Bucket List Item: Hike to Machu Picchu
Salkantay Trek Dates: Monday, July 16th, 2018 - Friday, July 20th, 2018
Peru Trip: Wednesday, July 11th, 2018 - Monday, July 23rd, 2018
As I sit here and type this blog post, I continue to be in disbelief that I was able to spend five days/four nights trekking to Machu Picchu via
the Salkantay Trek with Karikuy Tours. This bucket list item has officially been crossed off yet I am continually reflecting on the overall experience. Machu Picchu is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World so, naturally, I wanted to visit. My friend Jeremy had completed this trek last summer and spoke so, so highly of it that I ended up moving it up my "travel to do list." My best travel buddy and I ended up booking the trek on Cyber Monday (back in November of 2017!) and word of mouth increased the size of our group to eleven (!!) people who were connected in some way. There were six others that joined us, two sisters from the States, a brother and a sister from Holland, and two friends from England. Without further ado, let's jump in!
Day One: Cusco to the Trailhead (Challacancha) to Soraypampa (13 kilometers)
We were picked up in Cusco city center on a freezing cold bus (we were warned!) and transported about two hours to Mollepata. Here we had breakfast (the start of the questioning!!) and organized our gear into two bags: our day packs and the duffel bag for the horse. We then got back on the bus and drove about 30-45 minutes to the trailhead. We started at Challacancha at 3550 meters above sea level and trekked along the the water canal to Soraypampa at 3930 meters above sea level. The hiking for day one was not bad at all; until of course we got into camp and had the option to hike to Humantay Lake at 4200 meters above sea level. Jeremy had warned us the hike was steep (300 meters or 984 feet in a mile or so) but I was up for the challenge. I knew the lake had to pop up eventually... turn after turn... it had to be there... Finally I was at Humantay Lake and was determined to hike up to the ridge to get the best view. The sun was starting to set; I had to get back before dark - and in time for dinner! I ended up meeting up with the brother and sister duo from Holland who were kind enough to take my picture! The higher I hiked, the more blue the water appeared against the glacier. Night one was by far the coldest but luckily I rented a cold weather sleeping bag for $20 USD from Karikuy and had hand warmers from Jeremy (and Elon!) and stayed warm. Our cooks even came by in the morning and gave us hot cocoa tea (my favorite) while we packed up our belongings!
Day Two: Soraypampa to Salkantay Pass to Chawllay (22 kilometers)
Ahhh, the infamous day two. Hiking from Soraypampa (3950 meters) up to Salkantay Pass (4650 meters) back down to Chawllay (2850 meters).
I'd say the hike from camp up to the pass wasn't so bad but, I'd be lying. It was cold, cold, cold (super cold) and the horses took the same switchbacks as the hikers. We had to start earlier than originally planned to adjust for the speed of the group which actually allowed for more naps along the way. At one point, another girl on our trek compared the switchbacks to Mount Whitney's 99 switchbacks which was oddly right! Even so, reaching Salkantay Pass before the horses and taking in the beauty of the glacier and blue skies was incredible. Our guide, Nico, gave us a history lesson of Incan religion on top of the pass and I soon became quite cold (frozen actually) and wished I head to the lunch area with the Europeans. BUT, seeing our entire group round the corner and reach the pass was one of the most amazing parts of the trip. We got a couple of group photos and then I'm pretty sure I started sprinting downhill in hopes of warming up. The morning consisted of up, up, up while the afternoon was down, down, down. The terrain was steep and rocky and we had to be mindful of each step. I took a well needed nap before lunch. After lunch, we started to enter the cloud forest. Again, another of my favorite parts of the trek was going through so many eco-climates in such a short period of time - snow, cloud forest, rain forest, etc. Let's just say, I slept well this night!
Day Three: Chawllay to La Playa to Santa Teresa/Hot Springs! (20 kilometers)
Day three was supposed to be - and I quote - "easy and nice" but it was a little bit more on the difficult side, in my opinion. We walked at a fast pace through up and down terrains but, all was well because we stopped for a break and were able to get avocado sandwiches with some of the best avocados I've ever had. Think I'm lying? I had three (3!!!) sandwiches!!! After lunch in La Playa we said goodbye to our horseman and had a "transport" to Santa Teresa where we had the option to visit the hot springs. After day two, I was ALL IN for the hot springs of Cocalmayo (not too mention I love hot springs!) There were four or five pools that ranged in temperature. Our group moved between the hottest spring and the second hottest spring. I think I could have stayed in the springs all night; the views were beautiful and the temperatures were perfect... And, it was our first opportunity to get somewhat clean in days! Our camp on day three was interesting as we had a campfire, bar, music, etc. which meant it was party time! Our group was definitely the opposite of party animals and were all in our tents by like 10pm (don't worry, we still enjoyed plenty of Pisco Sours!) Around midnight, Kayla who clearly enjoyed far more Pisco Sours than we did (from another group) started engaging in extra curricular activities and I blasted my music through my headphones. Contrary to night two, NO ONE slept well.
Day Four: Santa Teresa to Zip Lining to Aguas Calientes (11 kilometers)
Waking up errr, opening our eyes the morning of day four was rough but full of laughs at Kayla's expense. Here we said goodbye to our cooks and boarded a van/bus to head to zip lining! The optional zip line activity meant we could skip about three hours of hiking (woohoo) in favor of risking our lives flying over a river. The zip lining at Vertikal Zipline was unlike any zip lining I had ever done before. We were able to completely let go and lay down flat. We were even able to go completely upside down at one point (literally the scariest thing I have ever done) and zipped like a Condor/Superman at the end (the best). From zip lining we took another short ride before hiking to Hidroelectrica district where we had lunch at a restaurant that included ice cream (!!!) and then hiked another three hours to Aguas Calientes; the village at the base of Machu Picchu. Hiking along the railroad tracks we caught glimpses of Machu Picchu far up in the distance and I was SO excited; we were so close! Aguas Calientes is definitely an underrated area; I highly recommended staying here for another night after the trek if you can. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, great happy hour prices, and scenery to explore. We had to get our duffel bags off the train around 5pm or so but enjoyed some adult beverages before that and even after as we all got together for a group dinner (and drinks!) I really just wanted to drink and drink and drink some more so I could back out of finishing what I had started and take the bus up to the gates of Machu Picchu rather than "hike" aka climb up 1780 steps at six in the morning...
Day Five: Aguas Calientes up those Inca Stairs to MACHU PICCHU! back to Cusco
The crazies of the group consisted of myself, Kat, the brother and sister duo from Holland, and the two girls from England. We were crazy enough to wait in line at 4am to begin hiking/climbing the Incan stairs to Machu Picchu. The bridge to start the steps opened at 5am and we were some of the first in line to climb up 1780 steps or... 390 meters (1,280 feet) in under a mile. Cactus to Clouds was the most comparable thing to this I had ever completed but this took the cake (luckily it was short-lived). We arrived at the gates of Machu Picchu at 5:59am and joined the rest of the group who were sane and took the bus up. Shout out to Kat for getting me up the steps!!! Shortly after joining the group, we were permitted to enter Machu Picchu. Arriving right when Machu Picchu opened was by far my most favorite part of the entire trek. Walking in to Machu Picchu and seeing the tranquility among the grandiosity took my breath away. I was amazed, speechless, blown away, inspired, and so happy. Our guide, Nico, provided us with a short guided tour before we all went our separate ways (but not before a group photo!) I am still so inspired by the Inca people and the ruins from this citadel. I really cannot describe the magnitude of Machu Picchu and would recommend seeing it for yourself. No, you don't have to trek there: you can take the train all the way there! After exploring Machu Picchu, Christa and I climbed to Huchuypicchu while others opted for the more strenuous Waynapicchu (each required an additional ticket from Machu Picchu). The views the entire day were incredible. Incredible! After the bucket list item was complete, we took the bus back down and grabbed our stuff from the hostel we stayed in the night before and then boarded the train to head back to Cusco. The train was complete with nap time and dropped us off in Ollantaytambo, about a two hour bus/van ride back to Cusco. We arrived back to the hotel around 8pm or so, ordered room service, took long, HOT showers, and relaxed in REAL beds - we had earned it!
Logistics: Trekking with Karikuy Tours provided plenty of "amenities" that we would not have had if we traveled without a guide/company. For starters, we were able to give 11 pounds of our "stuff" to the horses to carry. That meant we only had to trek with our day packs consisting of water, extra layers, snacks, first aid kit, etc. while the horses carried all our other clothes, sleeping bag, etc. It was awesome to get into camp each night and have our tents already set up for us. Nearly every meal (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) were provided everyday. Again, the last thing I want to do when I get into camp is to cook food... Three cooks took care of all this for us. Again, thanks to Jeremy we were able to request the best guide in the business, Nico! Nico is a wealth of knowledge; he is so passionate about the trek, history, culture, and people of Machu Picchu. SO informative, and I love information!
The following day (Saturday) Christa and I slept in (as best we could) and then set off to drop off our laundry, schedule massages, explore the San Pedro Market to get souvenirs, get a massage, pick up our laundry, shower again, and finally celebrate our week-long journey with a fancy dinner at Cicciolina in Cusco. We invited Nico, the best guide ever, and Kelly, the best co-guide ever, as a way to show our appreciation for their (literal) guidance. I'm not sure which was better: the food or the company. I know no matter how great dinner was or how big of a tip I gave, it would not demonstrate my true appreciation for Nico and Kelly. All I can emphasize is thank you, thank you, thank you for a life-changing experience.
It would turn out that the next day we were supposed to fly out to Lima early in the morning. Alas, God had other plans for us - LC Peru is the Devil and after stringing us along for way too long, the flight from Cusco to Lima would be cancelled. Way I say they strung us along for too long, I mean every.single.other.flight. from Cusco to Lima was sold out which meant we were stuck in Cusco for another night and would ultimately miss our flights back to the United States. This royally messed up bank accounts and plans for our next adventure but, alas, everything happens for a reason. Check back soon to learn why :)