Cusco Town Center, PeruAfter 4 days running around Lima it was time to head to Cusco and make final preparations for the 5-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. A couple weeks before I flew, I tried to get the exact days worked out and I was able to buy a round trip ticket from Lima to Cusco for $68.

Winter Solstice, Cusco Peru

Winter Solstice Party at the Hostel in Cusco

Most travelers take the bus because it’s pretty cheap, but I didn’t have 26 hours for a one-way trip /58 extra hours for the round trip. Plus I think I found an extremely good deal on flights. Normally, domestic flights that are only just over an hour are pretty cheap if you look a little bit in advance.

I arrived into Cusco in the morning and found a very nice man to drive me into down for 15 soles ($4.25). A bunch of other “official” and extremely annoying taxi drivers were trying to convince me to pay them $50 for a ride into down. Ummm, eat a dick.

Once I got into town, he dropped me off at the tourist company that I used to book the Salkantay trek. Here are a few items about the trekking:

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 789First and foremost the trek that everyone talks about is the Inca Trail, 26 miles long, there are only so many permits allowed on the trail a day and so you much book well advance, sometimes up to 6 months in advance during peak seasons. There are ruins along the trek and you enter the city at the sun gate, which is pretty cool. Con: There is a lot of traffic as it is a pretty popular trek.

Second is the Salkantay trek. This trek is 50 miles in length, which is double the distance, and the highest altitude you hike to is 4,600 meters. It is not as transited and is very scenic. There is a bit of a disconnect because you hike this entire loop and then end up in the town Aguas Calientes at the bottom of Machu Picchu, which is where you stay the night before the trek in a hotel. So technically, you could also just train into the town from Cusco and hike Machu Picchu without having done the Salkantay trek at all.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 908Third. I ended up choosing a pretty cheap tour for the Salkantay Trek. I’m on the fence about recommending them because you get what you pay for, which isn’t much. Overall, the initial trek cost me $260 and there are a few other things that I added on after I arrived in Cusco, such as the early train back into town– $10, ziplining– $30, and the trek to Machu Picchu Montana, one of the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu– $10. The gold star trek for Salkantay can be found at Salkantay.org, but it will cost you about $600+, although you will be treated much better. I also heard from others that if you wait till you arrive in Cusco you may even be able to get a much better deal.

P.S. There are other treks you can do for this trip, these are just the two I was looking at and compared.

After I stopped in at the office and made sure my trek was in order, I walked down the street to a hostel a tourist in Lima recommended to me. Checking to see if they had an availability, which they did, I checked my backpack and headed out to lunch. It was still too early to check-in.

Ben, my friend from Lima recommended this vegan/vegetarian restaurant called Greenpoint, (seriously guys it is so good!), and I walked there for lunch while I waited till 1pm to check-in to Pariwana Hostel (Also a really great place to stay for $9 a day, breakfast included!). After lunch, I went to bed and slept pretty much until I met up with the group at the tourist office for our brief.

Green point Vegan Restaurant, CuscoThere were only 2 other people from my group at the brief but it was pretty obvious that nobody actually knew what was going on. From the moment the briefing started they couldn’t even give a straight answer to exactly how many people would be on the trek the next morning. We decided to roll with it and I went back to the hostel, packed the small bag they gave me for the trek and went back to bed. haha. Traveling wears you out sometimes! We were meeting the van at 4:00 the next morning. eeek!

DAY 1

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 906In total, there were 7 of us on the trek together, 2 Brazilian brothers, 2 British guys, 1 Australian, 1 Belgian, and yours truly, the token American woman.


Salkanty Trek, camp the first night, PeruAfter a 2.5 hour drive and a quick stop for breakfast, we arrived at the place we would begin our hike. A few minutes later we were trekking and the good news was that the day 1 hike was pretty easy and flat. We reached camp in about 2 hours and took naps, setup our gear in our tents, and had lunch. Then we opted to hike to this lake that was ROUGH!

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 95Naptime in the sun.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 96About to start the horrific trek to the lake. The view was worth it, but man what a rough afternoon.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 44What a beautiful view from up on the mountainside. I think the trek was so hard because there wasn’t really a good trial to follow until you got to the mountain you climb up to reach the lake and covering uneven terrain just hurts both your feet and legs.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 100

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 98 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 12I’m not really sure why when you ask someone to take a photo why they can never get it remotely right. Like how hard is it to make sure all of our bodies are in the background or why does it come out crooked? This is what I have to work with. Seriously?! I’m not asking for much here.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 6Once we had trekked across the ridge and down to the lake, it was time to head back to camp for dinner and bed!

I didn’t sleep well even although I was really tired after that hike to the lake; it was freezing up on the mountainside, which probably had something to do with it.

DAY 2, PEAK DAY

Starting early in the morning, just after breakfast, we were headed to the Salkantay peak at 4,600 meters.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 16It was a beautiful morning and we started off at a good pace, the Brits were pretty fast and probably wanted to hike faster but we stuck together for the morning as we descended to the Salkantay peak.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 20I love this photo of the fog hanging low in the valley.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 26

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 27“Willem, what are you saying?” haha.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 34 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 38 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 39We reached the peak in about 4 hours  and little did I know that we would be hiking down for about 6 more hours. This was going to definitely hurt my right hip, which was dislocated when I was really young and pulls really bad on long descents like this.

We hiked down for about 2 hours before lunch and stopped to eat and rest for a bit and then continued on. All I wanted was a beer, a shower, and CAMP at this point!

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 60

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 64Damn, the beauty on this trek though!

Salkantay Trek Lunch Break Peru

Source: @Darrin

I wanted to take a nap after lunch in the warm sun but I knew if I fell asleep it would be over, so I rested for about a half hour and then hit the road with the guys.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 67 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 69

The descent just went on and on and on. Beautiful, but taxing.

When we made camp that night it was such a relief. We had come down in altitude so it wasn’t so cold once it got dark, there was both cold beer and a warm/hot shower waiting, and I was able to rest my right leg, TOTAL RELIEF.

Just before we made camp, I had fallen a bit back from the group and a guy with a couple of mules passed by me, this was common on the trail. As I was watching, I saw an item fall off of one of the pack mules, and the mule just took off! I mean bolted. In a really scary way because the path was very narrow and there was a cliff on the right side and a steep rock face on the left side.

I knew the rest of the group was up ahead but I was a bit too far back to warn them it happened so quickly. Luckily, one of the guys heard the mule and he started screaming for everyone to get out of the way. Everyone jumped toward the rock face on the left and Alex, one of the Brits was listening to music on his ipod so he didn’t hear the commotion. The mule flew past on his right side, brushing him towards the safe part of the trial on the left. Had the mule passed on the left side…. It was a bit scary and the whole thing happened in seconds. Luckily, we all made it to camp in one piece.

That night we had dinner and a few beers and the Brits taught us a new card game called shithead, which was pretty fun. We went to bed early in preparation to descend again the next morning.

Saving a baby chicken in Peru, Salkantay TrekSaving baby chickens who were abandoned!

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 77 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 78After a really nice morning hike, we made it to Santa Teresa for lunch and this is where our group split up.

The 2 Brits and Belgian headed into Aguas Calientes to hike Machu Picchu early the next morning. We would stay in St. Tereasa and have one more day before the climb to rest and recuperate. Phew.


Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 80 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 81 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 82After camp was set and we had relaxed for a little, we headed to a set of natural hot springs to relax soak our muscles for awhile.

Hot springs in Santa Teresa Peru. Salkantay TrekThank-you for natural hot springs!

IMG_4137The next morning, this guy ate the last banana!

IMG_4133That’s okay because they served us cake for breakfast, which was pretty awesome! If only there was an ocean nearby..

Zip lining santa Teresa Peru

Source: @Darrin

Then we decided to do some ziplining and get a ride from there to the train tracks for the last 11km hike into town. I’m really glad I was able to convince the others to join me for the ziplining because it turned out to be so much fun :).

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 89Our destination was Aguas Calientes, the town set at the bottom of Machu Picchu.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 87 Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 84Crazy big ant train on the ground near the train tracks.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 83Caught the train on the trestle, excited about this shot!


Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 91Kind of scary walking through this tunnel trying to make sure that a train wasn’t coming.

Salkantay Trek, Cusco Peru 92Finally! Hello Aguas Clientas. An actual hotel room with a hot shower and a soft bed. It was just the thing needed before the ascent to Machu Picchu the next morning. Get ready for that!

This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.

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