After a 6am pick up from our hostel we were driven from Cusco, along beautiful valleys to Mollepata. Along the way there were always cows, pigs, dogs and chickens alongside and often in the road. After a short stop for breakfast in Mollepata (some trekking companies start walking from here) we were driven uphill on a narrow dirt road for another 80 minutes to our starting point, near Challabamba, where we met the cowboy and horses.
|View from the start of the trek|
|Camping the first night|
The crew had gone ahead to set up the tents at Salkantay Pampa, start cooking and get the kettle on! We were camping rough at 4,500m and it was bitterly cold overnight.
12 kilometres, all uphill.
An early start - up at 6am for coca tea and breakfast, then walking soon after 7am. Getting out of my sleeping bag was a shock but after a very slow 40 minute walk to the Salkantay Pass I had warmed up. The combination of cold air and altitude really slowed me down.
|Standing at 4,600 metres above sea level|
The vegetation changed rapidly as we descended into the valley, first with trees appearing and then scattered houses and livestock. The valley steepened into a gorge with amazing views of the white water of the river. While waiting for the cooks to prepare lunch we enjoyed a quick snooze in the sunshine.
The afternoon session continued downhill on a narrow trail winding along the side of the valley, before we finally reached a rough campsite (it had a squat toilet and a cold outdoor shower). 25 kilometres today. We arrived in time to relax and enjoy the view in the last of the sunlight, surrounded by high mountains on all sides.
Another 6am wakeup and trekking again just after 7am. This was the "easy" day - only 16km and all downhill. We set off on a dirt road, following a set of switchbacks carved into a landslide! There had been many landslides in recent years in this area and part of the trail was closed. But after a while we dropped sharply off the road, across a rustic bridge over the river and back up the other side onto the trail proper.
We said goodbye to the cowboy (our bags would be taken by road or train from now on).
This was the toughest day of all, another 25 kilometre day, with 3 hours uphill to kick off!
We were woken at 5am this time with more coca tea and on our feet just after 6am. In previous years, trekkers have walked to Sanata Teresa from here and enjoyed the hot springs, but they were washed away in flooding last year.
After just ten minutes we were rewarded with our first view of Machu Picchu, far across the valley but with many buildings and walls clearly visible. A steep but short descent took us to a mostly intact Inca checkpoint where we again paused to enjoy the view of Machu Picchu.
From here the descent is insane. There must be a hundred short switchbacks as the trail literally drops straight down the mountainside. I took most of it at a jog, feeling the air getting warmer with the drop in altitude. The trail eventually crosses a river, with a big suspension bridge then remains flat along the river as far as Hidroelectrica, so named for the power station that uses the river to generate electricity. There is a stunning, forked waterfall here which appears to be overflow from the power station.
We stopped for our last lunch with the cooks alongside the railway line. This is the end of the line from Cusco. After saying goodbye we had another two and a half hours uphill to Aguas Calientes. This is a very gentle uphill (apart from the start where the train line has a couple of zig zags) as the path parallels the train line all the way to Aguas Calientes. This route follows the base of the Machu Picchu mountain, curving uphill and staying close to the river.
The first view of the town is deceptive, with just a few hotels appearing from the trees, but as you enter the town it becomes apparent that it is much bigger. The train line runs right through one of the main streets and I can't think of anywhere else I have been able to sit outside a restaurant with trains running past!
We wasted no time heading up to the hot springs for a long, relaxing soak to help recover tired muscles. Not the best hot springs I have been to by far, but still welcome after all that walking.
The final day was for visiting Machu Picchu. I'm not going to write much about it because many people have already done so and better than I can, save to say it is well worth the walk out to the Sun Gate and to the Inca Bridge. After all that trekking I was too tired to get up at the recommend time of 3:30am to guarantee one of the 400 places to walk up Huayna Picchu.
|Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate|
|The Inca Bridge - no longer crossable!|
Who we went with
We booked with Chaska Tours who subcontracted the trek to Centro de Operaciones Turistas. Overall I was impressed, we had a good guide, excellent food. and good quality camping equipment. On the downside, Chaska and Centro need to get in sync because several details that Chaska gave us when we booked the trek didn't match up with Centro (for example charging $US10 to hire a thermarest when Centro include it; different starting location). The trek cost $US460pp plus tips and I would recommend them.