Salkantay - The Alternative Trek

Aguas Calientes Travel Blog

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I booked the Salkantay Trek (5 days, 4 nights) the day I arrived.  Left the next morning at 5am for some high altitude trekking.  I'm not going to bore you with the itinerary.  If you want to read about it, visit this link.  It's an alternative trek to the fully-booked Inca trail, and much, much quieter. 

Whereas the Inca trail has 500 people on it a day, I would estimate the number of people on Salkantay to be around 30.   Just hiking for those few days in such amazing scenery and having many moments to myself in nature was incredibly relaxing.  There's also a nice comradery amongst the trekkers.  I pretty much befriend all the other trekkers on the trail and we have some good times around the warming fire in the campground at night.  I'm wondering, on the Inca Trail, are the campsites virtual tent cities?

What really surprises me is how beautiful this trek has been.  I've been living a dream for the past few days.  I was also really surprised that my main backpack was carried by horses ahead of the group.  I was expecting to be trekking with my backpack like in Nepal.  This pretty much made the trek very easy for me.   The second day included a gruelling ascent to 4500m.  Without much time to acclimatize, everyone was winded on the ascent, but no one needed the oxygen one of the guides carried on him.

At the top of the pass, we stand in awe at two enormous mountains - Umantay and Salkantay.  It is an incredible sight to behold.  The air is thin, cold wind whips around us, but we don't care.  It feels great to be there. 

(On a side note, I tried bouldering some of the massive boulders at 4000m, but I have to admit my arms froze up fast and my lungs gave up quickly from high altitude rock climbing.)

What's even more amazing about this trek is that the incredible scenery doesn't end at the top of the pass.  As we continue, we descend into the valley.  First, vast, open plains with scattered rocks greet us and soon turns into a lush jungle.  In the jungle and rainforests, the local vegetation provides us with plenty of food - bananas, coffee (to chew on), avacados, limes, and berries - all of which is very refreshing.  We also spend much of the valley trail along a rushing river - continuous rapids, some pretty large at times are visible until the end of the trail. 

The path is not as well-developed as the Annapurna route in Nepal.  Most of the trail is a dusty path, so part of the time, it's better to walk alone so as to note inhale the dust from a trekker in front.  I also have to wait it out for the dust to clear if a donkey or horse caravan passes by.

Some other highlights:
- Friendly locals and mountain people
- A beautiful newly-developed hot spring nestled in the Andes on the 3rd day - this was most refreshing for me because I had not showered in 4 days (Cuzco had a water shortage when I arrived).   I was just absolutely dirty - layers of sunscreen, bug spray, and dust just clinged to me and was clearly visible.
- Crossing a rushing river in a basket pulled by my guide (you have to see the videos - I'll post them later)
- A massive, deafening waterfall rushing out of one of the mountains
- A bit of salsa and reggaeton dancing at one campground!
- Coca leaves: plenty to chew along the way for energy, and the tea tastes great!  Fortunately, there's not enough to make some of the bad stuff!

One more note. I arrived into Cuzco and booked the trek last minute.  I was able to get it for $150 USD, though other people paid upto $380 USD.  If you are flexible, and do not need to book in advance over the Internet, then of course, I recommend just showing up and going!
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Aguas Calientes
photo by: Vikram