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Set high in the Andes Mountains above the Urubamba River Valley the Lost City of the Incas was discovered by explorer Hiram Bingham III in 1911. Machu Picchu is known as one of the most beautiful and mysterious ancient sites in the world and I’m going to tell you how we got there.
There are a lot of tour companies around Cusco for tours and treks like the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek. The tour company we used and 100% recommend is Salkantay Trekking & Expedition Specialists. Reasons why? Right Here. I agree 1000%! The food was amazing and plentiful, our tour guide Kenneth was very knowledgeable, the campsites including the amazing Sky Lodge were comfortable and had a great atmosphere. So, we hope this gives you insight into our trek and inspires you to explore the Peruvian Andes either on your own or with a tour company like we did!
– Day One –
Lake Humantay and the Sky Lodge
After our briefing the night before, day one, like every morning, started early. We were the first to be picked up at 5 a.m. at our hotel. After picking up the others in our group, we started on our way. We drove for about two hours on winding roads in the mountains (Dramamine for the motion sickness) until we reached Mollepata. We stopped at Mollepata for breakfast (not included) and restroom breaks (bring your own toilet paper). After breakfast, we drove for about two more hours until we arrived at Challacancha, the starting point of our trek.
(Meet our group aka “The Sexy Pumas” Kate, Greg (Australia), Kiran, Nick (South Africa), Daniel (Chile), Mike, Stephy (Germany), Bo, Elisabeth (US))
We started the trek climbing, which made me nervous…I’m already out of breath! Luckily it only lasted about 15 minutes and then it was smooth sailing for about three hours until we reached basecamp in Soraypampa at the Sky Lodge! The views especially Salkantay Mountain were spectacular the whole way.
(Our room for the night at the Sky Lodge!)
After a delicious lunch, the afternoon was spent hiking up to one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen, Humantay Lake. This was the one place on the trek that I was most excited to see besides Machu Picchu, of course. The hike was 3 miles round trip, so 1.5 miles straight up. It was an exhausting climb but so worth it! Unfortunately, the second we reached the lake, it started pouring! The clouds had coated Salkantay Mountain in the back, there was no reflection off the lake. All the pictures that I had seen of this beautiful lake and I get rain! We stuck it out for about 20 minutes hoping the storm would pass, but it just kept getting worse. So, I’ll take what I can get. Took some great photos nonetheless and still enjoyed the beautiful glacial lake. I’m hoping one day I can make it back there with clear blue skies!
After a 1.5 mile run down the mountain in pouring rain and a borrowed rain poncho, we made it back to camp to change out of our soaked clothes and back to the lodge for tea time. Tea time was every night about an hour before dinner and included tea, hot chocolate, coffee, crackers, biscuits, popcorn, one night we even had a slice of pizza! Eventually and thankfully the skies cleared and the stars came out so we could enjoy our night in the dome under the stars.
The night was the coldest night of the trek. There were sleeping benches and pads on both sides of the dome with a warm blanket and a sleeping bag if you ordered one from the company. I definitely didn’t get much sleep, but looking out and seeing shooting stars made it hard to!
– Day Two –
The Salkantay Pass
They say if you can make it past day two, you can make it all the way. The morning came quick with a wake up knock at 5 a.m. and some coca tea. The morning was brisk, but the sun was rising, so thankfully a sunny day ahead. We gathered all of our gear and headed to breakfast at about 5:30 a.m. Breakfast usually consisted of fruits, yogurt, granola, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. After breakfast, and getting our daily snacks, we started our trek at about 6:30 a.m. – which was a half hour late and typical for our group.
We started off by walking along the gorgeous mountainside. Waterfalls, rivers and flowers decorated the landscape with the towering Salkantay Mountain and the dreaded Salkanty pass ahead.
We enjoyed our walk until we reached the incline. With a mouth full of coca leaves to numb the pain of this hike, we started our ascent of 4.3 miles up. Our whole group was scattered at this point. I was alone, trying to make it up this pass huffing and puffing, not too far behind me was Kiran. I had lost sight of Bo, he was far ahead of me. I didn’t take many photos going up the pass because I was focused on my feet and breathing more than anything. The path was rocky, sometimes not even seeing a path, but knowing where you needed to go. I finally reached the resting point and met up with Bo. There were sandwiches and snacks to refuel, a bathroom and not too bad of a view.
After our break, we had short ways left. Climbing is hard with the air so thin and your hips in pain. I kind of just rested, had quick bursts of energy where I would walk a ways and then rested again. That was basically how the second half of this pass went for me. Little by little, step by step, I made it, we made it! 15,213 ft. We reached Abra Salkantay and it felt so amazing! The peaks of Salkantay, Humantay, Tucarhuay and Pumasillo towered the skyline. We had just hiked up the pass of the second highest mountain in the Cusco region!
The others weren’t far behind and we all had our photo sesh and stacked our rocks.
After a break and many photos, the day was far from over. We started on our 3 mile descent. Which, going down is better than up, right? Well, at least you can breathe easy, but the trail was full of rocks, big rocks that definitely had my ankles feeling pretty sore. Finally after about two hours we reached our lunch tents. I have never been so happy to eat lunch in my life and to just sit down! We were about an hour and a half late for lunch, so we were all starving!
After lunch and a quick bathroom break for some (they made you pay one sol to use the restroom here, so make sure you have some coins with you), we started our three hour hike through part of the amazon jungle they call “the cloud forest”. The scenery quickly changed from snowy mountain peaks to lush green hillsides. The trail was nice, no more huge rocks, just a nice dirt path – my kind of hiking! After six miles, we finally made it to camp! The longest day, accomplished!! I’m not sure what was better – reaching the top of the pass or reaching camp?!?
Luckily the rain stayed put until the sun went down. Tea time and dinner were wonderful, even had a few beers at camp! We slept in tents with a nice pitched straw cover that kept the rain out. The dogs must have been having a party because they barked all night long. I love dogs, so it didn’t really bother me and the group claimed they slept really well regardless. The rain continued all night and into day three.
– Day Three –
Canopies and Hot Springs
The day started soggy. It had rained most of the night and it didn’t look like it was going to stop anytime soon. We did have the option of riding in a van to the next camp, but our group wasn’t having any of that. We put on our rain coats and ponchos after breakfast and started our trek through the Santa Teresa Valley. Because of the rain, we started off trekking along the road because it was the safest choice.
We hiked alongside the Urubamba River with the rain eventually tapering off. We enjoyed waterfalls, fresh fruits, beautiful flowers and a lot of mud. We walked past an amazing waterfall and quickly realized there was a bridge going across it – the path that we were supposed to be on, but was too dangerous.
But we did eventually reach the other side, canopy style. Push Play ⬇️
I was so excited, but Bo is actually very afraid of heights and on any other day, I would be doing something like this by myself. But, he had no choice. 🙂 The good thing is, he actually enjoyed it, so hopefully he will be a little more open minded about things like this in the future. After getting the group across, paying the man on the other side, feeding the skinny puppy crackers and giving the little girl a bunch of our granola bars, we were on our way. Now that we are on the other side of the river, we experienced parts of the path that were slightly on the scary side, always on the look out for mud slides and falling rocks!
Getting closer to camp we crossed a little village where we saw the most beautiful cat. Seriously, just look at those eyes!!
Soon after, we reached La Playa, our last camping basecamp of the trek. We were all so excited and ready to go to the hot springs in Santa Teresa after lunch. The van ride to the hot springs was 30 soles and 10 soles to get in which is about 13 US dollars. So, this part was not included in the price of the trek. But, I will tell you that the extra few dollars is definitely worth it!! They actually had outdoor showers at the springs so you could wash your hair and your dirty grimy body. So refreshing! The place was beautiful, but you want to make sure that you bring your bug spray.
After a couple hours in Heaven, we got back to camp for tea time and dinner. Another day down! One more day and we make it to Aguas Calientes!!
– Day Four –
Llaqtapata and Aguas Calientes
I’m not going to lie, day four was pretty hard. The day started at the typical 5 a.m. with a wake up and some coca tea in the tent. Of course we were up and ready to go before anyone else. Typical us! We enjoyed our last breakfast with a little friend, grabbed our daily snacks and headed to the van with a short drive to our trail.
We started our hike and enjoyed the gorgeous scenery of the Santa Teresa Valley. The views were great, the climb was hard and the humidity was in full effect.
After climbing for about two hours we reached Llaqtapata which is a small part of the Inca Trail and our first glimpse of Machu Picchu, Huaynapicchu and Machu Picchu Mountain! This was the first archaeological site we saw of the Lost City of the Incas and a very special place to enjoy and take lots of photos!
It’s getting real! We’re so close!! But what goes up, must come down. With a two hour hike down we arrived at Hidroelectrica train station for lunch with the cutest pup. He reminded me of my Koda Bear when he was a pup. I was terrified he was going to run out in front of the train! Let’s just say, he got a nice belly full of chicken for lunch. 🙂
After lunch was a three hour hike along the train tracks until we got to our destination, the beautiful little town of Aguas Calientes.
We made it! We finally made it and we get to sleep in a hotel and a bed and take a shower!!
The town was beautiful. I really wish we had more time to explore but we had about an hour of down time before it was time to meet the group for dinner. We all went to our rooms and took our showers. We stayed at Hostal Rio Dorado which was located on the corner of a big soccer field that was just booming with people.
One more night of sleep and we finally get to see the amazing Machu Picchu!
– Day Five –
Our morning started extra early. We met our group in the lobby at about 4 a.m., grabbed our bagged breakfast and headed out to meet our tour guide in the city and continued to walk about 20 minutes to the gates of Machu Picchu which opened at 5 a.m.
There was a long line at the gates and when they opened, there was about an hour hike up of stairs. It was so humid out and I was dripping with sweat, but the temperature was cool, it was quite odd. The climb was long and exhausting! Bo was just so excited, so of course, we were some of the first ones up. We reached the top before 6 a.m. and waited in line for Machu Picchu to open. We finally did it, we reached our final destination! But the day was far far from over.
We walked around a bit and took tons of photos. We met back up with the group and our guide and he gave us a tour through the ruins. After the tour, we said goodbye to Kenneth. He was a great guide, we will miss him!
Honestly, the best part of the day was when the sun was coming up. It was so beautiful!!
Bo and I went our separate ways from the group. We had a mountain to climb, Machu Picchu Mountain, a 10,007 ft climb of all stairs! Lord help me. Go big or go home, right? By this time, it was hot. Thankfully, a beautiful day, but hot. The climb seemed like it would never end, but step after step after step, we finally conquered the beast.
The views were spectacular!
climbing down seemed just as exhausting as climbing up. I’m surprised my ankles are still working!
We also hiked to see the Inka Bridge. The “secret” entrance into Machu Picchu.
And of course we had to make friends with the Llamas.
Machu Picchu was extraordinary, the most powerful place I’ve ever experienced.
Machu Picchu closes at 5 p.m. and we had to catch our train to take us back to Cusco. We climbed down the same way we climbed up which seemed to take twice as long. I guess when you’ve spent the day climbing stairs, you are just spent. We hiked back to town and met the group back at the hotel to gather our things that they were storing for us. We left the train station at around 6 p.m. and had a nice two hour train ride. We were given snacks and drinks – it was like a plane! We reached Ollantaytambo and then had to hop a bus back to Cusco. And just like that, our trek was over. We had an amazing time!
Thank you Salkantay Trekking and Machu Picchu for a truly unforgettable trip!
Read Next: A Guide To Salkantay Trekking in Peru