I’m going to postpone writing about lake Titicaca for now as I’ve just spent the last week hiking from Salkantay to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is, of course, one of the biggest attractions in Peru and one of my motivations for wanting to come here. We decided we wanted to trek there to make the experience a little more special, so we hiked for four days to Aguas Calientes and arrived in Machu Picchu on the fifth day.
There’s a few different options for trekking, the most popular of which is the Inka Trail. The Inka Trail is a tough hike with something like 15,000 stone steps. We opted not to do this one in the interest of cost, and instead decided to hike the Salkantay Trail, which hikes up to the Salkantay glacial peak and then down through the beginning of the Amazonias and the cloud forest. This was definitely the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done. On the first and second day of hiking I was definitely regretting the decision to go on a trek, but I really did enjoy the last few days and I’m really proud that I finished it.
We started off hiking in Mollepata (2900m) and hiked 20km to the base of humantay glacier (3900m). The altitude completely exhausted me on this portion of the trek, which was mostly uphill, and I had a hard time keeping up with the group. I don’t think I ever really acclimatized. The views were incredible though! We hiked along the edge of the mountains all day until we reached the snowy peak of the Humantay Glacier.
Luckily, we didn’t have to do anything on the trek except walk. We had cooks who met us at our lunch stops and campsites to prepare us meals, and horses that carried out luggage. We just had to hike with our day packs. The first night under the glacier was the coldest night of the trek. In the mountains it gets very hot during the day and very cold at night. We had to bundle up in all our clothes, but we had the most amazing view of the night sky. I’ve never seen so many stars before. It was easy to pick out the Milky Way, the whole sky was just lit with stars!
What challenged me most on this hike was learning about my own limitations. On the second day, the group hiked up another 700m to the Salkantay glacial peak. This is one of the most challenging parts of the hike, so there was the option to take a horse up to the top. I wish I could have hiked it, but I decided to take a horse instead of trying to hike up at such a high altitude. Seth did the whole trek and I met him at the top. From there we hiked down 1700m out of the mountain pass and into the cloud forest and the beginning of the Amazon. We hiked for 11 hours on the second day, but the quickly changing scenery was amazing. We went from the foggy mountain pass into the lush green of the cloud forest. Cloud forests are a pretty unique habitat, they’d be like a rainforest but for the high altitude at which they’re located.
The last two days of trekking after that were at lower altitudes, had shorter distances, and were much more enjoyable. On the third day we hiked through the forest to Santa Teresa where we went to a hot springs, and on the last day we had the opportunity to go zip lining across the valley! We did 6 lines and the guides wanted to make sure you had as much fun as possible (while still being safe). Seth did one line upside down and did another “superman” style by wearing his harness backwards! We finished off by hiking along the train tracks behind Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes.
It was an early rise on our last day to go up Machu Picchu. We got there for opening time at 6am and watched the sun rise over the Andes. We had a guided tour and then we had the rest of the day to explore on our own. I can’t believe we’ve been there now, it felt like the whole trip had been leading up to Machu Picchu. It did not disappoint at all and was incredible! There’s such an amazing view of the surrounding mountains and its incredible how much of the huge Inkan city is still standing (only 30% was restored). It’s hard to believe they built an entirely self sustaining city up there. There’s a fountain system which runs through providing water and all of the stones used to create the buildings and terraces were taken from the mountain. The city is divided into two parts, the terraces are used for agriculture as rain water easily irrigates from one terrace to the next, and the buildings form the actual city where people lived.
Anyways, it was definitely an incredible experience and I’m proud I was able to finish the hike. We’re back in Cusco now and soon starting the last part of our trip. We’ll soon be off into the Amazon for a week, hopefully to see lots of interesting plants and animals!