With a choice between the Inca, Lares or and Jungle Trail, is the Salkantay Trek right for you?
Machu Picchu is a destination on the bucket list of many, set high in the Andes in Peru. We have all seen the images of the abandoned ruins against the lush mountainous backdrop. The view looks like something out of a dream. On arrival to this famous site, you will feel an incredible ambience that is unique to this destination. The large mountains surrounding you and the deep valleys below replace all previous worry with a sensation of calm and appreciation of your surroundings. Achievement overwhelms you as you realised you have reached the end of the 7-day adventure, the Salkantay trek.
While there are many different treks that can be taken to reach Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek is one of the most rewarding, diverse and scenic options. With six days of walking an average of 6 hours a day, you will travel through 15 unique ecosystems, cross a high altitude pass above 4,600 metres and explore remote villages that uphold the culture of the Incas.
The Salkantay Trek fully immerses you in nature, as it is off the beaten track, avoiding the crowds. The steady landscape makes this hike achievable to anyone; you do not have to be an experienced trekker to do it. In saying that, at the end of each day your legs will have a satisfying ache and you will crave a comfortable bed. This is why I chose to travel with Mountain Lodges of Peru. They have perfected the balance between luxury and nature, offering a lodge-to-lodge trekking adventure. With only 12 people on each tour, this is the perfect way to fully experience all that the Salkantay trek has to offer, ending each day in style.
The tour begins in Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire. Narrow cobbled streets, colourful markets and ancient buildings are abundant in this city. The tour guide picked me up from my hotel and we travelled to the Mollepata Valley, where our trek would begin. We spent the day walking along the ridge of a mountain on the “Royal Path”. When we turned the final bend, I was amazed to see the snow-capped mountain, Salkantay. The tour guide pointed out our lodge down in the valley, where we would spend the night.
The next four days, we spent the mornings trekking through the fog, each day surrounded by a different landscape. Fields of large boulders, lush green forest bursting with butterflies, a tranquil bamboo forest, and a valley crisscrossed with little streams and waterfalls were just some of the ecosystems experienced. Local people smiled and waved as we passed their rural villages and fruit orchards. One morning we ventured up to Lake Humantay, the calm turquoise waters positioned at the bottom of the glacier created an incredible reflective quality. I understood why the Incas considered this site sacred.
The end of each day went a bit like this: A hot shower to warm the muscles followed by some leg resting by the open fire, drink in hand. Next, a massage or a dip in the Jacuzzi to fully relax and finally, a gourmet meal served by the friendly local staff. All this in the company of my new friends in our cosy lodge nestled amongst the mountains.
Besides discovering the environmental side of this area, we also learnt about the culture of the Incas. For lunch one day we were treated to a traditional Peruvian meal called a Pachamanca. Meat and vegetables are wrapped in leaves before being slowly cooked in between hot rocks that create an underground oven. The result is similar to a stew and is a perfect filling and warming meal to follow a morning hike. We also visited a coffee plantation and learned how some of the best organic coffee in the world is produced. The strong unique flavour tastes even better after seeing the natural process it goes through to be made.
Just before lunchtime on day 6, we had our first view of Machu Picchu. It was perched high on a mountain surrounded by green trees. It looked as though the mountainside had been carved to form a creative pattern. Later that day we took a scenic train ride around the mountain with the Amazon below to reach the town of Agua Calientes. As the gateway to Machu Picchu, Agua Calientes is a colourful, bustling small town with an authentic and vibrant atmosphere.
The next morning we woke up early and excitedly hopped into a bus to travel up to the main entrance to Machu Picchu. An interesting guided tour showed us some of the 200 structures that make up the site and revealed the history of these ruins. I was amazed at how the Incas had managed to create this community at the top of a mountain that held a population of 1000. With terraces for farming, irrigation and sanitation system, an astronomical observatory, many houses and worship areas, Machu Picchu is evidence of the advanced lifestyle of the Incas.
As the tour ended I felt extremely calm and rejuvenated, despite the busy week I had. The experience was one I will never forget and one I hope everyone has the opportunity to enjoy. The power being amongst nature had on my self-reflection and outlook was one I had never experienced. Mountain Lodges of Peru have created a tour that balances culture, nature and luxury perfectly, making every day different and better than the last.
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