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open mind, empty stomach

travel, food, and fun

 

The Inca Trail is considered to be one of the best treks in the world. The Peruvian government placed a limit on how many people can access the trail each day and if you want to have a go at it during peak season, you must book 6-9 months in advance. The market always adjusts and some alternative routes to Machu Picchu have been gaining in popularity.

Salkantay and the Inca Jungle Trek have emerged as the most popular alternatives for the Inca Trail. Ironically, Salkantay is a true trek, with the Inca Jungle being a mix of biking, rafting, and hiking. I opted for the former and absolutely loved it.

You can complete Salkantay in 4 or 5 days, and I decided to go with the accelerated version. There are dozens of travel agencies in Cusco and it’s best to shop around once you arrive. I ended up paying $250 and people in my group that booked online paid upwards of $600.

As for the trek itself, the terrain varied from alpine to jungle, providing an interesting and diverse mix of natural beauty. The first day and a half are spent going up, eventually reaching a height of 4,600 meters above sea level, and the rest of the trek is mostly downhill.

There are two brilliant turquoise lakes and a large glacial canyon you can visit as minor excursions. The pace of my group left me with more than enough time to take in all of the bonus features of Salkantay, and they were worth the extra legwork.

With the exception of the last night, which is spent at a hostel, we slept in tents. The first night was at high altitude and quite chilly, but the others were fine. The food was poor, even for trekking standards, but the cocoa tea that accompanied our morning wakeup was nice.

Before heading to Aquas Calientes, the staging point for Machu Picchu, you stop by a hot springs to soak your achy muscles. From there you can either take a 40-minute, $26 train ride to Aquas, or do the 2-hour walk. People rise between 4 and 5 the next morning to get in a very long line for buses to the main attraction.

Despite sleeping in until 5, we made it to Machu Picchu in time to catch the sunrise. It was epic. Our guide explained the history of the place and took us for a tour of the grounds. I also checked out the Inca Bridge and Sun Gate, which are short walks from the main viewing area.

Machu Picchu was everything I dreamed it to be and the journey there was wondrous. 3,000 people visit each day for a reason and I could certainly see myself being one of them again.

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