The Only Way Is: Salkantay

Christmas 2019, Ítalo and I decided to conquer one of the toughest, and yet most marvellous hikes in Peru – Salkantay Trek. This trek starts from Mollepata, completes at Machu Picchu; 5 days, 4 nights. We started preparing for this trip in late October, getting familiarized with the trek and what’s ahead of us. Still, Salkantay is full of surprises. More accurately, it’s full of surprises, frustration, desperation, joy, grief, and, without saying, pondering. The high altitude tests out human potential, pressuring  our brain to react. And yet, the views. Everything is worth for the views and the impact they gave me right at first sight.

 

21 December: Going Up.

First day, 23 km, Mollepata (2,850 msnm) – Soraypampa 3,880 msnm)

Today we woke up around 5am to pack up and catch the bus to Mollepata. After a few winding turns on the way, we arrived in this little town to start hiking to Soraypampa. The idea was that we could get used to the altitude if we walk the first day instead of taking a car or minivan.

To the point where we started the REAL hiking trail (Marqoqasa), it was about 5-8 km.

Day 1 Marqoqasa

I was feeling okay. We made a little detour at the first panorama, Parador Hornada Pata. And then, the road starts to be a little less evident. I PANICKED. Italo had to say “calm down” to me.. After encountering some donkies, we finally made it to the Mirador and saw Salkantay for the first time.

Day 1 Salkantay

Continuing, it was 8km of flat walking (almost). There were some sky domes on the way, but we still decided to stay in an east camp. with shelter. Around midnight, it started raining outside, but the tent is pitch black. My mat did not blow up enough, so it was a little cold for me to touch the concrete ground. Tomorrow, I will make sure I have all the essentials for a good sleep.

Day 1 Italo at the village

22 December: Hello, Salkantay

Second Day, 18km, Soraypampa – Salkantaypass – Abra de Salkantay (4,680 msnm) – Rayanpampa

Today was tough. The highest altitude was 4,680 m and we spent the whole morning trying to get to Abra Salkantay. On the way, we encountered some villages with their donkies. They told us we were “almost there” (falta un poco), WHICH WAS A LIE… And people also warned us there was a Mexican guy missing near Chaullay, where we were supposed to stay tonight.

Day 2 Early start to Salkantaypass

At Abra Salkantay, we heard AND saw ice breaking from glacier, there were also snow avanlanches from the top of the mountain – Magnificent! This was the first time I witnessed something this magical with ice and snow.

Day 2 Salkantay snow avanlanche

After Abra, all was descending (altitude, our energy and sanity). It satrted to be foggy and rainy. We weren’t sure if we were on the right way. Because we detoured A LITTLE (thanks to my map reading skills…), we were already at 12/13 km. After what felt like forever, we saw a little house complex, the female owner told us we were 3 hours away from Chaullay, 1.5 hours from the next village. Time was 3:35 pm. We bought some choco bars there and had a rest. I finally ate a Snickers bar, guilt-free!

Day 2 Abra Salkantay

As we kept on, we were competing with daylight. People on the way told us we were 40 minutes away from Rayanpampa.

Before it was completely dark, we got to the village and stayed with a family. For 15 soles to have a roof, I’d say it’s pretty good. Dinner was canned tuna and chicken noodle soup. The chicken soup is so hearty that we would buy it again for the next trip.

23 December: Waterfalls and Butterflies

Third day, 23 km, Rayanpampa – Chaullay – Collapampa – La Playa – Lucmabamba

We spent slamost 11 hours on the pavement today. At Chaullay, I finally had my first cup of coffee on this trip! The little kids in the village are really smart and cute. They helped us out with everything we needed, although we did not ask for much haha.

Day 3 Coffee in Chaullay

Later, we saw police dragging out the body of the Mexican guy who was missing 5 days ago. It was a heavy scene full of sorrow, which made us wonder the meaning of this hike. We are all risk takers, constantly looking for the next challenge, the next mountain to climb. If he had taken a birdge to cross the river, if he had unbuckled his backpack before going into the tumbling water… In our culture, we don’t talk enough about death and loss. I find it a shame to avoid this important topic of life.

The road was easy as it’s the only way for awhile. Then, we had a choice to make: Follow the main road, or go with “camino seguro a La Playa.” I made a decision that we would go with this little path called “Camino seguro” even though i wasn’t sure how secure it would be at all.

There were some ups and downs, but the waterfalls we encountered are absolutely breathtaking. When the sun was out, it felt like we were on vacation! We also saw many, many butterflies on the way. At a farm house, we had a banana (yay frutas!) and continued on.

Day 3 Map of Santa Teresa department

The road became narrower as we were walking through tall corn plants, and finally we got to the next village where a bridge ahead could bring us to the other side. The farmers also suggested that we cross the bridge because of landslides. On the other side, a female owner has a campsite where we got granadillas (grenade pomergrate), tried uchuvas (goldenberries) and jugo de naranjas (oranges). Everything’s fresh and sweet. Later the road was boring, we were just walking and walking until La Playa. People there told us Lucmabamba was only 40 mins away, yay!

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By the water

Day 3 Waterfall

Both of our feet hurt so bad,  but we carried on. Before it got dark, we reached Lucmabamba, 5 soles camping, 8 soles hot shower! I slept really early, 8 pm to be exact.

24 December: First Glimpse of Machu Picchu

Fourth day, 10 km, Lucmabamba – Llactapata – Hydroelectrica – Aguas Calientes

It has been raining the whole night, we could hear raindrops on our roof, and a cat tryin gto eat our trash around midnight haha. Still, I had some good recovery.

Today, we are climbing up 700 m to see Machu Picchu from above. The whole way, it was raining, and our backpack has never been heavier. It’s also frustrating as we did not know how many kilometers we have going up. On 2/3 of the way up, there is a camping/store, Italo and I shared a peanut butter snickers bar, and we had fresh juice while chatting with the owner and 2 Belgique hikers. The owner is really chatty, but that also gave us time to recover and practice Spanish. After another 30 mins, we reached Llactapata, in the rain it was just a ruin with rocks and high grass. As we descended. we saw a campsite with great viewpoint. There, we saw Machu Picchu for the first time.

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At Llactapata Mirador de Machupicchu

Huaynapicchu looks like a Hershey kiss chocolate pointing to the sky, while clouds surround it with grace and ease. We took it all in and carried on again.

The descend was steep, and we reached flat road soaking wet. I didn’t even know if I was sweating or it was the rain water. Arrived at Hydroelectrica, we registered to get into control region of Machu Picchu, and then we waited for our PeruRail train.

The train is definitely more expensive than most of the trains I’d taken in my life. 140 soles! Although, it bought us some time to eat something. Didn’t know why they were trying to rush us onto the train. And it turned out we have a private train all to ourselves! The train is beautiful, and smtill I’m not sure if it’s worth the price.

Day 4 Arrived in Aguas Calientes

When we arrived at Aguas Calientes, it was getting dark, thankfully our hostel is right there at the station. We took a warm shower, and unwinded the day with a local meal.

Day 4 dinner

25 December: Machu Picchu

Fifth day, Aguas Calientes –  Huaynapicchu – Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes – Cuzco

To make it to our Huaynapicchu reservation, we got to wake up early, precisely at 5.30 am. After checking the bus tickets, we decided it was not worth it to take the bus, so we started hiking to Machu picchu. The hike is not difficult compared to Salkantay trek, besides we don’t need to carry our huge backpacks – it’s a piece of cake, half eaten.

Day 5 Machu picchu

The hike took us roughly an hour, and we reached at Huaynapicchu registration point around 7.45 am. Huaynapicchu is a little steep and has many people. We had the chance to eavesdrop on a few guides, and on the way people are really friendly to start conversations. The top of Huaynapicchu was definitely crowded, as everyone wanted to take a hundred photos of themselves. Italo and I also take many photos, we are really touristy haha.

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We returned down by 10am, this is a pretty good time. There are so many people on the mountain, and we still made the most of it.

 

Later, we wandered around Machu Picchu, still amazed by how maginificent this place is. There are llamas and alpacas on site as well, making our whole experience even more special.

Day 5 Llama

Around 2 pm, it started raining. We rushed down back to Agua Calientes. The same night, we took the late night train with IncaRail back to Cuzco. My face was sun kissed and burnt. Hopefully I’ll be okay for Santiago de Chile!

Day 5 Beautiful machupicchu

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