Salkantay Trek Day 4: Hiking Through the Jungle to Machu Picchu

Looking back on our trail from a vantage point about 2/3 of the way up the mountain.

Our final trekking day had us climbing up and over a steep, rainforested mountain, leaving the beautiful coffee valley behind. With a 4:30 am start, and fuelled by a good breakie and a cup of coca tea, we were determined to avoid hiking the hardest part in the heat of the day. We were excited, because even though our guide had said that this would be our hardest hiking day, today was the day that would bring us our first views of Machu Picchu.

As we headed up the mountain slope, the trail was quite literally cut out of its densely forested side. You don’t have anything to give you a sense of perspective in this shot, but the mud bank is as tall as we are, standing.

With parrots making a raucous noise all around us, we hiked along the old Inca way, through small-plot coffee groves, in the relative coolness of the high altitude jungle morning. Their erratic and crashing flight patterns reminded us of the noisy toucans of Costa Rica: both birds have a knack for making the forests come alive! The way up and over the mountain was certainly tough, and it was our last significant obstacle to overcome to see the main reason most people come to Peru: to bask in the splendour of Machu Picchu.

It was very hot & sweaty work (just look at Bill’s shirt!). We stopped, took off our packs, and rested for a bit, taking in the views of the valley and enjoying some of the granadilla fruit from a trail side stand that we’d come to love while trekking in Peru.
We were feeling dog tired, like the pet that belonged to the granadilla seller.

Hiking the day before, we had passed a large group of young adults a number of times. I had been kicking myself for not stopping to ask them what they were all about as three of them were wearing Make A Wish T-shirts.

Some of the students passed us the day before, catching a lift from their support vehicle, through the town of Playa. The blue t-shirt sporting guy on top is wearing one of the Make-A-Wish t-shirts we’d noticed on a number of members of their group.

My curiosity was awakened… was someone on their trek chronically ill, but wanting to walk to Machu Picchu? Is that why they were using a support vehicle? No, that couldn’t be it because the trek was just too hard, too physically demanding, the conditions too rough. Were they fundraising? What was their story?

As it turned out, this group of students arrived at the rest stop just as we were packing up to move on.

Let me tell you, this was one inspiring group! The smaller of two groups of 29 and 17 students from Warwick University, they were in Peru, doing a slightly different version of the Salkantay Trek to raise funds for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They were bright, youthful, and enthusiastic: a terrifically positive group, energized by the task they’d taken on. Animated by their cause, they were seriously motivated by what they were doing.

We chatted for a while with this chap. Always leading the way for his group on the trail, he seemed particularly enthusiastic and energized.

As it turns out, this young man was the organizer of the entire event and had been on what he called, “a practicum of sorts,” for the past month in Cusco, setting up this trek for his fellow Warwick University students AND students from other Universities scattered throughout England. This day, he stepped in to take the place of a student who could not complete the trek, and he was so excited to be hiking the final leg into Machu Picchu.

dsc_9680He started out on this path, volunteering through an organization at Warwick University, called Raising And Giving. He loved his work there and was inspired and motivated to take on something even bigger. After volunteering with RAG for a year, he told us that he moved on to take on the orchestration, planning and organization of this incredible trek.

He was arranging some crazy logistics, as this particular fundraiser involved 283 people doing the 5 day the Salkantay Trek in small groups, staggered over a number of days. The amount of money they were raising was astounding! Each of the 283 people had to raise £3,000 to do the trek, £2,100 of which went directly to the charity. That’s £594,300 for Make-A-Wish… a tremendous sum!

I wrote to Warwick University and to the UK office of Make A Wish to find out more about this incredible group of kids and will update you when I find out more info on their fundraising project and efforts. Here is a blog post written by one of the Warwick trekkers.

Suffice it to say that I was inspired by this group, by the way they were trying to contribute to this world in a meaningful way and by the manner in which they were pushing the limit of what was soft & comfortable, familiar and known in their own lives, giving them far greater life experience and insight into the human condition in the process. It was brave on so many levels. It was inspiring.

After leaving behind this group of impassioned students, we worked our way up the trail to Llactapata, a historic site just over the top of the mountain we were hiking that day.

Our guide points out the two unmistakable mountains of the Machu Picchu site, far off in the distance: Machu Picchu Moutain and Huayna Picchu (pronounced “why-na pee-chew”) Mountain.

There we finally, FINALLY, caught our first glimpse of our ultimate destination: Machu Picchu lay across the valley, enshrouded by a misty haze. Set atop a beautiful mountain saddle, its iconic landscape was instantly recognizable.

DSC_9699.jpgIt was such an impressive view. An incredible scene, it was a taste of what was to come… but we clearly still had a long way to hike!

Like a scene from Jurassic Park, this is the Huayna Pichu Mountain and the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, zoomed in on by my camera.

Llactapata was a set of Inca ruins, brought to the attention of the world by Hiram Bingham, it was a stopping place of sorts for the Inca runners. The runners were a group of highly fit men who were like the Inca courier service. Able to travel great distances over tough terrain at tremendous speed, they carried messages, contained in their sets of quipu (a series of knots tied on coloured strings) across the realm. Stopping places like this, called tambos, were scattered across the Inca roads, usually about every 15-20km.


This particular place was a special place: it had double doors (see the inset bricks on the central, trapezoidal doorway?), indicating that there had been a temple here; it had the ever important food storage house on site; and interestingly, it had 8 pathways, 8 Inca trails, that led to and from it (one of which we had travelled on to reach this spot).

Coming down from Llactapata, the route was very steep.
The trail steeply switchbacked back and forth down the mountainside, with views of Machu Picchu beckoning from many vantage points.
It was a knee & hip punishing descent, especially after 4 days back to back, but we kept our eyes on the prize, so to speak. And it was a stunningly beautiful, spectacular prize!
It was far drier on this side of the mountain, and yet a very beautiful trail. The coffee plantations had been replaced by small plots of corn and bananas, and the squawks of the parrots had been replaced by the siren calls of cicadas.
Finally we’d reached the police checkpoint that guarded the back way into the Machu Picchu site.
Now it was simply a matter of scrambling up to the railway tracks, and following them in to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, 8km down the line.
DSC_9763 (1).jpg
Believe it or not, hiking this part of the route was one of the toughest things we did (maybe more so because we assumed that because it was flat, it would be easy). It had been a long day, and we had been hiking tremendous distances each day of our trek over tough terrain that was taking its toll on our bodies. The railway ties were unevenly spaced and the gravel was deep. It was ever so l-o-n-g! We were SO ready to BE THERE at this point (I hate to admit!). But sometimes that’s what it’s like with this style of travel.
The railway is the only way into Aguas Calientes. It follows the Urubamba River. Any cars or tour busses in Aguas Clients stay there, and simply serve to shuttle the tourist hordes up and down the mountain to the archaeological site. It’s quite strange. You either take a train in, or you hike in, either on the more popular official Inca trail, or alongside these railroad tracks: that’s how you get to Machu Picchu.
Again, our timing was quite something: we arrived at the only stop along the way as the train was pulling in and helped to unload food supplies and Andean grass (for thatching rooftops). A neat slice of life.
At long last, we came to Aguas Calientes: gateway to Machu Picchu. Perched on the edge of the Urubamba River and its massive, smoothly washed boulder field, it is a very picturesque location.

Once in town, we settled into our hotel, had a much-needed HOT shower and a nap and then met our guide at a restaurant for a briefing for the exciting conclusion to our trek: Machu Picchu! (Well, Machu Picchu or a hot shower and a bed… who could say which was truly more exciting at this point!?!)

FINALLY, I would be at the site I’d had on my life bucket list since reading about it as a child in my grandmother’s National Geographic magazines! It would be under my feet and before my eyes the next day! Little did I know, upon arriving at Aguas Calientes, that the next day would begin at 3:30am! Ugh.

To be continued….


4 Comments on “Salkantay Trek Day 4: Hiking Through the Jungle to Machu Picchu

  1. Pingback: From Bean to Brew – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

  2. Great. Now I’m going to have to go back to Peru, just for the jungle trail views. 😉 I have to wonder how the busses got to Agua Caliente.


  3. Pingback: An Overview of the Salkantay Trek – Trail to Peak: The Adventurous Path

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: