As soon one reaches Cusco, they are thronged by all the travel companies offering a trip/ trek to Machu Picchu. In this hoard of options following information would come in Handy. Among the overwhelming options, I had to choose something that would suit my style and it turned out to be – Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu.
Ways to reach Machu Picchu:
- Easiest and Most Expensive: Take a train from Cusco or Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, Spend a night there and the next day either take a bus to Machu Picchu or take the steps like most people
- Cheapest: Take a colectivo from Cusco to Ollantaytambo and follow the train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes, Spend a night there and next day hike to Machu Picchu
- Hike: All the hikes end in Aguas Calientes where you join the others who either took a train to reach there or walked on the rail tracks. There are multiple hike options as well which can be very difficult to choose from.
- INCA trail: This the most popular choice but also the most expensive. It has to be booked months in advance although if you really want to do this and weren’t able to book it in advance then you can try at Cusco and fill in for any last minute cancellation.
- Salkantay trek: This is known to be the next best option. It includes hiking for 4 days and reaching Machu Picchu on the fifth day.
- jungle trek: I saw this as an ‘all you can do in a trek’ option. It included hiking, rafting, and some other adventure sports. I know only one person who opted for this and he really enjoyed it.
After assessing my options, I decided to go for Salkantay trek (also read Salcantay). My decision was based on the fact that I wasn’t going to save much money by going directly anyway. Here is my personal experience with the trek and also my account of ‘How I moved from calling drunk people ‘irresponsible’ to becoming one.
Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu:
Cost: USD165 (That’s what I paid, I met someone later who had paid USD 135 for the same trek, also met someone who paid over USD200). The cost would also vary based on what transport you decide to return with. The train is the most expensive option so obviously, I didn’t choose it (Took a minibus instead).
Number of days: 5 (You can choose 4 days trek as well but cost remains the same)
I was a little disappointed by the fact that there were 15 of us hiking together. I prefer much smaller groups. But I was fortunate with the group again. Almost everyone put in efforts to speak to everyone else in the group which is something I appreciate in people.
Day 1 of Salkantay Trek – Moderate:
The first day was moderately difficult but that’s maybe because it was my first day of hiking after days. Some were still getting used to the altitude. Some found it an easy day which was evident by their almost ‘running’ speed on the trail.
Day 2 of Salkantay Trek – Fake Most difficult day:
We had been told from the beginning of how difficult the second day was going to be. I was mentally prepared to go at my own pace. Some people in our group were trekking at lightning speed and the others were not far behind. I could never match up. Two among us had chosen to take the horse to reach the top as they had difficulty adapting to the altitude. I went at my ‘slower than an ant’s’ pace. It was raining constantly that day. Fortunately paying heed to my guide’s advice, I had bought a poncho (It really was just a piece of plastic) last evening. It came in handy on this day.
After reaching the top, it was only downhill which I’m absolutely okay with. I fell on my bum only once which is pretty good for my reputation. We reached our camping area pretty early. At around 4 p.m and this is what I got to see – a cow being skinned.
I went for a walk as I was not tired from my trek at all and that could be owing to record-breakingly slow pace. I must have tricked my mind into believing that I wasn’t walking. The surrounding area was very beautiful. There was a waterfall, I continued walking and later asked someone if there’s a place nearby where I can maybe swim in this river. At this point the river was really at the bottom of a hill, I couldn’t imagine anything nearby but I still wanted to know. the lady told me ‘yes, just about 10 min from here, you can go down and take a dip in the water’. I decided to explore my options. Like she told me, I did come across a place to go down to the river and take a dip. Mind you, it was chilling. The weather plus the river water. I had not taken a shower in 3 days and I couldn’t hold on to my temptation. And, I have watched my fair share of ‘Man Vs. Wild’ so as Bear Grylls would suggest, I went for it bare skin. Yes, my first skinny dipping experience. It was less than a minute maybe but I was completely refreshed after this. I was not cold either. And happy beyond limits.
Went back to my hostel all smiles and had a peaceful sleep.
Day 3 of Salkantay Trek – My Drunk night:
This was going to be more or less flat terrain day. This meant being able to talk to your trek buddies which was really nice because the last day I was mostly trekking with another group. My group was too fast for me.
Everyone was looking forward to the evening as we were going to hot water springs later during the day. A shower after days is heavenly.
The best was yet to come through, our cook and horseman were leaving the next morning so we made a toast for them with local alcohol called INCA tequila. I don’t drink back home but that day I decided to not say ‘No’. I had one and I don’t know what came on to me I decided to get drunk this evening. After 6 years of going without alcohol. I had no clue it was that strong though. I just wanted to be happy high but every time I would go for shots, the man at the counter would give me way more shots than I paid for and a free shot to take right there while saying ‘Arriba, Abajo, Al Centro, Adentro’. He clearly wanted everyone to be drunk as shit.
The evening for me started with dancing with random women from another group around a bonfire.
I remember telling people in my group that I could get so many shots ‘because I’m sooooo prettyyy’. No matter how much I paid, I would come back with a tray full of shots. I also recall repeating it a gazillion times.
And after this, I’ve no memory of anything. Ladies and Gentlemen, I was introduced to the concept of a blackout this evening. This very girl who started the trip continuing to sit in a corner in every party no matter how many guys approached me for a dance ended up being the troublemaker for an entire group (Not very proud).
Day 4 of Salkantay Trek – The real Most difficult day:
I woke up drunk. Yes, The drinks are so strong it doesn’t stop with the evening. I woke up while everyone was sleeping, in my sleeping bag which was lying outside. My camp buddy was sleeping in someone else’s camp. Nothing was making sense to me but I was too happy and drunk to figure things out. I went for a walk, tried to wake a guy up who was sleeping outside his camp (I’ve no idea who he was’. He didn’t wake up, so as a good human being – I went back thinking to myself that this is social work. This guy, I’ve never met before, needs to see what a beautiful morning it is. I’m so grateful he didn’t hit me coz I definitely would have.
Then I found a woman opening up her shop, My ultraviolet radiation sight could tell me she was not happy, so I took it upon myself to bring happiness to her life. I did, what I’m best at ‘being the worst dancer’. I taught her (I don’t know how else to say that I helped someone unlearn dancing as they know). After what I thought was a good amount of time to bring joy to someone’s life, I left to get ready for the day. By this time my trek buddies started waking up and everyone I met asked me ‘Hey, how are you now? Are you okay’ It made no sense to me. I was the happiest I knew in days.
As the day unfolded, hangover started getting stronger, stories started pouring in, and I hoped for nothing but to vanish from the surface of the earth.
Turns out, I danced around the bonfire like I was the sexiest woman alive (I can’t imagine how hilarious that must have been with my dancing skills), I wouldn’t sleep, I refused to walk (needed a piggyback ride), and god knows what. I was never told the entire story. This is all I could gather from my ‘sources’. Two of the guys from the group never accepted my friend request on facebook. I’m assuming that’s sign enough that nobody wants to get drunk with me.
The hike was most difficult for everyone because of the hangover. I was feeling pukish and felt too judged by everyone so didn’t really talk to anyone this day. In hindsight they were not judging me, most of them were genuinely concerned for me. And, I’m still trying to figure out how I went from being the only sober one in every party to being the ‘irresponsible’ one.
This was going to be our first hostel night (in Aguas Calientes) and I get to know I was put up in a different hostel. I was upset initially but later I realized where am I staying does not really make any difference. I went to a museum in the town by myself later in the evening.
Day 5 of Salkantay Trek – Machu Picchu:
I barely slept this day as the previous evening went by replying to messages. Had gotten wifi after 4 days. I decided to take a shower in the morning as well even though we had plans to start trekking at 4:30 a.m. The shower cheered me up surprisingly.
I went to the other hostel where the rest of my trek buddies were staying. I reached at 4:40 a.m. and was not hoping to see anyone. They all had left except four guys (they were traveling together). We started together but soon I lost pace with all of them. They were too fast for me from the beginning. I went at my pace. We were to see our guide at 6:30 a.m. at the gate. I made it before that and was pretty happy about it. Also, found our guide immediately.
We started walking soon. There were more people in this tour though apart from our trekking group.
No matter how many pictures you see, no matter how many videos you’ll watch, the first view of Machu Picchu when the clouds part is breathtaking. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire time. My second wonder of the world. Something that I so wanted to see.
I made it, after 5 days of trekking, one drunk night, some lows and many highs later, we were finally here.
I managed some pictures with the Lamas as well. I did feel that the guide could have been better as the guide during my sacred valley tour had given way more information than he did.
Even before the tour was over, we started parting ways. My camp buddy had to enter Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) gates within his time slot so he was the first one to leave.
Machu Picchu to Cusco:
One by one everyone parted ways. Some decided to stay another night in Aguas Calientes and some had a train back so were not going to walk anyway. In the end, I had to walk back alone which I actually liked. From 15 to 1. I had tons of time to introspect. I slept almost through the entire way back though with the brilliant memories of the trek.
Things I wish I knew about hiking Machu Picchu:
- The other peak Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) is extremely beautiful and the ticket sells out pretty quick. You have to explicitly ask your trek organizers to include this peak in your ticket.
- Montaña Machu Picchu is the highest among the three peaks which means great views
- You might want to choose a flexible return date so you have more time to explore Machu Picchu by yourself and stay another night in Aguas Calientes