On our family holiday to Peru this year, we hiked the Salkantay trail. Originally, we had talked about the Classical Inca trail, but during our research found the Salkantay trail. After talking back and forth, we eventually decided on the Salkantay trail as it was supposed to be the more scenic route. Having walked a lot, but never hiked, in my life I did wonder whether I would make it through. I did.
Day 1: Cusco – Marcoccasa – Soray Pampa
We got up early to drive from Cusco to Marcoccasa, stopping in Mollepata town. In Mollepata it is possible to sit down and get some breakfast, before heading on. In Marcoccasa (3400m) we met up with our cook, horseman and horses. The first stretch of the journey we walked through some forest and fields getting higher up. After a break at a viewpoint looking over mountains and the valley, the trail evened out. We started walking along a stream of water, before it started to become more bare and gravelly. As we got closer to the campsite the landscape was barer as we reached a higher elevation. Reaching the campsite of Soray Pampa (3900m) we found the cook and horseman already there, having set up camp. Lunch was ready for us as we arrived. After lunch it was possible to go for a hike to a lake. We decided against it as we were already tired and wanted to rest before dinner.
Day 2: Soray Pampa – Salkantay pass – Chaullay
We were woken up with coca tea in our tents each morning on the trail. We packed our things, ate breakfast and packed a snack before starting the hike. From the campsite we could see the tip of the snow-covered Salkantay mountain as we started walking towards the Salkantay pass. As we got even higher up, I could feel my heart in my throat pumping away. You can feel that you are up where the air is thinner. We walked up and up on a uneven gravel trail with loose stones, meaning you are mainly looking down as you walk. The main trail zig zags, however our guide took us over a slightly different trail. It was a bit shorter, with no horses. However, it was also hard to walk as it was more a trail over/between boulders with water crossing a couple of times. About 3 hours after we left the camp, we found ourselves reaching the Salkantay Pass (4600m). Having reached the highest point on the trail we started going down, to a campsite were our lunch was waiting. After lunch we hiked further down on the trail with loose stones, slowly arriving in greener surroundings, as we began to descend into more forestry area. Finally, we arrived at the campsire Chaullay (2950m), which was buzzing with life. It’s possibly to buy a beer or cola, and even pay for a shower if you want.
Day 3: Chaullay – La Playa – Lucmabamba
Once we got up and started moving our legs, we were still doing fine after the big hike the previous day. This day was a steady hike of up and down, slowly descending. Unlike the other days it was warm earlier at the lower altitude, which you quickly felt. We walked in the rainforest on the side of mountains. Several times the trail narrowed and we would be walking on the edge looking down and even once or twice something that looked like walking over an old rock slide. Slightly unpleasant for someone who does not like heights. We also crossed many streams that were coming down the mountain and crossing over the trial. Some having little bridges made of varying make and condition. We walked past avocado trees, papaya plantations and fields of maize. As we finally reached the river that runs at the bottom of the valley, busses were waiting. We took the bus the last stretch along the road to our campsite at Lucmabamba (2000m). It is possible to walk along the road the last bit, which takes about an hour (15min by bus).
After reaching camp and having breakfast, we got a coffee demonstration by the family that lived there. We were basically surrounded by a coffee plantation. We went out and helped pick some beans, that we then pulped. After that they had to dry in the sun. We got some already dried beans that we then roasted over a little cooker, constantly stirring it. Finally grinding up the beans and having a cup of coffee we had helped produce ourselves.
Afterwards we took our swimwear and towels, as we were picked up and drove to some thermal springs an hour’s drive away. Relaxing in the warm water, looking out over the mountains and feeling clean was heaven. Pretty sure my legs also appreciated a moment of relaxation.
Day 4: Lucmabamba – Llactapata – Hidroelctrica – Aguas Calientes
We started hiking up through the coffee plantation and then further up through the jungle. After about two hours we reached the top of the mountain, and then headed down on the other side a few meters before arriving at Llactapata (2600m). It was a misty morning, with the clouds hanging low as we arrived. Llactapata is an inca ruin, were you can see over to Machu Picchu. We managed to see over before the clouds came and made it hard to spot. After the ruin, it was zig zag down a somewhat steep trail, which had loose stones and mud some places. I spent a lot of time looking down and checking where I put my feet, as we made our way down the mountain. At the bottom, we walked along the road the last bit to Hidroelctrica (1950m). Here we had tickets to take the train to Aguas Calientes (2050m). We saw others walk the trail along the railway instead.
Arriving at Aguas Calientes we got to our hostel and had a shower before meeting up for dinner with our guide. We had brought a set of clean clothes with us that we could put on after the shower.
Day 5: Machu Picchu
We went to Machu Picchu with our guide, where we had two hours together. After that we were left to look around as we wanted to. When we were done, we went back to Aguas Calientes for lunch. Later we took the train to Ollantaytambo, where a bus picked us up and drove us to our hotel in Cusco.
NB: Trips may vary a bit between different companies and depending on the length of the trek. We went with Xtreme Tourbulencia.