Cusco and the Salkantay Trek

Peru's flag
South America » Peru » Cusco » Salkantay Trail
March 7th 2008
Published: March 16th 2008
Edit Blog Post

Brief glimpse of Mt. SalkantayBrief glimpse of Mt. SalkantayBrief glimpse of Mt. Salkantay

Before the rain clouds closed in again.
I arrived in Cusco on a very rainy morning, off the night bus from Arequipa. I was pretty excited to have finally made it to the centre of the gringo world in South America. Surely every backpacker on this continent comes through this city at some point, and most them move on to trek to Machu Picchu.

Cusco is a really nice city with loads of colonial buildings throughout the city, and particularly around another huge Plaza de Armas. However, there is also evidence everywhere of the remains of the Incan empire, with some bits of stonework, walls and archways remaining throughout the city that weren´t destroyed after the arrival of the Spanish.

Cusco, pre Spanish arrival, was the capital, for around 500 years, of the Inca empire. At it´s maximum, the empire stretched from Northern Ecuador to Central Chile in the South and consisted of between 5 and 11 million people. However, the empire very quickly came to an end when the pescy Spanish arrived in 1532. Seeing the gold and other riches of the Incan empire, they thought "We´ll have all of that". They set about killing off the Incans at a quicker rate than Jonny Wilknison
Luxury transport to start the Salkantay trekLuxury transport to start the Salkantay trekLuxury transport to start the Salkantay trek

Into the back for the gringoes!
slots over penalties (Pre 2003 of course), both through the conventional method of mass slaughter, as well as more cunning methods, like introducing smallpox and other western diseases, which the Incans were totally defensiveless against, to speed up the death rate.

The Spanish also set about destroying all evidence of the Incans, tearing down towns in a very Christian way, and building Christian churches and colonial buildings over everything. Because everyone knows, Catholics will go to heaven much faster than Incans.

OK, so enough of a history lesson. By the way, all of this is true, so feel free to use it in a GCSE history exam.

And as everyone knows from school, Machu Pichhu was the lost Incan city, located deep, deep in the Andes, that the Spanish conquistadors never found. And it lay dormant, being overgrown with vegetation, right through until it was stumbled upon by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Its one of the only, completely intact, Incan towns surviving through until today, and definitely the easiest one to access for tourists.

The classical way to see Machu Picchu is by following a 3 day trek, along an ancient Incan road, arriving at the
Still Smiling - Sjirk (Dutchy) and Kai (Aussie)Still Smiling - Sjirk (Dutchy) and Kai (Aussie)Still Smiling - Sjirk (Dutchy) and Kai (Aussie)

This was taken before 2 hours in the back of the truck!
sun gate high over the town. However, so many tourists want to go and see it today, that numbers on the trail are limited to 500 per day. And you have to book months in advance.

But being this close to Machu Picchu, i couldn´t pass up on the opportunity to see the lost city, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. I decided to do one of the alternative treks to Machu Picchu, called the Salkantay trek. This trek doesn´t follow an Inca trail, but is a trek up over a 4,600m pass, between snow covered mountains. One of these is called Salkantay and it towers above the trail at 6,271m altitude. I was planning on doing a 4 day version of the trail, 3 days of trekking and the final day spent at Machu Picchu.

The following is a story of what happens when you book with a cheap agency in low season to go to Machu Picchu........

Salkantay Trek

Things didn´t start too well for the trek, when i was picked up at 2am from my hotel (I was told 4am when i booked, but things changed at the last minute.
High altitude transition down to the jungleHigh altitude transition down to the jungleHigh altitude transition down to the jungle

The descent on Day 2 was from high mountains down to the jungle.
Those 2 hours make all the difference at that time of night!). I got in a taxi for a 2 hour ride to a town. Luckily there were an Aussie and Dutch guy also in the car to keep things as upbeat as possible at that time of the morning.

After arriving in the town, we discovered there would be another 2 hours further driving to start the trek. Fine. Except the road was too rough for cars, so we would have to get in a truck. After some quick calculations (Still very early remember!), i realised we wouldn´t fit the driver, his mate, our guide, myself, Aussie, Dutch guy, and some random guy who had shown up with a chainsaw (at 4am! what was he doing there?) into the cab of the truck. So driver and mate got in the truck cab, everyone else plus chainsaw got in the back of the truck.

I can now confirm the road was indeed very bumpy. I also know now trucks don´t have great suspension, and its quite sore being trown around the back of a truck in the dark. Luckily all of us missed falling into the chainsaw and
River crossings on Salkantay TrekRiver crossings on Salkantay TrekRiver crossings on Salkantay Trek

Amazingly i didn´t fall into any of them.
we made it to the campsite, a little bruised, a little tired, but raring to go(ish).

At the campsite, we met the 7 others we would be trekking with (Who had trekked the previous day and hadn´t got up at 2am). After the staple Peruvian breakfast of a bread roll and some coca tea, we were off. The first day of the trek was up over the pass at 4,600m (a 1,000m climb from where we started), before dropping down a similar height to the campsite.

The walk started well. Although it was dry, cloud was low and we slogged up to the mountain pass. For a 10 min period we even got a clear view through to Salkantay, towering above us.

As we reached the high altitude pass, the rains started, and these continued for the rest of the day, getting gradually heavier. The following 2 hours was spent trudging through the rain to reach the lunch stop. We sheltered in what resembled a pig-sty, waiting for lunch. Freezing and shivering, we quickly gulped it down.

Then we discovered the horses our guide, the incompetent Miguel, had been promised by some one armed Peruvian farmer
Everyone´s happy after finding beerEveryone´s happy after finding beerEveryone´s happy after finding beer

On the second night of the Salkantay trek.
weren´t going to show. Without horses we would have to carry all the equipment ourselves (tents, pots, pans, food etc.) The lesser evil was to camp in the freezing cold and rain at altitude.

After a chilly night on the plateau, we awoke to slightly better weather for day 2. Day 2 (which was now prolonged due to an early camp on day 1), was definitely the best day of the trek. We walked for 7 hours, from high altitude, cold plateaus, down to lush, warm, jungle areas. Much more reminiscent of the pictures i had seen of Machu Picchu. Most of it was along deep river valleys with great scenery throughout.

To the excitement of the group, we also camped for night 2 in a small village (Possibly in a camp site called "Camping Bill Clinton", although i am not totally sure). The excitement wasn´t the village, but the fact it had a shop that sold beer. We all slept much better that night!

Day 3 started with a transfer by bus to a nearby town. The 5am start seemed OK that day, because we knew we were going to a town with hot springs. Great,
First Glimpses of Huayna PicchuFirst Glimpses of Huayna PicchuFirst Glimpses of Huayna Picchu

(For those that don´t know, its the big mountain behind Machu Picchu on all the pictures). Seen from the Salkantay trail on Day 3.
a bath after all the walking. Unfortunately, Miguel let us down once again, as the aforementioned hot springs turned out to contain no water as they were being cleaned.

Despite the letdown, we were excited to be nearing Machu Picchu and more precisely, Aguas Calientes (Translation: Hot Waters), the town at the base of the ruins. The final day walk was for 4 hours, mainly along a railway track. Despite starting in really nice weather, the clouds closed in as we walked, and we had the final hour of the walk in torrential rain. Arriving in the town looking like drowned rats, we fitted in well alongside all the rich American tourists in town, who gave us a wide berth as we walked through town.

Aguas Calientes as a town doesn´t have an awful lot going for it. Its really there just as a base for visiting Machu Picchu from, which is just up the hill. However, it does seem to have an inordinate number of pizza restaurants, possibly more per head of population than in the average particularly pizza loving Italian town.

After checking in to our hostel, showering (Which was definitely needed) and warming up,
Arrival in Aguas Calientes at the end of SalkantayArrival in Aguas Calientes at the end of SalkantayArrival in Aguas Calientes at the end of Salkantay

All that´s left now is to see the ruins.
we were ready to face Machu Picchu the following day. with a very early start of 4.30am. Early to bed then.


16th March 2008

Hi Mike, Looks like you are having fun, in your absence the Welsh have fluked a grand slam, your hero Paisley has retired and most importantly England beat Ireland 33-10. The next time you decide to have an extended holiday can you set up the fantasy six nations league prior to leaving? Awooga
17th March 2008

The end is nigh....
and Uxbridge beckons!!! Oil price high now, can you bring it back down?

Tot: 2.026s; Tpl: 0.098s; cc: 17; qc: 72; dbt: 0.0423s; 1; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.5mb