Salkantay Trek || 5 Days Hike To Machu Picchu

During my time in Peru, I took on the Salkantay Trek and hiked to Machu Picchu over 5 days. I booked the trip with Salkantay Trekking and can’t recommend them enough. The experience was truly once in a lifetime and I’m so proud of myself for completing the hike. Whilst on the hike I kept a day-by-day diary of what I did and how I was feeling as I knew I wanted to be able to look back on the experience and remember as much as possible.

Day 1 – Tuesday 11th April

Sergio, our tour guide, picked us up at 4 am. We collected the other hikers and then set off for a few hours’ drive until our breakfast stop. The breakfast was about 20sol, as I had the premium tour it was included. The roads out of Cusco were bumpy but they didn’t do anything to prepare me for the roads we would be on nearer the breakfast stop. Calling them roads is generous, they were mostly dirt tracks with potholes on either side that made the entire minivan shake and bounce.

After, breakfast we continued the drive through the mountains where the roads snaked back and forth up to a higher altitude of around 3,600m. After about 3 hours of driving in total, it was time to start the hike. Salkantay Trekking is an incredible company to book with, before we’d even started the hike we were given a bag of snacks for the day, I had a banana, a pack of Oreo-style biscuits, and a chocolate bar!

My body felt good at the beginning of the hike and although the initial uphill had me out of breath it was manageable. The uphill was about 45 minutes followed by just over an hour of walking along level ground. Our group made a few stops along the way and I made sure I was sipping water as much as I could, having a water pack with a straw in my backpack was a definite benefit. There were some toilets along the trail, that whilst not the standard I’m accustomed to, were completely fine. The company had given us a roll of toilet paper for the trek so I was able to use that as otherwise it isn’t provided.

We arrived at our first camp, the Sky Camp! Haydn and I got to sleep in a dome nestled between two valleys with a beautiful glacier in the distance. The dome had a glass ceiling that meant we could fall asleep watching the stars. We set up our sleeping bags (which were included in the premium booking) and had some time to rest before lunch.

Food on the hike was something I was nervous about as I can be a picky eater. However, I was willing to try everything and whilst the starter and soup weren’t for me, there was plenty of choice during the main course with things like pasta, potatoes, and salad. Plus I’d had a bigger breakfast and snacks so didn’t need a huge amount of food for lunch, on reflection this was actually altitude sickness suppressing my hunger.

After an hour to digest it was time to tackle something that had made me anxious from the moment I booked the trip, the hike up to Humantay Lake which passes the 4,000m altitude mark and has a pretty significant incline. I pushed myself and was able to make it to the lake at a gentle pace. There were a few stops, but I felt so in tune with my body and was so pleased with myself to make it to the top. Haydn and I made sure to look out for one another and having his support by my side was a great feeling.

The Humantay Lake was breathtaking, and not just because of the uphill climb… I have never seen water so blue. The glacier behind frames it perfectly creating serenity and beauty. Everywhere I looked it was like a HD picture that shouldn’t be real. I was truly grateful to have made it through the day and was feeling so proud of myself.

After getting back from the hike we had some snacks and a hot chocolate. Sergio talked us through the plan for the next day and I was feeling so nervous. I really didn’t want to feel any altitude sickness whilst walking for 12 hours. Dinner was served shortly after and I was so impressed. The chefs made so many plates in a buffet style which meant there were plenty of options even though I’m a little picky. Dinner was finished and I went straight to bed as I was exhausted! Haydn and I had both lost our appetite a bit at the high altitude so eating and fueling our bodies was challenging.

Day 2 – Wednesday 12th April

Sergio woke us at about 5 am with a cheery “Good morning good morning, would you like some tea”. He then passed 2 cups of coca tea into our sky igloo and we had half an hour to get ready before breakfast.

At breakfast, the chefs made banana pancakes with some chocolate sauce on top, as well as plates with fruit and eggs. Again my appetite was still basically nonexistent, which I knew would cause me issues later on the hike. Fortunately, we were given more snacks and I had brought a few of my own so I knew if I were really hungry I’d have something.

We set off at about 6.30am for what I knew was going to push me both mentally and physically for the next 11 or so hours. We spent 4 hours climbing to the top of Salkantay Mountain and it is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. My body, breath, and mind were really pushed. The altitude gave me a headache after only an hour and I knew we still had 3 hours to push through until we got to the summit, but I made it! My tour guide Sergio was amazing and helped to keep me motivated and gave me some oil to smell which helped calm my mind. At the top, I cried, mostly for the pure joy of having made it but also because I could finally let go of the anxiety I’d been holding since booking the trip. It took 4 hours to go 7km so it really was a snail’s pace up the mountain but I made it and that’s what counted.

After enjoying the peak for a little bit we set off downhill, which was evidently just as challenging as uphill. On the way down our guide was able to point out some of the original Inca cobblestone steps which have since been destroyed by horses.

The way down took about 6 hours total although we made a small stop for lunch along the way which was much needed, in the hour before lunch Haydn and I were both really struggling with energy levels. Each step was a great effort and my knees were starting to ache for the steep descent of the mountain, plus the terrain was really rocky which meant I had to keep my brain engaged in navigating the path. We walked and walked until it honestly felt like I had done nothing but walk since the beginning of time. 11 hours of walking at altitude are really hard work and I think we both underestimated how the downhill would be just as tiring. It didn’t help that the altitude had suppressed my appetite so I had hardly eaten. The descent took us down into the Amazon Rainforest and it was cool to see how the vegetation changed as the altitude decreased. The trees and bushes become much more dense and we could see so many different plants.

At the end of the day we were rewarded for our efforts, that night we got to stay in the mountain view lodges. Which similar to the first night, had a glass side allowing us to look at the mountains. It was beautiful! Plus they each had an ensuite which meant a nice toilet and a warm shower, this was probably the biggest benefit of all.

Dinner was served and there was again so many options to try and I was able to eat a little more than I had over the last couple of days. Finally, it was bedtime for a much-needed rest.

Day 3 – Thursday 13th April

After a decent night’s sleep, I was feeling more mentally and physically capable. My legs were sore and my toes ached from the downhill yesterday but I was ready to walk again. We had breakfast which included pancake-like scones which I loved and some fresh fruit.

When we set off for the hike, which was downhill but not as steep as the previous day, I was feeling powerful, not only did I conquer day 2, but I was also not in too bad of a shape today – my legs hurt far less than I expected. The walk was relatively easy and followed a “road” which meant the terrain was much easier to navigate and for the most part I didn’t need my walking poles.

We stopped at a rest point and Sergio brought us a selection of fruits that are grown locally. We taste-tested banana, avocado, a type of tomato that grows on vines, a physalis fruit that had to be peeled and sucked, and some juice. It was really nice to taste locally grown produce, Haydn and I brought a couple of extra bananas. The stop was perfectly timed with a massive downpour of rain which is typical for the Amazon Rainforest.

After the rain had stopped we continued walking but had to be careful as the path followed a route that had suffered from landslides in recent weeks. Sergio would go ahead and do a safety check and then would call back and tell us “Vamos, it’s okay but let’s go quick” which wasn’t very reassuring but did make me laugh.

Before long the walk was nearly over and we had a small stop at a chocolate plantation where a local family take coca beans from nearby areas. The altitude we were at meant it was too high for them to grow naturally, but they are able to make chocolate with different flavours using fruit like pineapple and coffee. Haydn and I brought a couple of bars, mostly to try but also because the packaging was beautiful and we wanted it as a memory.

From there we were picked up by a minivan and driven to our camp for the night which was the Jungle Domes. This was probably the night I was least looking forward to as I knew the facilities would be basic and the shelter we were sleeping in was very different to the previous nights of luxury. The positives though were that there were two adorable family dogs and the camp had WiFi available for just 10sols (£2.50). Overall it wasn’t as bad as I had imagined in my mind.

We had an hour or so to rest as it was only about 10 am when we got to the camp, then we went over to a coffee plantation where we learned about the process of making coffee. We even got to follow the process ourselves from picking the berries, peeling them, roasting them and then grinding them into a powder ready to brew. This was another great opportunity to support the local community so we purchased a bag of ground coffee beans for 25sols, again the packaging was beautiful and has made a great keepsake.

Coffee tasted and purchased meant it was time to go back to camp and have another tasty lunch. This was by far one of my favourite meals as the chefs made the local dish Caouza and we learned about its origin. There was another wide range of food available which was perfect as now we were at a lower altitude I had a huge appetite again.

After lunch, we got ready to go to the hot springs in Cocalmayo. Hot may exaggerate a little as these are more warm. I wasn’t complaining though, it was the most beautiful place to have a swim and relax after a couple of days that had been tough on my body. My muscles got to relax and spending some quality time with Haydn was lovely. It was super convenient to rent towels, one towel was 5sols. After we had swam for over an hour we were able to wash off in the warm showers. Then we headed out and met with our group to play some card games. We played spoons and “Scabby Annie” whilst eating snacks we brought from the local vendors.

Something interesting that I hadn’t anticipated was how safe I felt throughout our time on the hike. The local people were incredibly welcoming and I didn’t feel it necessary to lock our things away – even when we weren’t at the camp. We left passports, cash, and other valuables in our Jungle Dome whilst visiting the coffee plantation and hot springs, in hindsight that was probably really unsafe but nothing bad happened so it was fine.

Back at the Jungle Domes, we got ready for dinner which was another delicious meal that included vegetarian lasagne and pizza. After dinner, we played a big game of Spoons with our whole group which was really funny, and then the German family taught us how to play double heads.

Then it was time for bed… this was not a good night for me. I didn’t want to use the toilet, it was more a loo in a shack with a small light, so I couldn’t fall asleep. Then there was the added annoyance of wild dogs barking throughout the night. To make it worse as it got to the early hours the chickens and roosters started calling. Overall the orchestra of animals meant I got only a few hours of disrupted sleep.

Day 4 – Friday 14th April

I begrudgingly got out of bed after Sergio woke us and sleepwalked to breakfast. I had as much strawberry yoghurt and popped wheat as I could manage but eating whilst being so tired was hard. Then at about 6.15 am, it was time to set off walking for what I had wrongfully anticipated to be an easier day…

It was another big push to climb 5km, the steepness, heat, and humidity along with the days worth of fatigue and muscle soreness made this mentally and physically challenging. Haydn and I both struggled to the top and then had the challenge of going down another 7km.

We were rewarded for our efforts at the top with a swing that we could use and feel as though we were hanging off the side of the mountain and our first sighting of Machu Picchu.

During our descent, we stopped at a local family’s home to enjoy a home-cooked meal. This was absolutely delicious, we had a soup starter and then rice with beans and chicken for the main. I was able to eat the majority of mine whilst Haydn was basically falling asleep into his across the table. Before the meal was even finished Haydn tapped out and went to take a power nap in the hammocks at the back of the shelter. The family dog was very friendly and was keen to get into the hammock with Haydn which made me laugh. This stop was especially nice as we were able to buy a cold bottle of water which was incredibly refreshing. On the other days we had refilled our bottles with water the chefs had boiled and cooled which meant it was always slightly warm, made warmer by walking through the heat that day.

From our lunch spot, it was just another 40 minutes to the train station. This stretch wasn’t anywhere near as steep which I was grateful for as my left ankle was in agony and my right knee was aching. We boarded the train to Aguas Calientes and enjoyed the spectacular views along the way, the train had comfy seats, large side windows, and skylights which meant you got a really open view of the landscape around you along the way.

We arrived at Aguas Calientes, which is a small town that essentially exists to support the tourism of Machu Picchu. We checked in at our hotel and I’ve never been so happy to have a hot shower and a comfy bed. I spent ages enjoying the hot water and finally felt completely clean and relaxed again. As we had a few hours before we would join our group again for dinner, Haydn and I headed into town to explore the markets, get some snacks and just have a wander around. It’s amazing how much energy we were able to regain just from a hot shower and a short rest. Back in the room, whilst getting ready for dinner, we were able to get some English TV channels and so watched a bit of Harry Potter which was incredibly comforting.

Dinner was delicious, we went to a local restaurant and I enjoyed Couza for my starter, chicken Pesto pasta for my main, and strawberry ice cream for dessert. I even had a full-fat coca cola which was so refreshing, more than anything I was so pleased to have my appetite back.

I got into bed that night and knew I was going to finally have a great night’s sleep.

Day 5 – Saturday 15th April

As our group opted not to go to Machu Picchu at the very opening we were treated to a lie-in, our alarm went off at 6.20 am. I got dressed ready for check out and then enjoyed breakfast at the hotel before our guide picked us up ready to go to Machu Picchu.

We took a bus up to the top and then scanned our tickets ready to take a tour. Sergio is incredibly knowledgeable and was able to tell us a lot about the history of Machu Picchu and the way the Incas lived.

My breath was taken away at the sheer beauty of the place and how incredibly amazing it felt to be there. This is a place I had googled as a teenager and written off as somewhere I would never be able to go, and now I was experiencing it for myself. Typically you can only spend a couple hours exploring but Sergio took the group around slowly, allowing us to take lots of pictures and learn about the history which meant we ended up staying much longer.

The bus took us back down and then we had some free time before our train back to Ollantaytambo. For lunch, Haydn and I went to a local restaurant that Sergio recommended and I had a grilled chicken salad with chips and Haydn got a big pizza which he was really craving. The best thing about the restaurant is that we were sitting along an open side which overlooked the river. Whilst we are we could hear the power of the water moving below us and it was a really nice atmosphere. We then sat in the town where I read my book to pass the time until we had to leave.

After 5 long days, we boarded the train and I felt ready to go back to Cusco for a couple of days rest before our next adventure.

It’s crazy that on the first day, I was trying to calm my anxiety by telling myself it was only a few days and that I would be fine. The hike started with me counting down the nights to being back to a comfortable hotel, but by day 3, it was a countdown to the end of what would ultimately be one of the best things I’ve ever done. My emotions really went through it all over the 5 days.

The experience was truly once in a lifetime, I pushed my mind and body to do things I’d never done before, tried a variety of new foods, and got to take in views I’m so grateful to have seen. Sharing the experience with Haydn made it all the more enjoyable and I know it is something we will look back on for years to come.

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