My first day in Cusco I have a splitting headache. Most likely from the altitude and the fact that I probably wasn’t drinking enough water. After giving myself a couple days to adapt to 3,200 meters above sea level, and talking with fellow travelers at the hostel about what the best way to get to Machu Picchu was, I decide to book the 4 day Salkantay Trek.
This is my first multi-day hike. I don’t know what to expect. I’m pretty adverse to organized tours but this one turns out very well. Even though it is a huge group of people, everyone gelled very well. I talk with most everyone but end up hiking mostly with Anella, a girl from San Diego and Richard, a guy from Amsterdam.
Day one is pretty simple: a basic hike, not too strenuous and we end up at our camp for lunch. After lunch we take a couple hours to hike up to a lake. This would be a taste of day two. The hike is steep and the altitude makes it hard to catch your breath. It’s tough but rewarding with a gorgeous lake at the end. The hike back down to camp is, of course, much easier.
Day two is the big one. 26 kilometers (a little over 16 miles) in all. Half of which is uphill. This is a tough day but the scenery makes it all worth it. Horses, llamas, and alpacas grazing. Rocks and boulders scattered about by the hand of time. The snow covered peak of Salkantay ever looming in the distance. We walk through the pass, cold and silent giants all around us. You truly feel small in size and cosmic significance. At times I stop and just stare in awe.
Day three, Anella, myself and a couple from Germany have to split off from the rest of the group. We are doing the 4 day tour and the rest are doing the 5 day tour. The four of us set off. The first part of the day we go zip-lining and visit the hot springs at Santa Teresa. After meeting up with the big group one last time for lunch, we set off to hike the 10 km down the train tracks from Hidroelectrica to a town called Aguas Calientes where we spend the night in a hostel. Tomorrow is the big day: Machu Picchu.
The next morning at 4am we awake and hike to the first gate, which opens at 5am. Once through that gate we hike one hour up some very steep and windy steps. It’s exhausting. Once at the top we wait in a very long line to get into Mach Picchu. I had heard the crowds were bad and all the rumors were right.
Around 10am, when our tour guide finishes his spiel, I decide I need to start back. Everyone else in my group booked the train from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco and it leaves around 6pm. They have plenty of time. I, on the other hand, had booked a shuttle. It leaves at 2:30 AND I still have to hike back to Aguas, get my stuff from the hostel AND hike all the way back to Hidraelectrica to catch the shuttle by 2:30. I have to leave Machu Picchu no later than 10:30am if I am going to have any chance of catching that bus. It sucks because I feel like I only saw a small section of the Inca ruins...
I reach Hidraelectrica with about 20 minutes to spare. The shuttle ride back to Cusco is long. Over 6 hours… on winding, bumpy, dusty roads. I am so glad to check into my hostel that night. I have dinner and collapse.