Peru: Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is a forty-five-mile, six-day adventure through some of the most spectacular terrain in the world…

The trek, which culminates at Aquas Calientes and Machu Pichu, is named after 20,600-foot tall Salkantay (savage mountain), the most dominant peak in the region and one of the most sacred peaks in Inca mythology.

Let’s go!

Salkantay Trek: Day 1

Easy 7.5 mile warmup hike from the trailhead at Marcoccasa (10,800 feet) to Salkantay Lodge (12,700 feet) at Soraypampa

A view of the valley and forests below…
Moises with our emergency horse and mule in one of the gorgeous high meadows.
Horses are pretty chill, but mules are muy unpredictable.
Some gorgeous flowers along the way…
The hike along the aqueduct was exquisite, a five-mile-long walking meditation…
Humantay, Salkantay’s smaller sister, shrouded in clouds. Our destination is Salkantay Lodge, the tiny bright spot at the base of the mountain and head of the valley.
Clouds settling into the valley as the waning sunlight illuminates Humantay…
Arrival at Salkantay Lodge in the Soraypampa.

Salkantay Trek: Day 2

Day hike to Humantay Lake (1300 feet up, 1300 feet down). Climb high, sleep low–a good strategy for acclimatization.

Morning view of Humantay
Grupo Guapo y Simpatico: Santos, Macho, y Elias
Having a rest near some freshly planted potatoes.
I love these guys.
A small avalanche on Humantay welcomed (warned?) us as we arrived at our destination…
Glacial lake at 14,000 feet…

Ceremony for a Safe Trek

A huge surprise awaited us at the lake.

We were invited to form a circle and were greeted by Shaman Santos and his assistant Elias, who ceremonially presented each of us with three coca leaves and invited us to make a wish before adding our leaves to a growing packet of offerings…
A expression of reverence and gratitude for nature. Santos and Elias solemnly prepared a cornucopia of offerings that included our coca leaves, sugar, rice, llama fat, animal crackers, beans, seeds, corn, incense, candies, water, pisco, spices, a scallop shell, and more.
The offerings were neatly bundled in white paper and offered up to Pachamama (Mother Earth) asking for a safe journey and fulfillment of our wishes. I had a deeply emotional response to the intimacy and solemnity of the ceremony. It was a genuine privilege to be there, not merely as an observer, but as a participant.

After the privilege of this experience, we returned to the lodge to rest up for the big day to follow.

Salkantay Trek: Day 3

Crux of the Trek. Ascent from Salkantay Lodge (12,700 feet) to Salkantay pass (15,250 feet), then dropped down to Wayra Lodge (12,900 feet). Hiking time: 8 hours, 8 miles, 2600 feet elevation gain, 2400 feet elevation loss.

The Soraypampa is an important crossroads where horses are essential for survival. There is a local [sexist] joke: If a man must choose between his horse, his wife, and water, he will always choose his horse, because he can always find another woman and ride to water. Alas, machismo is still alive and well here.
Looking back down the valley at the high path to a huge Chakana (Inca cross) atop the near peak to the left.
Going higher into more rugged and desolate terrain.
First glimpse of Salkantay
Going higher and higher. The moraines (enormous piles of earth and boulders) were created by centuries of glacial action.
Caballera with our horses, mules, and supplies.
Yo y mis compañeros at Salkantay pass! John, Frank, Tonia, Emily, Kim, Ron, Kathy, Gary, Ric, Jim, Marina, and Daniel. It was a pleasure and privilege to share the trek with each of these wonderful people. Our smiles belie the fact that it was pretty cold, windy, and hard to breathe at 15,250 feet!
A solo pic is always in order… I am afraid that I may have over-posed for this one. Ha! By the way, my whole face was numb, so maybe over-posing is forgiven.
We were glad to have rain gear on the downhill after the pass. Contrary to making things miserable, the mix of wind, rain, and snow was a nice change that amplified the fun and adventure…

Salkantay Trek: Day 4

Descend from Wayra Lodge (12,800 feet) and into the cloud forest on the way to Colpa (sulfur) Lodge at Collpampa (9,400 feet). 5.5 miles, 200 feet elevation gain, and 3500 feet elevation loss.

Our daily post-hike ritual: Please leave your poles and boots at the door.
We awoke to bright blue skies and were treated to spectacular views of Humantay.
Humantay Spire from the Wayra lodge.
A visitor checking out our stinky boots.
Time for lunch of potatoes and bananas. Who needs a grill when you have some hot rocks and insulating earth?
Some interesting looking flora.
Whilder, second in command and a really good guy.
Our trusty horses, mules, and support team…
Moises, always ready with a smile…
I have never been able to get this close to sheep in my whole life.
Feral doggies were everywhere in Peru, even on the trails. Here Ron is making some new friends.

Salkantay Trek: Day 5

Up and down from Colpa Lodge through banana, avocado, and coffee orchards to Lucma Lodge at Lucmabamba (6,900 feet). Hiking time 8 hours, 8 miles, 1200 feet elevation gain, 2500 feet elevation loss.

Time to say goodbye to the caballos y caballeros y caballera…
Bridge with planks removed in order to prevent horses from crossing.
Clear cutting and burning to make way for planting crops.
How would I trade personal survival against deforestation?
This is a BIG and potentially dangerous place. Can you see the intrepid trekkers making tracks where a landslide wiped out the trail?
Mud bricks drying in the sun.
Coming down and across…
Good thing it is still the dry season.
We did not expect to see this in Peru. Tomás was definitely king of the hill…
Later in the day, hiking a stretch of the original Inca trail.

Salkantay Trek: Day 6

Ascend 2,000 feet to Llactapata pass (9,000 feet), where we were treated to our first distant, but amazing view of Machu Picchu, then a brutal 3,000 foot descent across the Aobamba River to Aquas Calientes (gateway to Machu Picchu).

Hiking time: 7 hours, 2000 feet up, 3000 feet down, 8 miles.

View of Santa Teresa Valley as we ascend…
Our lead guide Fernando was captain of the ship, botanist, historian, medic, comedian, translator, and motivational speaker…
Coffee beans…
This tree was split by a falling boulder, but nobody knew that when this picture was taken.
Wow! Machu Picchu from the West, a vista that few tourists ever enjoy. (Machu Picchu sits in the saddle in the center to the picture).
Gorgeous orchid.
Eucalyptus Tree, the single tallest, freestanding, slender thing I’ve ever seen.
After a super steep shin-splinting three kilofoot descent, we crossed the Aobamba river. Whilder and [name?] our water man celebrate our survival!

A short and welcome train ride to Aguas Calientes completed our trek and return to civilization.

Aquas Calientes

Aquas Calientes (literally hot waters, but loosely hot springs) is the gateway to Machu Pichu.

It is a fun and funky place where the train tracks are the defining and organizing feature. There are no train platforms or safety features and busy shops are just feet away from the main tracks.
Feral dogs can be found all over Peru. They spend most of the day sleeping peacefully amidst the hustle and bustle of the human world around them. Miraculously, nobody ever steps on them. Here is yet another one of our furry friends hanging out at the train station.

Where to next? Machu Picchu


  1. Hi Frank! You did the Salkantay!!! Amazing, no?!? Love seeing your trips around the globe.. so inspiring. 🙂

    1. Hey there, Barbara! Thanks for checking in. Amazing, yes! And just in case you forgot… Your rave reviews of this lodge to lodge trek were THE main reason that I (along with John and Jim, the two federal prosecutor attorney dudes from our Everest trek) enjoyed this awesome adventure. Sent with gratitude and in peace… and best wishes to you in travels and life.

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