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My Experience Hiking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu


July 11, 2021

As you may have seen last week on Instagram, Dan and I went to Peru to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. I thought I’d put all the info about my experience here in case you were thinking of doing it yourself. So let’s dive right in.

 

Backstory

So hiking the Inca Trail was a bucket list items of mine for years, which seems a bit weird, given that I am not the most outdoorsy type, definitely not much of a camper and the only hikes I’ve done have been local and a couple hours long, tops. Part of it was that I wanted to see Machu Picchu, which I’ve always thought was stunning, and the other part of it was more of a mental and physical challenge - I wanted to see if I could really do it. About a week prior to our trip, we were told the Inca Trail was closed due to COVID, but that the Salkantay Trek was still an option. Salkantay is two days longer than the Inca Trail, so that added a bit to the challenge. Overall, it was 48 miles of hiking. I’d talked with friends who had done the Inca Trail in the past and they highly recommended Llama Path. My friend Ashley booked the trip and asked us if we wanted to go - we said yes, and that was that.

July 11, 2021

As you may have seen last week on Instagram, Dan and I went to Peru to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. I thought I’d put all the info about my experience here in case you were thinking of doing it yourself. So let’s dive right in.

 

Overview of the Salkantay Trek

Salkantay means savage in Quechua, and this trek lived up to its name. It was a beast to complete. The road map of the trip looked like this:

  • Day 1: 3 hour hike to camp. This is seen as a test to the guide, who lets the group set a pace. That will dictate your start times for the remaining days. It’s warm during the day but once the sun goes down, it’s very, very cold. We camped in tents in 30 degree temps, so you can expect very little sleep that night. Tips coming soon. That afternoon, you can choose to chill at the campsite or you can hike another hour and a half up to Lake Humantay which I strongly recommend, as it’s absolutely beautiful, and all of these experiences are one of those things you’ll just do once in your life, so best to take advantage of every opportunity despite how tired and uncomfortable you may be.
  • Day 2: They tell you well in advance that this is the most challenging day, as it’s an all day hike about 14 miles long starting with a 4am wake up call. I disagree that this was the most challenging day, but stay tuned for that. On this day, you’ll hike up to the peak of Salkantay. It is extremely steep and the elevation is about 15,292 feet, so breathing is tough. It is very windy and cold at the top, but you’re so pumped to have made it, you don’t care. After you get up to the top and take some pics, it’s time to go down. And it is a maddening straight This was really hard for me. I could go up all day long but going down was so hard on my knees, calves and anterior tibialis that I just wanted to cry. I was in the worst moods going down! Once again, you’ll camp in very cold weather (around 30 degrees).
  • Day 3: They call this the easy day but I actually found it to be the hardest because the muscles in my legs and my upper traps were smoked from the day before which made hiking very challenging. On this day, it was a long hike, but at lower elevation and you make the transition from the Andes Mountains to the jungle, so it goes from being very cold and difficult to breathe to being humid, hot, and buggy. The scenes, though, my goodness! So beautiful.
  • Day 4: This, I’d say, was equally difficult to Day 2 because although we were no longer in the higher elevation and cold temps of the Andes, it was a long and arduous trek, and by that point, I was so run down from lack of sleep and sore muscles that, to me, it was extremely difficult. The best part was that we got to sleep in a hotel on this night, in Aguas Calientes, which is the cleanest town in all of Peru! The hotel was great, with the most wonderful hot shower and comfortable king bed. It felt like a dream!
  • Day 5: On Day 5, we woke up early to have breakfast at the hotel (eggs, toast, jam, fresh fruit, smoothie and coffee), and then walked to the bus station. From there, we took a ten or fifteen minute bus ride to Machu Picchu. We were the first group there, and it was breathtaking. Due to COVID, each group had 2 hours there. Our guide, Gabriel from Llama Path, was fantastic. After that, we had lunch in town at a restaurant, and took a train about an hour and a half, where we were picked up by a large Llama Path bus, and drove another two hours or so back to Cusco. Once in Cusco, Llama Path paid for a taxi to deliver us straight to our doorstep. We were exhausted, but happy.

Tips for the Salkantay Trek

  • Training for the Salkantay Trek: I’d strongly recommend training for the trek. Do as many hikes as you can prior to going. I would also focus on strength training through the glutes, hamstrings, upper back and core so that you’re able to sustain optimal posture while hiking with your backpack on. You may want to focus on hiit style training so you get used to your heart rate being elevated quickly, which somewhat replicates what you feel when hiking a short distance at high elevation and then having to stop to catch your breath

before forging ahead once again. I would also suggest endurance training for the long days

  • What to pack for the Salkantay Trek:We felt pretty prepared for the trek with everything we brought. Here’s a comprehensive list of what we brought for the trip. I appreciate well made stuff, but am a bargain shopper to my core, so I hit up TRR for the things I purchased, which included: a Janessa Leone wool hat, a Patagonia puffer vest (similar), and a lightweight water-resistant jacket - all of which I wore daily. I also went to Poshmark and just bought a bunch of layering tops like the Lululemon Run Swiftly That’s also where I got my Osprey day pack but honestly it was half broken (the sternum clasp was broken) so I wish I would have just bought that new. The backpack is something you definitely don’t want to mess up because you have to carry it the entire time.

While I do feel we were pretty well prepared with the things we packed, I wished we had packed:

  • more electrolytes- we ran out and kept having to use some of our friend Ashley’s, which she generously offered to us but I still felt bad!
  • more snacks - I loved the trail mixes I broughtbut I just could’ve used more of them.
  • a small travel towel: showers were few and far between during the trip but some of the campsites offered them. They were cold, but honestly a cold shower was better than no shower - I just wish I had brought a good travel towel (I brought some little chintzy thing from Greece that was not at all absorbent)

I also am really thankful that we spent three nights acclimating in Cusco because the altitude is no joke, and we passed multiple people on the trek who were seriously struggling. We stayed at a great little AirBnB that was about two blocks from the main square and it was the perfect, most comfortable landing spot for a few days. I would strongly recommend spending a few days acclimating before jumping right into the trek.

At the end of the trip, a bunch of people asked how I liked it. It’s tough to answer. I loved it. I really did. But also, I really don’t want to do it anytime soon. I’m glad I did it - it’s a once in a lifetime experience - but man, it was really difficult and not something I would sign up to do again any time soon. It is physically and mentally draining. So rewarding, but so draining. It’s one of those trips where afterwards, you feel like you need to take a vacation. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I recommend it? Yes, if you’re in good physical shape and are not the type to give up easily. The truth it, this was a scouting trip. I was trying to see if I could lead a wellness retreat while on a hike like this, and I know that I couldn’t. Or rather, I could, but it would take a serious toll on my mental and physical health.

Why? Well, I’m not much of a camper. It was exceptionally cold the first few nights, with very intense sun during the day time - and overall, just really uncomfortable. I don’t really like to rough it, and camping out was really roughing it, in those conditions. Altitude can also make it really hard to digest your food, so I found I was pretty uncomfortable most nights and had trouble sleeping. I mean, like I said, I’m glad I did it - I don’t regret going - but it was very tough.

I brought back some coffee and Peruvian chocolate! If you made it this far, please feel free to enter to win my little giveaway. Just comment on the post telling me whether you’d be up for doing the trek, and enter your info into the widget below. A winner will be picked next Monday - it’s open to everyone, everywhere - good luck!

 

By: YOGABYCANDACE

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