Machu Picchu was always a must-do on our otherwise unplanned vagabonding itinerary. Alie’s parents had hiked the Inca Trail for their honeymoon and we were excited to follow in their footsteps 35 years later. The Inca Trail is one of the most infamous and popular hikes in the world; as a result it is extremely expensive (~$1000 for 4 days) and highly restricted (max 500 people – 300 of which are guides, cooks and porters since no horses are allowed – per day). Unfortunately activities that book up months in advance don’t jive well with a more spontaneous vagabonding agenda, so instead we chose to trek the Salkantay pass to Machu Picchu.
The 5-day trek proved to be way cushier than any of our prior hikes. Along with 3 fellow hikers, we were accompanied by Cesar (a laugh happy hiking guide), Juanito (a culinary genius), and Eliceo (a porter and horse whisperer), meaning we didn’t need to carry any of our gear, cook any of our meals, or set up any of our camps.
Despite the comforts provided by our dream team of guides, the 5 day, 60+ km trail tested the endurance of our hamstrings and calves: we climbed to the 4,600 meter high base of Salkantay Mountain, down to Aguas Calientes town at the foot of Machu Picchu, back up to 2,400 meters at the Machu Picchu ruins and then a further 650 meters to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain. Luckily we had the company of Danielle, a New Jersey army captain-turned-world traveler with a knack for story telling (and an unusually high number of strange massage stories), to pass the time.
After 4 days of trekking (and rerouting due to landslides), we arrived at 6AM to see the site we had been waiting for since the beginning of our trip – only to find it completely shrouded in mist. Able to see only feet ahead of us, we weren’t sure if the Incan Ruins were worthy of all the blood, sweat and tears (and Alie’s trekking shoes which went missing mid-trek). But by mid-day the clouds lifted and revealed the awe-inspiring site.
Machu Picchu was literally and figuratively a peak of our 3 months in South America.
There are a number of ways to visit Machu Picchu over any number of days:
- For those of you looking for a more adventurous way to the site, various trails can get you there over 3-10 day treks. The Salkantay trail was beautiful and diverse, though the Inca and Sacred Valley trails take you through a number of historic and beautiful ruins along the way.
- If you are looking for a more relaxed trip, you can bus & train or hire a car to take you to Aguas Calientas, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. You can then visit the ruins in a day, or spend a night in the tourist town and take another trip up to Machu Picchu the following day.
- For those looking for more luxury, there is a Belmond hotel at the top of Machu Picchu, right outside the entry gate. If it’s anything like the Belmond back in Cusco, then expect great things.