One of the hardest and greatest things I have ever done is hike the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay path is similar to the more commonly known Inca Trail only it is harder, longer, and at an even higher altitude.
The extra work put into this trek is well worth it - not only is it significantly less crowded (I mean you see maybe 2 groups throughout the day and an occasional donkey) and has the most incredible views. Working that hard to end in the lost city of Machu Picchu was one of the top experiences of my life and definitely the most rewarding.
I thought for certain the best part of this trek would be finally arriving in Machu Picchu and in many ways it was. But looking back all my favorite memories are hiking with Kyle the days leading to MP.
The trek is 5 days total - the final day you spend in Machu Picchu where you have the option to hike up Waynu Picchu (that big mountain you see behind the city in the top photo). Kyle and I bought tickets for this but got way over it on our last day which in no way I regret. Although I do hear it is quite amazing..
The first two days you climb and climb and climb until you reach a peak of the trek at "Dead Woman's Pass". From here you have a glorious view of the snowcapped Salkantay mountain on the second day. This part is HARD. I am a pretty big hiker as is Kyle and we were both dying on this day. It was cold ( I had every article of clothing on my body from my bag, plus Kyle's) and periodically misting/full on raining. A brutal lesson I learned is to never underestimate the power of high altitude. It only takes a few steps to feel out of breath when you are this high. We went at the transition between the wet season and dry season so we got a taste of all weather. We also both forgot waterproof jackets so bought cheap plastic ponchos that made us look like waddling Easter eggs.
At nearly 14k feet, walking two steps got me out of breath. Kyle and I drank the water from my pack down to lighten my load :) then his after. Our porters - who were incredible might I add - were carrying our main packs, tents, cooking supplies, and their bags without breaking a sweat. We would start the journey before them by about 2 hours, they would pass us half way through, then when we reached our camp it was completely set up with food ready. I was blown away by these troopers!
So the second day was by far the hardest, longest, and highest. There were points where I thought there was no way in hell I was finishing this (around the 6th hour out of 11) but somehow I did. It's amazing how far you can go beyond what you think. This second day was also incredible because we hiked through bright green sweeping mountains literally right beside you. Nothing has ever left me feeling so truly floored. It's like the world comes into perspective all of the sudden and you realize how tiny you are in the universe.
As you trek higher the mountains become a bit more rocky with snowcaps in the distance. On the way back down there are crystal clear streams, more animals, bright red moss-covered rocks and wild flowers. It actually reminded me a lot of Lord of the Rings. As you get lower in altitude you end walking through the jungle where avocados, chia, strawberries, squash, oversized banana flowers, and corn grow wild. We even saw raw cacao growing! Naturally I loved this part.
The 3rd and 4th days you walk in and above jungles. The weather is warm and views still spectacularly different than the last.
The trek ends in the town of Aguas Calientes - where you take a bus to Machu Picchu. We arrived in the evening so we had dinner then spent the night in a hotel (after 3 days of camping and no showers) which we have never appreciated more. We caught the first bus in the morning, fresh and ready to see Machu Picchu at sunrise. Initially, I wanted to hike into Machu Picchu without a bus but after doing it I was so happy. We saw other hikers slowly walking up the mountain to MP where they did not reach it until the afternoon when it was super hot and crowded. So glad we got there early and weren't all sweaty and gross!
Our private tour was through Llama Path and it was absolutely perfect. Our guide was super cool and knowledgable about all the history behind quite literally everything. He even know every plant name and vegetable growing so I was a happy camper peppering him with questions the whole way. I couldn't have been more impressed with the service of the porters, the chef, and the equipment. The feeling of finishing a day and arriving at our perfectly set up, warm tent was magical. They even had a dining tent set up complete with a dining table - so much for roughing it! I also loved the hot coca tea delivered to our tent at sunrise to wake us for the day. Coca leaves are chewed or steeped in Peru as a natural stimulant - and yes they are used to make cocaine as well. But don't get too excited they aren't that strong on their own.
Our chef was so talented and cooked the best traditional foods. The best part? I requested no sugar, no gluten, no meat, and no dairy - and they complied! It was so sweet they made everything just for me at no extra cost with avocados, local vegetables, and lots of quinoa :) They even made drinks out of maca powder! By the way, Peru is a mecca for superfoods. Quinoa, maca, and chia grow like wildfire and cost close to nothing. I had a field day here.
But back to the trek.. There is one thing I wish I did and that is bring my own coconut or olive oil and ask the chefs to use that instead. I forgot to do this and everything was made with canola or corn oil (I can't be sure). But I know they would have gladly done this had I asked - ugh!
If there is one thing I recommend it is this adventure. It will be challenging but so worth it and truly the most breathtaking place you will see.