So we didn’t take the Inca trail. Prior to arriving in Cusco, we met many people along the way who advised against it because it was overpriced and touristy. Instead it was recommended that we get into Cusco and find ourselves a local guide for a better experience – advice which we immediately found compatible with our tight budget and lack of pre-planning. Sure enough, the Classic Inca Trail was completely booked out by the time we reached Cusco.
Instead we took up the 5D/4N Salkantay Trek. This is one of the more popular alternative treks to Machu Picchu and described by many as slightly harder and more scenic. Booked the trek through our hostel for US$179 and took out sleeping bag and backpack rental for some excessive amount.
Day 1 was a pretty chilled hike (approximately 6 hours or so). Some steep and muddy parts (“shortcuts” as our guide Jorge told us) quickly shortened the lifespan of my newly-purchased socks. Only a couple of hours in we were acquainted with Peru’s rainy season and even received a bit of hail.
Reached our campsite in Soraypampa (3850m) around 5:30pm and spent a couple of seconds appreciating the beautiful surroundings before huddling over tea and popcorn.
Day 2 was the big day. Woken up at 5am with coca tea (which I drank before falling back asleep). The first 3hrs was a steady steep climb, eventually taking us to 4650m for a view of Salkantay. However due to the terrible weather, we were stripped of the promised view and instead almost froze to death under the rain and snow. Nonetheless, the scenery was still stunning and I took more photos than my camera battery could afford to ration for the day.
Reached our campsite in Chaullay (2900m) again around 5/6pm, relieved that the most difficult day was over.
Day 3 began with another wet and muddy trek as we ventured through more jungle terrain before reaching the main road. Followed the road as it wound itself around mountains, rivers and waterfalls before reaching Sahuayacu where we were greeted by the sun.
After lunch we jumped into a mini van and were driven to Santa Teresa, home to the most stunningly picturesque hot springs. 5 soles entry fee had us soaking ourselves until the wrinkles kicked in.
Day 4 began with some pretty heavy rain which had the whole team opting for the bus option as opposed to the 3 hour hike to the hydroelectric station. Sun came out after lunch and we followed the train tracks for 3hrs or so to Aguas Caliente, a super over-priced little town which primarily feeds on tourism.
Excited about finally having our first shower, we had our dreams shut down with the announcement that there was no hot water. Indeed that evening an excessive number of jokes were made about the hypocrisy of the town name.
Day 5 was the day we had all eagerly anticipated. And luckily we were blessed with good weather. At 4am, with painfully blistered toes, we set aside our joggers and donned our havaianas. Began climbing Machu Picchu around 5:15am and practically ran up the 3000 steps in a race against sunrise. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to enter until 6am. (Inca Trail kids get to enter through the sun gate at sunrise and I guess that accounts for the massive price difference) The ruins were indescribably spectacular.
Also climbed up to Huayna Picchu for a better panoramic appreciation.
Overall, a fantastic 5 days. Besides the great deal of scenery along the way and the obvious reward of reaching Machu Picchu, I now have a greater appreciation for my havaianas as well as a more relaxed approach to hygiene.
Our awesome guide Jorge.