In May 2016 I went with my mom to Peru. It was my first time in South America and I was beyond excited to hike Machu Picchu (one of the many hikes on my hiking bucket list)! I chose to book the trip through a company called Action Peru Treks. While it was more expensive than some other companies there were a lot of benefits that I thought make the extra money worth it. These included: no more than 6 people on the trek (our trek was just my mom and I), 3 course meals for lunch and dinner, camping spots that were different from the other tours groups, and ALL expenses were included.
Travel Tip: If you decide to book a trip to Machu Picchu at the last minute in Cusco, be sure you negotiate price and what it included. A lot of tour companies will only included the bare minimum and then you have a lot of extra expenses.
I chose to book the Salkantay trek because I wanted to see the high mountains as well as the jungle. This trek used to be less popular but now it is almost as popular as the Inca Trail. I met my mom in Atlanta before we took our flight to Lima. We stayed one night in Lima in the Miraflores district and spent the next morning walking around the streets in that area. That afternoon, we boarded a flight to Cusco. We decided to spend 2 days in Cusco acclimatizing before we started our trek. This was a good decision and Cusco is a really cute town. While parts of it are very touristy, there is still a lot of local culture. On our first night, we got to see a local celebration that included music, traditional dress, and dancing. This was a real treat because it was my first exposure to the beautiful spirit and customs that exist in South America and especially in the mountain regions.
On Monday morning, we met our guide to start our trek. We made our way via a several hour bus ride to Soraypampa. Once we were dropped off, we hiked to a glacier lake in the mid-morning. The lake was absolutely gorgeous! After hiking up to the lake, we hiked back down and started on the trail towards Salkantay mountain. On our way to the first night’s camp, we stopped and had lunch in a beautiful field next to a stream. I was extremely impressed with the cook’s ability to make such amazing food given the limitations of only having a small fire and a couple pots/pans. After lunch, we continued our way up to the base of Salkantay mountain. The first night we camped at over 14,000ft and temperatures dropped to 25 degrees fahrenheit. While I was a little cold (lack of preparation on my part), I have never seen so many stars and it looked like I could reach out and touch the Milky Way. This was by far one of my favorite experiences on the hike!
The next morning, we woke up around 5:30am and started our hike to the top of the pass. It was freezing but it was definitely worth it to see the sunrise over the tops of the mountains. It took us around an hour to get to the top of the pass and after the sunrise, we started dropping down the back side of the mountain. I loved spending the first couple of days in the high mountains. After lunch, we started making our way through the high jungle. At the end of the second day, we stayed at the house of our horse driver. We got to meet some of his family and we pitched our tent right in his yard! It was a very welcoming and intimate setup which I really enjoyed.
On the third day, we spent the day hiking downhill throw the jungle. We woke up early to try and beat some of the crowds because this portion of the trek was much more crowded. We were right next to a river for most of the journey and we got a see a lot of wildlife.
We also had the amazing experience of touring a coffee farm. We got to pick our own coffee beans, roast, and grind them. And of course, we got to drink the final product! On the third night, we were in a campground with other tour groups. This was a nice balance because I got to meet new people and there was a huge bonfire that night.
On the fourth day, we only hiked a half day before we reached Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. As we were hiking, we were able to get a glimpse of Machu Picchu on the cliffside above us. It was amazing to think that we had finally made it! After a much needed shower, we spent the afternoon walking around the town and checking out the souvenir shops. The next morning we woke up at 4:30am to get in line to catch the bus up to Machu Picchu for the sunrise. One of the great perks of this company was everything was already included (bus ticket to Machu Picchu, entrance fee, ticket for Huayna Picchu, meals, train back to Cuzco, everything…) The sunrise was definitely worth it and I recommend it to anyone traveling to Machu Picchu. We were lucky because the cloud cover wasn’t heavy and we were able to get an incredible view. We spent the morning with our tour guide learning about the history of Machu Picchu. After several hours of touring with him, we parted ways are waited until we could climb Huayna Picchu. For those who don’t know, Huayna Picchu is the mountain you see behind Machu Picchu in most photographs. This hike way amazing! It was pretty steep and involved a lot of stairs but I am really glad we decided to hike it! It gives you a great view overlooking Machu Picchu village.
Travel Tip: Huayna Picchu has a limited number of tickets and needs to be reserved further in advance.
My trip to Machu Picchu was amazing and I would recommend it to anyone who loves hiking, traveling, history, or all three!