An Overview of the Salkantay Trek

The main reason we were going to Peru this year, was is to get to Machu Picchu on an alternate Inca Trail. [Spoiler alert: we made it!]
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Bill & I entering the Machu Picchu site just as dawn was lighting up the scene.
 As many of you know, Bill and I wanted to do something physically hard, something inspiring, and something seriously challenging to mark our 50th birthdays. We wanted an adventure.

We trained long and hard for our trek this summer in the Rocky Mountains near Canmore. [Many thanks again to those of you who have supported and encouraged us, and to those of you that came along on long day hikes along ridges and up Canmore, Kananaskis & Banff area peaks to help us prepare for our adventure.]
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4 trails lead directly to Machu Picchu.
There isn’t just one Inca Trail. The entire country of Peru is crisscrossed with 40,000 to 60,000 km of Inca trails (the number depends on what guide you are talking to) that were built throughout the country in the time of the Incas. These roads lead from Cusco, the centre of the Incan Empire, to the 4 corners of the realm.  The Incans were, in this respect, the Romans of South America.

Many of the Inca trails still exist today and are used by farmers (see the photo of a coffee picker that we came across on our route, below), hikers and archeologists. I’m constantly amazed by the ingenuity & civil engineering skills of those Incas who, without horses or beasts of burden, built amazingly large-scale projects throughout the country that still exist, by the very nature of how well they were built, today.
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These ancient steps form part of the Inca Trail we were on while trekking.
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Not the traditional trail that most people undertake, the Salkantay was a five day Inca trail trek over 75km, some of which was at significant altitude, that went longer and higher than the more popular official, Inca Trail route.
Our hesitation to doing the official Inca Trail, was that we’d read that the Peruvian government limited the trail to 200 travellers a day, along with their porters, guides and cooks. That kind of mass start and crowded trail conditions was not what were not what we were after!

Of course, the reality was that the Salkantay Trek, which is unregulated, is used by a lot of trekking companies, and at times is quite crowded, with perhaps even more people on it. The end result was that we were having 4am starts to avoid crowds on the trail, which was not that fun, even for an early bird like me!
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At times it was like a highway of support horses with their horsemen and  trekking cooks, passing us along the trail. For the most part, with our insanely early morning starts, we were ahead of other trekking groups.
This trek was probably the hardest physical thing I’ve done in my life. The distances were long, there were no rest days or significant times to recover, and each day we were hiking for the better part of the entire day. Shorter distance days took almost as long as the greatest distance days and simply represented harder hiking conditions. So they were long days, but they went through incredible scenery.
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( Here you can see the road we took from Mollepata to its end. From that point on, we were on foot to Machu Picchu.

There’s no doubt about it: this was an incredible experience. We passed through some of the most incredible landscapes I’ve ever seen in my life. Each day was different. There is something so amazing about passing through a series of landscapes and communities, slowly, on foot. This was not the usual tourist holiday: it was the real deal, filled with slice-of-life moments and wee bits of adventure.

Come along, over the next few blog posts, as I share with you some of the experiences we had, some of the things we learned, some of the things we saw on our trek.

To be continued….

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6 Comments on “An Overview of the Salkantay Trek

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