Field report: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Travel & LeisureTravel Tips

  • Author Wilmer Miguel
  • Published June 29, 2023
  • Word count 1,250

Cross the Andes once, hike into the tropical mountain jungle, final destination: Machu Picchu. Sounds great? Then the Salkantay Trek is something for you. This hike is considered the most popular alternative to the famous Inca Trail. Scenically, the Salkantay Trek can't be beat, you'll pass blue lagoons, pass insane Andean panoramas, hike through beautiful green nature, bathe in hot thermal springs and round off your tour with a visit to Machu Picchu. My dearest childhood friend Athina did the Salkantay and shares her wonderful experiences in this report.

Cusco. I had finally arrived in the center of the sacred valley of the Incas. My five-month journey through South America was to take me to one or another spectacular, fantastic or breathtaking place. But none was to be as mystical as the region around Cusco, marked by countless mysterious Inca sites. The most famous among them - Machu Picchu, is therefore not only on my "travel-list" one of the highlights in South America. Flooded with information about the different ways to get to Machu Picchu, I couldn't get rid of the idea to reach this sacred site the old, traditional way: on foot.


We stopped on the developed path and our Spanish-English speaking guide Edwin explained the next plan: Shortcut. Shortcuts are usually something you get excited about, but this one turned out to be a breath-taking, balance-proving test of climbing and scrambling.

We fought our way through the unruly scrub while small springs from the mountain sought their way down. After one of my feet sank completely into the mud, I gave up trying to keep my clothes clean.

The first half of the day passed with alternating relaxed stretches and the described shortcuts, before after a late noon the 20 kilometers to be done could be trundled out solved. Across smaller or larger streams we arrived at the first camp in Soraypampa at an altitude of 3,900 meters, where everything was already prepared.

The tents were pitched in a wind-protected construction of wood and tarpaulins and our cook prepared the evening meal. My group and I had an overpriced beer and enjoyed the landscape in front of us: green meadows, rushing streams and the all-shadowing mountain "Salkantay" with its snow-covered peak. It was clear to all of us: tomorrow we will be much closer to it. Already around nine o'clock we went to sleep, because we had to get up early and we were aware that the second day would be the most exhausting of the tour.

The Salkantay Trek seemed to be the most adventurous way for me to dive into the world of the Incas, and with a group of few people I should be able to share these impressive experiences during the five-day tour.

The itinerary of our tour:

Our trip began four in the morning in Cusco, where we were picked up from our accommodations and taken by shuttle bus to Mollepata. After a quick breakfast and dropping off our luggage for the horses, our trek was to start at 2,900 meters.

While we made up the first meters of altitude at a relaxed pace, first contacts with the other group members could be made. Already before my tour I became aware that primarily Europeans were looking for the adventure of trekking, which is why it was not surprising to me that only Spaniards, French and Germans were in my group.

Abra Salkantay - The highest pass at 4,650 meters

The next morning we were woken up at five o'clock with "Mate de Coca" (coca tea) and after a good breakfast we could start hiking at six o'clock. The distance from Soraypampa to the highest point of the route should take about four hours. The climb was tough, but everyone went at their own pace and at certain points we waited for each other.

During the ascent, the fog was particularly interesting for me, which moved into the mountains within 30 seconds and suddenly took away the view.

Already after a good two and a half hours it was done. My group, which was extremely fit and in good condition, and I had reached our destination: 4,650 meters above sea level and the Salkantay directly in front of us.

When a small avalanche broke loose, the excitement could hardly be topped. From this point on, it was only going to be downhill that day. Within a few hours, a completely different nature opened up to us and we felt like we were on different planets: first the mountain, snow-covered hilltops, barren, stony landscape and a little later in the middle of the jungle.

Already around nine o'clock we went to sleep, because we had to get up early and we were aware that the second day would be the most exhausting of the tour.

Relaxation in the hot springs of Santa Teresa

The third day should be more relaxed than the previous two, with only ten kilometers. We got up early and covered the relatively flat distance in the morning. After lunch at a camp, we were taken by car to Santa Teresa, where we would sleep that night. It was free to go to hot springs, which seemed like an extremely charming idea given the poor sanitary conditions in the camps the previous days.

The hot springs were a wonderful place in the middle of the mountains, which helped to completely relax muscles and soul, despite the many tourists. In the evening there was a small party around the campfire with other groups as a finale.

Adventure Ziplining - No risk, no fun.

For the next morning there were several possibilities to continue the journey. I decided on ziplining, through which you can get from one place to another through various rope connections. When you are standing on one side of the mountain and 150 meters below you a torrential river is running its course, the thought of crossing it hanging on a thin steel cable can make you feel a little different. But always true to the motto "no risk, no fun" I sped over six different stations down to the valley.

From there we were taken to Hidroelectrica, where I met up with the rest of my group again to join them for the last big march to Aguas Calientes. The trail was flat and went along the railroad track.

Overall, this was the most monotonous stretch of the whole trek, but the muscles thanked me for it. In Aguas Calientes we spent the night in a hostel, ate our last dinner together and went to bed early, since the climb to Machu Picchu was scheduled for four o'clock the next morning.

Machu Picchu - without words.

It was once again hundreds of steps, which after a while became torture, but when I finally saw the image of the ancient Inca site in front of me: I knew no feeling to describe. Probably I was just the happiest person in the world.

Although I have seen so many pictures on the Internet, from friends or in documentaries, it is an indescribable feeling to know that I have walked the way there myself and now really stand in front of this unique new wonder of the world.

Conclusion from five days of Salkantay trekking:

To anyone planning a trip to Machu Picchu, I would recommend this unique trek. It is a not much visited trek where you can discover a unique and diverse nature and you will meet new and interesting people.

I am a passionate traveler, and since I was a child, travel shaped me as much as my formal education.

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