Feet deep in mud, and shit. Literal shit- and at this point, I couldn't tell you if it was donkey, horse, cow, or at best, human shit. I'm scanning for the least depraved spots to step in, but as far as I can tell, it just looks like millions of miniature sinkholes as far and wide as the eye can see. The tour guide's all the way up ahead with the rest of the crew and I can barely make their forms through the 1980's THRILLER esq fog. All I can make through the rain is the back of Chantal's green poncho and her trusty walking stick. It begins to DOWNPOUR, and I'm trying my best not to sink when suddenly, SQUISH! My foot sinks into an exceptionally deep hole, and the shitty, muddy, rocky mixture seeps into my shoe, the cold, thick mass sliding down the back of my foot. With no end in sight, I can't help but curse myself for deciding to HIKE for 5 entire days to Macchu Picchu.
And yet, hiking to Macchu Picchu is one of my most favorite experiences.
Let me paint a picture as to how the Salkantay Hike goes. You trek 75KM / 46 miles, climb up 4,621m / 15,160 feet to the snow capped Salkantay Mountain- in the pouring rain and fog while climbing down steep rocky, muddy terrain, climbing up hot, sweltering, rainforest roads, and trekking through magnificent, mountain passes. It's quite the experience, and with a group of 10 other travelers, from all walks of life - it's a Paulo Coelho book in the making.
Starts off with a 4:30AM pickup time from my hostel. I learned the hard way that Peruvian time is very different from regular time. My guide picks me up at 4:45AM, BUT other people in my group are picked up an hour - 2 hours later. We started off walking on the roads and within an hour we were walking through enormous mountain ranges. Every once in a while we would see some small shack in the distance or some cows grazing, but other than that it was just us and nature. That night I saw the clear night sky for the very first time in my life. The night sky was the most gorgeous I had ever seen before. I stood there for god knows who long, feet sinking in the mud, mouth agape just staring up at the night sky which felt like it was inches above my face. Dinner that night was a candlelit affair with 4 courses and prepared by our chefs with headlamps in a camp "kitchen" tent. Tip your chefs!
Probably the roughest day of the climb, but the most empowering. This is where all the Paulo Coelho shit comes out. A grueling, 9 hour hike (Don't worry kiddies, if I can do it. so can you. Really.) If there's ever anything meant to destroy your self esteem, it's hiking in 15,000 feet in altitude. You get out of breath by taking 3 steps. If there's anything to build up your self esteem, it's hiking in 15,000 feet of altitude. There is nothing more fulfilling than reaching the top of the mountain. seeing the snowy tips around you, and feeling the presence of the countless others who made it up there before you.
The trip is easier in the facet that you won't be gulping for air, but you are going downhill in muddy, rocky abysses that look like the elephant graveyard from The Lion King. However, if you are given the choice--GO TO THE HOT SPRINGS. It will be the best decision you've ever made in your life. You can also take a shower here and reward yourself with a beer and snacks at the local shop. The third night will also be the "Party Night" where you will stay at a campsite with a few other groups and have a bonfire blasting terrible, terrible music with a disco ball outside. Your tents will be outside in the grass for the first time, unless you paid more, you'll be camping in an open building. BUT this will be the first night you can sit out by the bonfire and enjoy some Cusquenas and homemade liquor.
Arrival to Aguas Calientes. You'll be walking the Hydroelectric to get to Macchu Picchu and carrying your own things. A majorly non eventful day..UNLESS YOU GO ZIPLINING WHICH IS AMAZING and will be some of the best zip lining you've ever been on! Take your time and go because it will be one of the best days of your life. Even if you've given birth, this will come before that! You'll finally arrive at a hostel and sleep in a bed and have a hot shower after walking for over 2 hours alongside some train tracks. You may recognize these train tracks from the famously stupid "Kicked in the Head" Youtube video The whole group will get to dine together and have a great dinner - and you can of course enjoy a Pisco Sour or 2. Here, you'll get to enjoy the town and hang around.
Wake up at 3:30AM to join everyone to walk the Inca steps together. The gate opens at 5AM and it will be pitch black, so you MUST MUST bring a flashlight since you'll primarily be walking around in the dark. It's super creepy, but really fun too as you'll only see other flashlights ahead of you. Make sure to bring your passport and ticket as they will be checking for both. The steps take about an hour or more - and you'll slowly see the light come up and fog dissipate. When you do finally reach the entry point of Macchu Picchu, your tour guide will be waiting as well as several others. Once you go in - it will be a completely ethereal experience. After 5 days of hiking, you are FINALLY at MACCHU PICCHU.
Don't go to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes - as they are the springs that smell like piss because of the sulpher. Instead opt for the springs on Day 3. It'll also be the first time you get to have a legitimate shower for the first time.
Pick up a bottle of NUUN energy tablets. While you'll be mainly drinking water and coca tea, you'll be in need of energy and electrolytes during the hike. I highly recommend dropping one of these tablets into your bottle and give yourself a much needed pick up during the day.
Do bring extra snacks. There is plenty of delicious food that they cook for you - but you will want to snack - so bring cookies, candies, bars, nuts etc..
Enjoy the trip and don't rush. You'll want to keep up with everyone but you'll also enjoy seeing the scenery more.
FYI: Getting to Macchu Picchu can be a LOT easier than hiking. You can take also take a train to Macchu Picchu via Perurail.
The food is amazing and really delicious. You will be given plenty of food for Breakfast, lunch and dinner but be sure to bring plenty of snacks.
Sleeping in the tents were pretty fine for me. My sleeping bag and tent were both in great condition. You are given a light mat (like a yoga mat) that goes under the sleeping bag, but I would suggest asking for an additional or thick mat if you have a bad back. It even rained pretty hard on the third night when we were camping outside, but I had no leaks. You do have to share tents, so if you are traveling solo, you'll have to bunk with a stranger. But have no fears, everyone gets to be family very quickly! I never felt in danger once I was on this hike.
Our guide was amazing - very knowledgable, fun and made sure that we were all together + got along as well. We had an Asst. Tour guide, two chefs and two porters. The staff was incredibly amazing.
The hike was doable. Difficult at points, but there were also a lot of easy points. I would definitely do this hike again.