Peru: Salkantay 5D/5N Trek to Machu Picchu
Updated: Apr 23, 2019
Due to the popularity and how busy it is, we chose not to do the Inca Trail hike. Instead we wanted something a bit less crowded and with different views. So we chose to hike the Salkantay Trail for something more unique. We also did a lot of research on various tour companies and after great reviews and also a personal recommendation from a friend, we chose to do all of the Cusco & surrounding tours along with the Salkantay hike with Alpaca Expeditions Tour Company. I will write in quite a bit of detail for those individuals (who like us) have so many questions when booking these trips and are uncertain of what to expect. After touring around Peru at a very fast pace for almost two weeks, we were both actually looking forward to some nature & fresh mountain air, even if that meant some suffering. We were already acclimatized from being in higher altitudes for a week in Arequipa & the Puno area so when we arrived in Cusco it was not a big deal. I strongly recommend spending a few days in altitude prior to any hiking in order to acclimitize. We spent a couple of nice days getting to know Cusco, walking, shopping and eating a lot of great pizza! It seems to be famous for pizza as there seems to be a pizzeria on every corner. We loved the ambience and energy of this city. And it felt very safe. We also squeezed in a Sacred Valley Tour which was the precursor for Machu Picchu.
This is a view of Cusco with the airport runway in the background.
Saturday April 28, 2018: Day 1 - Transfer to our First Campsite
We attempted to sleep in today but it was a futile thought. We were up at 6 so we took on the chore of packing our duffels and backpacks with only what we needed for the following 6 days of hiking. The remainder of our belongings were left behind at the hotel in storage, free of charge. Most hotels will allow this even if you check out (as long as you are coming back of course!) We had a quick breakfast & then were checked out by 10. We dropped off our duffels and backpacks at the Alpaca Expedions Office and left them there as we didn't want to have to lug them around. We were not to meet until 3pm with Alpaca Expeditions to start our journey.
There was a massive celebration in the main square. The largest parade I have seen, all dressed in different costumes and colors which went on for hours. We watched about an hour of it and then went to a restaurant in the square with a balcony and had lunch and continued watching. It was so entertaining and we loved all the unique costumes everyone was dressed in. May 1st is Labor Day in Peru and they tend to celebrate for a week (as we were told). We then went to a coffee shop where we did a final charge of our phones.
We met our hiking group at the Alpaca office for 3pm. They were: Alexander & Stephanie from France but who live in French Guiana, Justin and Kaylee from Florida, Stephen and Julia from Philadelphia, Our friend Jerry from Colorado (who hiked Kilimanjaro with us in 2012), and us two. 9 in total. Our lead guide Javier and secondary Marciel.
We all loaded up into a small van, including some porters and our guides along with our packs and tents. We drove through some crazy mountain passes along very curvy gravel roads and some sections where falls were spilling over. The roads were rutted and rough. But it all added to our amusement & excitement. We arrived to our first camp site in the dark around 7 pm. The porters setup in the dark and cooked dinner! They had everything ready for 8 pm. They provided sleeping pads, a heavy blanket AND hot water bottles for all of us. That was an awesome surprise as it does get chilly at night in the mountains!
We had soup and spaghetti with chicken for dinner. It was delicious. It was a full moon and the views around us were unreal. You could see Humantay and Salkantay peaks with the glaciers all around us. It was stunning beyond words. And off to bed we went as we had an early morning start.
Sunday April 29, 2018: Day 2 - Hike To Salkantay pass - 18 kms hiked
It rained off and on all night. It was nice for sleeping but I kept thinking about how crappy it would be walking in the rain. Up at 5:20. Packed our stuff. Then breakfast. At 6:40AM we started the hike up to Humantay Lake. It had stopped raining. It was a side trail that was added to our original hike at the last minute. It was a gruelling straight up. With altitude at 3900m (12,795ft) it crazy to start straight up like that. John ended up quitting half way up. His heart rate and overheating made him feel like he was going to vomit. So he decided it was not worth it and just stopped and waited for us. This was the first time he has ever quit or had issues on any of our adventures. After he stopped, our continued climb up was even steeper. It was crazy hard. We could barely see him looking back towards the valley.
But the rest of us finally made it to the lake. It was a small lake with a beautiful turquoise color but what made it more awesome was the incredible snow covered Humantay glacier behind it. So high & majestic.
We spent about 30 minutes resting and taking photos. We heard several avalanches coming down echoing through the glaciers. It felt so serene but especially since there was no one else here but our small group.
Then we headed back down and along the way picked John up. He was much better as he had a nice little nap at the rock! We ended back to our starting spot near the camp and then continued onwards towards the Salkantay Pass.
We headed across the valley and then all uphill after that – at a slow gruelling pace. Finally we stopped at Soyroccocha at 4150m (13,616 feet) where we had lunch. Lunch was incredible. Rice, trout, vegetables & corn. We left camp at 12:40 after a small rest.
Then we had another constant gruelling straight up to the pass. It took us 2 1/2 hours. We all thought we were going to die. It was very steep and tough on the body and mind. Justin (one of the 20+ year olds got sick with altitude. He had to have oxygen and then had a mule carry him up to the pass. We know what that is all about - been there and done that before! We slowly continued & chugged through it one step at a time. Jerry was struggling at this point so Javier carried his backpack. I suffered with my breathing and ended up with a nasty headache, even though I was already acclimitized. Altitude is not a fun thing to deal with for many.
Finally - we made it to Salkantay Pass at 3:10PM. At 4650m! (15,256 feet)
The views were OUTSTANDING!! The surrounding peaks and snow covered mountains were probably my favourite I have experienced yet. Almost took my breath away – literally. We were so lucky it never rained. Just fog patches occasionally but they would move away quickly. We took photos for about 20 minutes. At the pass I was dying with a wicked headache. After that we had a straight rough rocky down - for 2 hours! It was killer on the knees and my feet and toes. And it was all through fog. I made it at 5:25PM to the 2nd camp - Wayracmachay. It was near a bunch of farms. Lots of cows and dogs around. Camp was at 3900m (12,795feet)
Hot drinks & cookies were served. Then popcorn. Dinner was at 6:30 which consisted of fried chicken, rice & lots of veggies as usual. Gregorio was our head cook and Jesus our sous chef. The food was delicious again. John went out of the dinner tent to get Jerry as dinner was being served. It was already dark and he stepped in a hole in the ground and twisted his knee! He was super sore, he could barely move! This was not a good way to start this long and tough hike with five more days to go! This was concerning for a few of us. It was an early sleep night for all of us but we so happy as we all made it through the toughest day!
Monday April 30, 2018: Day 3 - Hike To La Loreta - 18 kms hiked today
We were up early at 5 and started packing. Beautiful views around us again. Johns knee seemed better in the morning which I was thankful for. Then after breakfast we had the official meet and greet with all the chefs and crew.
We started the hike at 7:50 and continuously went downhill to our lunch break. It was 9 kms and 4 hours. It was hard on John’s knee but he took it easy. We walked across various terrain and even some cool bridges.
Lunch was on a farm at Ccollpapampa at 2700 m (8858 feet). It was very hot. We all got changed into shorts.
We continued hiking at 1:15PM. Alpaca Expeditions is right. The hike route they use is barely used by anyone else. We only ran across a few people throughout our entire hike. That is one of the reasons we chose them as a tour company and this route as well.
Shortly after leaving the lunch camp, it started raining lightly but enough that we had to put ponchos on. Then we had to cross a couple of really big landslides! It was a bit scary because the path was about a foot wide & the mud was slippery due to all the rain. Down below was the river. If you slipped you'd be rolling down right into it for a refreshing swim! We crossed about 6 of these mudslides, some not as big.
We also went through some small villages and tropical areas which were really nice.
John was doing much better today but when he got to the mudslides he twisted his knee again! Then he was really messed up and in more pain. He had to go at a much slower pace, so Marciel stuck with him. The young kids kept ahead of us and wouldn’t slow down. So then Javier ran after them and left us. So during a lot of the day Jerry & I walked together as John was going to slow for us. In some sections we had to guess at which direction to take but we arrived at La Loreta camp 2400m (7874ft ) at 5:15PM. John arrived just before dark at 5:45PM. This was another 9 kms which took another 4 hours & 10 min.
This campsite had showers and toilets and a green freezing cold pool. The hot tub which was not that hot was also greenish. So I skipped that option. The camp was right on the Salkantay River but the dinner was served in Alpaca’s building and we had the usual great fare and were in bed exhausted by 8:30PM.
Tuesday May 1, 2018: Day 4 - Hike To Llactapacta Camp - 12 kms hiked today
We had 9 hours of sleep last night. It felt so very good! We had rain and the sound of the river all night which made it so nice for sleeping. We were up at 5:50AM. The usual routine: wash up & breakfast. John’s leg was a bit better. Jerry gave him a knee brace. Today was the shortest hike day of all. We were off at 7:40AM. It was definitely a shorts day again as we were in tropical forest areas & it was going to be hot. We walked straight for an hour then gradually up hill. Ended up on the original Inca trail then got to an organic coffee farm where we had an hour and a half break.
We were shown how to pick, clean, dry, roast and grind coffee beans. They made some fresh for us to try and we had fried yucca. Delicious. I bought 2 bags of coffee to take homWe also had lunch here. Our cooks stopped here and made lunch since they got use of the owners house. Lunch was at 11:30. It was crazy, so much food! We chilled out for 30 minutes after – it was so hot. We lazed around soaking in the sun.
Our gracious host sent each of us with a handful of coca leaves to assist with altitude issues. Coca is a mild stimulant that combats thirst, hunger, pain, altitude sickness and fatigue, without making you high. People here have chewed coca leaves or drank tea from it for over 5000 years.
We left at 12:30PM and then it was a gruelling constant uphill, for about 3 hours. Finally we came to the top at the Llactapata Inca site and then got the most incredible view of Machu Picchu and Huyana Picchu directly across from us. So amazing! Then we had another 15 minutes straight down to our final camp. We came to a farm which is owned by a local family. Only Alpaca Expeditions has permission to stay here. WOW! Seriously amazing! We were staring right at Machu Picchu & we were camped on the edge of a mountain. It was all SO worth it just for this view.
John’s leg held out quite well today but everyone was very sore. We had most of the afternoon here to relax, wander around, take photos and just take the view all in. Dinner was amazing again. Pasta. Pizza. Chicken fingers (homemade of course!) stuffed peppers. And the chef surprised Kaylee by baking a cake for her as it was her birthday today. So many fond memories of Kili! And then her boyfriend Justin surprised her with a bottle of red wine which we all got to share. It was good! Oh so good! And we were all to bed at 8pm as we had another long day ahead of us in the morning.
Wednesday May 2, 2018: Day 5 - Hike To Aguas Calientes - 14 kms hiked today
I had a rough night last night. Our tent was on uneven ground and I was slanted. Kept sliding onto John. My back and bones were killing me. It felt like a very long night. Horses were around our tent chewing all night & making noise! We were up at 6. Packed up. We watched a beautiful sunrise around 6:45AM & everyone took a million photos. During breakfast, we also got a lesson about the Inca people and their history in Peru.
We left camp at 8:50AM. It was straight down to the river, zigzagging through narrow curvy paths through thick forests. This took about 2 hours. It was brutal on the knees. My entire legs were aching; toes from going down hill & hitting the front of the boot, all the leg muscles and especially the knees. I was very happy when we finally came down to a flat surface. We stopped for lunch at the hydroelectric station. The 300 meter waterfall generates the electricity for most of Cuzco region. We passed the famous Intiwatana (sun dial rock). This Inca stone used to work with the famous sun dial rock in Machu Picchu. We had a full blown lunch again. Way too much food. It was super hot again today.
After lunch we continued along the train tracks to get to Agua Calientes. This was about a 3 hour walk but it was all flat. This is the trail that Hiram Bingham used (he discovered Machu Picchu in 1911).
We arrived at around 3:30PM. Javier took us to our individual hotels. We showered and changed and met for our last supper together at a restaurant. We then bid farewell to our cook and porters at which point we presented them with our tips.
We also got our instructions for tomorrow. We headed back to our rooms around 7:30pm. Aguas Calientes is a really cool little hip town right on the river and under Machu Picchu at 2040m (6693 feet). Its very touristy and active. Restaurants and bars are everywhere. I wish we had a full night to spend here but I was so tired and we had to get up at 4AM in the morning. So we repacked again and were in bed by 8:30PM.