Salkantay Trek / Machu Picchu

We realize that so many people go to Machu Picchu and there is so much information online that our view might be redundant. Still, maybe you’ll pick up a glimmer of something new! We were truly blown away by the hike, the steep mountains always surrounding us, and the final summit.

There’s two routes to reach Machu Picchu, the Salkantay and the Inca. The Inca is the classic route that you need to book months in advance and is highly trodden and includes a lot of steps, so we’ve heard. We opted for the Salkantay trek 5 days/4 nights, which we booked maybe a month in advance and is “greener and less busy,” according to a girl that we met that had completed both.

One good part of going during the rainy season in January is that we saw about ten other people the entire hike. We booked through BioAndean Expeditions because it seemed like they camped in remote areas and had a better environmental policy, but really, all the tour companies follow the same route to the same camp sites. What is important is to make sure that your guides are local and you’re paying enough for the trip. Our trip was about $450, which seems like the normal amount, any less could mean less money to your guide. Also check on max group size – the smaller, the more mobile you can be. The other couple on our trek ended up getting sick (also in Bolivia, like we had), so unfortunately for them we had a private guide!

The hiking was much more difficult than I had imagined – we got up to 4600meters! We hiked down through streams and mucky pastures, up and over rocky terrain, eclipsed by mountains on all sides always. At one point the valley was full of fog and we could only hear the rumbling of an avalanche on a mountain above, which got our hearts pumping, but ended up being a safe distance away. It rained a lot and got cold then hot then cold, so rainproof layers were key.

We had a guide with us the whole time and a chef and horseman that walked much faster than us in their worn sneakers and tees. It was a little too luxury for our liking, which seems silly to say. Our tent was set up every night for us, we were awoken with coca tea in the morning at our tent, every meal had multiple courses and we had tea time before dinner. The calories were totally necessary that we were consuming, but sometimes a quick peanut butter and jelly does the trick. In the end, we gave everyone good tips because they really work their bodies hard. After our trek we face planted in a bed, while they got back up and went out with the next group. I couldn’t even imagine.

On our third night in we camped in Santa Teresa and had time to unwind in some amazing hot springs….ahhh it was awesome. Especially thrilling because it looks like all the mountains around could landslide at any minute. We also went ziplining, which ended up being awesome because they somehow run the wires across valleys (skippable if you’re on a tight budget).

The last night before summiting Machu Picchu all the tours spend the night in boutique hotels in Aguas Calientes, a cute little tourist-saturated town at the base of the mountains and along a rushing river. You can take the train here if you’re tight on time. It’s pretty satisfying though hiking up, drenched and muddy, past clean tourists dining along the train track.

Finally, reaching Machu Picchu is worth it.

At a glance…

  • Hike the Salkantay with BioAndean Expeditions (Lenny was our guide), though I’m sure other outfitters will do too.
  • Don’t weenie out and take the bus or train up. It’s satisfying to hike up every inch of the way. You can crash after.
  • Relax in the hot baths at Banos Termales Cocalmayo in Santa Teresa. Our guide said these are cleaner than the ones in Aguas Calientes.
  • Pack layers, rain gear, waterproof hiking boots, clothes that you can wear for a few days in a row, hiking poles (you can rent), toilet paper + body wipes, bathing suit, headlamp, dry bag for camera and phone, and snacks.
  • Tips – to avoid the costs of an organized trek, you can hike the trail with your own gear or take the train to Aguas Calientes and there’s a campsite right nearby (called something like Mariposa Camp). Sign up for Wynapicchu, an additional summit over Machu Picchu, which is an extra cost but worth it!

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