Hiking the Path Less Traveled to Machu Picchu
If you've ever dreamt of visiting Machu Picchu then you have probably heard of the famous Inca Trail. This trail passes through stunning scenery but with 500 permits issued daily, expect to share this slice of heaven with other tourists. We were in search of something a tad different, a route that would take us to secluded mountain passes, rarely seen turquoise lakes and an experience unlike any other! It turns out the Inca's had more than one path to Machu Picchu-enter the Salkantay Trek!
Day 1. the inca empire
Begin your adventure in Cusco, the colonial capital city during the Inca empire! Nestled in the rolling terrain of the Peruvian Andes, Cusco is a city overflowing with ancient Inca culture. Because of its intriguing past, visitors come from all over the world to explore the ruins of the once-powerful empire.
Although many simply pass through Cusco — which itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — en route to Machu Picchu, the city isn’t only a springboard to Machu Picchu. It’s full of cobblestone charm in its own right, and is also home to ruins that date back more than 1,000 years.
Day 2. The journey begins
Today your journey begins as you depart Cusco just before sunrise and make your way through a small village and to the start of the Salkantay trail. Today you will set off into the wilderness to sleep between the towering peaks of the Andes. The afternoon’s 3-4 hour hike up to Soyrococha is all uphill but you will be rewarded with a campsite in the shadow of the impressive Salkantay Glacier.
Walking: 5 miles (8km)
Minimum Altitude: 12,760 feet (3,890m)
Maximum Altitude: 14,700 feet (4,480m)
Altitude of Camp: 14,700 feet (4,480m)
Day 3. on top of the world
Today you will begin your steep ascent over Abra Huayracmachay mountain pass. At 15,100 feet (almost 2,000 ft higher than any point on the Inca trail!), this would mark the highest point along the entire trek. Enjoy the humbling view of the sacred mountain Salkantay, which stands at a dizzying 20,574 feet (6,271 meters). In the distance, you'll recognize the glacier from which you started and stunning turquoise lakes in the distance. From here it’s a long, easy descent to our second campsite.
Walking: 10 miles (18km)
Minimum Altitude: 9,480 feet (2,890m)
Maximum Altitude: 15,100 feet (4,600m)
Altitude of Camp: 9,480 feet (2,890m)
Day 4. Into the jungle
Today’s first section is a lovely descent alongside the Salkantay River. You’ll notice the changing environment as you move down from arid highlands into a tropical ecosystem, with waterfalls, lush vegetation, and eventually coffee, avocado, and banana plantations. In the afternoon you'll likely be accompanied by flocks of colorful parrots, and if you're lucky we’ll see the bespectacled bears that were the inspiration for Paddington Bear! From the end of the trail, your vehicle will take us to the Cocalmayo hot springs where you'll camp the night – what better place to soak away the tiredness and bask in your achievements on the rugged Salkantay trail!
Walking: 9 miles (15km)
Minimum Altitude: 7,070 feet (2,150m)
Maximum Altitude: 9,480 feet (2,890m)
Altitude of Camp: 7,070 feet (2,150m)
Day 5. One step closer
After another soak in the springs in the morning, you’ll pack up, wave goodbye to your cooks, and drive to the beginning of a very pleasant 10km stroll to Aguas Calientes, through a winding rainforest gorge around the base of Huayna Picchu. Here you’ll enjoy a shower and an early night – you’ll be up early tomorrow to catch the sunrise at Machu Picchu!
Walking: 9 miles (15km)
Minimum Altitude: 6,400 feet (2,000m)
Maximum Altitude: 8,860 feet (2,700m)
Day 6. the grand finale
An early start rewards you with sunrise at Machu Picchu – a peak moment for anyone. A spectacular stone city surrounded by incredibly steep, incredibly green mountains, Machu Picchu needs no introduction and is deservedly one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Your trip leader will take you on a guided tour – a necessary start to orient you in this massive site – then you’ll have plenty of time to explore the site and some of the surrounding peaks on your own before catching the train back to Cusco.
Day 7. the end of the journey
Depending on your flight times, you may have today to continue exploring the streets of Cusco or simply grab a drink, sit back and bask in the journey that you have just completed. And, while all good things must come to an end, the sights and experiences from Peru will be forever a part of your life!