It`s a massive attraction for those who are blessed to discover the wonders and colors of Peru; Machu Picchu. The ancient Inca ruins of more than 600 years old attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Those fit enough will make their way to the ancient ruins by entering the footsteps of these former rulers of South America by walking the Inca trail, a 4 day track of 82 kilometers arriving on Machu Picchu on the fourth day. In general there is 4 things you need to fulfill this track: massive calves, a good condition, no altitude sickness and A BIG BUDGET! The cheapest tour at this time of writing was $750 for a last-minute fit in for a single person in rainy season (just to give you an idea). Before you fall off your chair or block all your other bookings, chill out. Duttchesstraveldiary is going to tell you all about the best alternative: The Salkantay trek!
What`s the Salkantay trek?
The Salkantay trek is a 5 day trek covering around 70 kilometers. Crossing the romantic hills of the Peruvian country side, valleys, climbing over snow-peaked mountains in the Andes and ending in the lowland jungles. It`s considered the number one alternative route to the Inca Trail, if not even better. With a significant less number of people crossing this route, it allows you to enjoy the trails to the fullest. Especially done by yourself or with a good company, you`ll be able to walk at your own pace from campsite to campsite.
The first two days of the trek are the hardest, especially the second day. Which includes a climb up to 4650 meters and after that a massive decline of around 3 hours in total. If needed, the climb on day 2 can be done on horseback as well. Day 3 and day 4 are really easy going, including a visit to the hot springs (at additional costs). On day 5 you[ll complete the last leg, the 1 hour approx. hike up the famous Inca trail stairs all the way to one of the 7 wonders of the world. Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu will make you forget all your sore muscles and especially your killing calves! Take your time to breath it all in and be proud of what you achieved.
More detailed description of the hike can be found at any tour operator in Cusco.
Do I need to be in good condition?
Yes! Don`t worry, you don`t need to be ready for the next Olympic Games or the ultimate fitness instructor, but a good walking condition is definitely required. Especially being able to walk up and down hill is an extremely useful skill.
Sensible for altitude sickness? Make sure you`ve taken plenty of time to adapt to high altitudes as you climb up to more than 4000 meters above sea level on the first and second day.
For those who really want to participate on the track, but have doubts about their condition or altitude sickness, make sure your tour operator offers alternative transportation between the campsites (this will always be at additional costs). This might be by horse or car.
What do I need?
Purely depends if you go independent or with a tour operator. Remember, different operators provide different gear. Going independent means bringing all your camping gear, including cooking gear. Food for at least the first 3.5 days (after that you`ll run into affordable little shops), proper hiking gear and a water filter.
With a decent tour operator you`ll only need to bring water (filters). You can buy water during the trek, but it will be expensive. Snacks to keep your energy levels up in between meals, a sleeping bag (you can rent this in Cusco), good hiking boots and a rain jacket.
Tip: If you lack any hiking gear, you can buy it fairly cheap in Cusco. Don`t buy them from the tour operators or any stores in the tourist center. Go to the area behind the food market San Pedro (see map). Here you`ll find plenty of stores that sell good quality gear for peanuts. As you make your way there, make sure you stop at the market for lunch. It`s an absolute blast to walk through the market and experience the local culture. Plus the menus at the back of the market are $1.5 for a soup, a plate with rice, vegetables and meat/fish, including a drink. Also, the cakes and fruit juices are delicious, as well as everything else they sell here.
Where do I organize this trek?
I`ve met some crazy, hardcore people during the track that did it on their own. Deep respect! If your budget is your only reason, think twice this time. By the time you paid for transportation to the trail, paid for the campsites, bought the food, pay the entry fees, it will cost the same amount for a tour at a budget operator. If you absolutely don`t like to travel with groups and want to be on your own, ok, but keep in mind that you`ll have to leave extremely early each day to avoid walking with the tour groups. Plus you`ll have to carry all your food, gear and have to prepare your own meal and set up your tent at the end of an exhausting day of hiking. Still determined? Ok, deep respect and best of luck! Make sure you have a good trail map, guidebook and you book your entry ticket to Machu Picchu, plus transport to the beginning of the trail and back from Machu Picchu to Cusco beforehand.
If you`re outside high season which starts from half June till end of August, you`re fine with booking a tour in Cuzco. There`s a whole bees nest of tour operators wanting to sell you the trek and leave you plenty of space to bargain. Most of the operators work through Big Mountain Expeditions (http://www.bigmountainexpeditions.com/ingles.html), which means that booking straightly with them will save you from paying commission to somebody else. Their guides speak English, as well as the office lady Roxanne.
Their price includes (sometimes you need to bargain):
At additional costs there`s optional activities during the tour like horseback riding, hot springs and zip lining.
So, in summary, from my very own experience I can tell, it`s worth it! Also, if you want to learn more about Inca culture to get the most out of your visit to Machu Picchu? Check out the Inca museum and hire a guide. The guides are tip based and are extremely knowledgeable about the ancient cultures of South America.
Enjoy one of the 7 wonders of the world!
IMPORTANT NOTE: the trails are closed in the month February due to heavy rains and cleaning the trek. July and August are high season, so might be worth it to book in advance. January to March is rainy season, so bring a rain jacket and waterproof gear if you`re going to fight the mountains in this time of the year!