From Cusco to the Machu Picchu via the Salkantay trek, Peru

Km 10 646

We have dreamed of this city for so long, and finally we are here! But actually Machu Picchu is a bit further away than we thought. No problem, we enjoy the city first and then we see further.

We buy the Cusco tourist ticket, which allows entry to 16 archaeological sites/museums, and head off. We first visit the archaeological sites near the city. Among these sites, we particularly liked Sacsayhuamán. It is an Inca castle above Cusco, which was an important centre of Inca culture at the time. The outer wall of the castle is built of huge rocks, all perfectly integrated into the wall like a puzzle. We enjoy the view over the city, then walk down to visit the centre. The centre of Cusco is pretty, with many colonial buildings built on the foundations and walls of the Inca buildings. The result is very harmonious. We stroll through the streets, feast on good food in the beautiful courtyards and visit some of the museums included in the tourist ticket. They are mainly small museums and some were unfortunately closed during the pandemic, but we really liked the Museum of Regional History. It traces the history of the region, with the exhibition rooms always adapted to the style of the era. We would have liked to read all the information texts, but we don’t have much time as we have to organise the next days of our stay: the Salkantay Trek.

The alarm clock rings at 4:30 the next morning, which is tough. We have already packed our backpacks the day before. We just have a quick breakfast, then we are already walking to the bus stop. Luck is on our side this time: the bus is already ready to leave, there are only 2 seats left for us. Luckily, because the way is long and the stage we have planned is also long. 2 hours later we are dropped off at a crossroads with 3 other people. We share a taxi to Mollepata, a village a little higher up. Then we have to take another taxi to Soraypampa, the starting point of the hike. That’s the disadvantage of travelling without an agency, you have to manage yourself, but it’s also much cheaper! When we finally arrive, there is already a horde of Instagrammers with tour buses on site. We are a bit disappointed, we thought it would be quieter here. But luckily the other tourists only go to Laguna Humantay, which is 3 km away from the car park. This mountain lake is really beautiful, nestled under the glacier and the summit of Humantay. But there are so many people and noise that we can’t really enjoy the natural spectacle. We don’t stay long and prefer to continue the trekking trail, where we finally find some peace and solitude. We hike uphill in a beautiful valley, with the snow-covered Salkantay mountain always in front of us. The further up we get, the harder it is to breathe and the less we see the surroundings because the fog obscures the peaks. We finally reach the pass at 4630 m at 2 pm. We are between the peaks of Humantay and Salkantay, but we don’t see either of them, a pity. Besides, it is freezing cold, but we take 15 minutes for a quick picnic as we are already quite hungry. We set off again at walking pace to quickly get further down and leave the fog behind us. We encounter a few caravans with horses transporting goods, otherwise we are alone in the world. The further down we walk, the more the vegetation becomes green and lush. At nightfall we reach Collpapampa, the end of our first stage. We put up in one of the rooms at Camping Capuliyoc. The hosts are nice and the wife cooks us spaghetti napolitana. This meal gives us a feeling of bliss after 27 km of walking! A good hot shower rounds off the evening programme, then we fall into bed, dead tired.

Day 2 of the trek is a bit more leisurely, it is only a little less than 20 km to Lucmabamba and it is mostly easy downhill. At least that’s what we thought. But by following the trail instead of the road, we got ourselves into trouble without knowing it. Several landslides washed out the path to the point where we couldn’t go any further at one point. Once again, as on the Camino de la Muerte, a landslide forces us to turn back. We have lost a lot of time because of this and have to walk a little to be able to watch part of the European Championship! football match between France and Switzerland. When we arrive in a small village, we are lucky: the owners of the first small shop on the roadside put the game on TV for us and allow us to sit in the middle of their shop and watch the game. Unfortunately, the result is less exhilarating with France losing. Fortunately, we only have 2 km to go to Lucmabamba, as Matthieu is not in a good mood. Things change when we see the beautiful lodge where we will spend the night. The house is all made of wood and the large balcony with tables and hammock is surrounded by lots of greenery. Welcome to the Amazon!

On the 3rd day of the trek we hike up to Machu Picchu. During this stage we enjoy the tropical atmosphere. We walk between banana trees, coffee and cacao trees and many other plants we don’t know. On a small path we climb steeply uphill and have beautiful views of the valley. Unfortunately, when we arrive at the pass, clouds of fog surround us. At a viewpoint we join another group of tourists. Just as we arrive, everyone starts to get excited: The clouds break and reveal a view of Machu Picchu in the distance. The show is over as quickly as it began, with only a dense fog ahead of us. We didn’t even have time to take photos. The other group of hikers leaves, they were just waiting for this moment. We sit down for a break. We did well to stay a while, because the fog gradually lifts and we can enjoy the view to the full. It is magnificent, we hardly realise the opportunity we have. We continue our descent. We pass a small Inca site and keep seeing Machu Picchu in the distance. At 2 pm we finally arrive in Hidroeléctrica, the small village where the road to Machu Picchu ends and the railway line begins. We eat an almuerzo at one of the station’s stalls, then walk along the railway tracks all afternoon. In fact, there is no road leading to Machu Picchu, only a train line. But the tickets for tourists are quite expensive (35USD for 10km). The only other way to get to Machu Picchu is to walk along the railway track. At the beginning it is nice, there are many banana trees and other exotic plants, but gradually it gets boring and we just want to arrive. At 5pm we finally reach Machu Picchu Pueblo, where we will spend the night. We book our tickets to Machu Picchu for the next day and treat ourselves to a meal and a beer in the restaurant. We deserve that after 70km of hiking in 3 days!

Finally, the big day arrives! Our tickets are for 10am, so we can have breakfast in peace before we set off. It is 2km to the entrance of the site, then there is a very long staircase to climb. We haven’t counted the steps, but there must be thousands. We arrive at the top exactly at 10 am. First we come to the terraces, where we have the famous view of the Inca village and the mountain Huayna Picchu behind it. We stroll through the grounds and listen to the information from the guides with their groups that we pass. We hear some interesting details, but the history of the Incas, we have heard that several times now. We just enjoy this dream come true. The ruins remain special because of their size and good state of preservation. In short, it was clearly worth coming, through the beautiful and varied path of the Salkantay trek, which took us from the snow-capped peaks of the Andes to the Amazon forest!

To see all photos, please click here:
From Cusco to the Machu Picchu via the Salkantay trek

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