Salcantay Trek to Machu Picchu
This five-day trek, which includes one day in Machu Picchu, is one of the latest alternatives in the area. As there are no restrictions, unlike on the Inca Trail, you can do this trek on your own or with a guide or agency.
If you don’t like camping, there are now high-quality lodges along the route operated by Mountain Lodges of Peru (Av. El Sol 948, Centro Commercial Cusco Sol Plaza, tel. 084/24-3636, www.mountainlodgesofperu.com).
Leaving Cusco, take the road heading towards Lima, to the town of Limatambo and the site of Tarawasi, named after the berry tara, which grows in the area. Continue on to Soraypampa (3,869 meters), which is above the nearby herding village of Mollepata.
At Soraypampa there is a campsite and a lodge operated by Mountain Lodges Peru. This company offers luxury high-altitude trekking, with four lodges located along the Salcantay route. Their lodges are all designed with elements of environmental sustainability in mind. With heating, hot showers, incredibly comfortable beds, and Jacuzzis, this is a great option for trekkers who either do not want to camp or don’t want to carry the gear on the way to Machu Picchu.
In Soraypampa, you have wonderful views of both Salcantay (6,264 meters) and Humantay (5,917 meters) mountains. If you are staying in the lodge, you can hike to the beautiful multi-colored lake at the foot of Humantay glacier as an acclimatization tour. Some trekkers prefer to push on past Soraypampa to a campsite at Soyroccocha (4,206 meters). The campsite is at a very high altitude, so come acclimatized and bring plenty of warm clothing.
This is the day of the high pass (4,600 meters) and possible sightings of the intriguing Andean chinchilla, a furry rodent that resembles a baby bunny rabbit. Switchbacks take you up to the pass to spectacular snowy views of the mountain. From here, it is a steep 3.5-hour downhill walk through both barren high plains and cloud forest to the campsite of Colpapampa (2,682 meters).
Colpapampa to La Playa is a breathtaking trek. You are now well into the cloud forest. This agricultural area is awash with coffee, avocados, citrus fruits, and wild strawberries. This day is the easiest, as it is only a slight descent to La Playa (2,042 meters).
Today you get to Aguas Calientes. Follow an old trail for about two hours to the pass (2,743 meters) and down to the Inca town of Llaqtapata. Here there is a small archaeological site and a spectacular view of Machu Picchu.
After Llaqtapata, the trail is hard, steep, downhill, and super slippery in the rainy season. The elevation decreases 914 meters in three hours to the train station at the hydroelectric plant. From here, to get to Aguas Calientes, most people take the 4:30 p.m. train (US$8); however, some people choose to walk along the train track to Aguas Calientes, which takes approximately three hours (eight kilometers).
Almost all tours offer a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes before going to Machu Picchu the next day.
© Ross Wehner and Renée del Gaudio from Moon Peru, 3rd Edition