Salktantay Trek: Road to Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is on every traveler’s bucket list. I had always dreamt of going there and do a multi-day hike to get there. But then I started traveling with a drone. All of sudden, making multi-day hikes with camping became a little bit hard on my own. So I had planned to do the trek without my drone, especially since drones are prohibited at Machu Picchu.
Arriving in Cuzco, I had pretty much given up on the idea of doing the hike since I didn’t feel physically ready for an 80 km hike. That’s when the company Salkantay trekking asked me to film the hike for them. They had some of the best campsites on the hike, most notably the one of Soraypampa with glass igloos.
Yes, you are literally sleeping in a glass igloo so that you can look at stars from your bed.
The Salkantay trek is an 80 kilometers 5-days hike to Machu Picchu passing through the Salkantay pass at 4638 meters.
Not only had I never done a 5 day hike, but suddenly, I was getting my first big contract along with my most challenging filming trip ever. It was a really big challenge and I needed an assistant with my filming. My friend Gedeon was traveling around Cuzco with me and as a journalist he was the perfect person to help me film this project. For the first time I had to include interviews in a video along with aerial footage of the hike. So my friend and I left on the hike together and started filming.
The first night we were sleeping in the famous glass igloos. The first night is also the coldest since the village of Soraypampa stands at 3900 meters. We were supposed to stay two nights already in the first site since that was our most important location to promote.
The first day we left Cuzco at 5am and about four hours later we made it to the beginning of the hike. This is an easy walk along the cliff and an old Inca irrigation system.
We then made it to the first camp site in Soraypampa.
We had lunch and then it started raining. Everyone went for a nap in their capsule and since the rain never stopped, the hike to the lagoon was cancelled. I didn’t mind because I knew that I was going to film the lake the next day.
When our second day in Soraypampa started, it was raining sporadically. Part of my contract was to film a traditional shamanic wedding during my stay and our second day was dedicated to that. We started the wedding ceremony when it stopped raining, but soon it started again.
After the ceremony we hiked towards the lake in late afternoon.
I flew my drone and filmed it, but there wasn’t much light and while hiking back to the camp I was thinking that I needed to stay one more day to get better footage.
My friend Ged was already starting to feel the altitude sickness so he told me that he had to go back to Cusco. He wasn’t adjusting to the cold and the hike was just too difficult with the pounding headache he got from altitude sickness. He found a ride back to Cusco that evening and I started planning filming with the help of my guide and my porter. I taught them how to assist me and decided to stay an extra day in Soraypampa.
The next day we woke up at 5am like everyone else and filmed the groups hiking towards the Salkantay pass. Even though Soraypampa was the coldest camping along the hike, I was happy to stay longer mostly because I dreaded the hike of the second day. I went back to the lake Humantay and spent all afternoon filming and hanging out there.
This was my favorite day of the hike because we enjoyed the impressive beauty of the lake Humantay and waited for clouds to pass in order to fly the drone.
We filmed interviews and I learned more about the powers of Pachamama, which is mother heart in Spanish, as well as the Apus which are mountains that are considered gods by the Incas. My guide taught me how his ancestors use to come and make offerings to the holy mountains and I could feel the spiritual strength of the mountain.
The second day of hiking is the ascension to the Salkantay pass, the highest point of the hike and the drooling 24km hike. To me, this was my fourth day. Luckily I was well acclimatized and ready to take on the cold.
This is the only part of the hike where you can take a horse for the 8km ascension. I jumped on the opportunity to save all the energy I could and took the horse.
I am very slow when I go uphill and hiking in general makes my hands very swollen, which reduces my abilities of drone piloting. Yes, I now have excellent reasons to be lazy!
So I took my beautiful horse up the 1000 meters to get to the Salkantay pass located at 4600 meters, which is the highest point of the hike. While I was at the pass I didn’t get to witness all the beauty of the Salkantay mountain since it was so foggy and snowing that I could barely see a few meters in front of me.
We waited for about 30 minutes, but there was no way I was going to be able to fly my drone that day. After warming up with some Coca tea and making an offering of coca leaves to Pachamama, we started hiking down towards our lunch destination.
We arrived at our lunch place just as it started pouring rain really hard and within a few minutes it was hailing. We had lunch and waited a little bit for the weather to calm down. At 3pm, we had to go even though it was still raining.
We started the steep downhill rocky hike and within one hour we were in the jungle and it was sunny again. That’s how crazy the weather can be in the Andes. Within one day I went from snowing to raining to hailing to sunny. In the morning, my guide had to lend me his gloves because I felt like my fingers were about to fall off and at the end the day I was sweating in the jungle.
Once we reached camping, we had access to hot showers. After four days camping and not showering, saying this was an amazing shower is an understatement.
The next morning we did a quick flight over the camping site of Chaullay and then we started hiking in the cloud forest. The light that morning was perfect so we skipped some parts of the hike and went directly to this beautiful waterfall by car.
After a short flight, I found myself crossing the river in a crater to get back on the hike.
After days spent freezing in the mountains, I really enjoyed the heat of the jungle!
After lunch, we went and relaxed at the Santa Teresa thermal baths. This was a very well deserved break from the hike.
Don’t forget to bring repellent, Santa Teresa is the worst point of the hike for mosquitoes. While walking from the changing room to the pools I must have gotten about 15 bites on my legs. Around 5pm we went back to our campsite in Playa.
On morning of day 4, we left earlier than the other groups and went to visit a coffee farm. With a local Peruvian women we roasted and grounded our own coffee in a traditional way. The experience was amazing and the coffee was delicious.
After filming the coffee experience, we were already late behind schedule and there was a steep hike to Llactapata to be done. Llactapata is an archaeological site located in the mountains with a far away view of Machu Picchu. Since it was already late and it was quite cloudy, we took a car close to Hydrolectrica.
From there we hiked back in the mountains to get some drone shots of the valley and we found some delicious Granadillas along the way.
We filmed a waterfall and then made it to Hydrolectrica for lunch.
From there, we had to hike for three hours along the railroads to get to Aguas Calientes.
It seemed quite dangerous to me, but loads of people do it and the trains signal very loudly that they are coming.
Be careful if you decide to go through one of the tunnels and remember that there are other paths on the side.
This charming town is the entrance to Machu Picchu. Standing at the bottom of the mountain of Machu Picchu, this touristic town offers lovely restaurants and comfortable hotels.
After almost a week in the nature, I enjoyed the comfort of an hotel room, but the pleasure did not last. At 3am my alarm rang and it was time for me to get ready to see a masterpiece.
Getting to Machu Picchu
From Aguas Calientes, there are two ways to get to Machu Picchu. You can take the beautiful and steep 940 Inca steps or you can take a bus to the entrance.
The doors of at the bottom entrance of the park open at 5am everyday and the park itself opens at 6am. I knew that I would not make it for the sunrise if I didn’t take the first morning bus since I am a slow hiker. The bus costs 12$ USD each way. Make sure to buy your ticket the night before.
I started the bus line at 3h30am despite the first bus leaving at 5h30am. Beware that the line is gigantic by that time so if you want to be in the first bus, you have to start the line no later than 4am. When our bus arrived at the entrance of Machu Picchu, there was already a dozen people who had climbed the stairs. If you can climb fast, then no need to take the bus and you can even enjoy an extra hour of sleep.
Now that you’ve made it to one of the New World Wonders, you can enjoy all the splendour of this Inca masterpiece. Machu Picchu is definitely one of the most impressive Inca creations.
Archaeologists think that it was constructed around the reign of Pachacutek around the year 1450. The Engineering techniques of the Inca were quite advanced for their time and the most notable work would be all the irrigation system surrounding the site.
Mountain & Wayna Picchu
When you buy your ticket to Machu Picchu you have the option to buy a ticket for the mountain or Wuayna Picchu. The latter needs to be purchased in advance as there are only limited places available per day and they tend to sell out in advance. Since I could not buy it, I opted for the mountain which is only 20 soles more. Your ticket gives you a specific time and I suggest taking it as soon as possible in the morning. I ended up missing my time because I was filming interviews and I was not allowed entry later.
Other Ways to Visit Machu Picchu
You don’t have to do a multi-day hike to get to Machu Picchu, but if you are in good physical shape, I would certainly recommend walking on one of the old Inca paths. The most popular ones are the Salkantay trek, the Lares trek, Inca jungle and the most famous of all, the Inca trek. Beware that this one needs to be reserved months in advance! If like me you want to come to Cuzco spontaneously and buy a tour from there, the Inca trek won’t be available. If you have no interest in hiking, you can take the train to Aguas Calientes. The train is quite expensive at about 75$ USD.
If you’re a backpacker or you just want to see this spectacular World Wonder without breaking the bank, here is the cheapest option. From Cusco, take a bus all the way to Hydrolectrica.
From there, you will hike three hours along the railroads to get to Aguas Calientes. The town offers many different hostels at reasonable prices. If you are in a hurry, you can even do it in 2 days. For this, you need to head back to Hydrolectrica right after Machu Picchu and make it in time for the 3pm bus back to Cuzco.
Many of the pictures in this articles were taken by my friend Gedeon Richard. All pictures were edited by me.