Cuzco- Salkantay Trek & Machu Picchu
We again arrived early in the morning to Cuzco on an overnight bus and were let into the hostel to pass out on a couch in the common room. The people working at the hostel were kind enough to put some blankets on us as we attempted to catch up on some sleep.
When we woke we headed out into the city to try and take on the tour operator gauntlet to find a guide for our Salkantay trek and then onto Machu Picchu.
Cuzco is one of those strange South American cities filled with so much history and culture contrasted with modern western influences. The main plaza has some amazing cathedrals and ancient buildings built with ancient Inca stones and then behind those ancient stones there would be a KFC or Starbucks. The streets are filled with locals going about their business in traditional dress, leading alpacas and then massage hawkers and people hassling you to buy a pair of sunglasses.
We eventually settled on the tour operator ‘Salkantay Trekking‘ and enjoyed a day of relaxation in Cuzco before it was time to head off on the trek. That night to celebrate our success at bargaining, we treated ourselves to some of the best Pisco sours at the Pisco Sour museum.
We left Cuzco at 4am in the morning and took the bus to the beginning of the trek. It was a relatively gentle hike of 7km to our first campsite. For the first night of the trek we were staying in some amazing glass igloos that gave us a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
After dropping off our bags we headed up to Humanity Lake which was 4,200m high. At the lake we joined in with our local shaman to make some prayers and offerings to the gods for safety on our trek before returning to the campsite.
The next morning we were up early at 5:00am to take on the hike to Salkantay Pass which stood at 4,650m. It was a gruelling 3 hour trek but at the top we were treated with perfect sunshine and great views. We were also treated to the not so great view of a fellow hiker engaging in a bit of naked Tai Chi.
It was then a tough 17km descent to our next campsite from the heights of the mountain pass down to the upper part of the Amazon jungle.
We enjoyed a peaceful sleep-in until 6:00am before getting up to begin the next leg of our trek. This was meant to be the easiest day of the trek but a combination of our tired legs from the climb the day before, a rocky gravelly path and Jen’s sore foot and knee meant this day was probably one of the hardest. We followed a tiny path that was cut into a hillside following the course of the river. Recent mudslides made the track very treacherous and sections of the track only had some sticks in place to keep large boulders from crashing down on us.
Along the way we sampled some passionfruit from the nearby plantations as well as some freshly brewed coffee. The night before we had been promised some thermal hot springs to sooth our aching muscles but when we reached camp these hopes were sadly dashed and we had to settle for the next best alternative, beer!
The final day of our trek before we reached the town of Aguas Calientes started with a 2 hour climb out of the Santa Teresa valley. At the top, we had our first (very) small glimpse of Machu Picchu as well as seeing the first archeological site of the the lost city of the incas.
After enjoying the view it was a sketchy two hour slip and slide down a muddy path before we reached the town of Hidroelectrica for lunch. Three hours laters walking along the train tracks we finally reached the town of Aguas Calientes!
The good news, it was finally time for the highlight of our trek, Machu Picchu! The bad news was that as we woke to our alarm at 3:30am we were greeted with the sound of pouring rain. Rather than walking up the stairs to the entrance of Machu Picchu we decided on the soft option and caught the bus. This involved standing in-line from about 4:30am until the first bus finally departed at 5:30am.
When we arrived we had a 2 hour tour of Machu Picchu, during the whole tour the rain did not stop and clouds did not look like they were lifting so we retreated to a coffee shop to try and get dry and a bit of warmth in a our bones. We debated whether it was worth sticking around to see if the cloud lifted our heading back down. As we had paid $50USD to climb Machu Picchu mountain Jen was in firm favour of staying as she hated wasting money and eventually convinced Tristan to head back into the rain.
It was the right call and as we climbed the mountain the rain stopped, the clouds lifted and we were rewarded with some truly magnificent views. When we returned back to the ruins the sun was out and we got some great photos including a “jumping shot” of Tristan which a nearby guard made us delete as it was “disrespectful”. Jen was super annoyed as it had taken her over 20 shot to get the perfect jumping shot.
They allowed us to keep all the failed attempt ‘jumping shots’.
We finally returned to Aquas Clients and enjoyed some celebratory beers and pizza at finishing our trek before passing out on the train back to Cuzco.