Excellent Hike to Machu Picchu – A Stunning World Wonder

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We had always planned to hike to Machu Picchu. This was what I wanted to do for my birthday. We didn’t book the Inca Trail in advance because we didn’t know exactly when we were going. Plus, it was too late to book as it fills up months in advance.

Finding the Salkantay hike was simple and now you can book in advance with an even better company. Some say it’s better than the Inca Trail as there are fewer people and it is much much cheaper. We were lucky as we booked it the day before in-person in Cusco. Overall, we paid US$200, you are paying for basic food and accommodation though. We didn’t mind this.

Day 1 – Machu Picchu: Mollepata and Challacancha

On the first day, we took a mini-bus to the starting point at Mollepata. We were roughly 2900 metres above sea level. This place provided us breakfast before setting off on the four-day hike. I’ll be honest here; I’ve never done more than a day of hiking in a row. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. Not only would we cover a lot of kilometres we were going to be at altitude. Something that is completely new to me too. We arrived in the main town of Cusco the day before we started hiking… let’s say this was our first rookie mistake.

Anyway, we set following our guide uphill for the next 40 minutes. Then it was flat for the next 13 km to Challacancha (3600m). Not too bad, this was the camp for the night. However, I got bitten by a mosquito on the way to camp. This is pretty standard and I’m sure there would be more to come.

A Struggle to Lake Humantay

Lake Humantay on Salkantay Hike with clear water and snowy mountains
The Struggle to This Lake Was Real

After a basic lunch, it was time to venture to Lake Humantay. A stop not on the Inca Trail and only on the Salkantay Trek. It was a further 400 metres up from camp. I have never struggled so much in my life… well, it certainly felt like I was going to die. I know extreme but I over-exaggerate.

However, at the time it felt like this but I am not one to give up I kept on pushing through. Cheered on by one of the group members, I slowly made it. It was worth all the torture I had just suffered. The view was breathtaking, a crystal-clear lake with snow-capped mountains as the backdrop. Beautiful. This view was a first for me seeing this and it is well and truly edged into my memory for life. It’s moments like this that make the hard work worth it.

Day 2: A Hike up Salkantay Mountain

So, this day wasn’t our finest hour either. We hadn’t acclimatised to the high altitude before beginning this hike and now we started paying the price. The lack of oxygen was a struggle… we couldn’t hike this morning. Luckily there was an alternative… a horse. Something I have never been on and something my friend was allergic to. Yet, this was the option we had because of our first rookie mistake we were now making another.

You are probably wondering why this was our second rookie mistake… maybe it was the fact we were riding along the side of the mountain with a sheer drop on the edge or with horses that weren’t completely steady on their feet. The prospect of dying was high in our thoughts (again) however this time I feel it was justified.

Our mistake was riding the horses as these horses weren’t treated all that well. Unfortunately, I have seen worse. These were a healthy weight and made for this purpose. On the other hand, the luggage horses were driven up the mountain. This was not nice to witness as stones were thrown in their direction. I guess, people hike this section, therefore, this doesn’t get seen. It doesn’t make this right.

Heart Pumping Hard…

The top of Salkantay Mountain at 4,629 metres above sea level
The Snowy Top of Salkantay Mountain

Once on the top of the mountain, I could relax, once again. The worst ride of my life was over. I let all the tension from that ride go. We were 4630 metres above sea level on top of the Salkantay Mountain. It was so magical as a few snowflakes fell. I love taking a moment and taking in my surroundings as nature is magnificent. After, back down we went moving slowly away from the cold.

After lunch was another 15 km hike to the second and final camping night. This was physically tough as it felt like I was dragging my feet along. We didn’t even do the uphill part but yet this was still a struggle. It was up to my mental toughness to drag me through to camp. We did it. A long time after the others but still within the 3-hour guide time.

Day 3: A Day Hiking to Aguas Calientes

This was the lowest altitude we had been in so breathing was finally back to normal. We were only 1450 metres up. This morning’s hike was 16 km along what our guide told us was an Inca Flat. This meant steep up and downs followed by Peru Flat which was manageable ups and downs. This was through the jungle and the weather threw showers, sun, warmth, and cold at us; so undressing and dressing back up kept us entertained as we burnt through the kilometres.

We started walking in the wrong direction because our guide was so far in front, that he lost us. We went up the river bank instead of in line with the river. A guide over the river told us to turn around and take the other option. Phew… I didn’t fancy being lost somewhere in a Peruvian jungle. Although that would have been interesting.

The Peru Rail train to Machu Picchu going along the tracks
The Train That Nearly Hit Me

The last part of the hike was from Hidroelectrica to the town where Machu Picchu is (Aguas Calientes). This was a flat 2-3 hours walk. We took it at an unhurried pace. I would say to enjoy the last bit of the hike but it was due to sore, achy muscles. There wasn’t much to look at as it was along the train tracks. As exciting as this walk got was nearly getting hit by the train. We left as much clearance as possible. We thought we were far enough back from the tracks but the train is much wider than the tracks. Luckily, we made it to the Aguas Calientes in one piece… just.

Day 4: Visiting the Ruins of Machu Picchu                                              

One view of Machu Picchu with low cloud
The Weather Failing Us At Machu Picchu

Waking up knowing that a day of hiking wasn’t on the agenda was gold. We set off earlier than the group to catch the bus (the cheaters’ way). But it had to be done because every muscle was sore. Once, in the grounds of Machu Picchu, the excitement was high as we explored yet another masterpiece. However, mother nature showed up too.

Yes, that’s right like most trips to Machu Picchu the early morning rains and clouds ruin the views. They lasted into the afternoon for us. We didn’t opt for the train back so another walk along the train line was in order. Finally, a waiting bus took us back to Cusco. I would recommend paying the extra for the train as you get longer at Machu Picchu.

The view of Machu Picchu from the top of the mountain
The View from The Top of Machu Picchu

Summary of the 4 Day Salkantay Hike to Machu Picchu

I have not sugar-coated how tough we found it from day 1 to day 4. Would I do it again? The answer is yes. Would I make changes? The answer is yes. We were very underprepared for the challenge that greeted us. Yet we still managed it. As tough as it was, I did enjoy pushing myself to extremes. And the sense of accomplishment when it was all over was unreal. I was so proud of myself. This means if we managed it, you can too!! It was so rewarding. The views, the different climates, changes in landscapes and Machu Picchu makes it well worthwhile.

P.S remember that mosquito bite on day 1… our third rookie mistake not taking anything to treat it with. It ended up bursting a couple of times meaning an infection got in. I was lucky that some over-the-counter antibiotics got rid of it. It could have been much worse.

Please go more prepared than us!!

Remember to check out my other South American adventures here!!

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