Machu Picchu… an iconic dream destination for the wanderlust, but there is so much more to explore in this region of Peru. This is an experience where the journey itself is much more rewarding than the destination. I just returned from leading a 12 day Adventure in Peru with 9 interesting folks from Manitoba that were eager to challenge themselves by accomplishing the Salkantay and Inca Trail.
Most people are familiar with the classic 4 Day Inca Trail, but there is so much more to explore in this incredible region rich in culture, traditions and history. There are actually several “Inca Trails” throughout the Andes that connect settlements and scared sites. Machu Picchu is the most well known Incan archeological site since it is one of the few places that wasn’t found and destroyed by the Spanish conquest. It was rediscovered by the explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911 in which it gained worldwide attention. But Machu Picchu isn’t all this area has to offer – the Cusco region has so many unique places to see and we were lucky enough to experience a small handful of them.
Our journey began in the Sacred Valley in a small town of Urubamba, where we spent the first 2 nights adjusting to the altitude and getting a small taste of Incan history. Our first official day site-seeing we visited Ollantaytambo, an Incan archeological site that was the royal estate of the Emperor Pachacuti and a ceremonial sun temple. That same day we saw Moray, a terraced plant laboratory, and the salt mines of Maras. It was such an interesting day and our guide was a wealth of knowledge at Ollantaytambo.
The next day our group split up based on interest to visit either Pisaq or Chincherro and we all met in Cusco for our orientation for our trek. We had the privilege of working with an incredible local tour operator, Alpaca Expeditions. They were an amazing team of well trained guides, porters, and cooks from the region. They ensured that we were all well taken care of, safe and healthy, well fed, and informed about the amazing history and environment throughout the trek. I still can’t believe the meals our cook Tongo prepared, from mango ceviche appetizers, huge dinner spreads, and beautiful and tasty desserts. Yummy!
The trek itself really tested your physical, mental and emotional capabilities. The Salkantay Trail is one of the more challenging trails in the region with the summit, the Salkantay Pass, reaching 4,638 m. Our group experienced how much the altitude affects your endurance. Every step seemed like a huge accomplishment and it was an emotional moment when we all reached the summit together. The first 2 days were definitely the most challenging days since that was when we were dealing with the higher altitude. One of the highlights was taking a small detour to see Lake Humantay, a beautifully coloured lagoon where we had a small ceremony led by our guide Jose, to honour the culture, environment, and history of the region. We learned about the significance of the Incan cross and what each side meant and one aspect that touched me was their principals on life were based on knowledge, love, and passion.
After the Salkantay Pass we hiked through several unique microclimates, waterfalls, beautiful flowers and vegetation, and incredible valleys and landscapes. On the fourth night we reached Llaqtapata, an archeological site that overlooks Machu Picchu. Our campsite was on a local property situated near the site, so we slept on a mountain facing Machu Picchu. It was such an amazing site and our guide Jose shared some traditional stories with us while we had that amazing view. At one point a rainbow appeared over Machu Picchu, it couldn’t have been more magical.
The next day we completed the Salkantay Trail and we were ready to join up to the Inca Trail after spending one night in Aguas Calientes. We woke up at the crack of dawn, walked along the train tracks and connected with the infamous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It was an interesting perspective to experience both types of trails and compare the differences. The classic Inca Trail is the pilgrimage trail that was for the elite in Inca Society, whereas the Salkantay Trail was more of a commercial trail used by the common people. It was obvious that the Inca Trail was way more congested with tourists and we passed by one of the Inca Trail campsites which was crowded with several groups. Definitely different from having exclusive camping sites along the Salkantay Trail.
We hiked the Inca trail all the way to the Sun Gate to get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu. It was a rewarding adventure to say the least, but once again it was the journey itself that was much more meaningful than the destination. Our last day was spent doing a full tour of Machu Picchu which was really interesting, but our group experienced so much more by spending 7 days in the environment, hiking through different landscapes, learning about the culture and history, and experiencing the local culture of today.
Doing the 7 day trek was definitely challenging, but challenging yourself leads to so much growth and a wealth of unique experiences. I feel honoured to have accomplished this journey with an amazing group from Manitoba and an incredible local team.
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