Salkantay Trek

Posted by Cassie, October 3rd, 2011

Last year, we attempted the Salkantay trek, but we turned around due to bad weather and stomach sickness. This year, we successfully completed the Salkantay trek! This year, we actually skipped the first section of the hike because it just follows a road. We hitched a ride with the truck that was carrying the laundry to the fancy lodge at Soraypampa. They have to do the laundry down in the town of Mollepata, so everyday a truck carries the clean laundry up to the lodge and takes the dirty laundry back to Mollepata. If we had wanted to spend over $3,000, we could have done the Salkantay trek by staying at fancy lodges every night and having an army of mules carry  all our stuff. On our first day of hiking, we were already at the point where we turned around last year. :)

However, our luck with the weather did not hold. We had beautiful weather on the Choquequirao trek, but we seemed to be cursed with bad weather for the Salkantay trek. It began raining on us as we climbed up the pass, and when we arrived at the pass, it was snowing and very cold. We were right next to the 6,200 meter high mountain of Salkantay, but we couldn´t see it at all because of the snow. In fact, we never saw Salkantay throughout the entire hike except for a brief glimpse of it from very far away on our last day. We hiked down from the pass as fast as we could to get out of the snow. Our campsite for the night was still very high, and it was wet and cold. We set up our tent and climbed into our sleeping bags to warm up. We had bought rain pants in Cusco, and we were definitely glad to have them on this rainy, cold day. It was so cold at our campsite that we just cooked in the tent vestibule so that we would not have to leave the warm tent. :)

Our 'view' of the mountains from the Salkantay pass

The next day it was still cloudy and rainy. Our guidebook said we were supposed to have an amazing view of three mountain peaks from our campsite, but we could only see glimpses of them through the clouds. On the second day, we descended 1200 meters, so it was much warmer for our second night. And, just as we arrived at our campsite for the night, the sun came out! We were able to dry out all our wet gear, and our second night of camping was much more pleasant than the first night.

It finally cleared up so we could see some mountains!

On the third day, we continuing hiking down along the Santa Teresa River. It was a lovely day of hiking, and we were definitely in the jungle. The vegetation was dense, and there were beautiful flowers blooming. It reminded me of the hike we did in Baños, Ecuador. On this day, we finally encountered big groups of other hikers. The first two days, we only saw mules and muleteers, but no other hikers. This day of hiking is part of the jungle tour to Machu Picchu, so there were some big groups hiking it. We also had lots of company at our campsite at La Playa. It was a tent city with lots of music and lots of people. At first, we were camped by ourselves in a field, but then a big group was coming. The muleteers were going to set up ten tents next to ours in this small field. So, we had to move our tent into the corner. However, when the hikers finally arrived as it was getting dark, there was some confusion because they took down all the tents. Then, all hikers climbed into the back of a banana truck and drove off. We never figured out what happened, but we had the field all to ourselves for the night.

Hiking along Santa Teresa River

The next day, we hiked up to Llactapata, which is another set of ruins that has a temple that directly overlooks Machu Picchu. Part of it was discovered by Hiram Bingam, and another part was discovered by Hugh Thomson in the 1980s. But, in a recent expedition in 2003, Hugh Thomson returned to Llactapata, and they discovered a whole new section of the ruins, revealing it to be a more extensive site than originally believed. The hike up to the ruins was neat because it followed an ancient Inca trail. We hiked over a pass to the other side of the mountain ridge to the ruins, but it was the most unique pass I have ever crossed. As we crossed the pass, we were suddenly in the jungle. A little bit below the pass, we encountered the ruins. Only the main temple and usnu have been completely cleared, and it has an amazing view of Machu Picchu and the mountains. The rest of the ruins are only partially cleared, and it was really awesome to go hunting in the jungle for ruins. I felt like Indiana Jones discovering a lost city! :) Today, we were on our own again, and we didn´t see anyone else on the trail. We had the campsite all to ourselves. The campsite had an amazing view, and it was one of the best campsites I have ever visited. In the morning, it was great watching to clouds move through the valley.

Llactapata main temple

Sunken corridor that is only partially cleared

View of Machu Picchu from Llactapata

On our final day, we hiked down from Llactapata to the hydroelectric plant, and then we hiked 11 kilometers along the train tracks to Aguas Caliente. I was expecting the hike along the train tracks to be boring, but it was actually a pleasant hike. There are lots of people that hike along the train tracks, so there is a nice trail next to it. The train tracks follow the Urubamba River, and as you get near Aquas Caliente, you can see the ruins of Machu Picchu. We finally arrived in Aguas Caliente, and it was a little overwhelming to be in the middle of all the tourists, hotels, and restaurants after hiking for 10 days. We really enjoyed the Salkantay, and it was much more satisfying to arrive at Machu Picchu by hiking than to arrive by train. :)

Hiking along train tracks to Aguas Caliente

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