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Field report: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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If you want to cross the Andes, hike through the tropical mountain jungle, and reach Machu Picchu, then the Salkantay Trek is the perfect adventure for you. This trek is considered the most popular alternative to the well-known Inca Trail. The Salkantay Trek offers breathtaking scenery, with blue lagoons, stunning Andean panoramas, lush green nature, soothing hot thermal springs, and a visit to Machu Picchu. In this report, my dear childhood friend Athina shares her wonderful experiences of the Salkantay Trek.

Arriving in Cusco, the center of the sacred valley of the Incas, I knew that my five-month journey through South America would lead me to many spectacular, fantastic, and breathtaking places. However, none of them were as mystical as the region around Cusco, which is filled with countless mysterious Inca sites. Machu Picchu, the most famous among them, was at the top of my travel list for South America. With so many options to reach Machu Picchu, I couldn’t resist the idea of following the old, traditional way: on foot.


During the trek, our Spanish-English speaking guide Edwin introduced us to a shortcut. Normally, shortcuts are something to be excited about, but this one turned out to be a challenging test of climbing and scrambling. We battled our way through the wild scrub while small springs from the mountain flowed down. I quickly gave up trying to keep my clothes clean after one of my feet sank into the mud. The first half of the day consisted of alternating between relaxed stretches and these challenging shortcuts. By late noon, we had managed to cover the 20-kilometer distance and reached our first camp in Soraypampa, situated at an altitude of 3,900 meters.

The campsite was well-prepared with tents pitched in a sheltered area made of wood and tarpaulins. Our cook prepared a delicious evening meal. My group and I enjoyed the view of the landscape in front of us: green meadows, rushing streams, and the imposing “Salkantay” mountain with its snow-covered peak. It was clear to all of us that we would be much closer to the mountain the next day. We went to sleep early, fully aware that the second day would be the most challenging of the entire trek.

The Salkantay Trek seemed to be the most adventurous way for me to immerse myself in the world of the Incas. With a small group of people, I was able to share these impressive experiences during the five-day tour.

Our itinerary:

We began our trip at four in the morning in Cusco, where we were picked up from our accommodations and taken by shuttle bus to Mollepata. After a quick breakfast and dropping off our luggage for the horses, our trek started at an altitude of 2,900 meters.

As we ascended at a relaxed pace, we had the opportunity to get to know the other group members. It was no surprise that the majority of them were Europeans seeking the adventure of trekking. Our group consisted of Spaniards, French, and Germans.

Abra Salkantay – The highest pass at 4,650 meters

On the second morning, we were awaken at five o’clock with coca tea. After a hearty breakfast, we started hiking at six o’clock. The distance from Soraypampa to the highest point of the route was expected to take around four hours. The ascent was tough, but everyone went at their own pace, and we waited for each other at various points.

During the climb, the fog added an interesting element. It moved into the mountains within seconds and suddenly obstructed our view.

After just over two hours, we reached our destination. My group, which was incredibly fit and in good condition, and I stood at an altitude of 4,650 meters, with the Salkantay Mountain right in front of us.

We experienced an incredible moment when a small avalanche occurred. From that point on, it was a downhill journey for the rest of the day. In a matter of hours, the landscape completely transformed, as if we were on a different planet: first the snow-covered mountaintops, then a barren, rocky landscape, and later, we found ourselves in the middle of the jungle.

We went to sleep early, knowing that the next day would be the most physically demanding of the trek.

Relaxation in the hot springs of Santa Teresa

The third day was more relaxed compared to the previous two, covering only ten kilometers. We started early and easily completed the relatively flat distance in the morning. After having lunch at a camp, we were driven to Santa Teresa, our sleeping destination for the night. We had the opportunity to visit the hot springs, which was a delightful idea after the less-than-ideal sanitary conditions in the previous camps.

The hot springs were a wonderful spot amidst the mountains, where we could relax our muscles and rejuvenate our spirits, despite the presence of many tourists. In the evening, we had a small campfire party with other groups as a finale.

Adventure Ziplining – No risk, no fun.

The next morning, we had various options for continuing our journey. I chose ziplining, allowing us to travel from one place to another through different rope connections. When you are standing on one side of a mountain, with a powerful river flowing 150 meters below, the idea of crossing it on a thin steel cable can be daunting. However, I embraced the motto “no risk, no fun” and enjoyed the thrill of speeding through six different stations down to the valley.

From there, we were taken to Hidroelectrica, where I reunited with the rest of my group to embark on the last long walk to Aguas Calientes. The trail was flat and ran alongside the railway track.

This part of the trek was the most monotonous, but it provided some much-needed relief for our muscles. In Aguas Calientes, we spent the night in a hostel, enjoyed our last dinner together, and went to bed early, as we had an early start the next morning for the climb to Machu Picchu.

Machu Picchu – beyond words.

The climb to Machu Picchu consisted of hundreds of steps, which became increasingly challenging. However, when I finally saw the ancient Inca site in front of me, I couldn’t find words to describe my feelings. I felt like the happiest person in the world knowing that I had walked the path myself and was now standing in front of this incredible wonder of the world.

Despite having seen countless pictures on the Internet, from friends, and in documentaries, being there in person was an indescribable experience.

Conclusion from five days of Salkantay trekking:

I highly recommend this unique trek to anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu. It is a less crowded route where you can discover diverse and remarkable nature, while meeting new and interesting people.

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