Barry visited Peru in July and there is no doubt that the Peruvian Andes offers some of the best scenery in the world. Machu Picchu or the lost city of the Incas is spectacular and in some people’s view the most impressive site in the world. The location is fabulous and the ruins have remained largely intact. When visiting the site you can almost feel what it must have been like to live there 500 years ago. Here are his own views on some of the best options of visiting the site and experiencing the area.
It is possible to go to Machu Picchu by bus/train but it is good to trek there both to experience the Inca trails, the spectacular scenery (mountains and cloud forest) and the way the local people still live in these remote areas.
The main options are
1 The traditional route which is popular and well known. It runs mainly through cloud forests thus is not as spectacular as the Salkantay treks but you reach Machu Picchu by the sun gate at sunrise on the 4th day,the way to enter. The distance is 44 kilometres with a maximum height of just under 14,000 feet, 4,200 metres. A good description of the route by Peru Treks and Adventures can be found on the Internet
2. Extending the traditional route by starting from Mollepata and going past Salkantay, a good route but challenging with a pass at 16,500 feet which can see at least a foot of snow.
3. The alternative Salkantay route viewed as one of the top 25 treks in the world with the option of luxurious accommodation in four mountain lodges. This is the route described below.
It is possible to camp at some good sites along the trek but I chose the lodge to lodge option which was excellent.
We drove to Mollepata, a small Andean village with a cafe, a shop, and a small jam making facility. You can start the trek from here but we were transported further up a narrow unsealed road to a place only about 3 miles from Salkantay lodge at Soraypampa for lunch. From here we walked to the lodge in heavy rain at first then brightening skies.
Soraypampa is a fantastic location at 12,700 feet and deep in the mountains. On your left Humantay (a similar height to Kilimanjaro) rises up with snow from about 5000 metres or 16,000 feet and straight ahead at the end of the valley is Salkantay, one of the highest mountains in the Andes and first climbed in 1952. In front of us local kids were playing football.
On the following day we walked up to Humantay lake at around 14,000 feet or 4,300 metres. It is possible to swim in the lake but not for long as the temperature is only 5 degrees centigrade, I believe the record is about a minute! Humantay is now straight in front of you and it’s face reflects in the lake, a good spot for photographs. We came back down and in the afternoon most of the group went into the outdoor jacuzzi but I also had a walk round and played football with the kids
At this height you can feel the altitude and it is best to be sensible. I drank plenty of coca tea and water and stayed off the alcohol, electrolyte drinks are also suggested for everyone but particularly if you have taken Diamox. The tap water in Peru is not considered safe but there was plenty of bottled or filtered water. The guide was not recommending Diamox and most people managed fine without it. One girl went down with stomach problems but it was not clear if this was caused by the altitude, food poisoning or a combination of the two. The guide was offering injections for people who felt sick which he claimed cured anything!
The following day we climbed to the high point of the trek, the pass between Salkantay and Humantay at 15,253 feet. Unfortunately the weather was not good with poor visibility and light snow falling so we didn’t get any views. From the pass we dropped just over 2000 feet to Wayra Lodge, just under 13,000 feet.
That night the weather changed and it was sunny with clear blue skies for the remainder of the trek. At first light, 6.30am, there was a frost but this soon disappeared as the sun hit the mountains. We were now on the opposite side of Humantay from Salkantay Lodge.
We walked down the valley which dropped 3,500 feet to Colpa Lodge. There was a variety of flowers, butterflies and birds but no sign of a Condor. The guide said that spectacled bears lived on the opposite side of the valley in the trees but it was rare to see any. We reached Colpa lodge which was superbly situated giving the best views in the area and in this case views up 3 valleys
Sitting in the jacuzzi that afternoon I watched a bulldozer carving out a road so that children could be taken to school by bus rather than having to walk one hour up the valley, is this progress?
The following morning we continued down Santa Teresa valley and started to pass banana and coffee plantations and avocado orchards. Lunch was cooked for us at a small hamlet overlooking the valley and then a short bus journey took us to the start of the Llactapata Inca trail. We walked for a further half an hour coming to a hut where coffee was made and it tasted great, certainly the best in Peru.
We were now at Lucma lodge which was warmer with no altitude problems being at a height of around 7,000 feet. A number of the group did Yoga in the garden and later had a game of charades. The lodge was surrounded by coffee and banana plantations.
The following morning we continued up the Llactapata Inca trail going over a pass and then reaching the Llactapata inca ruins. We had lunch overlooking Machu Picchu which was about 5 miles across a valley. With a telescopic lense it was possible to pick out individual parts of the site. After lunch we headed steeply downhill to the valley floor to a small shop selling locally grown bananas and honey made in their beehives. Then we made our way to the train station situated at the hydro electric station and the short train ride to Aguas Callentes.
The following morning we visited Machu Picchu and could look back to Llactapata on the next hillside. Then it was back to Cusco by train and bus passing Kilometre 82 where the traditional trek starts from.