The camp we started at looking up the canyon we hiked the previous day
Highlights of Day 3
2. Soaking in hot springs
3. Visiting and learning about many plantations along the trail
4. Sampling plantation wears.
5. Definitely getting our faces painted with trail side berries
Day 3 Stats:
Distance: ~18 km/ 11.5 miles Elevation: It’s up and down all day ~1000 feet up ~ 2000 feet down Time: 6 hours hiking, 2-3 hours at the hot springs
How our day went:
Day 3- Supposedly the “easy” day which I’d say it was really only easier in the fact that it was the shortest and lowest altitude day. It probably had at least 1000 feet of up and down gain/loss through the jungle and after the previous hard day, it definitely didn’t feel all that easy.
The first of many waterfalls of the day
A sign along the road showing the turn off for the trail
It started the same as before- 5:00 wake up time, 5:30 breakfast, 6:00 Depart. We walked through the outskirts of town along the road for a while passing a magnificent waterfall along the way. We stopped to admire a trumpet flower, and Carlos painted our faces with a berry that is used in textile dye. (We had some pretty ferocious faces after that)
Our trek continued down the road a ways before turning off on a trail crossing the gorge on a really cool bridge- setting the precedent for cool waterfall crossings of the day. Then there was about a 30 minute climb up in which almost all of us sweat our berry paint off. I had to stop at the top of the hill to shed some layers and take a wet wipe to my face. (and some bug spray to the rest of me)
The first (and coolest) bridge we crossed
Check out that face paint (bangs kept mine at a minimal haha!)
Looking back from higher up at the crystal blue water
While there was tons of beautiful scenery on day 3, it all kind of blurred together. We stopped for our first break stop at a passion fruit farm and shortly after that passed a stunning 2 tier waterfall. A lot of the trail had some steep drops off down toward the river and was loose dusty footing. We passed several more fruits and snack stands, stopping at a couple to make use of facilities or make purchases. All in all we walked for roughly around 6 hours in total for the day.
Another bridge crossing some falls along the trail
The biggest waterfall of the day
We followed the river for a lot of the day
The trail was beautiful but more difficult than we all imagined
Steep drop offs from the trail
One of my favorites showing how small we all were in the jungle
Fruits stands along the way- The Popsicles are delightful
A lot of the homes and fruit stands don’t have any roads running nearby but there was a major road on the other side of the river. We passed multiple wires crossing over that had a large basket used for transporting stuff across the way. (at one they were even moving tourists along, I’m guessing those who followed the road and needed to cross over the trail side)
We eventually reached some towns where we stopped for our 2nd break at a coffee farm. Carlos showed us how coffee beans are processed which was really interesting, and we got to sample some as well. (You can even purchase some coffee beans or ground coffee to take home) From there it was going to be another 45 minutes or so of walking or you could opt to take a free van ride to the 3rd camp…. Most of the group chose to walk but as the walk looked to be more through little towns without much change in scenery, I chose to give my feet a break and hitch the ride.
Grinding up the softer outershell of the coffee flower to reveal the beans (still needing to be roasted)
The sample/ shop
When we got to camp, the hosts showed us where our stuff was dropped off and allowed us first pick of the jungle domes. There were the largest of the lodgings but the least ventilated. Definitely DON’T leave your shoes or wet clothes in there. I set out to take a few photos around camp and since we had the place to ourselves, I found the only hammock where I set back to relax and enjoy the nature around me.
Also I’d like to note here you can purchase beer for $2 at the camp here. Another thing to bring cash with you for.
Once our fellow trekkers arrived and checked out their domes, we got lunch which was another spectacular affair. Not only was our appetizer ceviche (a raw fish soaked in citrus juices with some chili/ spices thrown in) the presentation of all our food was the best so far. Lots of fun food critters and of course, everything was delicious
Our 3rd night/ last camp along the trail. The next night would be in town
The orange dome with a hammock
Note the socks and sandals.. It is generally a bad idea to just wear sandals around Peru as there are biting flies and sand flies/ no seeums. Any time I wore shorts I liberally doused my legs in deet but found it easier to just wear socks with my sandals than cover my toes as well.
Lunch = AWESOME
Our app of ceviche
beans awesome details on the turtle!
After lunch we all changed into our swimwear and climbed aboard the Hot pots express (about an hour each way bumpy van ride) that took us to some hot pools by the river in another town. This was one of the add ons you will need cash for and I had NO idea about until the day before our tour. Definitely don’t pass this up!
View from the entrance to the hot springs
There were 4 large pools each marked with their temperature. It was heaven having the place to ourselves when we got there.
We were among the first to arrive there so got to enjoy multiple pools almost to ourselves. *Make sure you shower off before entering as you will get whistled at, and you will have no idea why haha. They had several pools of varying temperatures, with a couple getting VERY hot. You could actually swim lazily around in them, or find seats built into the stone around the sides. At the far end they had cold showers in the forms of waterfalls coming down the rocks, and warm showers you could sit beneath which were wonderful. And just past the pools you could glimpse the raging river so while the pools are not natural, the hot springs and river gave it a natural feel. We had around 2.5-3 hours to spend there and we lasted about 2 hours in the water before getting too pruney.
BRING YOUR BUGSPRAY WITH YOU. While I could typically make the dash between pools and showers without feeling swarmed, the second we actually started drying off, the mosquito cloud was intense. I probably got 8 bites in the 1 minute it took me to dry off and spray myself down. After getting out they have a bar where you can purchase beers/drinks/ snacks until the van ride back.
Entrance to the hot springs
The ride back was almost in the dark and took quite some time, but we all felt much more relaxed and clean upon return. We had our happy hour and dinner in the dark around camp (our last dinner with our chefs) and it was another stellar number.
After dinner, our guide had us move up to the home at the entrace to the camp site where the hosts had a bonfire going! We all sat around enjoying watching the stars and the flames flickering. From what I saw, none of the other groups bunking in our camp (there were maybe 2) got the bonfire treatment so we felt incredibly special. It was a blast of an evening!
From there we were all just about ready to hit the sack when there were 1 or 2 choruses of yelps/ screams from other domes where an invading spider surprised the new inhabitants. Shaenah and I remained blissfully unaware of any visitors in our dome, but that didn’t stop us from taking the bug spray to any spots that were less sealed looking along the ground.
Another incredible adventurous day along the Salkantay trek.
**Note if you choose the 4 day trek instead of the 5 day, you miss out on the coffee plantation, hot springs, and jungle dome camp.
1. THE BEST VIEWS OF THE ENTIRE TREK 2. Experiencing the change of scenery from alpine to jungle 3. The fun jungle huts and being DONE with the hardest day
Day 2 Stats:
Distance: 22km/ 14 miles Elevation gain: 3,000 feet Elevation loss: A whopping 6300 feet Time: 10 hours
If Day 1 was the warmup, Day 2 was certainly the main event, the big kahunas, the “challenging” day. It also set the precedent for our daily routines. We were woken up at 5 by our guide bringing us Coca tea in our beds. (room service as they called it) and with camp 1 being so cold, the tea was definitely a welcome wakeup. Ater that, we were in for QUITE a day.
We had 30 minutes to prepare for the day, arrange our daypacks and repack our duffels, brush our teeth, and re-stuff our sleeping bags. At 5:30 we met with everyone for breakfast which was a quicker affair than other meals but still delicious. We’d have 4-5 platters of food options, a variety of more teas, a breakfast juice, and at the end we’d get our snacks/ purified water for the day. After eating, we’d have about 10 more minutes to use the toilet, and make ready to go with a depart time targeted for 6AM.
The beautiful sunrise on our glass domes
After a VERY rough night for me stomach wise and freezing I didn’t get much sleep and couldn’t eat much breakfast. Luckily one of our comrades in the group brought Imodium pills which is likely what got me through the day.
The hike out of camp was mellow for a bout… 10 minutes before starting to climb up. I wasted no time in breaking my hair tie (again thankful for prepared group members who had extras) and it took around 1 hour to get to our first meeting spot above camp and at the base of Salkantay mountain at Salkantaypampa (13625 feet). It was a beautiful morning, perfect weather and with little pink clouds rolling through the valley. We passed multiple streams and a few llamas (a couple which gave us a show…) and from our break stop we could look down on our progress and see our camp down at the bottom of the valley. All in all, not a bad start to the day with just under 1000 feet of gain. (935 feet)
Llamas spotted running through the meadows
Looking back at the start of our day- our first camp is located in the valley just under that cloud
Behind me you can see uphill climb part 2 which is the start of the dreaded seven snakes
The next section of trail (uphill part 2) would be the most difficult. There was a decently steep climb to the base of the infamous “seven snakes” switchbacks and we reached those just as the sun was coming up. While our group started to take breaks to sunscreen up, I carried on until I was at least IN the sun and shedding layers before I bothered with the the sunscreen and even then I tried to keep my momentum going with minimal breaks.
At these switchbacks we ran into the pony trains which got frustrating as we were forced to let lines of horses past us only for them to stop a few switchbacks up and we’d re-pass them. It was also super having the 50+ people who did NOT hike this section all on horseback trying to tell us good job when I was feeling probably as low as I’ve ever felt on an uphill climb. Luckily it wasn’t too long before I reached the top where a bunch of big boulders with awesome views of Salkantay mountain greeted me along with a few fellow people from my group. I met up with them and we continued to the next meeting/ rest spot at Suyrooocha (14,730 feet) to eat a few of our snacks, use the toilet, and prepare for the last assault. All in-all part 2 of the uphill climb was around 1200 feet (we lost about 100 feet after the seven snakes)
Views from the trail of the Seven Snakes. Straight ahead is the right trail (“shortcut” route) which gains about 100 feet less than the switchbacks as it meets up with the main trail later on. The views were better from the seven snakes but in hindsight- I’d have taken the right fork to avoid all the mule trains.
(However our Salkantay Trekking group shirts say “I survived the trail of the Seven Snakes” so… of course I had to do that route instead)
Reaching the top of the switchbacks
Soaking in the sun and views of the incredible Salkantay Mountain
Our break stop was just past all these boulders
After our daily snacks devoured, we set out for the final climb of the day- only 483 feet to Salkantay Pass. It was a fairly steep climb but after about 20 minutes/ bend in the trail, you could see the final destination which always gives you a little burst to get to the top at 15,213 feet.
The pass was COLD.
While hiking up in the sun with little to no wind had made us sweat, breaching over the pass was very windy and some clouds rolled in as we got there. It was a godsend however that our cooking crew were there with a big thermos of hot coca tea and baloney/cheese sandwiches (I picked the baloney off and settled for just the cheese) We all layered up and took our group/ individual photos for about 30 minutes before getting ready for the next challenge: the downhill.
Looking up the final hill to the pass
Views from atop Salkantay Pass
Looking back from where we came. The trail curves around to the right base of that mountain.
Once again we created an offering to the mountain with stones each of us collected along the trail and carried up with us.
Right away as we started the descent I could tell this would be my favorite stretch of trail. All around us were big peaks playing hide and peak behind clouds, giant boulders and alpine flowers, all with a huge valley splayed out before us.
We were once again allowed to hike at our own pace so I spent a bit of time walking by myself, and bit of time chatting with others from my group who were nearby. It took quite some time to get to our lunch spot (around 2.5 hours of downhill) at Wayracmachay at 12812 feet so we were all pretty ready for a break. Especially considering we’d already descended 2,401 feet in the span of 2 hours.
Starting the trek downhill from the pass
The views of where we were going- it was definitely alpine terrain
Everywhere there were horses and mules grazing- often times amongst old Inca ruins or abandoned farms.
A short breakstop on the way down- only halfway to lunch
Some of the amazing horsemen that carted our stuff ALL THE WAY from our first camp down to our 2nd camp, and then went back up over the pass.
Bridge crossings along the trail
The first sign of civilization we saw in a while- still 30 minutes to lunch spot
An interesting pigpen we spotted on our way to lunch.
We finally made it to the tents that contained our lunch. The meal this day was probably one of my favorite meals of the trip. Again we had a small app, soup, and then 6 platters of food including trout which I really liked. We were able to refill our waters (as needed) before then hitting the trail again for another 2,500 feet of loss.
Carlos kept saying it would be more gentle- less rocky after lunch… but honestly it was still just as steep in spots and still a LOT of downhill. If you were using poles, keep them out ! It was definitely a change of scenery as we hit the jungle. Just about everything in the scenery was different and it couldn’t have felt more wild of a transition. There were hummingbirds bigger than my fist, flowers as long as my forearm, and rain forest trees as far as you could see.
Along this route, we only had 1 more meetup stop to make sure everyone was coming and that was at Rayanniyoc (11,460 feet). Bathrooms and snacks were available here and I believe a few people invested in a powerade but most of us were just ready to be done so we didn’t rest for long. Then it was onto the village of Chaullay where our camp would be for the 2nd night at 9,414 feet. (Total loss from the day was 6300 feet!)
Changes of scenery
My favorite flower was those yellow ones that look like birds from a distance
The canopy of trees was UNREAL.
Looking back up the trail, you can’t even tell we were just walking amongst rock giants and snow
Our camp here was the most “rustic” as far as toilets went (only 2 stalls with no toilet seats) but was quiet and nice. The huts were up off the ground about 2 feet with little steps to get in and again there were 2 twin beds with super comfortable mattresses.
We did NOT have electricity here but you could pay 10s ($3) for pretty fast wifi and another 10s if you wanted to take a hot shower. As we settled in, people rushed to get on the sign up sheet for showers (30 minute blocks I believe) and others headed for cocktail hour. (Seriously hot cocoa and popcorn after a long day of hiking might be my new go to) We had a little time after cocktail hour to rest but it got dark very fast so there wasn’t much to do besides hang out around the only light- the mess area or sit in the relative dark of the huts.
The early shower blocks were full and as nice as those sounded (literally you could see the steam and hear the people sighing from the open air shower) I knew once it got dark the bugs would be all about that light in there.. so I forgo the shower in favor of the hot springs/ shower I knew we’d get the next day. We had a slightly later dinner at 6:30 but everything was as delicious as before. It wasn’t too long before we were then all headed for our beds ready to pass out after a 26 km day.
Dinner and Dessert- Stir fry and Red corn pudding
Day 2 of the trek extra costs: $3 for a hot shower $3 for good wifi Cash at any of the stands for powerades or sodas.
The moment you’ve all been waiting for, and most definitely my main excuse for visiting Peru… I give you the Salkantay Trek. I’ll likely write up an overview of this trek/ tour to compare with the Inca trail tours but to start with you may just wonder why choose one over the other? Here’s my top reasons:
Less Crowded (though that is becoming less so as word is getting out about the beauty of this trail)
LESS MONEY– Salkantay treks are much more luxurious (I’ll get into that) for less money
Let me emphasize LUXURIOUS. Our tour had enclosed domes/huts for 3 nights with actual BEDS, 3 course meals, snacks + “happy hour” (more on that later), electricity and showers some of the nights, and the use of horses if needed.
More Flexible. Can be booked only a few months in advance instead of a whole year- plus you get more options for dates you like. Since this trail isn’t permitted like the Inca trail, you don’t have to plan this trip 1 year in advance.
Arguably more BEAUTIFUL. This can be debated but when I looked at photos from each tour, I found the Salkantay trek scenery to be so much prettier and more diverse. Gorgeous mountain lakes, glaciers, jungles, and yes you still get to see off the beaten track ruins – 1 of which gives you direct line of sight to Machu Picchu.
About our tour:
It was as luxurious as a trek can get and more beautiful than I even imagined. It was hard- but not harder than I figured it would be. The company was well organized, the guides, porters, cooks- all amazing human beings that I can’t imagine a tour of this scale being successful without. And it was all wrapped up in a shiny package at only $450 for 5 days. 5 days friends!
This day and day 2 tied for first place on my favorite day in Peru. Even with the early pick up from the Plaza de Armas at 4AM…. We met our guide and hopped in the van for a 3 hour drive to the start of the trek. They passed out blankets on the van so people could continue to sleep (but not me) and our whole group (10 of us) were loaded on. The first part of the drive was quite long- it didn’t start to get light until 5:30 and the road was twisty and bumpy at times.
After around 2 hours we arrived at the town of Mollepata for our breakfast stop. We had 30 minutes and the place was very efficient. For 15 soles, we got espresso (pre made and bottled) teas, juice, fried eggs, and lots of bread which I used to make egg sandwiches. We all ate, used the banjo, and loaded back in for another 40 minutes up the mountain. The views driving up from here were amazing though as we looked out over the clouds we wondered just how much higher our chariot would take us. The road was a dirt road and quite bumpy- not too mention a little scary with drop offs at times, so when we saw the end we were all quite happy about it.
Bathrooms at the trailhead.
At the TH, the group loaded up on sunscreen, once again made use of the facilities, and got our gear all in order. Our guide assured us this day wouldn’t be too bad and he was right. There was about 30 minutes of climbing switchbacks which ordinarily wouldn’t be hard, but at 12,000 feet- were quite challenging. It then leveled off for the remaining 2 hours or so of our hike to camp.
The views looking up at the mountains ahead were incredible, and equally amazing were the views of valley we drove up. Carlos pointed out special plants and began teaching us Inca/ Quechua vocabulary like Pachamama (mother Earth). We followed some irrigation ditches, crossed a couple bridges, passed a few cows, and in general enjoyed the beautiful trek into camp. We stopped about 20 minutes before to have our snacks and rest before arriving at maybe the best camp I’ve ever stayed at. (and could’ve enjoyed for many more nights)
Total miles to camp: ~6 miles
The group leading the way to the base of Humantay Mountain with Salkantay peaking through on the right. Our camp would be in the valley of the two.
Looking back at the mountains we drove up. The trail is the higher road on the right, the driving road is lower on the left.
Walking along the irrigation ditches still used by farmers today
A view into camp- still a ways away.
Beautiful views along the trail in the morning
When we got to camp, we picked the first dome in the row of domes our group was assigned and found it to be the BEST little home away from home. We had 2 single beds with the most comfortable 4-6 inch foam mattresses we had our entire trip, a small light, charging outlets, glass ceiling for star gazing, clean blanket and pillow (to add to our sleeping bag setup) and best of all- an insane view out our door.
We lay in there with the door open for a breeze, gazing out at the horses grazing beneath the most stunning mountain I’ve ever seen- Salkantay. We had an hour to nap so we laid down and I even noticed a few mules wander up to munch on the grass by our front door. Eventually I gave up on the nap and walked out to sit on the porch chairs and enjoy the sun.
Looking into our dome- the tarp was to keep it from getting too warm during the day
The INSANE view from our doorstep
Friendly mule looking for snacks
Looking down the row of our group’s assigned domes. We even had nice park benches to sit and enjoy the view from.
After our hour siesta, we had lunch which was a fabulous 3 course meal – followed by yet another 45 minutes to nap/ relax/ and digest before the 2nd part of our hike for the day. (apparently it takes longer at higher altitudes to digest) Once again napping was fruitless for me but I still really enjoyed relaxing around camp in the sun.
We got the best seat in the house as well. (though disclaimer, it was very hot)
The hike to Humantay lake
You could see our next hike from our camp: a steep (very steep) hike up to Humantay lake which was just out of view. At home, I would look at it and think “sure that won’t be easy but it also won’t be too bad…”
Let me tell ya- after a few hours of sitting around and a big lunch- it was bad. Starting out I was the slowest one, wishing I’d brought my poles and just having the hardest time pushing myself up the hill. Eventually I got back into the grind of everything and since when I hike, I HATE stopping to take breaks, I cruised up and was the 2nd to the top. Carlos gave us some coca tea leaves to chew on (which were gross) and I can’t attest whether they actually helped or not. What DID help, was playing epic soundtrack music on my phone.
The view looking back down at camp in the bottom of the valley- we already had come quite a ways.
The trail got SO steep at times.
When we finally rounded on the lake, all our jaws dropped.
I mean- this was THE MOST beautiful lake I’ve ever seen. Crystal clear lake that reflected the most beautiful turquoise when the sun hit it, sitting under massive glaciers on a jagged mountain peak. My favorite part? The 2 dueling crater like ridge lines that framed the lake perfectly. We took some group photos on the shore before heading our separate ways to get a view from higher up on the ridge. We had about an hour to hang out before meeting back with Carlos to learn a few more Inca phrases, and make an offering to the mountain. The offering came from all of us selecting rocks and stacking them into a cairn. We then each got to say something along the lines of “Here is our offering, bless us mountain and mother nature” Then it was back down everyone at their own pace
Insanely beautiful lake
The 2 dueling ridgelines that were so unique compared to other mountain lakes I’ve seen
Rock offerings from the groups that came before us.
Oh ya, the glaciers up there weren’t bad either
I moved pretty quick downhill (since there was no where for privacy to pee up there) but I still enjoyed taking in the view and even raced a couple horses as they ran down to dinner.
Back at camp
Back at camp, we got our first happy hour. We again got the best table with a beautiful view of the mountain while we nibbled on popcorn, cookies, hot chocolate and hot teas.
After that we got another short break to change into warmer clothes and watch the stars come out. Dinner was an amazing affair following the same theme as lunch with a small appetizer, soup, and then 6 platters full of food. We spent more time getting to know our fellow hikers and guide before we then got to meet the rest of our amazing team! We had 2 cooks that were both younger than me and a horseman who would help move all our things from day 1- over the pass- to our 2nd site. They were all so smiley and nice, it was awesome to thank them in person for our incredible meals and experience. Our dinner was then followed up with flaming bananas in rum for desert and then a mint tea to help with digestion.
Racing horses down for our meals.
The happiest valley I’ve ever seen
Bundling up before dinner
Enjoying the views without our tarp on the dome.
Our dome was right next to the mess house.
As we headed to our domes, the milky way was out and visible, Shaenah and I both started looking for the darkest spot we could find around camp. I grabbed my little tripod I brought hoping just for this and managed to find a spot 3 tries in. It was COLD once it got dark so I didn’t try for long but was happy I got to take a few shots of the stars and our domes all lit up in the night. We then snuggled into our sleeping bags under our additional blanket for the night.
Awesome conclusion to an awesome first day on the trail.