Well we have finally done a trek after living here for 4 years now and I must say that it was a once in a lifetime adventure, not because of cost or accessibility as we live right here close, but because this trek whooped both our buts. If you would like a test as to how in, or out of shape you are, this would be a good one, even after living here at 3,400 m (11,150 feet) for over 4 years, trying to suck air at 4,630 m (15,190 feet) is no easy task. So Considering we conquered , or mostly conquered the trek, I though I would share our experience, and maybe provide a little additional information to anyone considering doing this trek during their visit to the Cusco region.
For this blog I have decide to group the information into sections so that if you are looking for some specific information, it might be a little easier to find, so I hope that you enjoy this blog or at least can find some useful information, and if you have any questions about our trek, feel free to post them in the comments section below or send me an e-mail, and I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner.
While we do regularly recommend Viajes Cusco to our guests, we decided to look for a different agency as we have had a lot of feedback on Viajes and thought it would be good to have some kind of comparison, even if not first hand. As you may know from some of my previous blogs, I am a proponent of smaller being better for many things and tour agencies are one of these. With this in mind we did a little research and decided on Saywas Expeditions, as they have a good record of reviews on Trip Adviser and are locally owned and operated. Living here close to Cusco we were also able to visit the office and check out the equipment prior to the trek, and while I am no equipment expert, the equipment was all of good quality and in good condition. One question/comment that I usually see on Trip Adviser is about the warmth of the sleeping bags, this I believe is the toughest question as temperature is a very relative thing, we have had guests on cool mornings that will come down in shorts and sandals, while other guests are coming down bundled up like Eskimos, so temperature is a relative thing likely based partially on where you live. The same thing can be applied to sleeping bags, I slept in just my underwear and was quite comfortable, while Lily was more bundled up in the sleeping bag and was still cool. My advice here would be to have thermal underwear with you and be prepared to sleep in it, no mater which agency you might choose.
Our gear was fairly basic as we are not regular backpackers or even hikers, our hikes are generally limited to hiking around the local sites with guests, and that does not require much in the way of gear, but we did purchase a few things for this trip. While we do have day packs, none of them are designed for a water bladder so we purchased new day packs to give water bladders a try. Lily opted for a small lightweight 30 liter nylon pack while I went with a heavier 1,700 cubic inch Denier pack, both capable of holding a 2 liter water bladder. We also picked up a Nekteck 20w foldable solar charger for recharging phones and back up batteries, this worked quite well as we were able to charge the batteries during the day and then use them to charge the phones at night. Aside from clothing the only other thing that we carried during the day were trekking poles, these we purchased here in Cusco for S/25.00 Soles each (about $7.60 USD) and we found that they worked well especially on the up hill and down hill sections.
With clothing we had nothing special, aside from the normal socks, underwear and tee-shirts, I just wore my denim pants and used a combination of a fleece vest with a fleece jacket over that and was quite comfortable. In the mornings I wore a chuyo (an Andean alpaca ski type hat) to keep my head warm, and once the sun came up I switched to a brimmed hat to help keep the sun off my head and neck. The only thing that I wish I had taken would be some heavier wool or alpaca socks as my feet were cold on the second morning when we started up towards the Salkantay glacier, but that was just the one morning. For shoes I just wore hiking shoes that I normally wear on a day to day basis here and Lily wore something a little closer to a hiking boot.
The Camp Sites:
Growing up in California my family used to go camping every summer, and once my brother and I were old enough my dad started taking us backpacking, and the camp sites used on this trek were nothing like anything that I was used to. The camps that we stayed in were all in small communities with the tents being set up in shelters and an actual dining area that was a closed or at least a partially closed space. This also meant that semi normal bathrooms were available and at the 2nd nights camp location I even noticed that there were hot showers to rent.
Food is something that guests always rave about after returning from a trek, and at least as far as our trek went, I can understand why. The food that we were served was fresh, of excellent quality and there was plenty of it, the amount of food served is actually something that guests regularly comment on as well and for anyone planing a Salkantay trek, either with Saywas or another agency, I don’t think that you have to worry about leaving leftovers. According to our guide, anything left is given to the locals, and at our 2nd days lunch stop, this was actually the condition in which the kitchen and dining facilities were offered, free use was given with the condition that any remaining food goes to the host family.
This arrangement with having the camp and lunch locations in the small communities actually helps to support the communities as well as provides a place where the cooks can purchase fresh ingredients, which is likely one reason for the excellent quality, not to mention the skill of chef’s. The camp sites and facilities are usually provided to the groups free, with the condition that they purchase their supplies from the provider, so according to our chef, there was no planed menu for the trek, he just gets to the town and looks to see what is available, then planned the menu based on what he found.
Day 1 – This day started with an early pick up and then a drive to the west, descending almost to the town of Limatambo where we made our turn towards Mollepata. In Mollepata we had a short break to stretch our legs and get some breakfast, we had made some sandwiches so we just sat at one of the restaurants on the plaza, had coffee and enjoyed our breakfast. After this break we continued on along a dirt road to a small house where we met our horseman, here the van was unloaded and we said goodbye to our driver. After a short break we started down the road which we followed for about 7 km to the town of Soraypampa. As we hiked down the road we had some nice views of Humantay Mountain and got a few glimpses of as Salkantay Mountain when we got close to Soraypampa. Overall the hike on the road was not bad, there was not much in the way of traffic and it was fairly level.
After setting up things in our tent and having lunch we started up the mountain towards lake Humantay, which sits at the base of one of the glaciers on Humantay Mountain. The hike started in camp at about 3,900 m and took us up to the lake at just about 4,250 m giving us a gain of 350 m in just over 2.5 km, making this a fairly strenuous but short hike. While the climb was tough and took us just about 2 hours to reach the lake, it was worth it, the lake itself was a beautiful blue and the view (while a little cloudy) was quite grand, we even enjoyed watching a few crazy people take a dip in the frigged lake.
Day 2 – Today we had a very early start, eating breakfast just before it started getting light outside so that we could start as soon as it was light enough to see. We started our climb up towards Salkantay mountain (Lily on her horse), which at the start was a fairly gradual assent for the first 3 km, where we then stopped for a short break in a large meadow. We then continued another 3 km, again along a fairly gradual incline to our next rest point, this time in a small meadow where we had a small snack before continuing on towards the pass. At this point the trail started to get steeper and while each of the previous 3 km section were completed in about 1 hour each, this last section to the top was only 2km, but still took about 1 hour.
Once at the pass, we were right at the base of one of the glaciers on Salkantay mountain and the views were spectacular, it was a lot of work to get there but overall I would say that the hike was worth it. While at the summit we took pictures, had another light snack and then our guide took us closer to the glacier and we did a short ceremony to thank the Apus (mountains) for allowing us to pass. After a few more photos we started our decent down the mountain. Our next stop was 7.5 km down the mountain where we had lunch in a small community (Wayramachay I think), on this section the lungs and heart may have gotten a break, but the legs got a real workout as it is all down hill, we were also fortunate enough to see a female condor flying overhead at one point.
After lunch we started our final leg of the day descending down to 2,900 m over the course of 13.5 km, While there were a few steep sections the majority of the trail was a moderate decent, and the scenery was nice, the trail descended into high jungle or cloud forest and passed several small creeks. As this was a very long day we also got to enjoy a nice sunset before we finished the day, which also meant that we had to hike the last few kilometers in the dark with flashlights. Overall this days hike was about 29 km, started at roughly 3,900 m, climbed to just over 4,600 m, then descended to 2,900 m and overall took us 10 hours of hiking time. We were the last hikers to finish when we finally arrived in Chaullay around 7 pm, this was where we camped and had dinner this day and needless to say we did not do anything more than eat dinner before going to sleep this evening.
Day 3 – We decided to pass on the hike this day as we were both quite tired and we did not know if our legs had another day’s worth of hiking left in them, so today we took a car rather than hike the approximately 29 km to Santa Teresa where we had a few hours to relax and wandered the town a bit before eating lunch. After lunch, and a few beers, we took another car to Hydro Electrica where we then took the train to Aguas Calientes, Once we arrived in Aguas Calientes the guide took us to our hotel Cusi Q’oyllor, and after checking in we enjoyed a nice hot shower and then went to one of our favorite places in Aguas Calientes, Otto’s Spa where we each had the Inka Massage, which was a very welcome treat after the previous days hiking. After the massage we returned to the hotel where we met with the guide that would be doing the Machu Picchu tour and then went to dinner before retiring for the evening.
Day 4 – As we have visited Machu Picchu several times in the past we decided on a late day tour and met the guide at the entrance about 10:00 am, here we started the roughly 2 hour guided tour of the site, during which the guide explained many aspects of the site and Inka culture. We found our guide Mario to be very informed and he spoke good English, he also had a route that was fairly relaxed and he made sure to take several breaks so that everyone enjoyed the day. After the tour we headed back down to AC and had lunch, after which went to the hot springs for a little more relaxation, before having dinner in the evening and then catching the train back to Huarocondo, yes there is a local train that stops in Huarocondo, and no, tourists can not take this train.
To sum things up, would I recommend this trek? Yes, I think this trek has many positives like the fact that there are options to make life easier if you are unsure about your fitness level, for example you can rent a horse for the difficult parts and take a vehicle for part of it as well.
Would I recommend Saywas Expeditions? As a mid-priced option, Yes. We felt they provided excellent service both prior to the trek and on the trek itself, our guide was good and the food was excellent as well.
Do you need any special gear? No, while we purchased a few things like new day packs and a solar charger, I actually did the trek in comfortable hiking shoes that I normally wear on a day to day basis. We didn’t purchase any hi-end lightweight gear and had no problems keeping our gear under the weight limit for the mules.
Is there a recommended age? No, while we did not see many people our age (50’s) there were a few, additionally we saw a few families with younger kids as well (I think the youngest was 10 or 12). Considering the availability of horses and mules, as long as you are not too large (like me), you can hire a horse, even in the town before starting the climb on day 2, and whether you walk most of the way, or ride the horse, the scenery is still going to be amazing.
Is GringoWasi a good location to do the Salkantay Trek from? We actually get asked this a lot and the answer is yes and for two reasons. First is that the property is at virtually the same altitude as Cusco so it is suitable for acclimation. Second is that for any of the treks that start off in this direction (Salkantay, Choquequirao, Inka Trail and Inka Jungle Trek), you get extra sleep on the day you start the trek. Generally agencies will start picking up people in Cusco anywhere from 30 minutes up to 1 hour before actually departing Cusco, add to this the roughly 30 to 45 minutes between Cusco and where we usually meet the groups and you could get an extra hour or more of sleep.
Thanks Again to our small but wonderful crew.