Trek to Machu Picchu
By Daniel Baker, Communications & Marketing Manager: Machu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas, is truly magnificent. One of the Seven New Wonders of the World, the ancient city is even more impressive than the hype.
But the journey to see it is something I’ll never forget. At Terrapin Adventures, our staff believes in the power of experience and seeks out Adventure when we’re off the clock. Join me on a trip and escape reality for just a moment…
Most people take the Inca Trail en route to Machu Picchu. Never one to walk the path most traveled, my brother, dad, and I decided on the Salkantay Trail. Less populated and more strenuous hikes. Sounds like the perfect type of vacation!
Before setting off on the guided tour, we flew into Cusco (technically, it took me three flights from my then-home base of Boston) for a few days of exploration, adventure, and critically, acclimation. Cusco — the home base for nearly all Machu Picchu journeys — sits more than 11,000 feet above sea level. Spending a few days at that altitude allowed our bodies to get used to the lack of oxygen. We saw salt mines and ancient ruins.
Cusco doesn’t feel like a city over-saturated with tourists. From the bustling markets to top-notch restaurants — we had two of my favorite dinners of all time during our stay — the city brimmed with excitement; warm and welcoming.
En Route to Machu Picchu
Waking before the crack of dawn on our third day, we met our guide and fellow travelers. The group consisted of 10 tourists — hailing from the U.S., London, Hong Kong, and Brazil — and our Bolivian guide! If you have the chance, I highly recommend using Salkantay Trekking for your trip.
After a couple hours on a bus, winding and weaving through the mountains of Peru, we made it to our starting point. Fortunately, we only had to carry our day packs with us. The tour company transported the rest of our belongings between campsites.
The first day was fairly uneventful. Just casually hiking, albeit at an insane elevation, on relatively flat paths. We arrived at the first campsite, just in time for lunch. I seriously can’t praise Salkantay Trekking enough. The food far exceeded any expectations I had. Three delicious meals each day, snacks for the trip, and afternoon tea time, left a great taste in our mouths.
The hike didn’t seem all that bad, but that was just the start. The real challenge was just beyond where we ate lunch. Unassuming at first glance, the hill we had to hike up was no joke! Until that point, the elevation didn’t impact my hiking. So we set off at a typical pace. Without breaking a sweat, I was winded! For the distance traveled, I had to stop way more than usual. It was difficult, but the payoff was more than worth it — a theme for the whole trip!
This little slice of paradise, in the form of a lake which was nestled between the peaks of two mountains, met us at the top of the hill. I can still picture the view when I close my eyes. Going back down was far easier, thankfully.
Talking about views, at night time, it was truly unforgettable. We slept in “igloos” (they didn’t really keep you warm), but the night was clear and the moonlight bounced off the snow-covered mountains in the distance, illuminating the entire sky. I didn’t even need a flashlight!
The next day, we faced the most challenging hike. Just in case you didn’t fare well during the test-run, you could pay for a donkey to help the climb. We were about to embark on a hike that would take us up to more than 15,000 feet!
The higher we climbed, the slower our pace. Toward the top of this hike, I was stopping to catch my breath after just a minute or two! But, again, the views were epic. Pictures simply didn’t do it justice.
As always, it’s important to keep your wits. We heard a rumbling in the distance, and it looked like an avalanche on a nearby peak. There’s now way it was getting to us, we thought. But then the snow hit the ground and ricocheted upward. We had to run for cover behind a couple large boulders. Within seconds, the sun was blocked out and flurries rushed down, covering us in a thin sheet of snow. What a rush! Unfortunately the only video I have includes some language that isn’t quite appropriate for this post.
The rest of the hike took us to our next camp-site, and although it was downhill, we didn’t make it until the sun was nearly set. Our next hike was much shorter and more level, and the payoff wasn’t about the views. This time sweet relief came in the form of natural hot springs! After three difficult hikes, that was the most enjoyable hot-tub-esque experience of my life!
The next day, our group had the option of yet another majestic hike or going on a zip line adventure. I’m very fortunate to have been zip lining in Costa Rica, and I do love those activities. That being said, the point of this trip was to hike all the way to Machu Picchu. The sense of accomplishment is one of my favorite parts of going on backpacking trips. So my brother and I volunteered and joined our guide on the hike, while the rest of the group took the bus to the zip line journey.
Highlight of this hike; a sneak-peak view of Machu Picchu that no one else in the group got to see. It really gave you a sense of awe for the people who built the magical city of stone.
We met the rest of the group for lunch and only had a couple more hours of hiking left to get to the city of Aguas Calientes, the modern city next to the ancient wonder.
The next morning, we woke at 3:00 AM to get in line for the bus ride up to Machu Picchu’s entrance. Some people hike up, but after the last four days, we decided to give our knees a break — besides, my brother and I actually hiked every day! We timed it perfectly, thanks to our guide, and were the first group of people who entered the city walls.
Watching the sunrise is a surreal experience. Hardly anyone else was there! As the day progressed, tourists continued to crowd the park (as the city is more of a national park, at this point). We learned about the history of building Machu Picchu and what life was like back then for inhabitants.
Once we had our fill, we went back down to the city and awaited our train back to Cusco. Excursions like that are memorable, not just because of the stunning scenery, but because of the physical exertion. It really helps leave a mark on the mind. I’ll never forget that trip!
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