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:
- 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!
Click here for more info on the tour
Day 1: the hike into camp
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.