The Biggest Adventure of My Life: Salkantay to Machu Picchu

WHEN DID WE GO: March 23-26, 2018

WHY DID WE GO: Side Trip from Lima, Peru, while on Remote Year

HOW LONG WERE WE THERE: 4 days and 3 nights, the final day being at Machu Picchu


We toured with Loki Travel. Though there were definitely aspects of our Loki Travel experience that weren't perfect, overarchingly, this tour was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone!

Day 1 - Cusco to Soraypampa.

Let’s just say, I almost didn’t even start this hike. Our day kicked off with a few hours of a bus ride and when our bus made it’s first stop on day 1, I had stomach flu or food poisoning or whatever the eff it was. I literally was near tears, miserable and my body was shaking. I couldn’t stomach much more than bread and butter at breakfast. And I seriously thought about quitting. Throwing in the towel right then and there. 

But I knew how bad I wanted this and, fortunately, a kind soul gave me their Pepto, while another made me some Ginger tea and helped me to take my mind off of my stomach with a little meditative partner stretching. Fortunately, my symptoms dissipated for the day, thank god. Because, despite the fact that I struggled up our first few hills (oh hey altitude and Ellyn not having great cardio), the next 3 days would challenge me, humble me, and show me some of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen. It’s amazing how when you want something bad enough, we’ll endure a lot to make it happen!

At the end of day 1 of our trek, we were presented with an optional hike up to the lagoon. I kind of wondered, is this actually going to be worth it? Should I rest and let my body heal, even if my stomach seems okay for now? They said it was a simple one hour hike that would be “good training for day 2” of our trek. My first thought? Well, I definitely need the training. And since my stomach symptoms had subsided for the day, I decided to go for it. 

Let’s just say it was a rude awakening. I was kicking myself for all those extra runs I had skipped out on. So many hills and so much fricken up. I was dying and gasping for air, realizing that day 2, by far the hardest day of our hike, was going to be a struggle and a half. Fortunately, the view from the top? Some of the bluest water and greenest greens I’ve ever seen! And the snow capped mountains that surrounded us? Definitely not a bad bonus!

Distance climbed: Approximately 10km (~6 miles) and 700m

DAy 2 - Soraypampa to Chaullay

“I can do hard things.” This was my unofficial mantra for day 2 of our Salkantay trek. It was by far the most difficult, but most rewarding day of our trek!

The day that involved dealing with stomach issues that were back with a vengeance. I was more miserable than I could have possibly comprehended. I tried to take my mind off of my sickness, but honestly, I couldn't. I didn't eat because I wasn't sure what I could stomach. 

Even with all the stomach issues raging inside of me, the altitude sickness that one of the fittest girls in our group nearly collapsed from, etc. we all climbed 3+ hours to the high point of our trek at 4600 meters. All the gasping for air that hiking at altitude requires was worth it to finish off that final ascent. All the beating up my body with another 5+ hours of climbing down to our camp. This whole day was definitely the most humbling experience of my life. The altitude kicked my ass and the stomach issues threatened my sanity. I was sore. My joints hurt. I was hungry, but afraid to eat for fear of upsetting my stomach further. And still...I find myself looking back at this day fondly.

I don’t think I will ever forget the feeling of finishing our last accent. I literally got to the point where I was counting my steps, benchmarking my final ascent. "Another 50 steps, Ellyn, and you can rest!". Couple that with rolling into camp that evening after hiking 27km and damn did I feel accomplished. Add to that all of my fellow hikers, friends and tramily huddled at the top of the hill at the sign indicating that we’d reached Salkantay mountain, I couldn’t have made it through this day without them cheering me on, supporting me, helping me when I got sick. It was the ultimate bonding experience, and damn did I appreciate these people even more! Because amidst all the stomach pains, the feeling like absolute shit, not being able to breathe, etc. We did a very hard thing together. And damn is it amazing to have people to challenge yourself with and to grow with.

Distance climbed: Approximately 27km (~16.5 miles) and 600m of ascent followed by ~1200m of descent.

DAy 3 - Chaullay to Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes

Day 3 was pretty straightforward. It was our long, flat hiking day. We would find out as we progressed though that part of the Salkantay trail had been closed along the river, meaning that we would be making the majority of our hike in the road. At first it was boring, but, in fact, probably one of the biggest adrenaline rushes of the whole hike would happen this day. 

I should've perhaps noted earlier that we were hiking this trail during the rainy season. Ideally, visitors would come from like April - September or something, while the trail is closed January-February when it's the most precarious and when the construction crews can make repairs. We were hiking it in one of the only months when the trail was open during the rainy season. And today we would find out why. 

After crossing a river, we came to these two vans that were stopped in the middle of the road. Odd considering we had seen very few cars on that road thus far. As we rounded the corner, we realized that these cars weren't stopped voluntarily. A landslide had literally just happened, blocking the road to vehicles. Our guides immediately put their serious faces on. One of them watched the landslide as the other started guiding us over the muddy hill so that we could continue our hike. As the first group of us were coming over the top of the hill, our guides started yelling. Rocks had started to fall from the fresh landslide and we were about to walk in the middle of it. We had no choice but to do so. We had to continue on. There was all sorts of yelling. There was all sorts of fear, and my adrenaline hadn't pumped like that thus far in this experience. We all made it across, but not without some heart-pumping adrenaline-inducing action. It definitely taught me that running through fresh landslides is not exactly my ideal adrenaline rush. Definitely the most noteworthy event of day 3! 

As we finished up the first leg of our hike, we came to this absolutely amazing lunch spot and our last great meal with our cooks! Basically, it was our own personal treehouse! There were hammocks, a view of the river, and, of course, beer. I believe that Loki's trek description even highlighted this day and this spot as a great moment for a beer. I abstained, though. I was saving my beer for Aguas Calientes and good thing too. Alcohol hits you hard at altitude!

That night we ended up in Aguas Calientes at our hostel and the Macchu Picchu adventure kicked off the next morning!

Distance climbed: Approximately 26km (~16.1 miles)

DAy 4 - Machu Picchu & the REturn to Cusco

Machu Picchu ruins & tour.

On Day 4, we finally arrived at Machu Picchu! We worked so hard to get there. 4 days and 3 nights. 60 some kilometers (or almost 40 mi). And let’s not forget the 1700 stairs we climbed that morning to get to the Machu Picchu gate.

The pessimist in me wanted to be mad about the rain and the fog in the morning. I’m glad I didn’t listen to that voice in my head. I thought the fog that encased the ruins and the surrounding mountains would ruin the moment. But it didn’t. It enhanced it. Made it more mystical. Eerie. And we were blessed to see the ruins in both that absolutely incredible fog and in sunshine later in the day! It was that cheesy moment of realization that even the fog and the clouds, the less-than-ideal could make this place just as amazing! How’s that for a lesson?

Our wonderful Salkantay tour guide joined us at Machu Picchu for a tour around the ruins. He explained to us some of the fascinating imagery and animals that were crucial to the Incan culture. He explained to us why this place is so isolated and why it was ultimately so difficult for explorers to find. It was a fascinating tour. And our last chance to spend time with and thank our main guide, Raul. He was awesome, and needless to say he got a big tip! 

We puttered around Machu Picchu the rest of the day. We checked out some of the ruins before, accidentally, getting forced to exit. There are no bathrooms or places to buy water or food within the ruins. So, your ticket gives you access to one exit and re-entry. We had to use that one early on, but we were able to go back in. We made it up to the Guardian house, which is where everyone gets their quintessential Machu Picchu picture taken from. I definitely suggesting getting up here early as it gets very busy in this area toward the end of the day. There are great views, though, so it's definitely worth it.

We also headed over the Incan bridge. It looked pretty neat from the photos our guide had shown us, but when we got there, we were immediately disappointed. A 15-20 mins walk for basically a plywood bridge that was closed and you couldn't even get close to. Not that you could pay me to cross it anyway. For all of my friends that are Machu Picchu bound, I definitely think that this was skippable! 

Wayna Picchu. One last climb.

When we'd booked our Salkantay trek, we opted to add Wayna Picchu mountain to our day at Machu Picchu. In hindsight, I probably would've looked into what this actually entailed a little bit more. Because this was a beast of a climb after all the walking we had already done. If you look in the slideshow above, you'll see multiple photos of the ruins. In a couple of them, there's a very tall mountain looming in the background. That is Wayna Picchu. And after our 3 days of trekking and 50 some kilometers, this is what we had signed up and paid extra to climb today.

Myself and another Remote took our sweet time. The beginning of the trail was pretty straightforward and flat. But the higher up we climbed, the seemingly steeper it got. At one point, we were climbing what I referred to as an Incan ladder. A stone staircase that was so steep that you basically had to climb it like a ladder.

When we finally got to the top, it was amazing! There were some incredible and unreal views of the ruins and of the surrounding mountains! We were able to even catch up with the other remotes at the top and take some fun group pictures. So was this an ass-kicking addition to our day at Machu Picchu after all the hiking we'd already done? Absolutely. And was it worth it? Hell yes it was. If you're at Machu Picchu, do yourself a favor and make this hike happen!

Distance walked/climbed: 16.5km (~10.5 miles)

Final note: When we booked our Salkantay trek, we didn't add on the earlier train for the additional fee and we should have. Especially because we planned on tackling Rainbow Mountain the next day which would involve another early wake up time. Don't make our mistake. The late train that comes included with the Salkantay trek doesn't leave until 9pm and you definitely don't need that long at the ruins. In fact, you might not even be able to stay that long. On the day we toured the ruins, they closed at 3pm, leaving us a good 6 hours of time to kill before heading back to Cusco. So, take my advice, pay the extra money to leave earlier. If you did the trek like we did, your body will love you for the extra rest you'll get that night!

So, was it worth it?

Hell Freaking Yeah it was worth it!

Do something that makes you proud is always something I have applied to fitness. Working out hard and eating healthy to make yourself proud because you know hat you’re doing something good for your body. But you know what? Sometimes doing things that make you proud include finally allowing yourself to take that trip or to do that thing that you’ve always wanted or been to scared to do. That’s what this hike ended up representing for me.

This whole trip was a blessing. Great weather. Great people. Great guides. Great views. And hell yeah huge challenges. I think a few years ago I would’ve let the negative parts color the entire trek. The stomach issues. The cold. The altitude. Etc. And I def had my moments where they did this hike. But this experience? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

It wasn’t just about the end result of getting to the ruins and seeing Machu Picchu. It was everything. Every bug bite. Doubt. Frustration. Sore muscle. All of it. I earned the views and the smiles and the excitement.  Each and every one of us did. We survived the Salkantay trek. And damn am I still so proud.