Six days around the slopes of Salkantay and its’ snowy cordillera, through altitudes, landscapes and ecosytems from Alpine to Cloud Forest. Backcountry trekking, visiting isolated farmes villages and quechua speaking peoples, recovered Inca Trails and Archaeology, dramatic Train Rides and extra Explorations of Machu Picchu.
Day one: Trekking Challacancha to Salkantay pampa
From our lodgings in Cusco, we drive northeast passing small villages and valleys to reach Mollepata, a little town at 2,745 meters. Then about 90 minutes further, we arrive at the trailhead, Challacancha at 3,353 meters. At this point we rendezvous with our expedition staff and pack animals. Salkantay comes closer here as we hike about hour in Paramo over grasslands and flats, stopping for lunch and a beautiful view of the Peak of Salkantay at 6,271 meters. After a light lunch and short rest, we hike upwards for about 2-3 hours on gravel and dirt trails, covering 6.5km to Salkantay Pampa. This plateau, at 3810 meters, is close to a glacial moraine, wide open to the elements and tremendous views. This is our spot for dinner and overnight camping.
Day two: Salkantaypampa to Canal Inca
We get an early start today, so we can make the first pass, the Abra Inca Chiriasca at 4,880 meters, in about 3 hours. El Apu Salkantay looms even closer now and feels massive as reflected in glacial tarns and lagoons. We walk on inter-valley geological deposits, gravelly sections, and some stone steps. We stop for lunch ear in the paramo, or high alpine tundra, close to other glaciers. We continue trekking where few other “Inca Trail” visitors have walked, through different “Elfin” forests and warmer inter-Andean valleys, for about 2 hours until we reach the next campsite, Canal Inca. The Incas built an enormous retaining wall along the river for agriculture that is still tended by a small Quechua community of potato farmers. We’ll also see Chillca bushes, Bacharis Peruviana and ‘tanning’ trees, Caesalpinia Spinosa, also maybe birds like Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Phrygilus Unicolor, and Southern Yellow Grosbeak, and perhaps Pheucticus Chrysogaster, in the epiphytes and bromeliads family. Today we hike 11km in about 7 hours.
Day three: Canal Inka to Llulluchapampa
About 2 hours of hiking today brings us to an original Inca trail, with sections of incredible stone work and we continue downward along the Pampacahua River to an Inca Administrative Tambo, at the confluence of three valleys, “Paucarcancha”, at 2,895 meters. Mid-day we arrive at the village of Wayllabamba for lunch. With hardly any change in altitude we cross different environments, some may enjoy a jump in the river. Wayllabamba is a control point for “The Inca Trail”, we meet our muleteers and fresh porters from Quechua families, we get official permission and documents so we can proceed to Machu Picchu. There will be a farewell ceremony and we leave for a 3 hour hike along the beautifully worked trail with stairs carved into the granite, ascending to one of our highest camps at 3505 meters, Llulluchapampa. With changes from cloud forest to cloudy puna, this is close to the habitat of the Andean Spectacled Bear, Tremarctus Ornatus. In this forest of mainly Unca trees, ferns, lichens and bromeliads are abundant too, maybe we’ll find the Wiñay Huayna orchid, “Forever Young”, Epidendrum Secundum, and “Molle” Pepper trees, Shinus Molle used by the Incas for mummification. Cloud forest birds of many different families abound such as hummingbirds, tanagers, flycatchers and maybe mixed feeding flocks. At our paramo camp there is little obvious plant variety under the view of the 5,464 meter tall Apu Huayanay. If it is a clear night, it may get very chilly and there will be countless stars. In 7 hours, we will hike about 13kms today.
Day four: Llulluchapampa to Phuyupatamarca
Today is the hardest part of the route, an abrupt and steep ascent stretching only 2km and taking us about 2 hours, to Warmi Wañusta, the “Dead Woman’s Pass” at 4,200 meters, yikes! After resting within view of the majestic Apu Veronica at 5,832 meters, and over to Abra Runkurakay, we descend to 3600 meters into the valley of Pacaymayu. There is more beautiful Inca stone work stairs and we may see more orchids like Odontoglossum Mystacinus. Going up again to the third pass and Inca control point, Runkurakay at 3,970 meters, we pass the Black Lagoon, Yanacocha, and stop for lunch below at Chaquicocha. After lunch we’ll explore Sayacmarca, an intricate semi-circular complex with enclosures at different levels, narrow streets, liturgical fountains, patios and irrigation canals. Along this climb we can really appreciate the magnitude of the Incas’ stonecraft, held against cliff sides and perfectly cut to fit into multilevel ravines. We arrive at camp near an Inca settlement at 3,700 meters, Phuyupatamarca or “above the clouds”. During dinner at sunset, we will have exquisite views of Apu Salkantay, closer to Humantay at 5,900 meters and Wakay Willka, 5,365 meters. Today our hike is about 7 hours, covering 15kms.
Day five: Phuyupatamarca to Machu Picchu
Continuing on “The Inca Trail” mainly downhill on more granite stairs, it is only about 5 hours more to Machu Picchu. We can visit another archaeological sites, Wiñay Wayna, second in size only to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail, an Inca religious retreat and resting place for their Royal Courts. There are more Cloud forest species of bromeliads and orchids, like Bamboo orchids, Sobralia Dicotoma, Walnut and Coral trees. We may see the native Inca Wren, “Thryothorus eisenmanni”. At the Sun Gate, “Intipunku” at about 2,450 meters, we have a light lunch with spectacular afternoon view of Machu Picchu from above. This is our first encounter with the Sacred City of the Incas. After taking pictures and sensing the inspiration of this mystical site, we go by bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes. After checking into the hotel, there is time for dinner and an optional visit to the hot springs.
Day six: Machu Picchu
Getting up at sunrise will allow us the best opportunity to see Machu Picchu before the crowds arrive. After a two-hour detailed tour, we have option either to hike up Huayna Picchu, the peak in the background of the famous image of Machu Picchu, about 2 hours round trip with passes, or to climb the summit of the sacred Machu Picchu Mountain overlooking the entire area, about 2 1/2 hours. Alternatively, we can visit the Temple of the Moon or the fabulous Inca. Afterwards, we will meet back up in the town of Aguas Calientes where to tour more or relax in the hot springs. Finally, we take the train back to the city of Cusco. Only Breakfast and Lunch today.