The hike to Machu Picchu Mountain



Hiking to Machu Picchu Mountain
Tips for visiting
  1. Purchase your entrance tickets at least a month in advance, 3 months if you want to hike Huayna Picchu during the high season. You can purchase them here for the best rate. (use Google translate if needed)
  2. Purchase your entrance tickets for a 6AM start so you can be among the first into the site.
  3. Purchase your BUS tickets for the ride up the night before your visit so that you can get in line at 4:30 AM the day of and be ready to go.
  4. Don’t hike up (unless you really want to) It is a very steep trail with BIG steps up and traverses the same path the bus takes (so you don’t get any different perspective) Even the most fit people in our group got to the top very out of breath and sweating. 
  5. DO get a mountain hike ticket! This ticket gets you 1 re-entrance (the normal MP ticket only gets you 1 so if you get hungry or need to pee… you’re outta luck) 
  6. Dress in layers. It is COLD in the morning but gets very hot during the day. Dress accountably. 
  7. Pack a snack. As previously stated, there’s no re-entry unless you have a mountain ticket.

Our Experience
We were up at 4 and heading out of our hostel with our guide and group by 4:30 to the bus stop. We got bagged lunches/breakfast from the tour company as our last remaining meal provided by them. By the time we got there (about 4:40) the line was already forming and we were maybe 1-2 bus loads from the front of the line… By 5 AM I’d say the end was 10 bus loads back. 
We were stationed right outside some convenience shops which did open their doors early for the queue of people. We sat on the curb in our line spot, some of  us cracking into our bag of snacks for some breakfast. Around 5:30 the bus officials came by to inspect both our bus tickets and entrance tickets against our passport. (Make sure you book your tickets under the same name) and by 5:40 the buses were rolling up to start moving people up the mountain. 
There were at least 10 buses in droves and we were quickly shepherded onto the bus with our group. The ride lasted about 20 minutes and the first half was pretty dark, but twilight illuminated the views for the 2nd half. At the top we got in line to wait the 5 minutes or so we still had before they opened the gates, and our fellows who hiked up met us in front of the line. 
We shuffled in showing our tickets a second time and were among the first people into the site so we immediately headed up to the terraces to get the best view. We took a couple shots of the group in a couple good locations before settling at the top of the terraces with our guide to learn some history. 
Most of what we were told were things we actually learned from either the Sacred Valley tour or the day before at Llactapata and it lasted about an hour. I wish we had walked among the ruins for our tour but that is a 1 way journey… so unless you have a re-entry ticket, you don’t want to walk around down there until you are ready to leave. 
Crowds moving in to watch the sunrise 

It WAS one beautiful sunrise- definitely worth the early morning

2 people walking amongst the ruins by themselves- looked so peaceful! In an ideal world, you go without a guide and 2 days so you have a morning to meander and a morning to climb a mountain! 
Around 7 we said goodbye to our guide and snapped a few more photos of llamas enjoying all the vantage points we could of the terraces before heading up for our hike to Machu Picchu Mountain.
So many llamas

Machu Picchu Mountain
This hike, wow, it was challenging. I’d say it probably is less so when it isn’t on the heels of a 4 day trek, but it is steep and long for sure. About double the height of Huayna Picchu, this trail takes around 1.5-2 hours to climb at a moderate pace. Expect it will take 3 hours round trip. We checked in at the gate to the start of the trail, showing our tickets once again and signing a registrar. As this trail was really more stairs than anything else, we decided to hike at our own pace and do our own thing for it. (my hiking partner got up to the top in probably an hour or so while it took me 1.5)
I’d say I’ve never seen so many stairs in my life (but that would be a lie after hiking around Mt. Huangshan in China) 
How the majority of the climb looks 
There are pretty spectacular views as you go. Pictured above is the ridge we climbed over the day before with Llactapata hidden in the clouds and the Llatapata resort seen in that cleared space just below the middle of the picture. 
The best part is every couple of flights you get another astounding view down on Machu Picchu. Once you get close to the summit, it takes you around the back which doesn’t mean less stairs, but it does give you a bit of a break on steepness, and makes cresting out on top that much more spectacular
First view of the summit from the stairs
Looking down on the river bend we walked the day before
Awesome views of Machu Picchi and Huayna Picchu
A brief respite from stairs as the Inca trail wrapped around the backside 
Above the ridge line from the previous days climb but still a little ways to go
The trail has frequent drop offs… Keep that in mind if planning to do this hike 
Finally on top! 
On top the view not only down onto Machu Picchu is amazing, but you are, in general, above the clouds and at the top of the world. Across nearby ridges you can see the top of Salkantay Mountain poking it’s head up (amazing to think we started our trek on the far side of that mountain) and the ridge we summited to visit Llactapata. The entire bend of the river is laid out and it is so much easier to see just how nestled among mountains the Incas built their temple. It certainly provides a post card view from the top. 
There’s a lovely little hut for getting out of the shade, and summit sign to pose with. I spent about 20 minutes trying to de-sweatify, taking in the views, and sharing the largest avocado I’ve ever seen with generous fellow hikers. After about 20 minutes, Shaenah and I headed down hoping to have plenty of time to check out other parts of the site. It only took about an hour to get down (making it well and truly 3 hours RT for me haha I am perfectly average on the hiking scale! Woohoo!) 
The top of Salkantay Mountain! We started our trek on the far side of that mountain! 

The trail down with steep drop offs 
Once we got down however, we were shocked by the loads of people meandering around. We took a break at the base of the hike to admire some llamas and soak up some sun but eventually it grew agitating even on the further part of the terraces being surrounded by people. We decided to head out through the ruins where you guessed it, even more people milled about! There were loads of guides with 15+ people groups randomly stopping to point things out in narrow corridors. It. Was. Stressful. And in the even we mostly just wanted to get out of there instead of being able to enjoy the peace and tranquility or what should be exploring stunning architecture and ruins. 
In a perfect world, I’d take 2 days to see MP- 1 day to get up early and get there first things so I can then explore the ruins on my own at 6:30 AM (most people don’t head down there as it is 1 way to the exit) maybe even climb Huayna Picchu since you get to walk through the ruins on the way to that mountain. And then I’d plan a second day to climb MP mountain. 
I have heard that if you don’t need to catch a train that day, the place empties out a lot an hour or 2 before close so you maybe able to have some peace then. 
So many people
It was cool to explore the ruins themselves, would’ve been cool to have a personal guide walking around pointing out specific structural intricacies that we may not have learned on previous tours. 

Magic floating building. The Incas were magicians. 
  My last glimpse of the mountain as we exited the site. 
The exit was definitely a la Disneyland. There was a long line for the bus (took about 30 minutes) it was hot, and people routinely tried to cut in line. Again you had to have your ticket and passport out for inspection before getting on as well.
The bus ride itself was much more scenic this time since it wasn’t as dark and Aguas Calientes was a fun town to explore in the afternoon. 
Grilled Alpaca, quinoa, and my signature banana milk shake
We found a place for lunch where we sat outside on the sidewalk and watched a train or 2 go right through the city. Inside there was fun music we could hear and outside, even more street performers. (though the restaurant players tried to make us tip them even though we couldn’t hear them that well? So keep in mind if you choose a restaurant with live music, they are pretty insistent about being tipped) 
After lunch we wandered through some shops picking up a few more souvenirs and ended up with some gelato that we ate in the city square. We were both dying for a nap but after spreading out on some park benches for 15 minutes, we were asked to sit up by some of the city police. Eventually our time was running out and we had to head to the train station (which was PACKED) We sat there and had some free wifi (included in our fancy train ticket) which was nice. 
Then it was All aboard fancy pants train express. We all boarded with multiple other teams from Salkantay trekking that we recognized. A lot of people planned on napping and since there was a table you could put your head on, I swapped to get a window seat so I could see out! 
The fare included a pretty yummy lemon cake and a beverage of our choice. Then just as everyone was getting in the nap zone, our train turned into party city. It was actually hilarious and so unexpected. We learned a little bit about the culture and had a representative dance around our rail car. Then they put on a bit of a fashion show for different pieces (that unsurprisingly you could purchase later on) The women’s pieces all transformed into 2 looks one way or another however so she got a lot of cheers
Spectacular scenery on the train ride to Ollayantambo

Beyond the show however, the scenery was well and truly spectacular. I’ve never enjoyed a more scenic train ride. After all the fun, we had maybe 1 hour left in our train journey before getting out in Ollayantambo where we then caught another ride (2 hours) into downtown Cusco. We were dropped off at the Salkantay Trekking office to retrieve our luggage and then catch another taxi to our hotel by the airport. 
Apart from the taxi driver not knowing totally where he was going, we got the hotel and settled in around 9:30. Nothing spectacular with this hotel- I took a quick cold rinse (the hot water just took FOREVER to heat up) and hit the sack. It was one long day starting so early and ending so late. Definitely awesome checking off a bucket list item- I hope some of the tips offered here and our lesson learning in regards to crowds and time help you enjoy your experience there as well.
What an incredible trekking experience and awesome finale! I will do a summary post on all 5 days of our trek soon but for now, I hope the Salkantay Trek has earned it’s spot on every reader’s bucket list. 
Machu Picchu Day Costs:

Breakfast: Included in Salkantay Trek Tour
Return bus ticket from Agua Calientes to MP: $25
Machu Picchu entrance + MP mountain $40
Guide in MP (included in Salkantay Trek tour which was $405)
Lunch in Agua Calientes at Munaycha $17
Gelato in town: $3.75
Snacks and water purchased from shops: $13.50
Taxi to hotel from tour office in Cusco $13- $3.25 pp
Hotel near Cusco airport (with included airport shuttle): $57- 14.25pp

Total Costs for day at Machu Picchu: $116.75

Salkantay Trek Day 4- Llactapata


Salkantay Trek Day 4 – Llactapata 

Day 4 was our earliest start on the trail, with a wake up of 4:30 aiming to leave 30 minutes earlier. While we had electricity in camp the night before, the power was out for the area in the morning so it was DARK indeed. We ate breakfast using the collection of headlamps our group had ( I can’t imagine how they cooked stuff for us) and packed our stuff up as normal. This was our last morning with our chefs who we tipped and said goodbye to before hitting the trail at 5:30. The first few hours of the trail were steady uphill and we raced to be done with the uphill before the sun heated everything up. Watching sunrise over the valley was STUNNING and overhead flew parrots squawking and making a ruckus.

Epic views on the hike uphill to the ridge 

The trail this day was 100% Inca made and required permits to enter which our guide supplied at the start booth. After about 1.5 hours of steady sweating, we took a break at the only stand on that side of the ridge where people got fresh squeeze OJ for a dollar and others used the open air toilets (they were pink!) on the back side with the incredible valley view below. There was a cute puppy wandering around we all shared snacks with before pressing on for another 45 minutes or so to the summit of the ridge. Here there was another stand (closed) and we waited for everyone to regroup. Then it was about 20 minutes downhill to the Inca site Llactapata.


View from our break spot- Almost to the top of the ridge! 
Adorable dog at our break spot
Even though we were sweaty and most definitely tired of going uphill, some parts of this trail were just complete magic. 
Llactapata 
The name of this site means elevated place or at the top of  and has a direct view across to Machu Picchu (albeit a little higher up) and had an ornamental fountain and gate that framed Machu Picchu perfectly. A lot of the site was still overgrown meaning what we saw was only the tip of the iceberg here but wow, the view across to Machu Picchu as well as being able to look to the side and see Salkantay mountain was mind blowing. We’d come so far and were within sight of our final destination! We took another break here, eating snacks and snapping photos while Carlos explained more about the site and its connection to Machu Picchu. He explained it was used as a preparation place for the wealthier/ more important Inca families as they traveled to Machu Picchu. (so we were basically on the noble’s path) The site was initially reported by Hiram Bingham in 1912 (same explorer who discovered Machu Picchu) but wasn’t actually extensively explored and mapped until 2003.
The main buildings that are uncovered at the site 
Can you spot Machu Picchu’s terraces?
The central gate 

I loved exploring this site 
After a brief rest here, we pressed on another 30 minutes or so down steep, muddy switchbacks to another rest stop called Llactapata Lodge (you could actually spend the night here) where more toilets and snacks were available. At this point a few members in our group were struggling with the downhill (knee pain) so our numbers were spread thin as everyone moved at their own pace. We didn’t stop again for another few hours until reaching a small shack where we stopped to wait for Carlos to catch up at least and guide us on. He walked us 15 minutes further to our lunch stop at Aobamaba while he ran back up to assist the last people in our group. Lunch here was at a family owned restaurant right overhanging the river. We had a type of yellow curry over rice that was delicious and were able to rest a while and digest while waiting for the last of our members (who caught up to us) to finish their meal. We were finally about done with the uphill/downhill game but we still had a LOT of walking ahead of us.
View from Llactapata Lodge 
Continuing down the trail, we caught site of a beautiful waterfall just in front of the Machu Picchu site. So beautiful! 
After the restaurant we came to the long, and a bit scary suspension bridge that spit us out just below a waterfall running down from Machu Picchu. After the waterfall we reached the small town of Hydro Electric where you have the option (for $30) of riding the train the rest of the way into Aguas Calientes. A couple of people opted for this option to save their feet and knees but the majority of pressed on for the final 3 hours walk to our lodging for the day. The trail cut across 2 of the switchbacks the train takes through massive banana trees before then just following the train tracks the rest of the way.
Passing along the bottom of the same waterfall we’d seen in the distance. It was HUGE. 
Almost to Hydro Electric 
At hydro electric looking straight up the base of Machu Picchu Mountain. That line cutting across the center is actually where the Inca Bridge is (you can hike to it from Machu Picchu as part of your ticket)
It was a BEAUTIFUL walk with the river on one side, and often little streams or falls flowing in from the other side of the tracks. In a couple places you were forced to walk ON the tracks as there wasn’t a separate bridge for pedestrians. The trains passed us pretty slowly allowing for plenty of time to hear and get out of the way (there were maybe 5 trains that came while we were on the walk) After about 2 hours or walking we stopped at a restaurant for some popsicles and the toilets and Carlos actually caught up to us here. After another 40 minutes or so, he guided us off the train tracks and down to the road that would take us straight into town. Unfortunately for us, our hostel for the night was on the upper far side of town from where we entered which after 4 long days of hiking, we a bit of a stretch. We all settled into our rooms for showers to clean up and nap a bit before dinner. *Tip pack your soap and change of clothes in your day bag for this day as you barely get your duffel bags before dinner. The room was pretty nice in that it was cooler, with decently comfortable Clean beds! (after 3 nights in a sleeping bag, the sheets and bedding were welcome)
The trail cutting across the train track switch backs through epic banana tree forest

The train tracks are so scenic

View from the tracks looking straight up to the bottom of Machu Picchu
Crossing the tracks as there weren’t any pedestrian bridges 
Watching a train go by.
After 3 hours of flat walking along the train tracks we finally made it to Aguas Calientes. (the launch pad town for Machu Picchu) 
We walked as a group from the hostel to a restaurant where we had dinner (in much the same fashion as we had along the trail) and here you could also order drinks but they were not included in the tour price. (It was again difficult to pay for things when we were charged as a group for drinks… try to have close to exact change and small bills) After dinner we walked as a group to the bus ticket office a block away where we could purchase bus tickets to Machu Picchu for the following morning. Out of the 11 of us including Carlos, only 2 chose to continue the trail and hike UP to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes. The bus tickets cost $15 pp round trip and was well worth it as the trail to MP from town was straight up LARGE steps offering no other perspective than what you can get from the bus. (and I wanted to actually preserve myself a bit for hiking MP Mountain) After the bus we were able to wander town a bit of we chose and make our own way back to the hostel. But with a VERY early morning the next day, most everyone headed back to bed.

Salkantay Trek Day 3- Through the Jungle


Salkantay Trek Day 3 –Through the Jungle
Waterfalls, Coffee farms, and hot springs
Looking at the town our camp had been in and back up the canyon we’d hiked down the day before
Day 3- Supposedly the “easy” day I’d say it was really only easy in the fact that it was the shortest and at a lower altitude day. It probably had at least 1500 feet of up and down gain/loss through the jungle and after the previous hard day, it definitely didn’t feel all that easy. 

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. Then there was about a 30 minute climb 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 of many waterfalls of the day 
A sign along the road showing the turn off for the trail 

The first (and coolest) bridge we crossed 

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 

Beautiful forest scenery abounded 

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 purchase some coffee beans or ground coffee to take him if you want but I wasn’t too in love with the coffee taste) 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. 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 
potato cakes 
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 heavenly. 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 1.5 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… sad) 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 2 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 though there were 1 or 2 choruses of yelps/ screams from other domes where an invading spider or 2 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.

Salkantay Trek- the Highest High


Hiking to Salkantay Pass-

 Highpoint of our trek
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 1hout 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 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 
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
Salkantaypampa
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 minimum 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 since those took the switchbacks. 
(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. Most of the time I was taking photos and taking the views in. 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 like 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 back up over the pass. 
AMAZING TRAIL

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 at least though 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 almost 6,000 feet at 5,799!) 
Changes of scenery 

Break spot
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.
Camp 2 
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.

Salkantay Trek – Humantay Lake

Salkantay Trek – Humantay Lake
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:
  1. Less Crowded (though that is becoming less so as word is getting out about the beauty of this trail)
  2. LESS MONEY– Salkantay treks are much more luxurious (I’ll get into that) for less money
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
Click here for more info on the tour
Day 1: The Warmup 
This day and day 2 were honestly 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 lightening 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 wondering just how much higher our chariot would take us. The road was dirt and 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- 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 the view from the valleys 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 
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. 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/ mules 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 haha)

Hiking 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 place 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 threw the flowers. 
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. 

Happy hour 
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. 

Cusco- The Inka Museum & Qorikancha


Cusco Day 3- The Museums  
Following our EPIC riding tour in the morning, we still had an afternoon to play in Cusco and plenty still to see. What better way to polish our time off than with a trip to the Inka Museum and Qorikancha ruins.

First up was lunch at Ceviche in the Plaza de Armas. I’d never had Ceviche before but I am a fan of seafood and this restaurant brought the sea themes. The staff were the best and friendliest at any restaurant we visited. I got a delicious mint lemonade and roasted red pepper pasta (trying to remain frugal and not fully committed to trying Ceviche yet) While I didn’t try any of their seafood, the group did and said it was great, and the restaurant was beautiful!

After lunch we headed to the Inka Museum which I’d read was a little let downish but if you appreciate history and pottery, I think you will enjoy it. We breezed through most of it- reading what captions they did have in English. I loved learning about the different regions the Incas lived in, the types of food they ate in each location, and interesting pottery they made. 
The best part however was definitely the mummies. After visiting the Sacred Valley the day before and seeing some of the alcoves mummies were worshiped in, and learning about how cared for the mummies were, it was fascinating to see some! (even if they are in a dimly lit room behind a protective wall you have to peer through windows into) Like the cathedrals, the museum was a no photo zone so all I got was the one photo at the entrance! At only $3 it’s a quick (at your pace) interesting stop.
The museum is an easy walk from the Plaza de Armas. (no taxi needed) 
Inca Museum General Information:  
Hours:
Mon-Fri 8AM-6PM
Saturday: 9AM-4PM
Closed Sunday
Cost: 10s ($3)
The Koricancha as seen from the solar garden (by the street)
After, we headed to the Temple of the Sun- the Koricancha – which was my favorite building in Cusco. It’s a nice walk from the Plaza de Armas or Inca Museum so no taxi needed. The cathedral next to it is free to visit, but as the Koricancha is a type of museum, it also cost $3 to visit. Luckily most of the building was photographable because it was SO cool. 


About the Qorikancha
Originally, this building was dedicated to the highest of Inca dieties: the Inti or Sun and was built with the highest level of stone masonry the Incas used- interlocking boulders, free of any imperfections, and fitted together using the lego style with no mortar. They also built the layout in a way to resemble what they were worshipping with the temple with sunrays moving out from a central point. The temple housed mummies and so much gold, the name of the building still reflects it, Qori = worked gold and kancha = enclosed or building. While none of the gold remains and barely any of the walls, the foundations still stand the test of time. 
The Spanish built the Convent of Santo Domingo directly on top of it encompassing the walls of the temple and building a cathedral adjacent to it. It was pretty insane to walk into what looks like a convent on the outside and see the inner courtyard to match, then look to the side and see Inca walls and ceremonial rooms. You can walk around the rooms, or go out on the stone balconies to look down at the Solar garden (another amazing viewpoint for the building) Some of the convent rooms house more artifacts and pottery, and some of the stone walls still show the etched designs from the Inca times. 
An example of the “lego” stone pieces that were used for building the Temple of the Sun. 
The inner courtyard of the convent
Another view of all inner courtyard for this massive convent 
The Temple of the sun on the inside of the convent
Looking out one of the balconies at the solar garden
The inner courtyard from the 2nd floor
Continuing upstairs is neat as this is one of the few cathedrals from  where you can gain access to the choir balcony (though again no photos are allowed as it is part of the museum) Once I explored the convent and ruins, I visited the cathedral and met up with my friends outside so we could walk back. 
Awesome views of the Cusco hillside from the 2nd floor of the Convent
Qorikancha General Information:
Museum Hours:
Monday-Saturday 8:30AM – 5:30 PM
Sunday: 12:00 PM-5:00 PM
Adult Price: 15s ($4.5)
Child Price: 5s ($1.50)
Church of Santo Domingo Hours
Monday- Saturday: 7AM-7:30 PM
Sunday: 7AM-11AM and 6PM to 8:30PM 
Cost: Free
Mass: 7AM, 6:30PM, 7:30PM (Sunday only) no tourists allowed at these times 
It was about a 20 minute walk back to our apartment where we had just enough time to shower and change into warm clothes. (Seriously gets so cold in Cusco at night) At 6 we had a meet and greet/ debriefing with our trekking company to meet our tour guide and fell hikers. The office for Salkantay Trekking was a little confusing as it is on the 2nd floor of a market space. Once there, tons of guides came over to check if we were on their team. Finally we found our guide and were taken to a smaller room to sign our waivers and find out more info on the trek. The guide gave us a map and told us details on how long each section of trekking would take, where we’d get our meals, start times for each day, extras, etc. The best part of the evening was our guide’s side hustle- renting out his own trekking poles for 20s cheaper than the company rents them. (Carlos you will never live that down) We were all pretty happy to save some money, so we decided to just rent from him


A little bit of a walk back to our apartment but a cool one nonetheless. 
More beautiful lighting from sunset on our terrace in the airbnb. 
All in all, it took around 1.5 hours before we were released to go find our dinner, pack the things we wanted for our trek in our provided duffles, and head to bed. Carlos (guide) recommended a restaurant nearby called Pachappa which was very busy and for good reason. It had a beautiful outdoor eating area with lamps and space heaters and cozy tables inside. We didn’t have a reservation, so we took what table they gave us. I got lemongass lemonade here which was really good and some steak (also good) Service was slow though so we didn’t even get back to our apartment until almost 10. We packed in a fury preparing for our early start (3:30 wake up) the next day. 
Awesome time in Cusco (particularly riding) But the journey was just getting started
Cusco Day 3 Costs: 
Breakfast at Cusco Plaza Hostel Buffet  $10
Horseback riding tour $65 
Tour tip $4.5
Inka Museum $3
Lunch at Ceviche $15
Museum $4.50
Dinner at Pachapapa  $17.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp

Day 3 Total: $132.16

The Sacred Valley


The Sacred Valley
What is a trip to Peru without a visit to the famous Sacred Valley?
About as important a visit as seeing the top wonder of the World, Machu Picchu, the many sites and towns along the Urubamba (sacred) river are a must see. Preferrably over a few days with time to spend in each place. But if you are on a time crunch like we were, 1 day on a tour is what you get. 

About our tour 
On our 2nd day in Peru we opted to do a Sacred Valley Tour through Salkantay Trekking (the same company we were using for the trek) The plan was an early morning – start in Pisac and finish with Ollantaytambo – Chincerro district, effectively circling through the Sacred Valley and finishing on different sides of Cusco. The tour included our transportation, lunch, and guide but did not cover our entrance into the sites. There are 2 ticket combinations you can purchase- 1 which is comprehensive and covers the sacred valley AND the localized ruins around Cusco such as Sacsayhuaman and costs 130 soles. The other which just covers the 3 we were seeing plus Moray. As we didn’t think we’d have time to visit the many other sites, we opted for the cheaper ticket at 70 soles. 
We bought yogurts and bars from the store the previous night so we gobbled those up at 6:30 before the guide picked us up just before 7. Our group only had 1 other couple in it making us a 6 person group which was nice for a more personalized trip. 

We headed up the road learning about how Eucalyptus was planted around Cusco as it grows fast and provids fast wood for building- then stopped at our first stop just past the Sacsayhuaman ruins at an alpaca/ llama farm.

While the layout of this stop was largely commercial (also voluntary, they did give us the option of skipping the stop)- learn about how alpaca wool is harvested/ dyed/ and woven- then try to get us to buy some, I still appreciated the stop. We got to feed the alpacas and llamas which was fun and pet the ones who’d let us. The farm also had a couple Vicunya which are the smallest of the camelid family and by far the softest. It was great interacting with so many of the animals and I did find the types of materials they used for dye interesting. That being said… I also got guilted into buying a very expensive pair of socks – $30 (cheapest thing I could find) woven from baby alpaca wool that I figured would make a decent gift for Braden. (Hope you love them babe! )
My favorite guy: This is a great time to point out that Alpaca don’t have top front teeth… only bottom giant ones! 
A cute little Vicuña, the smallest of the camelid family! 
And a llama
Looking down the center of the farm. Llamas on the left, alpacas on the right. 
Then onto our next stop! 
A viewpoint of the Sacred Valley we stopped at on our way to Pisac. 
After the farm, it was another hour or so onto the archeological site of Pisac. We didn’t have nearly as much time at the site as I would’ve liked, but we walked around learning from the guide and grabbing a few photos of the view down the valley.
The temple sitting at the top of all of the site. 
About Pisac
The coolest part about Pisac is the astounding view and many terraces that laid out beneath the ruins. The view down the Sacred Valley is incredible and the terraces make awesome photo additions. This was our first taste of the ingenuity of the Incas as we learned not only were the terraces built for farming but also to prevent land slides and erosion beneath their temples. The site itself is divided into groups – the Temple of the Sun (where we walked around and at the very top), altars, baths, and water fountains. There were multiple rooms that the priests would live in (many people to a room) that had “built-ins” for holding golden idols. All pretty mind blowing to think about when standing in a stone room without a roof. The site was estimated to be built around 1440 and occupied until the Spanish destroyed it in the early 1530s. The town below wasn’t started until 1570. We learned a bit about the daily life at the site ending our tour with the “guinea pig” house room. A room with a smaller stone base built in with tiny little doors that the guide said the guinea pigs were kept and cared for in. 
A small room that was used as a lodging for the priests in the temple 
Views of the lower site 


Next up we visited the town Pisac (below the ruins) where we had an hour to shop, visit the market, etc. Again there was a “demonstration” on how they make silver jewelry at a shop but the shop had fancy/ nice bathrooms so for the 3 minute demonstration, I found that a decent trade off. (Also didn’t get guilted into purchasing anything this time lol)

We wandered down the street to the colorful Pisac market which was really nice and apparently only runs on Sundays/Tues/Thurs so we got lucky there. While I’d already bought a few things at shops in Cusco, I enjoyed bartering a bit more with the street sellers in the market and winded up buying way more than I should’ve considering I had to haul it all home in a little carry-on! We met back up with our group and guide at the silver shop before travelling another hour or so to the town/ archaeological site of Ollantaytambo. 
Views in the market 

About Ollantaytambo 
Again I would’ve loved to have more time to explore the site (without the guide) and take more photos particularly as this site itself was probably my favorite of the day. While the view isn’t as spectacular, the site is huge with multiple running fountains still, and had the most interesting history to its name. Tambo- which means resting place and “Olly” comes from a famous general named Ollantay who fortified himself in that temple while leading a rebellion to win the love of an Incan Princess. The site also has awesome history as it became the main fortified retreat for the Inca Manco who lead the rebellion against the Spanish in Cusco. It’s defensive position was one of the more successful against the Spanish as the Incas were able to flood the valley and defend the high walls above the terraces. That being said- it like many other ruins were abandoned for stronger jungle foot holds and was eventually… ruined by the Spanish. 
It’s also shaped like a llama which we’ve determined, I’m quite obsessed with. 
The town at the base of the ruins (Would definitely stay here to explore the Sacred Valley more if we’d had more time) 
Across from the temple/ fort were more ruins used as granaries and food storage
The balcony path we took to head down a different way
This site also had the best example of the incredible masonry of the Incas (that we visited). In the distance it was possible to see their main quarry (higher up on a mountain) from where they moved boulders weighing more than 50 tons about 20 km, sanded down and chiseled away, and created “lego” like locking pieces so that no mortar was needed. The stones fit together exactly creating an incredible strong and beautiful wall. There were a couple places where you could see the face of a jaguar caved into the rock or Chanakas (the Incan cross) which were incredibly neat with how they have withstood erosion. We learned more of how the Incans moved the boulders with wood and smaller rocks to roll them on before we took the balcony path down to the baths/ fountains. Again there was amazing masonry work as you could see the ornamental carving around the still flowing ceremonial fountains.
By the time we walked through the fountains we were pushing 2:30 and everyone was getting a little hungry, so another 20 minutes down the road we arrived at our lunch spot. 

Lunch was glorious- honestly one of the best parts of the day tour. The restaurant was cleverly open air- with live musicians playing very mountainous Andes music, and buffet style options for every taste. We left feeling very full after sampling a little bit of everything. 
Another view point we stopped at on our way back toward Cusco
After lunch we headed to our last stop and point of interest: Chinchero. Specifically the colonial church there “Iglesia Colonial de Chinchero” This town was at the summit of our adventures that day, sitting at 12,350 feet above sea level, (the highest altitude we visited in Peru thus far) and was once again built on Incan ruins. The large terraces are largely still used today for agriculture as the soil in Chinchero is the most fertile in all of the Sacred Valley. At the colonial church you can see the original Incan foundation from the temple that once stood there. The inside of the church is perhaps even more beautiful than some of the big cathedrals- every wall and ceiling space decorated/ painted with floral and religious symbols. Since we got there later in the day we missed most of the crowds but if you are looking for a more local themed market- their Sunday market is said to be much more “local” than the larger market at Pisac. The town is very quaint so I enjoyed the little “uphill “ walk we had between the parking lot/ government checkpoint for tickets and the church. 
We also got to see some dancers/ festival going on by the church which was also awesome to see! (considering we missed the parade in Cusco again this day) 
The church courtyard with Incan foundations
Walking around town 
The town has QUITE the steep streets 

After Chincero, we had a shorter 45 minute drive back into Cusco. We were dropped off back by our apartment where we changed into warmer clothes for the evening and set out to explore a bit more. For dinner this round we chose a place previously recommended from friends that was good, though maybe not as spectacular as other meals we had. It was amazing how cold it got in the evenings but luckily this round I prepared with my puffy before heading out. Since most things were closing up, we just walked around more parts of the city near the apartment enjoying the lights and evening vibes. Then it was back to our home away from home.

Sacred Valley Day Costs 
Breakfast- groceries from previous day
Tour – $50 *Included lunch but not drinks
Drink at lunch $5
Tour guide and driver tip $7.50 
Entrance to archaeological sites $21
Dinner at Los Toldos Chicken $10.30
Airbnb $45 – $11.25 pp


Total: $100 pp 

100 Hike Challenge

About:

Why 100? Why hiking? Well let’s just say I have a favorite hobby, and that hobby is hiking. I love the feeling at piece with nature, the exercise from climbing up hills, the general sense of adventure in seeing new places AND having those places to yourself, and lastly the people in the hiking community! I really love it all (even if I still complain on the steeper trails)

How to accomplish the 100 hike challenge

  • If you haven’t tried the 52 hike challenge yet, give that a go! It aims at getting you to hike once a week for a year. (I was hitting the goal easily by October every year so I wanted to push myself even more and aim for 2/week) 
  • They don’t all have to be hard hikes! My only requirement for myself was that it was a mile long and got me out in nature (no urban hikes ) and I tried to make them as different as I could but with changing seasons, the same trail can look many different ways. 
  • DO try to use this challenge to get a little out of your comfort zone! Whether this takes you to hiking in a different state or to a different hobby, you might find some more outdoor enthusiasm when you find you like hiking to a climbing spot or a technical canyon. 
  • Do use this challenge to see some new places! It doesn’t have to be a different hike every time, but it won’t seem like quite a chore to hike twice a week if you are finding and experiencing new trails. 
  • Which brings me to- ALLTRAILS amazingly helpful app, highly recommend to exploring the trails near you, as well as using the trail map while hiking to ensure you don’t get lost.
  • Invest in some quality outdoor gear, especially shoes! It can be a bit of a process finding hiking shoes that fit just right (speaking from experience of seemingly always having he wrong footwear) so I highly recommend stores like REI which have 365 day gear guarantees! So you can actually WEAR those shoes hiking and return them if they aren’t the best fit. 
  • Highly recommend using a location tracker app like endomondo or strata as well, to track your progress on a trail and at the end know exactly how you did! I love being able to show the stats to my coworkers Monday morning to show just how crazy of a weekend climbing mountains I had. 
  • Last but not least, practice “Leave No Trace”, take nothing but photos, and leave nothing but footprints. 

If you need ideas for hikes out West, in Florida, or amazing international spots, check out my list (and photos of course!) of all 100 hikes I completed in 2018.

Color code is for anything that wasn’t a hike close by in my backyard: Some hikes have links to a blog post! Will link more as I blog about my favorite trails.

National Parks

Bryce Canyon
Canyonlands
Arches
Capitol Reef
Grand Tetons National Park
Grand Canyon

Countries 

The Unities States
The Philippines
China

States
Utah
Wyoming
Florida
Nevada
Arizona

State Parks/ Monuments/ Reservations
Goblin Valley
Escalante- The Grand Staircase
Florida Caverns State Park
Falling Water State park
Valley of Fire
Havasupai Indian Reservation
Antelope Island
Wasatch Mountain State Park

Hikes 1-25
1. Curly Springs Overlook via Dry Canyon 2.5 miles RT 800 feet elevation change
2. Battle Creek Falls 1.5 miles RT 600 feet
3. Jacks Mailbox 2.7 miles RT 1300 feet
4. Rock Canyon to the campground 4.7 miles RT 1370 feet
5. Adams Canyon waterfall 4 miles RT 1400 feet

6. Little Wildhorse- Bells Canyon loop 9.8 miles RT 1700 feet



7. Pleasant Grove “G” trail 2.2 miles RT 800 feet
8. Upper Falls from Nunn’s Park, 3.2 miles, 600 feet
9. The Provo “Y” trail 2 miles RT, 1000 feet
10. Trail of the Eagle, 4 miles RT 600 feet
11. Bonneville Shoreline between Grove Creek and BC, 1.5 miles RT 300 feet
12. Rocky Mouth Falls 1 mile RT, 200 feet
13. Traverse Mountain Ridge, 3 miles
14. Mt Tapyas in Coron, 1,5 miles RT, 700 feet

15. Badian Canyoneering in Cebu, 2.5 miles RT

16. Osmena Peak on Cebu, 1 mile RT, 400 feet
17. Grove Creek, 4.5 miles RT 1600 feet
18. Dry Canyon Orem to overlook, 2 miles RT- 550 feet
19. Hurricane Wash to Jacob Hamblin Arch – 7.7 miles 1 way, 500 feet

20. Jacob Hamblin Arch to Stephen’s Arch- 17.5 miles RT, 1000 feet
21. JHA back to Hurrican Wash TH- 7.7 miles 500 feet

22. Backpack in to Reflection Canyon, 9 miles 800 feet
23. Backpack out of Reflection Canyon, 9ish miles 800 feet

24. Horsetail Falls, 5 miles RT, 1600 feet
25. The Living Room of SLC, 3 miles RT, 900 feet
Hikes 1-25: 112.5 miles, roughly 22,700 feet of elevation change 

Hikes 26-50

26. Bells Canyon to lower waterfall, 5 miles RT 1630 feet
27. Twin Peaks from alternate trailhead, 3.5 miles RT, 1000 feet
28. Grandeur Peak, 8 miles RT, 3000 feet
29. Traverse Mountain Summit- 3 miles RT, 540 feet
30. Battle Creek Falls further up trail- 3 miles RT, 1000 feet
31. Sunglow Canyon- 3.5 RT, 1200 feet
32. Florida State Park compilation- 2 miles 



33. Horsetail Falls Work club lead- 5 miles, 1600 feet
34. Spring in Big Springs loop! 3 miles RT, 500 feet
35. Orem Big Baldy Summit (attempt), 5.5 miles 2400 feet
36. SLC foothills secret sunset spot hike, 3 miles RT 700 feet
37. Pine Hollow trail, 5.5 RT, 1600 feet
38. Heugh’s Canyon Waterfall, 3 RT, 1200 feet

39. Fire Wave, 1.5 RT
40. White Domes Loop/ Rainbow Vista trail, 3 miles
41. Tibble Fork Loop 5.6 RT 1600 feet
42. Lake Blanche 7.5 RT 2600 feet
43. Julie Andrews Meadow 4 RT, 1000 feet
44. Diamond Fork Hot Springs, 5 RT, 636 feet
45. Hilltop to Supai campground, 10 one way, 2500 feet
46. Campground to Navajo and general waterfall exploration, 2 RT

47. Havasu to Mooney, 2 RT
48. Supai Campground back up to hilltop 10 one way 2500 feet
49. False Kiva Trail 2.5 RT 170 feet and Mesa Arch, .6 RT
50. Corona Arch 3 miles RT 650 feet
Hikes 26-50: 109.1 miles, roughly 25,526 feet of elevation change 

Hikes 51-75

51. Delicate Arch 3.5 RT 590 feet

52. Negro Bill/ Grandstaff Caynon 5.3 RT 1700 feet

53. Grotto Falls Payson 1 RT
54. Wind Caves in Logan 4 RT , 1100 feet
55. Twin Peaks from main TH 3.75 RT 980 feet
56. Cassidy Arch CR 3.5 RT 1000 feet


57. Hickman Bridge CR 2 RT, 320 feet


58. Little Wild Horse Slot 3 RT

59. Willow Heights Lake 1.5 RT 650 feet
60. PC Hill 1.5 RT 518 feet
61. Wolverine Cirque Loop 8 RT 2,350 feet
62. Bald Mountain Uintas 4 miles RT, 1300 feet
63. Taggart Lake GTN 3.8 RT 400 feet


64. Delta Lake GTN 8.5 RT 2600 feet


65. String Lake/ Leigh Lake loop GTN 3.75 RT 182 feet


66. Maybird Gulch lake 8 RT 2000 Feet
67. Aspen Grove Waterfalls 3.5 RT 700 feet 
68. Bourbon Lake and Mirror lake loop combined 3.5 RT
69. Sunset Peak via Brighton 6.5 RT 2000 feet 
70. Tibble Fork lakeshore loop 1.5 RT
71. Buffalo Peak 3 RT 850 feet *
72. Mt. Superior loop 4 miles, 4,424 feet
73. Sugarloaf Peak 5 RT 1700 feet
74. Battle Creek Falls baby hike 2 RT
75. The Great Wall Jingshanling section 6 miles point to point – no idea on elevation change but it was  ALOT
Hikes 51-75: 100.1 miles, roughly 25,362 feet of elevation change 
Hikes 76-100

76. Huangshan Mountain (HM) West Sea North trail 4.5 point to point up 700 feet, down 1300


77. H.M. West Sea South trail – Fairy Bridge 7 miles RT 1000 feet 


78. H.M. Western Steps DOWN 8.3 miles point to point, Up 1300 feet, then down 3500 feet


79. Clayton Peak 4.5 mile loop 1700 feet
80. Dog Lake (Milcreek side) 6.5 RT 1200 feet
81. BC- GC loop 8.5 loop 2700 feet 
82. Gordon Creek Waterfall 2.5 RT
83. Carbon County trail exploring 1.5 RT
84. Big Springs Loop Fall! 3 mile loop 500 feet
85. Stewart Falls 3.5 RT, 650 feet
86. Queens Garden- Navajo Loop BCNP 3 mile loop , 625 feet 


87. Grand Canyon NR-SR 24 miles point to point 5800 feet down, 4400 feet up

88. Silver Lake AF canyon 6 miles RT 1400 feet

89. Ensign Peak 1 mile RT, 400 feet

90. Diamond Fork Hotsprings Fall edition,  5 miles RT 630 feet

91. Frary Peak on Antelope Island 7 RT, 2100 feet 


92. Nagah Canyon Capitol Reef – 2.3 mile loop 600 feet 


93. Herriman Fire Memorial Hill trail 3.5 RT, 900 feet

94. Upper Stair Canyon, 2.4 mile loop 500 feet
95. Shillelagh Canyon Right Fork 2 mile loop, 400 feet
96. Spanish Fork Cross/ Dominquez Hill 2.2 RT 360 feet *
97. Squaw Peak 8.6 RT, 3000 feet
98. Angel Cove Slot (both forks) 5 miles RT, at least 1600 feet

99. Shillelagh Canyon Left Fork 2.6 mile loop, 500 feet
100. Dutch Hollow Midway 4.5 mile loop 580 feet 


Hikes 76-100: 129 miles, roughly 36,445 feet of elevation change 


1 year= 450.7 TOTAL MILES around 110,000 feet of elevation change  (roughly)

China day 5: The Western slopes and Guest Greeting Pine

Day 5- our 2nd day on the mountain. We were both kind of waking up around 5:30 and noticed lights of people/ groups out hiking to a peak to watch sunrise. We both had rough sleeping, but felt good enough at least so we got dressed, gathered our small pack of things, and headed out to check out sunrise. In the interest of not getting up early enough and being hungry for breakfast, we only did the short walk back to the cloud dispelling pavilion where we’d watched the sunset. I wish however that we had just done the jaunt up to Purple Cloud Peak as that was probably the best/ closest peak to our hotel and was tall enough we would’ve been able to see the East side of the mountain. 

Ah well, still not a bad view from the pavilion. 
We hung around for 10-15 minutes as the sun was already almost up when we got there. The views and affects were similar to the night before… no morning clouds/ fog for us. Then we checked out of our hotel and grabbed breakfast around 6:15 (narrowly avoiding the rush) and I will say breakfast was decent. They had a large array of food, I mostly stuck with rice porridge, rolls, hard boiled eggs, and a ton of fruit. But they had lots of “noodle” options and even toast. They also had an intriguing “orange juice” that was basically orange fanta made from boiled water. So it was hot. Haha at least we knew it was safe.
Then we were headed out onto new terrain. We backtracked to complete the loop in the center and take the path b Xihai hotel up to Bright top. There were a few “hotel” paths that looked like they may be the one we wanted but had no signs so that confused us but eventually we found the sign and trail split we were looking for (further East of the hotels). In other words, if there isn’t a sign, it isn’t the path. Hahaha! 
Morning light filtering through all the pines. We really hoped we’d spot a monkey, but alas… we did not. 
It was a pretty strenuous up hill walk to Bright Top with stairs continuing forever. It took us at least 30 minutes and we were definitely over it. While the trees were pretty, there wasn’t much of a view and thus I deem this path not really worth doing.
Beautiful reservoirs of water that act as holding tanks on the mountain. While the area gets a decent amount of precipitation, it definitely still needs plenty of water to support all the visitors and hotels! 
Made it to Bright Top (view again looking toward the Western Sea)
Trail Stats from Paiyunlou Hotel to the Mercy Light Pavilion (bottom of the Western Steps)
Distance: 8.3 miles
Elevation Gain:1,300 feet
Elevation loss: 3500 feet
Estimated time: 4-6 hours
*These figures are based on maps I saw with distances and elevations of the points of interest called out and are rough estimations. 
Points of Interest: Turtle Peak (separate trail), Lotus Peak (closed to peak bagging but you can see it), Celestial Capitol Peak, and the Guest Greeting Pine . 
Peaceful morning on the trail 
Looking up at Bright Top, the main focal point of the mountain by diving it into quarters 
On Bright Top looking over at Turtle Peak (a great sunset/sunrise spot if staying at the Baiyun hotel) 
Clouds way in the distance 
Once at Bright Top, it was easy to continue following the signs for the “Yuping scenic area, otherwise known as the “western steps” and the path we planned to take down off the mountain. This side was pretty unique with the granite tops being more rounded and boulder-y looking than the peaks on the Eastern steps. 
We were glad we started early! 
The craziest part of this mountain were the numerous porters offering their services to carry people. And there were.. several people that we passed taking them up on that. (this lady we are pretty sure was carried all the way from the Baiyun hotel area to the top of the Yuping cable car. 
Prices for reference! Only $15 to be carried 2 km! (one of the more flat paths I suppose) .. but like what?! 
While I couldn’t myself pay someone to carry me, I don’t blame some of the older folks as this side of the mountain was a LOT of up and down. One part was the steepest set of stairs we came across on the mountain (maybe ever), “the ladder to heaven” and unfortunately we had to go up it. 
Our first view of the incredible Celestial Capital Peak. 
We walked for probably another hour-1.5 hours before we started seeing the crowds from the Yuping cable car (getting to the area then right around 8:30 or so)
You can see the Yuping cable car far down below it. (those were also already very high for reference)
A cool part of the trail walking under some boulders. 

My favorite! Pine trees! 

And then we hit the crowds full stride close to the Guest Greeting Pine and entrance to the cable car. If you want to have the tree to yourself, you’re going to have to start pretty early. As bad as this looks however, the distance to the tree wasn’t too bad and it took maybe 15-20 minutes or moving through the queue to actually get to the tree. 
I affectionately refer to this tree as the Mona Lisa Tree because I have NEVER seen SO MANY PEOPLE trying to take selfies and pictures with 1 thing. It was hard to even get close; I basically scaled a small rock and even then I couldn’t get a great photo of it. I tried for a bit to have my photo taken with it when one lady really nicely let me down my small rock to stand in front of it. It’s still a terrible photo though so not sharing it here. haha 
Once we took the trail past the tree, the crowds dropped off a fair amount but still a steady number of people seemed to be heading for the Capitol peak. 
Which when I saw it, even I thought they were crazy. The stairs looked a lot like the “ladder to heaven” stairs and seemed never ending. They must’ve climbed 1000-1500 feet almost immediately with no break. (I’m talking worse than Angel’s landing- steep STEEP stairs) Granted our previous day had left me tired and somewhat sore, but even feeling fresh I don’t know if that peak would’ve held appeal for me. 
But neither would what we ended up doing as it would turn out. My one piece of advice when it comes to exploring this mountain, is to TAKE THE CABLE CAR. On either the Eastern or Western steps, please don’t try to hike down them, and seriously don’t go about walking up them. While I’d read the scenery was much better on the Western steps (hence I chose to take the cable car up the East steps, and WALK down the west steps) I found it never ending stairs and boring. Seriously the steps. Never. End.
You hardly get any scenic views and just see a lot of trees. Save your time and energy for hiking the peaks up at the top and just take the cable car. 
At the bottom of the western steps walking path, there is a beautiful building that sometimes seems to serve as a visitor center, and a shuttle bus stop. We bought our tickets back to Tangkou and hopped on. 
Which, here comes mistake #2 of the day. We forgot that bus stop map photo I’d taken and so when the bus turned down a different road than we expected, we panicked and got off at the first stop. At that stop we were harassed with sellers as soon as we got off so we hurried away from the station. It wasn’t until we were well past the station that we saw the buses were going back to the main road and thus… were going the way we had wanted to go. *face palm 
At this point we just continue to walk thinking the hotel we’d left our bag at was just down the road 10 minutes or so

We got off the bus WAY too early. Our stop we wanted was the very last one on the route! 
That “10 minute” walk became a blazing hot 30 minute walk with little scenery. By the time we reached the hotel, we were dehydrated and exhausted from our walk DOWN the mountain and then through town. 
The light at the end of the tunnel dawned however as we ate at the restaurant yet again (our favorite.. it was so good) and decided that since we had 6 hours until we needed to leave for the train station and had nothing to do, we may as well book a room. Lolololol Weird, I had a hard time explaining that since we were taking a sleeper train to Shanghai that night, we wanted a place to shower, change, and NAP before we headed on our next phase of our journey. $35 well spent my friends. That green tea foot soak was just as great on this day and the nap was even nicer. 
At 5:30 we picked up some snacks/dinner for the train and our hotel called us a cab to take us to Huangshan train station. Here’s where it gets good again. Even though I clearly say HUANGSHAN and not HUANGSHANBEI I notice on google maps that our cab driver is taking us through weird back streets, neighborhoods, and most definitely NOT the most efficient way back to Huangshan town. When I tell him not to go to Bei, he doesn’t understand and thus we end up at Huangshan Bei (the HIGHSPEED train station that we’d first arrived at) anyways. So now we have an hour to go before our train departure. We show him our train ticket and say other station a few times and he gets it. So then we are off on another 20 minute ride back to the run down station in town. We did try to pay him extra for having to drive us further but he ended up giving it back to us instead of accepting it. Ah well. In we went where we had about 10-15 minutes wait in the large waiting room, and then we got on our train.
Photo from our next sleeper train, I didn’t get any of this one
It was an older style train for sure, with clunky sliding doors. They were bunk room compartments since we booked a “soft” sleeper so our bunk room had 4 bunks with Braden on the top bunk and I had the lower. We happily discovered that our bunk room was shared with a couple from the Netherlands who I enjoyed talking with for a 2-3 hours about our different experiences on the mountain and around town. It was even the latest we stayed up since we had our ramen noodle bowls and chatted for so long.

Sleeping was an experience. I slept rather well considering it was on a train, but overall I still only got maybe 5 hours of sleep. While maybe not the most “restful” sleep, I found the movement of the train comforting, and my individual bunk comfortable. The train provides a sheet to lay on top of, a decent pillow, and a really nice comforter. So moral of the story, I probably wouldn’t hesitate to book a soft sleeper again.
And thus concludes our epic trip around the Huangshan area, stay tuned for a recap post for hotel, trail maps, and useful tidbits to come all in one post!

Day 5 Costs:
Breakfast included in hotel
Shuttle bus to Tangkou $5.54
Lunch $19
Extra hotel… $35
Store $8.45
Taxi to train station $26.23
Sleeper train $99

Day 5 Total: $193.25
 

China day 4: The Fairy Walking Bridge

Day 4, part 2 continued: The hike to the Fairy Walking Bridge.
Once we reached the bottom we took the Northern rail car back up to the top which spit us out near the Baiyun hotel. (where I would personally recommend staying for location and reviews) We debated going to check in at our hotel but the day was still young (it was only 11) and we were right at the top of the SOUTH trail around the Western Sea. This was the trail I originally planned on taking all the way down but was told it was closed half way. 

Map of the trail to the Fairy Walking Bidge, then to Bright top peak to Flying-over Rock, and then onto our hotel. I circled Purple Cloud Peak even though we didn’t trek up there, as it would have made for an excellent sunset/ or sunrise spot. 
The top of the rail car was nice and serene. We stopped for a rest before continuing on along this beautiful tree lined path. 
The Southern path was still open to the Fairy Walking Bridge (even though it was closed just after) so we debated looking for lunch/ checking into our hotel or heading down. Since we were RIGHT at the start of the trail, we decided it would be our best bet to just do the trail first. The hotel advisor said it would take 2 hours RT to visit the Fairy Walking Bridge but there were signs at the start that said 2 hours TO it. Rest assured, it was a leisurely 40 minutes down to it for us. 
Looking across the way to the Northern Route you can actually see the path in several places if you look hard enough. 
The trail was WONDERFULLY devoid of people. We only passed 2-3 other small groups of 1-2 people each going down. No groups or loud speakers here. And while the trail wasn’t overhanging sheer cliffs, it did beat an amazing path through stone which I found equally beautiful. 
Trails Stats from the Rail Car to the Fairy Walking Bridge AND Hotel :
Distance: 7 miles
Elevation Gain:1,400 feet
Elevation loss: 1,400 feet
Estimated time: 3-5 hours
*These figures are based on maps I saw with distances and elevations of the points of interest called out and are rough estimations. 
Points of Interest: Turtle Peak (looking up at it), the Fairy Walking Bridge, The Western Sea Grand Canyon overlook, Bright Top Peak, Flying- over- rock. 

The Western Sea overlook

There were so many lovely views and sections of trail here, as well as lovely stone picnic table spots to take a short rest at. If I were to visit this mountain again, I would still prioritize this trail. 
Getting close. When you see the incredible pine tree cliff and look down to see the terrace, you are just about there. 
YES! Made it. We actually passed through the tunnels and crossed the bridge already to get to this spot on the terrace. 
The view looking from the bridge toward the terrace. It was amazing being surrounded by such tall, sheer cliffs. 
The South- West of Huangshan mountain, mountains everywhere! 
Looking up the sheer cliffs that somehow a trail weaved its way down 
a cute “little” fairy bridge 
Crossing the main bridge
balanced rocks easily seen from the terrace 

How is this place even real?! 
favoite
I wish I could tell you this epic bridge was constructed centuries ago by gravity defying monks fleeing religious persecution or something cool like that, but alas this was just built in the 80s to connect another one of the valley trails to the top of the mountain. (Amazingly we actually saw a few backpackers hike up from the valley this way) 
Looking down the crevice from ON the bridge… a long way down! 
Crossing back across the bridge to return.
Unfortunately the lighting, was terrible for the time of day we were at the bridge, with half the bridge in shadow making photos hard to get right. We waited around an hour or so to see if once the bridge was completely in shadow it would help. It didn’t really since the other wall was still so bright. So hungry and running low on water, we decided to call it and head back. It only took us 45 minutes hiking back but we were pretty tired and thirsty by the end.
Trail signs! 
Hiking back along this stunning trail
Lookig at the “flying rock” from the summit. You can see our hotel off on the right a little ways further
When we reached the Baiyun hotel, we bought the first bottle of water we found and realized we still had more up to do… We had to go up and over the Bright Summit to get to our hotel. (and this is why I recommend staying at the Baiyun hotel… hahaha)
Looking back up towards the bright top summit.
We made it to the summit in only about 15 minutes (of straight stairs) and picked the path my hotel receptionist told us to go on day 1 to our hotel. I imagined it as only 30 minutes walk but man… it was a tough walk of 3 km and almost an hour! We had a few more ups and a LOT more downs to do before reaching our hotel. It was still so hot. Thankfully I’d bought a souvenir fan down in town because I used that thing constantly. (Probably looked ridiculous, hopefully not offensive… but a necessary tool)
As exhausted and frazzled as we were, we couldn’t just walk on by without capturing this incredible “flying” rock. 
A sea of clouds… and mountains

We finally made it to our hotel around 3:30 and checked in. Unfortunately we were on the top floor of a 6 story hotel that lacked an elevator which meant.. more stairs. It was pretty run down inside and the layout was pretty bizarre… and don’t get me started on the room. Definitely our worst hotel of the trip (and 5 times as expensive as our hotel the night before) The 2 twin beds in our room were basically box springs with yellowing comforters. We found a few small beetle like bugs around the room, which left me on high alert for bed bugs. No A/C either which after sweating all day, made the room an un-welcome relief. Needless to say, we were pretty appalled. Did I expect luxury on top of the mountain? No but at least a little better than what we ended up with.

Dinner….
Anyway the show must go on, no matter how thoroughly exhausted we were, we still had hours in the day. We showered and rested a bit before going out in search of food. The hotel just before ours, Xihai seemed like an easy enough walk and a little more fancy so we thought we’d check their restaurant out… WELL It was closed for some reason. (5:30 PM…) so we’d walked that way for nothing. We headed back to our hotel which appeared to have a restaurant and a street food type vendor. Apparently they are one in the same. What was advertised as pick 3 entrees , rice, and soup was really, you get what you get: which in this case was 3 questionable entrees, rice, and hot seaweed water. It was pretty terrible. The thing on the left was more seaweed? With some other texture, probably tofu, that I couldn’t quite accept. The middle dish was just eggs and tomatoes so a little better, if at least edible. The last entree was sweet potatoes and the safest of them all. The hot sea weed water was as bad as it sounds, and rice was rice. 
Anyways, if you come here, just do yourself a favor and haul some ramen noodles up in your back pack. And if you don’t want to carry them, buy those at the little stores up top instead of trying to eat any of the street sidewalk food. 
We ate what we could and headed back down to the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion which was thankfully an actual easy walk (with few stairs) from our hotel for sunset. 
Crazy sun beam peaking over the mountains. The lighting and colors were just crazy beautiful
After hanging around for a while, we decided to continue along the Northern route again (the first hike we did) at least until we started to descend a lot of stairs. It was just so peaceful without all the people and with the magic lighting on the mountains. We probably went about 3/4s of a mile or so to the start of the descent where the tunnels start and what I’d consider the “opening” of the Northern route
No this is NOT a scene from Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What you’re seeing is the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion everyone. 
We caught some pretty sunset light at the Purple Cloud cable car station (and spotted the peak where most people apparently go to watch the sunset- Purple Cloud Peak)
Another view from further away of the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion with our hotel Paiyunlou behind it. 
The start of the tunnels and major descent down on the Northern Grand Canyon route. 
(This spot is maybe a 30 minute walk from the Cloud Dispelling Pavilion)
Exploring the narrow passage with the dying light
Straight drops from this viewing platform- you can see why these mountains are the 
“Yellow Mountains”
More views from along the trail at sunset 

Almost dark- so headed back to the hotel 
Sea of Mountains
We stopped at the little convenience shop on the way to pick up a coke and oreos to follow up our terrible dinner and spent the rest of the evening in our room. Thankfully at night it cools off SIGNIFICANTLY and with the window open, the room was just right. The room also had a nice small but deep tub that I soaped down and soaked in which was extra nice. Though we slept terribly due to fear of bed bugs (we had yet to spot any) it wasn’t as bad as we thought it might be. (because neither of us actually got bitten by anything)
So solid day! So glad we made it down to the Fairy Bridge and caught such a glorious sunset. Day 4 part 2- SUCCESS. 

Day 4 Costs:
Breakfast from store: $10.20
Shuttle to scenic area $4.08
Entrance to park $33.50/adult $16.75/student
Yungu Cable car ride $23.32
2nd tram ride/ Western Sea Rail car  $29.15
Large bottle of water $3.64
Dinner $20.11
Oreos and a coke to end the day $5.10

Hotel: Huangshan Paiyunlou Hotel $144

Day 4 Total: $289.50 for 2 people