The best trekking experience in South America – Salkantay, Peru
Monday, July 11, 2016
I was dreading the Salkantay trek. After Ciudad Perdida in Colombia (the hardest trek I had done), I was not really keen on a similar experience. But I needn’t worry, Salkantay proved to be not only easier, but the best trekking experience we had in South America!
We flew from Lima to Cusco, where we spent four days to acclimatize while discovering beautiful colonial architecture. Exploring the city was great, however, we had a plan; the 5 days trek that would culminate with a visit to one of the New 7 Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu.
Day one – Soraypampa campsite
We were picked up by the agency’s car at 5am and driven to a village, about 2h from Cusco for breakfast. After the meal, we drove for another hour to the start of the trek. As our guide called it, the first day was a training one. Day two was going to be a killer!
The first hour of the trek was fairly easy, and we soon arrived at our camp, Soraypampa, situated at an altitude of 3850m. We settled in our tent and then went on to have an epic lunch. The chef blew us away pretty much every day with the variety, tastiness, and presentation of all meals. All of this being catered to both vegetarians and nonvegetarians. I still dream about that avocado starter we had on day one :).
After lunch, we started a steep climb to the Humantay Lake. Although the path was quite steep, the view from the top was totally worth it, as well as the moments spent at the lake. Some brave trekkers, including Bertrand, took a dip in the freezing water. I preferred to watch from the side :).
Day two – Salkantay Pass and the Gringo Killer
Richard woke us up at 5am with a cup of coca tea – one of the morning habits that both Bertrand and I loved. After breakfast, we were packed and ready to go see what this Salkantay pass was all about.
The first hour of the trek was OK, the next hours a bit less. There’s no better description than the nickname that the guides gave to this part of the trek: the gringo killer. Yep, that’s the name!
So was the gringo killer really that hard? Yes and no. As long as you acclimatize and take it slow, you can do it. I’m not saying it’s easy peasy, just that there are other treks in South America that can really call themselves gringo killers, like Ciudad Perdida in Colombia.
So why would anyone, in their right minds, do this trek? Because the views on the way and at the top are breathtaking! And not only that but also for the satisfaction you have when reaching that 4600m altitude point.
After arrival and the mandatory pictures, we had a thank you ceremony with our guides, Richard, and Edson. We thanked Mother Earth and made a wish. Normally, I’m not really into things like this, but Richard did a great job telling us about the Inka culture and the fact that their religion revolves around nature; thus I was able to enjoy the moment without any prejudice.
As soon as the ritual was over, we started our descent to the lunch place where a massive change of scenery happened: we literally went from snowcapped mountains to the jungle!
We arrived at camp number two quite tired, but we were rewarded with happy hour (snacks and tea) and then an epic dinner which culminated with wine from the house. Yes, they actually gave us wine :).
Day three – Zip lining and Hot springs
This was the most fun day. We started with a walk to the lunch place, and after that, we went zip lining. Have you heard of that? I hadn’t, but from people’s reaction, I understood it was fun. Although everyone tried to convince me to do it, this type of activity is not really my thing. But they all had fun, including the 10-year-old boy in our group. Yes, a 10-year old boy had more courage than me. Don’t judge me :).
After (not) ziplining we went to the nearby hot springs for a few good hours of pure relaxation. Just what my tired body was in need of.
We finished the day relaxed and happy, and without knowing how hard the next day was going to be…
Day four – Llactapacta and the first view of Machu Picchu
Salkantay Trekking introduced a new route at the beginning of April, which although beautiful and rewarding, was quite tough…
We started the day with a 3h walk uphill. Yep, those steep parts in the jungle, the high humidity. Great. However, when you get there, wow! The views are spectacular and a major treat is actually seeing Machu Picchu from the far. The place is a ruin called Llactapacta and it totally worth the effort.
After the lovely climb and descent, we arrived at lunch and then started a 10km walk to Aguascalientes where we checked in, had a lovely dinner and said goodbye to one of our guides, Edson.
Next day (five) would be the long-awaited day when we get to see Machu Picchu…to be continued in a future post.
Was it worth it?
The Salkantay trek was definitely hard, but so damn rewarding. I have seen the most beautiful mountain views and pushed myself to achieve something that, at the beginning of the trip, I could not have been able to: a 70km walk over 4 days on steep land, at high altitude, through the jungle with humidity and ardent sun, as well as wind and snow.
This trek was without a doubt the best experience of the kind in South America and I can’t thank enough the team that made it all possible: Richard and Edson, amazing guides; Wilmer and Joseph, talented cooks, and Faustino, the lovely man who took care of our belongings throughout the trek.
How and Where to:
How to get to Cusco: We arrived in Cusco by flight from the capital city, Lima. We chose LCPeru and the price was $114 pp return.
Choosing the agency: You can either book online or buy it in Cusco, whatever your choice, I recommend doing a thorough research on the internet before purchasing a package. I also recommend staying away from agencies outside Cusco or Peru for that matter. They tend to double or triple the price you would pay in Cusco.
Our agency: We chose Salkantay Trekking, and we chose well. Impeccable services along the way. If you do go for it, I suggest you ask for Richard and/or Edson as guides.
Price per package: The price for the 5 days tour was $400*.
How many days: We took the five days package. There are shorter, or longer options, however, five days proved to be the right length.
What we took with us: Layers are important as you will go from hot to cold, so be prepared; a lantern as you will need it in the tent, as well as for going to the toilet at night :); money, there are some things not included in the package such as zip lining; some medicine especially if you suffer from altitude sickness.
*Disclaimer: We were in Salkantay in April 2016 so all the details regarding the experience including prices, date to that time.