What it's Like to Hike Peru's Legendary Salkantay Trail
Three days of sun, snow, and rain under the towering 15,000 foot peaks of the Peruvian Andes, on our way to Machu Picchu
Contax T2, Yashica T4
The Inca Trail is the popular route into Machu Picchu, the famed 15th century Inca citadel hidden deep in the Peruvian Andes. Yes you can take a train to the base of Machu Picchu too, but this particular crew of gung-ho gringos wanted to be “muy authentico” and hike in. So we did. Only we we opted for the less popular Salkantay Trek, preferring not to find out what happens when thousands of people hiking side by side each get a case of the runs all at once.
The Salkantay trek takes place at considerable elevation—around 15,000 feet—for a solid portion, and runs a total of 33 miles. Though at elevation, the hike itself is relatively moderate in gains and losses, save for day two, when you crest Salkantay pass.
On this day, we had broken trail before sun up, and reached the top of the 15k ft pass shortly thereafter. With the stunning 20,574 ft Salkantay Mountain looking over us we partook in a traditional Inca cocoa leaf offering, led by our local guide. The experience was one to hold onto for years to come.
Further on, trading the alpine environment for the humid jungle (and more stomach issues, to put it nicely), the rain which we’d heard so much about finally caught up, delivering a deluge of water for the final miles of the hike. Our questionably sane cook served up a final, and ever-hearty dinner, before we called it quits. Not before deciding to forego the following day’s final miles in favor of hitching a van ride to a local hot spring. Mosquito apocalypse aside, it was the perfect way to wrap up such a trek before pushing to Machu Picchu the following day.