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Even now I can’t sometimes believe I had this idea! I don’t even like mountains. I mean I love sitting somewhere up there and staring at beautiful landscapes in front of my eyes and I love taking photos, but trekking in the mountains? Definitely not for me.

When I was searching information about Machu Picchu I came across a few trekking reviews, and I wouldn’t have paid much attention to them if it hadn’t been for the photos… I started reading, then wondered if I would manage. “It would be good to take a few photos like that,” I thought.

Finally I found a story that convinced me: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

I was a bit scared thinking of seventy-something kilometres in the mountains, especially taking into account that I’m not really a mountain person. To make it even worse, my physical activities in the months preceding the trek were almost none as I was suffering from a shoulder injury.

I hesitated. I looked at the photos, I enquired about the details in a few agencies and finally booked the trek.

A day BEFORE

Meeting at the Bioandean Agency where we met the guides. We also got the duffel bags and were told to pack our things there – no more than 6 kilograms as they were to be carried by the mules. Most of the people rented sleeping bags as well (I had mine) and trekking poles (which proved to be very useful). In a bar opposite we listed to the final advice and our itinerary and returned to our hotels to get ready.

Day 1

Start: 3.45 in Cusco 

We began earlier than the tours usually start, but it was only because the road was supposed to be closed for roadworks so we had to get through before it did.

Mollepata 2900m asl–> Soraypampa 3900m asl

time: around six hours

the highest point: 4000m asl

It wasn’t supposed to be a long day: three hours up, and then, after reaching the right altitude, three hours flat. Going up is tiring, there’s no point denying it, but going up at a high altitude is even higher, therefore I don’t have many photos – if I had tried to take more photos, I would have stayed too much behind the group.

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Still, I was the last one. When I finally caught up with a group and I thought I wasn’t going to move even one more step up, the guide started to pull me onto a small hill. “He must be crazy,” I thought, but before I managed to voice my protests I looked at what was in front of my eyes and I said nothing – the view was breathtaking.

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The first lunch was a very nice surprised – I would have never imagined that it could be a starter, soup, main course and a dessert – definitely the best lunch I’ve ever had during a trek.

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Everybody relaxed knowing that the easiest part was ahead: a three-hour flat walk at the altitude of 4000m asl. Pretty high, but flat. And indeed, it was easy. At least for the first 30-45 minutes, before the altitude sickness hit me and I threw up for the first time. What happened next was the most horrible experience I’ve ever had in my travels – I still can’t believe I managed to walk three hours throwing up all the time. On the way I managed to take one photo only – the one below.

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I can hardly remember how I finally got to our camp at 3900m asl, but when I finally got into my sleeping bag I was absolutely fed up with Peru, mountains, trekking and everything. I remember someone talking about a beautiful starry sky and as I still felt nauseous I got out of the tent. Coca tea was supposed to help so I drank it.

I had soroche pills (altitude sickenss pills) in my bag which I bought in a pharmacy in Cusco for a few dollars, but unfortunately I took them too late (you’re supposed to take them eight hours before). I simply didn’t expect that – I had been in Ecuador a few years before and I had absolutely no problems at 4000 or 5000m apart from heavy breathing. I didn’t expect to react like this in Peru.

Day 2

Soraypampa 3900m asl –> Chaullay 2800m asl

the highest point: 4600m asl

time: around 10  hours

25 km

There is one thing better than breakfast in bed. It’s warm coca tea served in your tent at 5 o’clock in the morning when it’s almost freezing outside. When I woke up I felt… good, as if the day before had never happened.

Yes, I felt good but I was still afraid of walking up because I felt week. I rented a horse to go up, something I hadn’t planned, but I felt I had no choice.

We left the camp after a hearty breakfast.

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The horse was called Evaldo. There were three of us. A horse guide and a girl from another group and me. The guide led the other horse while Evaldo walked on his own which wouldn’t have been a problem, if he had listened more to me. He didn’t.

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After some time, the road started to climb up and the views were absolutely wonderful. However, I have no photos as my horse liked walking on the edge so I was too scared to move around.

When we got to the Salkantay pass, the guide took the horses back and left us. Hiding from the wind behind a stone, I was waiting for my group. It was cold and foggy, yet beautiful.

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Finally, they got there. The weather changed.

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Before we moved on again, we spent quite some time at the pass, taking photos, listening to our guide’s stories about Inkas’ habits and paying tribute to Pachamama (Mother Earth).

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There were 18 kilometers more to go, but we were at a lower altitude so I felt much better, especially after I ate another tasty lunch. Lunch was served in a tent to protect us against cold and wind.

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And we walked, and walked, and walked. Even when the road started going down it seemed to have no end. It got dark and it delayed us a bit. At the camp there was beer in the bar – what a treat!

Day 3

Chaullay 2800m asl – Sahuayaco 2100m asl

time: about 5 hours

A warm day. Finally.

“It’s going to be flat today,” said the guide, and after a moment, he added, “Well, you know, the Peruvian flat”. And it was exactly like that: up and down, up and down…

We walked.

 

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We finished walking at lunch. Early, I know, but there was a big attraction: hot springs! What a wonderful feeling to wash and soak in water for hours!

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Day4

Sahuayaco 2100m asl – Hidroelectrica 1820m asl – Aguas Calientes 2000m asl

The highest point: 2400m

Time: around 9 hours

An amazing days for views: sunny, foggy, cloudy, warm – a little bit of everything.

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We reached Llactapata (2400m) – the only place on the way with ruins. And there, in the distance, when the sky cleared – a very big surprise: Machu Picchu! It seemed so far away that it was hard to imagine that we would get there the following day.

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Lunch meant saying goodbye to our cooks who prepared wonderful meals for us (there was even a goodbye cake on thelast night!)

In the picture: our two cooks and the guide (on the right)

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The last lunch:

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Then three more hours along the railway to Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu Town.

A hotel, a regular bed and a shower.

A nice evening in a local restaurant.

Below you can see the smallest piece of cake I have ever got.

The dinner in Aguas Calientes was included in the price of the trekking. There were two options to choose from. For #2 we had to pay a few sols extra, but most of the company chose it because of the chocolate cake. Yes, this is what we got:

 

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Day 5 – Machu Picchu

Wake-up time: 4.30

Only two people decided to walk up the stairs, the rest of us decided to take a bus and pay 17 USD (return) for a 20 minutes’ ride.

Machu Picchu – the moment we were waiting for!

What we didn’t expect was the fog early in the morning. So, a few hours passed before we saw it properly

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Summary

Costs:

420 USD – trek 5 days/ 3 nights,

I reserved the trek about two weeks before as the starting day and the right choice of the agency were important for me.

However, you can walk around and book something in the last moment in Cusco.

Extra costs:

– Breakfast on the first day and lunch on the last day,

– trekking poles(20USD),

– bus to hot springs (+entrance fee) – around 40 sols

– bus to Machu Picchu (17USD return)

– horse on the second day (100 sols)

+ if you need (I didn’t):

– sleeping bag(20 USD),

– fee for climbing Wayna Picchu (20USD)

Most people do the trek organised by the agencies. We met only one group (three people) who did it on their own.

Was it worth it?

Definitely! Even with my altitude sickness on the first day, I need to admit that it was a fantastic idea to go trekking to Machu Picchu. The company was good, the guides careful and caring, cooks perfect.

However, if I’m to go on another trek any time soon I need to work on my fitness.

And if I ever go high altitude trekking again, I won’t forget about altitude pills!

What do you need?

There is a very useful list of items you should take on the agency website. The only need I would definitely add to the list is a good powerbank to charge your mobile or your camera.

 

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  • Great story. This is what traveling should be about: venturing into the unknown, challenging yourself, not to be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. I admire your determination and resolve despite obstacles that you faced on the first day.

  • Aww so sorry to hear about the altitude sickness but so proud of you for making it and managing to take such amazing photos in the process! You did it! Where are you planning for your next hike?!

  • Second the comment made by Elena. High five to your spirit of making it through the trek.

    We haven’t done such multi-day trekkings before and after reading your post, we might just muster some courage to sign up for such experience when visiting Peru next year. Keep up with the great work!

  • My husband trekked Machu Picchu when he was in his early twenties and we have been talking about going down to Peru, so we can experience it together. This is really helpful! Thanks for sharing!

  • You were braver than me! I went to Machu Picchu via the Jungle trek, it involved a lot more white water rafting and hostels, a lot less extreme mountain climbing. Love the shot of Evaldo the horse :)

  • This looks like a great way to be immersed in the land. I have a friend going soon and I plan on showing her this adventure. I know she’d love it.

  • Wow congratulations for finishing the hike even with the altitude sickness! It looks amazing nonetheless! I want to do the hike as well instead of taking the usual tourist route to see Machu Picchu but I might have to train myself a little for that.

  • Definitely recommend altitude pills to anyone hiking in destinations like this high above sea level – glad to hear that your trek went well even after feeling sick the first day. I’ll admit that we took the train to MP – short on time – though if I was to head back, I would love to attempt a hike :)

  • So sorry to hear about your altitude sickness – I’ve had a few hotel guests in the alps who have suffered and it’s really not nice, but its so great that you carried on and completed the trek. What an experience and you’ve created some amazing memories!

  • Wow. I am so impressed. It looked like an amazing hike that tested your physical and mental strength.

  • Thanks for sharing the information and I will definitely keep this as a record for my future trip planning!
    I wonder if November is a good season for the trekking, which month you visited there?

    @ knycx.journeying

  • Jo

    I am big on adventures so this looks amazinnng. Right up my alley. I would love to do this someday and the pictures look fab ! Looks a bit expensive though – what all did it include hun? Also, is there a way to DIY?

  • Oh wow. The altitude sickness sounds absolutely rough but so glad you got to see all of these beautiful sights. The pictures are amazing! Think of all the amazing stories you have. Would totally love to do this at some point.

  • Looks like a great adventure. I would like to go there myself.

  • It’s too bad you got sick. I’m glad you stuck with it though! I would have liked to do a trek to Machu Picchu too, but when I went I didn’t have much time, so I took a train from Cusco. Wasn’t Machu Picchu spectacular though?! I loved it. :)

  • Loved this article, it reminded me of my climb of Salkantay. If I remember well, I think I did it with the same tour company and we were only 3 in the group: me and a professional Swiss hiking couple. I was always left behind and I struggled a lot, managing to hike for 3 days with a mini whole in the back of my knee. I took the car from Santa Teresa to the Hydroelectrica because I couldn’t walk anymore. This year I am going back to Peru and I am contemplating if I should give this trek another go, now that I am properly trained for hiking. :)

    • If I ever go to Peru I’d like to trek to Machu Picchu again, but I guess, I’d rather choose a different trek, for example Lares trek.

  • Looks absolutely stunning. What a bummer that you got sick though!

  • Brianna @ The Casual Travelist

    I’ve been wanting to do the Salkantay trek for years. Looks like you had the adventure of a lifetime!

  • Well, this 6 kilos is what mules are supposed to carry. You carry your small backpack and I guess you can put as much as you want inside – if you’re able to carry more, no problem :) but most people try to limit it as much as possible.