Peru. The ancient land of the Incans.
Astounding natural beauty. Festivals galore with rich cultural heritage. Heaven for the active and adventurous traveler.
Think Peru and the first thing that pops into your mind is the glorious ancient site of Machu Picchu. We did the Salkantay Trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru from Cusco to reach Machu Picchu. This has to be one of the most unforgettable Peru treks!
An upscale trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru
Hiking the ancient route – the Inca Trail – to Machu Picchu did not appeal to me. Camping, sharing toilets and backpacking is just not my style. There are also many restrictions on the Inca trail – the government of Peru gives limited passes to 500 persons per day, porters included.
A colleague from my husband’s Sao Paulo office suggested the Salkantay Trek offered by Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP).
The famous Salkantay Trek (or Salcantay Trek) is named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.
Salkantay Route takes trekkers through fifteen bio-zones, across stunning mountain passes, and to heights up to 15,000 feet, along its path to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu.
Apart from avoiding the crowds at the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Route offers a lodge-to-lodge trekking option. This is ideal for travelers looking for upscale hiking opportunities, without sacrificing a good night sleep or other comforts of luxury travel.
I looked at their boutique lodges in the wilderness – heated rooms with soft beds, warm showers, gourmet food, and internet. Luxury in pristine surroundings. I was sold!
Built according to eco-friendly practices, the lodges by Mountain Lodges of Peru ensure that guests will experience the wonders of the Peruvian landscape without negatively impacting its environment.
This is a moderate difficulty level trek. You carry only a small backpack with you – water, some snacks and personal care stuff. All the luggage gets transported between lodges on mules. Picnic lunches and gourmet dinners in lodges are arranged before you reach the spot.
But you still need to hike for 4 – 6 hours by yourself! You do cross an altitude of 15,000 ft. So even with all the luxuries and facilities, the trek certainly demands more than a moderate level of fitness.
A brief 1 hour 20 min flight from Lima got us to Cusco, the starting point of the Salkantay Trek.
From sea level to an altitude of more than 11000 ft in an hour is not something your body is used to. So make sure you reach Cusco a day or two early and get acclimatized. My husband had a bad headache on the first day in Cusco, the coca tea and chewing the coca leaves helped him a lot.
Cusco or Cuzco – South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city – is the gateway to Machu Picchu. This city steeped in history and heritage has enough to offer for a day or two of exploration. But we were on a tight schedule in our 3-week South American sojourn. We spent the day resting in our hotel and wandering through its cobblestone streets and the main square, Plaza de Armas.
We met with other guests on the trek and had a briefing session with the MLP staff that evening.
Here is a brief account of my most exhilarating trek till date. I have added enough photos to spark your wanderlust!
Day 1 – Cusco To Salkantay Lodge
Today was an early start with the MLP guide waiting for us in the hotel lobby. We first drove to the Inca ruins of Tarawasi (about 1.5 hours from Cusco) and then the mountain village of Mollepata.
We then ascended a winding mountain road to reach the starting point of the trek. I couldn’t be more excited! But this was the first day and with a 6-hour trek ahead, we were advised to pace ourselves and not rush through anything.
It is difficult to describe the beauty of our surroundings in words. You feel surreal walking the path that has been used by many for centuries before. The route we were taking to the first lodge – Salkantay Lodge in Soraypampa – was called the “Camino Real” or the Royal Path.
And the friendly welcome at the Salkantay Lodge (at 3,869 m/12,690 ft) is just what you need after the first day of working all those unused muscles. I assure you that the view of the Salkantay Peak from this lodge is unforgettable.
Day 2 – Hike to Lake Humantay
The hike to Humantay Lake on the second day is optional. But it is advised to do this moderate-to-challenging hike as it is good for acclimatization and immersion into high-mountain trekking that is to come later.
The views and crystal-clear water of Humantay Lake are definitely worth a visit. Those who have vertigo may find the descent a bit challenging – it is a narrow path. But if you have no fear of heights, the landscape with green mountains around is stunning.
Once you are back to the Salkantay Lodge, do make use of the outdoor jacuzzi to relax and enjoy the clear views of Salkantay Peak.
Day 3 – Crossing the Salkantay Pass
This is the most strenuous day of all. We reach the trek’s highest point on the Salkantay Pass (at 4,638 m/15,213 ft). The peak from here looked formidable and only something for expert mountaineers to scale.
Salkantay is the second most sacred peak in Inca mythology and, at 20,600 ft (6,270 m), the highest in the region. The name Salkantay is a Quechua word meaning “Savage Mountain”.
We trekked for about 7-8 hours and we all had blisters on our feet. Thankfully, an American guest on the hike was carrying moleskin – an excellent bandage for those blisters.
We were all relieved to reach the Wayra Lodge (at 3,906 m/12,812 ft) and soak our tired feet in warm water. If not for the heated lodge and excellent food, I really couldn’t have gotten up from the bed the next morning.
Day 4 – Descending into the Cloud Forest
An easy downhill hike was on the cards on Day 4. This is a much-needed break after crossing the Salkantay Pass.
Gushing streams, verdant scenery, an easy path to follow – all made for a resplendent day to be outdoors.
The Colpa Lodge (2,870 m/9,414 ft) built in picturesque surroundings was a great place to put our feet up. By this time, we were familiar with all guests, helped each other on the trek with amenities and advice, had swapped our travels and adventures, and brought out the cards and board games to play each evening.
Day 5 – Following the Santa Teresa River Valley
The hike of 5-6 hours was again at a moderate level. We passed through banana, and avocado orchards and coffee plantations (said to be one of the best organic coffees in the world).
Lucma Lodge (at 2,135 m/7,003 ft) set in an avocado orchard makes you feel like you are alone in this world.
Day 6 – Lucmabamba to Aguas Caliente
This is the last day of the trek to be tackled.
We head uphill for 2-3 hours towards Llactapata pass (2,736 m/8,974ft), where we come upon a distant view of Machu Picchu from the southwest, a view few tourists ever glimpse.
We began our final descent to the Aobamba River through lush bamboo forests and more orchards and coffee plantations (2-3 hour descent).
We then arrived in Aguas Calientes (now referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo) to check-in to the luxurious Inkaterra Hotel for the night. This hotel was also booked by Mountain Lodges of Peru for us.
Day 7 – Machu Picchu to Cusco
We wake up early to have breakfast at the hotel and then make our way to the bus station for the ride up to Machu Picchu (30 min).
A complete guided tour of Machu Picchu was provided (2 hours). We then had some additional time to explore the site on our own—there is a lot to do and see.
Afterward, we returned by bus to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then to go to the train station. The train took us to Ollantaytambo (1.5 hrs), and then we reached Cusco via a private vehicle.
After the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is the 2nd most popular trek to Machu Picchu (and a lot less crowded). The Salkantay adventure taken by us with Mountain Lodges of Peru goes beyond deluxe lodges and a great trek. It is a unique opportunity to discover the beauty of Peru, see its varied landscape and rich flora and fauna, experience history at the mystical Machu Picchu.
Peru Travel: For more information and resources, check out at the Peru Tourism website.
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Have you been to Peru? Do share your best experience in the comments below.
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