Salkantay


"Pay no mind to the porters. They are inhuman and will pass you quickly..."



The Indomitable Monolith

So, for those unaware, there actually exist multiple trekking paths to Machu Puchu. And yes, everyone knows of the Inka Trail and the archeological wonders it holds. What you might not know is that [1] only 500 people are allowed to start on the trail per day (including porters and guides), and [2] you must book the trek online several months beforehand in order to even have a chance at a spot. Not to mention that with 500 people starting the trail at the same time, it's a bit crowded. So here I am to give you an alternative that you do not have to book months ahead of time, are not crowded, and are half the price of the Inka Trail! So what are your choices? Well behind door número uno, we have your Jungle Trek going at around $200 for 3-4 days, where you spend your days mountain biking, river rafting, and Ziplining your way to Machu Pichu. Behind numbers two and three are the lesser know treks taking you to some more scenic mountain ranges, prices varying. And behind door number four, my personal (biased) favorite, is the most popular alternative trek to Machu Pichu, The Salkantay Trek  

  Before we move on, you might be asking where on earth do I book these fabulous excursions? It's simple. Just step outside your hostel in Cusco, and there is surely a tour agency within 10 feet. I'm not exaggerating! There are dozens scattered about the city! You can just pick an afternoon to stroll about, duck inside a few and cross compare prices and benefits. The paticular agency that I booked my trek with was called "Puma's Treks", and is located in the main square (reccommend!). You might be a bit afraid that you might not get a spot for the day you want, but that is nearly impossible. They have treks starting everyday, and due to the popularity of the Inka Trail obscuring the fabulousness of these alternative routes you will never feel overcrowded on your beautiful hike! So do not pay premium prices online for security! Be spontaneous and book when you get there! 

So here is what you can expect on the Salkantay! 

Day 1:
No sleeping in today!!! The earliest you will be woken up is 2am and the latest is 5am! Yes, it is an ungodly hour that only the insane would be up and about. Today you are insane. Though in retrospect it does take a sliver of the crazy to make you do this trek. Your guide, who will definitely speak English, will pick you up at the door of your hostel. Then you will be shoved into a small bus for an hour and a half while it takes you to the start of the trail. No worries! You will be so sleepy and out of it you will most likely sleep the whole way! Next step is breakfast in Mollepata! You will be lead to a small room and fed a tiny breakfast (we will explain the importance of snacks in a moment), but what you really need to be after is the pot of coca tea they will set down in front of you! Yes, coca as in Cocain. No, you will not get high. Yes, it will prevent altitude sickness. Drink it!!! This is also the time to look at the people you will be effectively living with the next five days! Make friends! My group was rather diverse, with 3 spaniards, a French pastry chef, an Israeli fresh out of the army, two Brits whom had never hiked before (the most incredible loafs!), a Brit pretending to be Australian, two 'Mericans other than myself, and not to mention our guide, porter and two chefs! All in all, a fantastic group and loads of fun! Okay, before we go on, let's go over your packing list! 

- frigging fantastic hiking shoes! DO NOT BE CHEAP!
- Warn Vlothes! I'm talking layers people! The peak hiking season is smack in the middle of winter, and can get to below 0°C at night! 
- good sleeping bag and pad. Which can be rented in Cusco
- water bladder and filter (or tablets), Becuse while hiking it is nice to be basically hands free in your hydration! AND YOU MUST HYDRATE! Dehydration will quickly lead to altitude sickness!
- hiking poles if you have bad knees
- sunscreen and bug sprays loads of each!
- earplugs for snoring comrades, and an iPod for when you need a musical power boost to get up a hill
- toleit paper! Steal some from your hostel! DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT IT!
- headlamp! Once the sun goes down, it is truly dark! Makes for great stargazing though, bring extra batteries! 
- Snacks, snack and more snacks! Cannot reiterate this enough!! Hiking equals hungry! Food is power!!! So load up! I was sticking a chocolate bar in my mouth every two hours on the dot! Probably why I didn't lose weight on the hike! There are also small vender stands along the way and at base camps, but are uber expensive! So also bring money! 
- oh, a nice backpacking backpack with waist straps to put it all in! Can be rented in cusco! 


Ok, now you are all set and at the entrance of the trail! Here your guide will reexplain to you what your about to do! The trail starts off at about 2700 meters and peaks at 4680 meters! That's climbing up about 2000 meters in two days! Be prepared! The length of the hike comes to be about 79km total (35miles ish), so hit the gym beforehand! On the first day you are going to ascend to about 3100 meters where you will make base camp at Salkantaypapa, and total hiking distance is 12km. The guide will tell you that the second day is the hardest because it has a steep incline for about three hoursm but personally I found the first day to be hardest because although it was not a terribly steep climb, it was uphill the entire way! Started at 6am and ended at 4pm! We started out as a group, but gradually the overachievers, the average, and the slowpokes became separated. Luckily the hike is very straightforward, and whenever there is a crossroads the guide will stop until the group is all togeather gain before proceeding! This will continue on for the better of 5hrs, and just when you think you are unable to continue on, the trail gives you a present. You get the most incredible view of your destination: Mount Salkantay. Yes the trail is named after the mountain. The trail is actually an Inka Road as well! Even though there is no longer a stone path like the one on THE Inka Trail due to its discovery by the conquistadores and it's subsequent overuse by horseback. This trail was one of the giant network of roads created by the Inkas, and even though it was not e quickest of paths, it leads directly to one of their old gods. Yes, Mount Salkantay is a God, who was deeply revered by the indigenous people! Much better than some old dwellings, right! And you definitely understand why they would revere it so! It is beautifully imposing on the landscape, everpresent and deifiable. 
  
Halfway you will stop for lunch at a gorgeous vista where you can have a much deserved break. Our food may not have been the most delectable, but it came in copius amount am which was far more important! And don't forget your dose of coca tea! Afterwards our group layer out in the grass and passed out for a good hour! Our guide told us we could leave when we want, because the rest of the way was a straight shot to camp with no worries of getting lost. Only three more hours! Camp was at the base of the mountain, and we made it just before dark. Yes, I was in the back with the two British loafs. Camp basically consisted of a tarp shelter under which the tents resided, and a paddock for the pack horses. Once the sun disappeared behind the mountain, the cold truly started setting in! I basically out on every layer of clothing I had with me, gulped down dinner and climbed into my sleeping bag in search of conserving overy but of body heat! Make sure the pad you rent is insulated!! This point is also crucial, as the roommate you choose will determine if you get a good nights rest or spend it thinking vicious thoughts about the obnoxiously snoring human beside you! Oh, and make sure to brave the outside cold for a few minutes to take in the stars! Those of you from urban areas will have an emotional moment... before freezing youor ass off and running for the shelter! Alarm sets for 5:30am!


Day 2: 
Oh my god. It is 5:30 am. You hate the world. And then somebody hands you a hot drink and you think there has never before been such an instance of kindness! The cooks will wake you up, gently or brashly depending on their demeanor, and hand you a cup of coca tea to drink inside your tent. You then have about twenty minutes to be up and at'em, packed, and at the breakfast table. Though there is tons of food, you must still fight to carboload as much as possible, for today you have the steep acsent! You will climb from 3100 to 4689 meters in three hours. Now is the time for power boost playlist that you better have already made! I personally had The band Junip playing most of the way, as they are soft yet fast enough for a good hiking pace. And they just have that mountain hiking kinda feel about them! Don't worry about making small talk with the others, because it is so high you are all struggling to catch your breath and chit chat doesn't help! Also pay no mind to the porters. They are inhuman and will pass you quickly even though you set out twenty minutes before them. What else... Oh! Use the toleit before you set out! You won't see one for a while! 

The peak of Salkantay is what you have been striving for the past two days, and it does not disappoint. When you pull yourself up that last rocky hill to the top, the scene takes your breath away (not just because of the altitude!). You had set out around 6am, and do to the tall mountains all around you, the sun has been chasing after you all morning, stealing more and more of the mountains shadow. When you reach the top the sun is finally reaching its zenith, and the land on both sides of the mountain stretches before you. Snow capped peaks a stones throw away, forests in the distance, and a peaceful calm far from the reaches of "civilized" society. Take a deep breath, take it in. You have just conquered something few people in their lives will ever experience........ Aaaaaand it's photo time! Selfies galore! Even though photos will never be able to truly be able to capture the vistas magnificence,  commemoration is in order! After about an hour of taking it all in, it is time for the decent. For those of you who do much hiking, you know that the downhill portion can sometimes be even worse! It may not be physically expertise, but the strain it outs on your joints in not to be trifled with! If you brought poles, now is the time to use them! If you have bad knees or ankles you must absolutly bring a brace! You have about five hours total of downhill hiking (lunch after two) to base camp at the altitude of 2850 meters! Oh yes! You are basically climbing down everything you climbed up in five hours! But I do have some good news. For one, the trail is completely straightforward so you can take it at your own pace! Me and my friend Jane took a little too long with picture so we kept each other company in the back! And secondly, you have gorgeous view the whole way down, and about three hours in you decend into the tropical rainforest! Remember, do to the extreme altitude changes over a short period of time you are most at risk for altitude sickness today! Drink tons and tons of water, and make sure if you feel sick to tell your guide! He can stick your butt on a horse! Today camp is a bit nicer, and definitely warmer! You can even pay to use showers, but there really is no point sice you will be trekking the next day. It was a small village and even had a TV! So we were able to sit back with an overpriced beer and watch the World Cup! 


Day 3:
I think day 3 is definitely the most fun in terms of the hiking! You are trekking through jungle, and it is a combination of hills and descents, so you don't get too tired and it's not too bad on the knees! I found it super enjoyable to be walking under the canopy and next to the river after seeing nothing but mountains for the past couple of days! There are even a couple of waterfalls! The hike is around 4-5 hours as you descend to a little town at 1900 meters. There you will stop for lunch, and be picked up by a small bus to take you the rest of the way to Santa Teresa where you will stay for the night. The town of Santa Teresa is nice, but the city is not what you should be extremely excited about. It's the hot springs! The Colcamayu hot springs are probably the most beautiful I've ever been to, not to mention the surrounding scenery is gorgeous! Go bathe your self in the different temperature pools and heal thyself.! Tonight at camp you shall feast on marshmellows roasted over a roaring fire! 


Day 4: 
First things first, it's now time to tip! The cooks and porters deserve a tip after all their hard work, especially when you do the math! The trip cost $250 total, the entrance to Machu Pichu and the train back alone cost $210 togeather. Thus you are only paying $40 each for their services, and how much of that really makes it back to them? Be generous. Now, on to the activities! Today there are two options. The first is to hike all the way to hydroelectric and then on to Machu Pichu! The second is to go Ziplining! I prefer the second, as afterwards they transfer you to hydroelectric by bus (not a pretty hike to hydroelectric)! Cola de Mano boasts one of the highest and longest zip lines in the world! And it's only $30!!! You get discounts on this if you sign up for it when you book the whole trip! It is completely worth it and totally safe! The lines can withstand 10tons, and so unless you have been sneaking waaaay too many cookies when moms not looking, there is no way it will break! You get to try a total of six zip lines with experienced guides, and even do some cool stuff on the last ones like hanging upside down or flying like superman (men beware of crotch abrasion)! The videos will definitely have to have some sound edited out, because my chikdhood fear of hights decided to rear its head in the form of some not very nice words spilling out of my mouth.... Hehe. After your bus drops you in hydroelectric, all that's left is a 3hour hike. No worries. It is completely flat and along the train tracks! The scenery is still beautiful, so be careful not to get hit by a train while stareing! Finally you shall reach your destination: Aguas Calientes. 

This post is continued on a separate post, because really Machu Pichu deserves its own! Keep reading!


1 comments:

  1. Salkantay trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

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