The pinnacle of the Salkantay Trek is Machu Picchu. Typically, you would reach Machu Picchu on day 4 or day 5. But for some reason we hiked two 10+ hour days on day 1 and day 2…. And let me just defend myself a bit here and explain why I took the easy way out in a Collectivo on day 3. I like trekking. I like camping. I like multi-day treks in the mountains. Cory and I had completed 3 multi-day treks prior to Salkantay. However, my body, my hiking spirit and my knees only cooperate for about 5-6 hours (7 hours max!). That is a full day of hiking. After 5-6 hours you’re happy to get to camp. You still have energy to set up. There is typically enough light left in the day to sit and enjoy some tea, maybe take some photos, before making dinner. After 5-6 hours of hiking, you’re not rushed to make dinner in the dark, barely able to hold the fork to shovel food into your mouth before you collapse in the tent, which you hopefully have enough energy and brainpower to set up in the dark with your headlamp on… That last bit is exactly what happens after a 10+ hour day of hiking. And we did two of them in a row. Needless to say, my knees, my feet, my will were broken. I didn’t care if I ever hiked again. I was so over it that I threatened Cory he would be hiking by himself in Patagonia. I would find a spa. I’ve since changed my tune. We are now in Patagonia and I’m excited to get out in the mountains again.
But, on that day 3, which actually should have been day 4 or 5, I did not hike another 7+ hours with the boys. Instead of summiting another mountain, I rode comfortably in a Collectivo to Hydroelectrica, where I started the 3 hour uphill hike to Aguas Calientes.
Once you’re in Aguas Calientes, you have the option to take a bus or walk the distance, all uphill, to the top of the mountain. Hiking up the old Incan staircase is an experience in itself. It is a wonderful prelude to the majesty and mystery of Machu Picchu city. But yes, it’s quite an uphill slog.
But it was all worth it. The air-sucking Salkantay pass, the knee-crushing downhills, the mud, the tumbles (yes, I fell twice), and finally the never-ending uphill staircase all slipped into my memory when we stepped into the mystery of Machu Picchu. It is not just a city on a hill, not merely ancient ruins of a people, a culture, a civilization. And although the exact purpose of this ancient oasis is not exactly known, it was and still is a holy place. You can feel it immediately. Stepping on the giant stones, which were somehow placed high up and fitted perfectly in place, you feel the enormity of not just the place, but of its continued impact on a country, its people and all who visit.
Machu Picchu in all its glory – no captions necessary: