevado Salkantay looks down at us.
Our first campsite. Looking back down the valley. Just us.
Looking the other direction towards Salkantay at dusk. The valley is falling into shadow.
Adam enjoying the open space. Interestingly, the following morning we awoke to the sounds of many feet outside our tent. A tour group of about 30 passed by and a number of them ogled us curiously. One woman asked us how we could stand to “rough it” as we were. Having just crawled out from a warm and cozy down sleeping bag, I responded by saying “roughing it? Ma’am, I thought we were living in luxury!”
The following morning. Gearing up to go over the pass.
Boulder fields are cool.
About to make a big push.
Almost there! The Pass is about 20 minutes away to the left and behind the big boulder in the center.
We made it!
It’s a great time for photos, snacks, and water.
...and a little bit of showing off!
From here, it’s downhill for two days. Check out this little house. I would have built my house in the exact same spot!
Adam is happy. The air has warmed up, the valley has flattened out, and I’ve just fed him his lunch. Could life get any better?
Our second campsite, the Ruinas Andenes. Yes, these are actual Inca ruins and we are camping on them.
We slept pretty well that night, except for these neighborly pigs (domesticated, not wild) that squealed bloody murder from time to time. Slightly disconcerting.
Here we are beginning day three. An easy downhill trod as the scenery changed dramatically from cold and high to warm and low – the jungle, or something like it.
These orchids take the cake, but there was a lot of lovely fauna as well as loads of butterflies.
We took a snack break by this lovely waterfall.
It gets junglier. Sometime between when this photo was taken, and the next, I was stung by two angry bees. It was not a shining moment for me. I dropped my pack, flailed my hands in the air, and ran like a madman, thinking I was being attacked by a swarm. Thankfully, there were only two. I still lost some of my dignity that day.
We reached the town of La Playa and spent our third night at a fairly ritzy camping spot. Hot showers, flush toilets, and a hot meal with cold beer were all available – alongside bouncy music playing playing alongside Rocky VI on the television.
We were glad to go back into the wilderness the next morning. Most tour groups hike down the valley towards Santa Teresa, but we opted for a 800-meter climb along an old Inca road to a campsite that promised views of Machu Picchu. Would it deliver?
Old Inca stairs.
It’s a veritable highway.
Such fine construction!
It took us about 4 hours of tough uphill climbing. Here we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. See it?
Here, let me help you. ZOOM! See it now?
We arrived at Llactapata, just above our campsite.
The center door points directly towards Machu Picchu. You can just see it over my left shoulder.
And here we are at our fourth campsite. It was everything we’d hoped it would be. A stunning view of the ruin. Can you see it?
Dawn over Machu Picchu.
Next it was 800 meters back down to the valley floor. We joined up with a road leading to a still-under-construction hydroelectric plant. This stunning manmade waterfall shoots out of the side of a mountain.
Next up: Our Photos of Machu Picchu…