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Following the Inca trails: Machu Picchu and Salkantay trek

I followed the old Inca routes from Titicaca lake in Bolivia and I crossed into Peru straight to Cusco. Peru is not a new country for me and it is the first country outside Europe that I visited 3 years ago. It was that moment that opened my mind and planted the backpacking seed. I’ve experienced staying in hostels, I’ve met so many great people and I’ve heard a lot of cool stories from people who were backpacking for many months.

Peru is such an amazing country and I can see why it became so much more touristic compared to three years ago. It’s one of the countries that does tourism right, with general good services everywhere and decent infrastructure. It is also one of the safest countries in South America and relatively cheap.

Trekking the Salkantay pass to Machu Picchu

The main reason I visited Peru again is because I really wanted to do a trekking tour to Machu Picchu. In my first visit, due to time constraints, I had to do the train+bus option. Since the official Inca trail trek is booked many months in advance, the only option for was the Salkantay trek, a 5 days/4 nights trip that starts near Cusco and finishes in Machu Picchu.

Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Cusco is the capital of the Inca Empire and it means belly button in quechua. It was called like this because it was located in the center of the empire, that spread from north of Chile all the way up to Colombia. Cusco was rebuilt by the Spaniards and not much of the Inca architecture is to be found in the city.


The Sacred Valley, however, is a few kilometers away and it has some of the best preserved ruins and temples. The ruins in Ollantaytambo and Urubamba are as interesting as Machu Picchu and less touristic. I wrote more about this region in my suggested Peru itinerary.

Salkantay trek

Doing a trek is definitely the best way to visit Machu Picchu. Walking on the old Inca routes, learning about the culture, sleeping in a tent at almost 4000m and spending the time with an amazing group of people is a great experience. This trek became one of the highlights of my trip.

The first day started at 4am with a pickup from the hostel. After a few hours drive we said goodbye to the minivan and civilisation and started the hike. From the starting point at 3700m we hiked around 16km to our base camp in Soraypampa (3.900m). A bit tired and exhausted, we still found some energy to visit the Humantay Lagoon (4,100m) and watch the sunset from there. As the night was setting in, the temperature started to drop and it quickly became very cold. After dinner everyone went to sleep, but I couldn’t miss the chance to take some photos of the stars at night. Without much light pollution and very thin air, the Milky Way was clearly visible in between the mountains.

The next day we woke up again at 4am for the hardest day of the trip. We had ahead of us a steep ascent of 750m to the Salkantay pass. This doesn’t sound that bad, but at 4000m altitude, the lack of oxygen makes everything much more difficult. It was a physical and mental challenge, especially when you are so tired and you see people on horses passing by. A bit of cheating I’d say! The satisfaction you get when you’ve done it the hard way is priceless. After we reached the top, we started going down to 2900m where we camped overnight.

The hike on the third day was mostly flat and easy. We hiked 14 km along a river and through the jungle until we arrived in Santa Teresa. This is the closest town to Machu Picchu and we needed some celebration for the previous two days. After dinner the party started around the campfire. Beer was flowing, a bit of wine, many pisco shots consumed and Despacito playing on the speakers until very late.

Trekking along the rail tracks to Aguas Calientes

The next morning started obviously with a horrible hangover, but one lesson was learned: never mix pisco, wine and beer! I was not feeling great so I decided to pay a few pesos and take a car to Hydroelectric, instead of hiking for 3 hours. This gave me some extra hours of sleep and the chance to recover a bit while waiting for the rest of the group. After lunch, we continued hiking together on the rail tracks to Machu Picchu town (Aguas Calientes). This is the part where many people pay 50$ for a 45 minutes train ride instead of hiking for 8km.

Aguas Calientes changed a lot since my first visit there. I remember it being a very dirty and hectic town. Everything under construction, bad accommodation and restaurants, a complete tourist rip off. However, now it looked better. A lot of fancy hotels and a lot more options for eating out (still very expensive).

There are two options to get to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes: a 30 minutes bus ride (15$) or one hour steep hike. Because I’m a bit lazy and old, I went for the first option, while the rest of the group decided to hike. To get one of the first buses up and catch the sunrise I had to wake up at 3am and stay in the bus queue. By the time the first bus left at 6am, the queue was over 1000 people.

About Machu Picchu I can’t say much other than it being one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It is such an amazing place with a lot of history and mystery that is hard not to be impressed. The views in the morning from Machu Picchu are spectacular and I’m not surprised that the Incas decided to build a city on top of this mountain. It is one of the places that everyone should visit in their life!

Mark Harrison did a great job to capture this amazing trip into a video. I even have my moment of fame at min 1:18! Thanks Mark!

Lima and Mancora

After the Machu Picchu hike I flew to Lima for a two days layover and then to Mancora, close to the border with Ecuador.

Lima is a big city and to be honest there is not much to do here other than eating some good food. You just can’t just visit Peru and not try ceviche, anticuchos or the traditional cuy (maybe you can skip this one).

Sunset in Mancora

Mancora is supposed to have the best weather and the best beach in Peru. It is a good spot for surfing and partying and for many backpackers this is a last stop in Peru before crossing to Ecuador. However, it is not the safest town. Drugs in Mancora are easily to find and robberies are very common. While I was walking on some streets to go to the beach I was warned twice by some locals that I was going to be robbed. They turned me back to the main road and told me to be very careful with my phone and wallet. Kinda scary and probably the place where I felt the most in danger in this whole trip.

Next destination…

I will cross the border to Ecuador for a couple for weeks and then Colombia.

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  1. Pingback: Ecuador - In-between South and North - Pack to Backpack

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