One beer in the Salkantay Trek on the way to Machu-Picchu

Salkantay Trek

Well, guys, it has been a while since my last post, but I still wanted to share something about this adventure with you. 🙂 Since I last published we’ve been to a few new cities. Let’s concentrate today on our Salkantay Trek because it was awesome!

The Salkantay (the wild mountain in Quechua) is the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range, part of the Peruvian Andes, and is located about 60km west-northwest of the city of Cusco. We chose it because it’s not too far from Machu-Picchu and, on top of that, it’s an alternative to the Inka Trail, which (some say) is easier, more expensive and more people do than the Salkantay Trek. We booked it through the agency Rasgos del PerĂş. They offer a lot of different tours in Peru and I would definitely recommend them to you, just go to their not too great website and check their offers out. 🙂
We spent five days and four nights trekking, from which we slept three nights in tents (the tents and sleeping mats were provided by the agency, so we only needed to buy/rent the sleeping bags) and the last night we slept in a not too good hostel before the big day visiting Machu-Picchu.
The food (apart from the first breakfast and last lunch and dinner) was also included in the tour. Three homemade freshly cooked meals each day, apart from a tea break: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The breakfast included bread, butter, jam, and pancakes or omelet, besides from tea and coffee. The lunch and dinner were always delicious traditional Peruvian food (take a look at the pictures of part of our meals on the top of this post). Since I’m a vegetarian, they prepared a “substitute” for the meat component for each meal. It was simply delicious!
It’s impressive that one chef and two helpers can feed about 30-40 people cooking in very rustical kitchens, carrying their whole equipment (including pans and plates) and ingredients the whole trek.
It works as follows: we have one horseman with many horses that will carry part of the weight. Each participant is allowed to give up to five kilos to be carried by the horses. Please don’t take more than necessary with you! I had in total about 4kg. These sweet animals will also carry the kitchen equipment and food, tents and sleeping mats. They get plenty of rest once they arrive at the camp. It’s impressive to see some paths they cross – with more elegance than all of us together, I might add.
The last and most important person on the team besides from the horseman, the chef and the two helpers is the guide. It’s their responsibility to coordinate the whole team and assure that all goes smoothly and that all participants stay safe and sound. Each guide will take care of up to 15 people. Our guide was JP. He was simply the best leader we could have wished for, always explaining his culture and tradition. He provided us with first-hand information from a unique point of view. I’m very grateful that he was with us.
So, day I: We woke up at 4 a.m., got ready and were picked up at our hostel before five o’clock. Very, very early! Once all the participants were on the bus, we drove about three hours to Mollepata, where we had breakfast, gave part of our luggage to the horseman, and started hiking from there to Soraypampa (3.900m above sea level), about 20 km on a trail. There we had lunch and had the afternoon free to rest or, as everyone did, to go uphill to the Humantay lake. To get to the lake we had to walk a few km involving an inclination of 300-400 meters. The view up there was so beautiful! The hike was exhausting but so worth it! I feel like photos don’t do the justice of how incredible it was to be up there. Afterwards, we came back, observed “climbing” cows and horses on the hills surrounding our path, had dinner and went very early to bed because the following day was the most difficult we had ahead. We interacted a bit with the other people of our group, but I will tell more about them later.
This was the coldest night in the trek, about -5 Celsius degrees. If you plan to do the Salkantay Trek, rent from the agency a sleeping bag that stays comfortable up to -10 Celsius degrees. Each following night was warmer than the previous one.
We had our own sleeping bags throughout the whole time we spent in South America. This isn’t something I would recommend you to do unless you will camp in the mountains by yourself… They can be rented for a few dollars a day on the few occasions they are necessary. In my experience, they were an unnecessary weight to carry.
Day II: We woke up at 04:40 a.m. The helpers gave us coca tea, so we stayed warm while getting dressed and ready. We then had breakfast, which involved pancakes and was so yummy. Before 7 a.m. we started hiking uphill, about 12 km from 3.900m above sea level to the highest point of the trek: 4.600m and then downhill again to our lunch camp. It was very tiring, but the view from the highest point was indescribable! See for yourself in the pictures here. After lunch, we started our way into the jungle. The whole (about) 12 km path was dusty with lots of rocks and only went down. Before the end, my knees were screaming for mercy. Sadly, besides from very few pauses, I couldn’t  really rest because I had to arrive at the next camp. There was no pressure from the guide or from other participants, but I didn’t feel like I should pause, I thought it would only make it even more difficult to start walking again afterward. Please, don’t forget about all the mosquitos that were already on our way – they were only preparing us for day III, I might add.
It took me about 6 hours in the dusty rocky downhill road to reach the next camp but I made it! Here I have to thank Basti who stayed on my side and helped me sometimes on the way: thank you, sweetheart, you were of great help! 🙂 Some of the other people on the tour were already there, drinking beer and rewarding themselves for a great job done. Of course, we had to join them and drank Cusqueña!
Our group was composed of six Canadians, two Frenchmen, three Hong-Kong guys, Basti and me. One of the Canadians, a captain, by the way, had a few bottles of rum. During “tea time” we drank a bit of coca tea and started drinking rum. That was an evening to start bonding. I’m very grateful for our group, they were all very nice and we held together as a group the whole time from that point on. That night we said goodbye to our horseman since our stuff would be carried by ourselves or by the minibus the remaining of the journey.
Day III: We woke up early again, had breakfast with omelet, and started hiking in the jungle. From this point onwards, it was always very warm. We hiked for about six hours and it involved a few mosquitos more. I think we hiked for 19 km. We saw many interesting trees and other plants along the way. Then we had the funniest and most bouncy minibus ride through very dusty and narrow roads, occasionally having to drive in reverse for a while until we could find a spot and let a truck pass by in the opposite direction. Eventually, we arrived at our lunch spot. The food was superb. Unfortunately, there were SO, SO many mosquitos there. We all used repellent, but there were simply too many mosquitos there. I wrote this post a few days after said lunch and they occasionally still itched… To be honest, it kept itching for over two weeks until it stopped. I was very glad as we entered the minibus again and got to Santa Teresa, where we slept. In the late afternoon, we went to the hot springs of Santa Teresa. It costs 10 soles (about 2,50€) and the water was very soothing, especially for the sore muscles and for my left knee.
Eventually, we went back to the camp, had dinner, talked, played cards and drank rum. It was a very nice evening. There was a puppy there, who very much liked to steal socks. In fact, we were woken up by one guy saying “no-no” many times to the puppy, who kept stealing his socks. This was hilarious!
Day IV: The day started with delicious breakfast as always. Then we were asked if we wanted to hike the first three hours or zip-line 4km and be taken by bus to the lunch spot in HidrelĂ©ctrica. Well, don’t judge us, but we decided to zip-line. 🙂 Basti enjoyed it very much, I wasn’t as fond of being pushed over the edge into the air and sliding on a hook. I’m exaggerating. It wasn’t so bad, I enjoyed it. I’m just not sure if I would do it again. 🙂
After that, we were taken to HidrelĂ©trica, met the rest of the group and had lunch together – from this point on, we would be eating in restaurants. We had said goodbye to our chef and helpers at breakfast that morning.
After lunch, we started hiking for about three hours along the train tracks from HidrelĂ©trica to Aguas Calientes, where we would sleep the last night before the Machu-Picchu visit. This day was very very hot, so this walk was very tiring. As we were only a few minutes away from the hostel in Aguas Calientes, it started pouring rain from the sky. Needless to say that we were all caught off guard and got a bit wet. 🙂 In the hostel, we were able to take a shower, which sadly was only kinda warm, and to use the wi-fi for the first time in four days, which only kinda worked, but that I didn’t mind much. It was very good to be offline for a few days. In the evening we ate together at a restaurant and went to bed at 8 p.m.
Day V: We woke up at 3:40, got dressed and started walking to the entrance of Machu-Picchu, where we arrived at 04:30 a.m. and waited until 5 a.m. for the gates to be opened and for our tickets to be controlled, so we could start the 50 minutes stairs climbing to the Citadelle of Machu-Picchu. At 06:15 we started our guided tour with JP in the Citadelle and learned much about the Inkas and their culture. It took about two hours and I want to dedicate a whole post to this subject, so I won’t say much about it here. After the tour, we wandered around for a bit until we gathered the courage to climb the Montaña of Machu-Picchu, about 1,6km of stairs to be climbed all the way up and then down again. It took us 1h and 21 min and a lot of silliness to get up there. We were so exhausted from all the hiking we already have done in the last four days PLUS the 50 minutes of very unregular stairs that we had climbed that very morning, but in the end, we did it! And the view was so beautiful!
Eventually, we climbed all the stairs down again and decided to take the bus back to Aguas Calientes (which cost 12 US dollars for only 8 km, but they are the only way to get up or down Machu-Picchu if you don’t want to walk. I know, tell me more about monopolization). It was a very expensive ride, but we would not have been able to do it by foot.
In the end, we ate pizza and drank lemonade to reward the efforts from the last days. :-)A few comments:
1. If you plan to do the Salkantay Trek or any trek to Machu-Picchu where you have to walk a lot, don’t book the Montaña of Machu-Picchu. It cost more and you will be tired to climb all the way up. It is beautiful, however, if you already have seen so much landscape, it won’t be as impressive. At least it was so for me.
2. I would recommend you to take the bus to get to Machu-Picchu, not in the end, as we did. It would have been better not to be tired at the beginning.
3. Only take what is really necessary and let the rest at you hostel in these few days.
4. What to pack: Only take what is really necessary and let the rest at you hostel in these few days.
My packing list was:
– 2 tops to put underneath my t-shirt
– 3 t-shirts
– 1 pair of zip-off pants (they are also shorts)
– 1 pair of shorts
– 1 pair of leggings (to put underneath the zip-off pants when it is very cold or to use in the camping area)
– 3 pairs of socks (one thicker two thinner, all for long distance walks – please don’t underestimate the power of good socks!)
– 5 pieces of underwear
– 1 thin pullover
– 1 fleece jacket
– 1 raincoat
– 1 rain poncho
– 1 hat or bandana for the sunny days
– Sunglasses
– Scarf + Gloves for the first day
– Toothbrush + toothpaste + liquid soap
– Sunscreen + insect repellent + lip balm + face cream
– 1 roll of toilet paper (very important because the bathrooms in the camps don’t provide it)
– 1 bathing suit, if you are planning to go to the hot springs

– 1 travel towel

Besides that, you will need good walking/hiking shoes, flip-flops, a rucksack to carry the stuff you will need during the day into and or a bag to put the things that you only need in the evenings (e.g. toothbrush), a water bottle, a head torch (specially useful to go to the bathroom in the night).

If you are going to rent a sleeping bag, buy a sleeping bag inlet. It doesn’t weight much (about 200gr.) and will help you not to sleep directly in the sweat of somebody else…
I would also recommend hiking sticks. I didn’t have them and kinda regret it. They give a lot of support to the knees.