Why choose the Salkantay trek
For a long time, my bucket list had “Go for a trek to Machu Picchu” in Peru to tick off…I didn’t want to “just” go and see the Machu Picchu as if I thought I really had to deserve it. So, go for a trek, ok, but which one? The Salkantay trek, of course!
When it comes about trekking in this region, everybody thinks about the Inca trail. This is the most famous trek in South America because it follows the real path the Incas used to take to go to Machu Picchu. When hiking along its 43 km, you can see ruins and ancient Incas agriculture sites…but in return, as it is the most famous trek, you will see a looot of people hiking the same way and you will have to book months in advance, with a labeled travel agency, for an expensive price.
This is why in 2015, When I traveled to Peru, I chose to go for the Salkantay trek: a longer and higher trek…but known as having even more impressive landscapes…and not so many hikers on the trail!
If you want to learn more about the alternative routes to trek to Machu Picchu, including the Salkantay trek, it’s here >> Top 6 alternative trails to Machu Picchu by National Geographic.
A 4 days trek
Ready to go by 5.00am,I leave my hostel in Cuzco thinking about the 70 km awaiting for the next 4 days…it’s cold, and I feel a bit of stress coming up: why the hell did I subscribe for this trek ?! My backpack already feels heavy and I am not even sure I won’t get high altitude sickness.
We finally take the bus from Cuzco to Cruzpata, where the Salkantay Trek starts. My group seems cool: for the 4 next days we will call ourselves “Los Primos”. So we start all together this trail looking like Swiss Alps. The temperature is cool, the trek is not too steep yet, and we are actually too busy looking at the amazing landscapes to even care.
When we arrive at our camp in Soray Pampa, at 3 700m of altitude, we surprisingly find the energy to push to the Humantay lake, a stunning turquoise glacier lagoon, at the Salkantay feet. This additional hike is so worth it, even if you are tired or cold! We shoot about a 1000 pictures of this unreal water and snowy peaks, and then it is already time to get back to the camp as the sun starts to go down.
Arrival at the top of the Salkantay
I’m sure we all have the same knot in our stomachs when the sun comes up on the second day, the Salkantay summit is staring down at us and we know we are going to be in pain. We are already quite high, but a 4 hours ascend awaits us to reach the Salkantay Pass at 4600m…and we will hike more than 22 kms in one day.
We need to focus, as the trail gets narrower, and we gasp more and more, just as if our lungs capacity was divided by two. But it is so beautiful and literally breathtaking, that I try to record every single thing in my memory and in my camera: the shining snowy peaks under the sun, the pure rivers flowing in between and the blue sky…everything.
I remember the last 500 meters, where, despite our gasping, we still found a way to tell jokes because we knew that reaching the top would bring us all the energy needed! Because once you are facing this frozen giant, everyone gets excited and relieved at the same time!
After the mandatory pictures, we had to thank the earth ” Pachamama” for letting us climb until this point, and ask for her protection for our journey downhill. Each guide does this ritual with his group: we leave an offering, mainly coca leaves, with a short prayer, before starting our hike downhill to Machu Picchu, amongst lush green landscapes.
Descend to the Machu Picchu
Once you passed the Salkantay, landscapes change fast, the sharp mountains are soon replaced by tropical valleys. The hard trek becomes a nice walk, and we can talk hours about our lives and travels. We all come from really different places and backgrounds: France, Germany, USA, Pakistan…engineers, dive instructors, students. The least we can tell is that it gave us an amazing synergy to live this experience all together!
While the jungle is more and more present, with its birds, wild orchids and butterflies, we finally can see some hidden parts of the Machu Picchu, playing hide and seek with us. We follow the mythic train rails linking Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes, with some scattered tropical rains.
Our night in Agua Calientes will remain quiet: we are exhausted, and we have to be in shape the next day to explore Machu Picchu.