Salcantay – The lesser known but more enjoyable trek to Machu Picchu
Although Machu Picchu is one of the most famous attractions on the planet and Peru is an extremely popular destination in general, there is always another way to travel this beautiful part of the world and in particular, to reach the infamous Machu Picchu.
Located on the western side of South America, Peru is a backpacker haven with cheap prices, friendly locals and interesting things to do at every turn. In fact, this enchanting country is often the highlight for many visitors who spend several months exporting South America for the ancient terraces in Moray and the condors over deep crevasses in Colca Canyon are just some of the spectacular attractions which are already very well known to tourists.
How to find a different side of Peru
At the same time, there is also a side to Peru which is relatively unknown to visitors and this is usually for the reason that commission focused travel agents are usually unwilling to explore the more affordable options available. The perfect example of this can be seen when it comes to the Inca Trail and entry permits for Machu Picchu. In almost every case, the traditional Inca Trail is sold to travelers and promoted as the very best way to visit the ancient Inca city.
However, this entirely depends on what the visitors wants to experience and in the case that you might consider yourself a little more adventurous or frugal when it comes to spending; there is a specific alternative to the Inca Trail which is not only affordable but also off the beaten track.
Salkantay – the alternative to the “Inca Trail”
Located 60km north of Cusco, Mount Salkantay stands at an incredible 6,270 meters above sea level and the surroundings mountains are just as impressive. Snow capped and worshipped by Indians for thousands of years, these mountains are also home to one of the most adventurous hiking trails in the world, as stated by National Geographic Adventure Magazine in recent years.
Translating to “Savage Mountain”, Salkantay is no less than breathtaking while the hiking trail which travels through this mountainous region is also surprisingly well maintained. Furthermore, the end of this particular trail will take you into Aguas Calientes which is the famous town next to Machu Picchu, where you can choose to rest or take a wash before traveling up into the lost Inca City itself.
How difficult is the Salkantay Trek?
It must be said that the Inca Trail is a lot more difficult than tourists expect and again, this seems to be for the fact that travel agents often downplay the level of fitness to enjoy the trek. Featuring a number of steep climbs and relatively long distances, it requires a certain degree of fitness to enjoy the actual process of hiking each day.
Similarly, it must be said that Salkantay is considered by many to be more challenging than the original route, given the climbs are usually bigger and the trail is not maintained as often. All considered, you do not need to frequent the gym every day to be able for this trek but spending a few evenings trekking every week in the run up to this trail is always beneficial.
Taking time to visit Aguas Calientes
In fact, Aguas Calientes is just another reason you should choose the Salkantay Route (which is secretly the purpose of this article). Sitting in the bottom of a gorge, this tiny town is actually located on an island and surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides. You will even find two rivers thundering their way through the town while the gorge is often engulfed in a thick plume of cloud.
It may not be the most pretty town in the world, for Aguas Calientes admittedly has a problem with itinerants, but the dainty architecture and scenic nature of this town is worth the trek alone. And then there are the shop merchants, donkeys, carts and excited children hurrying through the alleyways – Aguas Calientes is a wonder in itself and unfortunately this town is often skipped by anyone taking the original Inca Trail, for the fact that they have no time to spare after trekking for so long.
Having trekked the Salkantay route to Aguas Calientes, you have an opportunity to relax and unwind in one of the many comfortable hotels in town before choosing whether to hike on the road or board the bus to Machu Picchu.
Hiking the road to Machu Picchu
Again, this is often an option which tourists never hear about but you can actually walk along the road from Aguas Calientes to the entry point for Machu Picchu. While this will not be of any interest to some, hiking from the town can feel apt for anyone who finished the Salkantay trek and wishes to continue on foot to the final destination. Winding up a steep cliffside, the road is also quite spectacular and the bus drivers are accustomed to keeping an eye out for hikers along the way.
Why Salkantay is a lesser known, but more enjoyable way to Machu Picchu
As already mentioned, the purpose of this article is to unashamedly demonstrate how there is a stunning alternative to the original Inca Trail. In many ways, this option will also suit many visitors as there is less footfall on the trail, no permit restrictions and arguably, even more spectacular scenery than anywhere else in the region.
When you start the Salkantay Trek, you will also encounter the most colorful valleys and a more primitive side of Peruvian life, away from the tourist crowds and western influence. Arriving in Aguas Calientes, you will also experience one of the most interesting towns in the world, while you also have the advantage of visiting the ancient city of Machu Picchu after a nice warm shower, meaning you will have no reason to hurry down to the comfort of a hotel room and more time to explore one of the true wonders of the world.