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Peru: Hiking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu

August 4, 2019

One of the seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is truly a wonder. As our bus ascended up the mountain and around winding roads to the lost city, I sat in awe thinking of how the Incas built this city of stone, long before the invention of cars or iron tools. There are many places across the world that’ll take your breath away, but there’s nothing like the breathtaking views at Machu Picchu. This destination should be on every travelers bucket list. 

 

 

GETTING THERE

 

We recommend signing up for a guided trek to Machu Picchu. There are dozens of companies in Cusco offering tours on the Salkantay Trail and the Inca Trail. Guided trips can range from three to eight days and it’s a great opportunity to learn more about Incan history and Peruvian culture. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can take a 4-hour train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the town with the closest access point to Machu Picchu. 

 

If you’re considering the Salkantay Trek, here’s what you need to know.

  • The trek reaches an altitude of 15,000 feet. Give yourself a few days in Cusco before your trek. To avoid altitude sickness, particularly while trekking, arrive in Cusco at least two days before your trek begins. We allowed two full days to acclimate.

  • The first two (of the three day trek) days of the trek is nearly 50 kilometers.

  • Pack for all types of weather and don’t forget sunscreen and bug spray. The sand flies are especially bad at Machu Picchu. 

  • You don’t need a tent. Accommodation is provided each night of the trek. You’ll stay in small villages with your guides and porters, then a hotel when you arrive in Aguas Calientes. 

 

Our dear friend Ashley joined us in Peru for this trek

 

 

SALKANTAY TREK: DAY ONE - 13 miles over Salkantay Pass 

 

Day one starts with a punch bright and early. We departed from Cusco at 2am and arrived at the start of our trek at 5am. We ate breakfast, sipped coca tea to prevent the possibility of getting sick and started our hike before 8am. The trek begins steep, as you take on the highest point of the trek first. Once you reach the pass, you’re treated to spectacular panoramic views. As you descend down from the Salkantay Pass, the snowy peaks will be replaced by tropical ferns, rushing rivers and misty cloud forests. Around 4pm you’ll reach base camp for the night, sleeping in small huts, that are surprisingly cozy. 

 

 

 

One of the best perks of this trek are the meals. The porters and cooks are amazing and made sure we stayed full. They are up early preparing breakfast, then hiking to our lunch spot to cook lunch and again hiking ahead of us to prepare dinner. Remember to bring cash to tip the cooks, porters and trekking guides.

 

 

SALKANTAY TREK: DAY TWO - 16 miles to Aguas Calientes

 

With a full day of hiking ahead, we were up for breakfast at 6:30am and hiking by 8am. Luckily there isn’t elevation to tackle on day two, but the 16 miles does make it one of the harder days of the hike. We ended up hiking past sunset, using flashlights to guide the way for the last half hour (good thing our trekking guide, Wilo, knew the way).  The first eight miles or so are full of lush, tropical jungles. We stopped along the way for snacks in small villages, and pet ALL THE DOGS we encountered. There were a lot of dogs :) Watch the video above for some furry friends. 

 

When we finally arrived in the town of Aguas Calientes, our group wasted no time, going straight to the local Pisco bar before checking into our hotel. We ordered up pitchers of pisco sours and toasted to one hell of a hike that was now behind us and the excitement of visiting Machu Picchu the next day. 

 

 

SALKANTAY TREK: DAY THREE - Machu Picchu

 

You have two options for getting to Machu Picchu - take the bus or hike. After two full days of hiking, our crew opted for taking the bus. We got in line for the bus at 4:20am at the recommendation of our trekking guide. It’s a good thing we arrived when we did or we would’ve waited in line for hours. Seriously, it’s crazy how many people visit Machu Picchu daily. If you’re one of the first in line, you’ll get picked up around 5:45am and be one of the first to enter the lost city when it opens at 6am. 

 

There aren't many words to describe the beauty of Machu Picchu. I'd seen hundreds of photos and read dozens of blogs posts when planning our trip, but nothing prepared me for the moment I witnessed it with my own two eyes. I hope these photos capture some of the magic that we experienced at Machu Picchu. 

 

HOW TO AVOID ALTITUDE SICKNESS 

 

Coca leaves! No…really! Or, coca candy, coca tea, you name it. When we landed in Cusco, the airport had a basket of coca leaves with a sign that read, “Free! Take only 3.” At any grocery store in town you’ll find an array of food made with coca leaves, to help with altitude sickness. Luckily nobody in our crew was negatively affected by altitude sickness. Light headaches our first day in Cusco but nothing some ibuprofen and coca leaves couldn’t cure. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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