Jen did a mostly good job of describing our trek through Salkantay pass to Macchu Pichu, but I feel like she left a bit out.
Salkantay is a 4 day trek (the 5th day is a visit to Macchu Pichu) which is a tough hike for even very athletic people. For me it was basically a suicide march. The best part of the trek was the absolutely amazing people we met along the way.
Day 1. At 4 am we find ourselves locked in the hostel, when we are meant to be meeting everyone in the main square of Cusco. Banging on the door in a panic seems to help, and soon we are on our way. After a two hour bus ride to the trail head, we start climbing. At the end of our 15 km “practice day” we arrive to the camp in a heavy hail storm. It is freezing cold at this camp, and I wear my new down jacket to bed. Jen insists we could have done without these new jackets, which is good for me, since I wear hers to bed as pants.
Day 2. Our guide suggest a horse for the first part of the day since it is 7 km directly uphill through Salkantay pass. 6 members of our group take horses and 4 (including Jen – big surprise) walk up the hill. For the second time ever in the guide’s career the group that is hiking up the hill beats the horses. Jen looks as if she’s just taken a relaxing stroll. Our guide guides us through a Qechua thanksgiving ceremony – it seems to work as I am very thankful we are not walking right now. After this we begin our descent of the mountain. It is extremely difficult rocky terrain. I put myself behind by changing my clothes behind a rock and then accidentally peeing on my shoe. I’m hiking with someone else who has trouble going downhill, and we arrive about 25 minutes late for lunch. The guide is not impressed. I’m not impressed either. After lunch we have 4 km to go to the camp site for a total of 21 km on this day. Sometime after lunch I trip on some rocks and cut my leg. I just keep walking. This doesn’t seem like the type of hike where you complain about these things. The camp site is much warmer, and I pay 10 soles for a warm shower. There is also beer at the camp site which is always nice. There is an option to climb an additional “bonus” mountain tomorrow. It gets voted down by the group, and the three uber athletic boys are really disappointed. Jen takes one look at me, and doesn’t even vote. Smart wife.
Day 3. Things are looking up. Only 16 km to go, on steady up and down terrain. The climate is definitely getting a bit more tropical. We are able to walk the entire 16 km before lunch. After lunch we visit a local coffee farm. The farm also has sand flies and they massacre my legs. I have never seen bug bites like this before, once the bug is done blood runs down my legs. It looks pretty horrific but for now doesn’t feel too bad.
We do get the amazing experience of picking our own beans, grinding up some pre-dried ones, roasting the beans, and having coffee made from the extremely fresh grounds. Amazing. After lunch we hit up the Santa Teresa hot springs. This is the highlight of the trip for me.
Day 4. My legs have swollen to the size of tree trunks. I can barely get a shoe on my left foot. I have blood blister under two of my toenails.
Our guide suggests we go ziplining in the morning. Despite the fact that walking for me and another in our group is becoming nearly impossible, the guide neglects to mention the 30 minute hike directly up the mountain to the zip course. After reaching top Jen decides she’s not really into zip-lining, so we return to the base camp. I ask the guide if we can pop into a pharmacy for some antihistamine, but he says it is out of the way. A kind American shares some with me. The itching dissipates. The elephantitis remains.
We walk 10 km along the train tracks to Macchu Pichu. It’s an easy walk, but quite rocky, and we are continually crossing back and forth on the tracks to get to a path. Even the boys who wanted to climb an extra mountain are complaining of sore feet.
We finally arrive to Aguas Calientes. Nothing really eventful happens from here on out. I’m able to obtain more antihistamine and lasix over the counter in a local pharmacy.
Day 5. Macchu Pichu
3 guys in our group elect to walk from Aguas Calientes to Macchu Pichu. This is insanity. Our bus struggles to make it up the mountain and Jen takes this epic photo of the road later in the day.
Our guide asks us to wait inside the gate for him and he’ll show us around. We all bail. Half the group hikes up the to Sun Gate, and 3 of us just wander around. Our guide finds us an hour later – he is ballistic. He insists he told us how long to wait and we need to sign something saying we don’t want the tour. He calms down and we all join back into his tour.
Macchu Pichu is amazing. The only way it could have been more amazing is if I hadn’t been hiking for 4 days and nearly unable to walk. There is no shame in taking the train to Macchu Pichu, and if you aren’t in really amazing shape a four day extreme trek might interfere with your ability to enjoy a once in a lifetime experience.
We had purchased tickets to Huayna Pichu as well, but there was no way I was able to do that. I was super happy in my little rock hammock at the bottom of the mountain, where I held everyone’s bags for them while they hiked.
Macchu Pichu exceeded my expectations, and I hope I can go again one day! I’ll take the train obviously.