This is my last post in a three-part series documenting my Salkantay Trek tour, wrapping things up at Machu Picchu. Want to start from the beginning? Head to Part 1 and Part 2. I’ve condensed my tips for the trek into this, my final post on reaching Machu Picchu. If you’re looking for facts and figures, scroll down for my Salkantay Trek packing list, tips, and information on what it costs.
By the end of our fourth day on the Salkantay Trek, we had seen so many beautiful landscapes that I had almost forgotten what lay at the end of the trek. But on the morning of our fifth and final day, that changed. It started to sink in: we were going to Machu Picchu.
Not many things could get me to happily roll out of bed at 3:00 a.m. and spend the next two hours sitting on the sidewalk. But if anything makes that list, it’s Machu Picchu.
After our second day of hiking the Salkantay Trek, we were finally in the jungle. And from Challway, where we started Day 3, it was (almost) all downhill.
The previous two days had taken us from the famous Humantay Lake all the way up to the Salkantay Pass, at a lung-straining 15,200 feet. And on the second day alone, the scenery was enough to make me forget all about Machu Picchu; we had walked from the glacial lake at Salkantay Pass down through the cloud forest and into the jungle at Challway in one, long stretch. By our third morning, we had already seen more than I could’ve imagined– and we still had two days of hiking left.
On the itinerary for Day 3: hike from Challway to Playa Sahuayaco, and then on to our camp near the small town of Santa Teresa.
In my mind, it’s unavoidable: if it’s your first trip to Peru, you go to Machu Picchu. It’s part of why Nick and I chose Peru over any other destination in Latin America, and it’s the reason we traveled in August, at the end of Peru’s high season. (Which, by the by, explains why the weather was so dismal in Lima; high season for hiking is the greyest time of year to visit the coast.)
But, while I was giddy about seeing a wonder of the world, I wasn’t eager to hike the Inca Trail. Instead, I went for an alternative: the Salkantay Trek.
The Salkantay Trek is just one of many that eventually leads to Machu Picchu. I’ll write more in-depth about why we chose it in another post. For now, suffice it to say there were a few benefits: it’s less popular, significantly less expensive, and easier to book than the Inca Trail. And besides all that, it just seemed quieter. I was looking for a challenging trek that would let me marvel at completely new-to-me scenery without the distraction of other tour groups. On that front— on every front— it was a total success.
Hiking the Colca Canyon turned out to be one of the most memorable, challenging things I did in Peru. I passed through landscapes I had never seen before, hiked at an altitude I had never experienced, and stayed in an incredible mini-jungle in Sangalle. All in all, it was one of the coolest hikes I’ve done, and I’m so glad to have done it without a guide— but I could’ve been way more prepared.
As I mentioned in my last post, I found it surprisingly difficult to dig up detailed information about hiking the Colca Canyon online. Presumably, that’s because so many people see it with a tour group, an option that didn’t really appeal to me. It’s totally possible to hike the Colca Canyon independently — provided you take care of the research and preparation up front.
I know I say this about everywhere in Peru, but the Colca Canyon was a stop I was really, really looking forward to. Named for the Colca River in its valley, the canyon is navigable only by foot or mule and takes a minimum of two days to hike. At the top of the canyon you’ve got bone-dry desert; at the bottom, a river that gives life to lush little oases. On the list of things I was excited to do in Peru, I knew this would be one of only a few that I would be really disappointed to miss.
And for a while, it looked like Nick and I might have to skip it. Luckily, we decided to ignore our bodies’ pleas for rest and make the hike, whose difficulty level no one could seem to agree on. I’ll save you the suspense: it was haaard. As the world’s second deepest canyon (it’s twice as deep as the Grand Canyon!), that probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise.
Everything about Ometepe revolves around its volcanoes; geologically, the island grew up around them, and today its main streets circle their bases. Even the island’s original name, Ometepl, comes from the Nahuatl ome tepetl: two mountains. Basically, they’re a big deal.
I didn’t know any of that when I arrived there, though—hiking Volcán Maderas was barely on my radar. My adventurous, way-more-fit-than-me French friends from Granada talked me into it. And by “talked me into it” I obviously mean they talked about it amongst themselves in French, and then I got an abbreviated version of the plan in broken Spanish the day before we set off. So, you could say I was pretty prepared.