Written by James McManus, trip leader Machu Picchu trek, May 2016.
A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure to guide a great bunch of people on an 11 day Machu Picchu trek and had an absolute whale of a time!
Acclimatisation in Cusco
Like all Earth’s Edge trips we placed a massive emphasis on acclimatisation and the first two days of our Machu Picchu treks were spent in Cusco adjusting to the higher elevation. Cusco is a great city with lots to see and do. For me the San Pedro market was a real highlight, you can literally buy anything there. The two youngest members of our team Ais and Neil were keen to immerse themselves in everything Peruvian and sampled the Guinea Pig for lunch in Cusco. Let’s just say there is a reason chicken, pork and beef are the meats of choice in most households!
Starting the trek
The drive to the start of the Salkantay trek takes about four hours but it’s really beautiful. The most impressive views throughout the day are of Salkantay (6,271m) which we can see throughout the morning. The first day of walking is not strenuous and takes us right up to the edge of the glacier beneath Salkantay where we make camp. Our first night in the tents was beautiful, clear and temperatures dipped to the region of -5 Celsius. Interestingly, most of the group (all the girls) slept really well but others (all the lads) struggled with the cold and reported temperatures as low as -15 in their tents! I guess that’s mountain weather for you, unexplainable at times.
Buying fruit on the trail
The next day we crossed the Salkantay pass and then descended all the way to Collpapampa. It was a fascinating day to start beside a glacier and finish in the jungle. The following day was my favourite on the trip. Throughout the morning we could buy fresh avocado (€0.30) and passionfruit (€0.15) from local farmers, I’m a huge avocado fan and I must have had six throughout the morning!
In the afternoon we visited Freddie’s coffee plantation and got to see first-hand the entire coffee making process. Freddie was an interesting character and his tour was both informative and hilarious in equal measure. He even threw in some interesting information about the 15 different varieties of banana found in Peru! We finished the day with a dip in the Santa Teresa hot springs followed by a beer around the campfire listening to Neil singing Johnny Cash, it doesn’t get much better than that!
The following day we walked through the jungle to reach Aguas Calientes. After a couple of hours, we got our first views of Machu Picchu way above us on the saddle between Machu Picchu mountain and Wayna Picchu, an impressive sight. Aguas Calientes is very touristy but that is to be expected. After dinner, some of us went for a walk to explore the town and found hundred’s of families and kids playing football on a large AstroTurf pitch. You could sense there was a really strong community and it was interesting to see so many young kids out and about playing at 10 pm!
Reaching Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu itself is one of those places you have to see for yourself. Having done a fair bit of stonework in a former life I found it very impressive. It’s also huge and the Inka history is fascinating. After spending two hours exploring the ruins we then started the long steep climb up Machu Picchu mountain. Our progress was stalled about two minutes later as we had arrived at the ranger station a little late.
Like all our local guides, Edgar is well connected and he worked his magic to negotiate with the park ranger and within five minutes we were on our way. Machu Picchu mountain is a long and steep climb that catches some people out as they are not expecting a proper day of trekking when they visit Machu Picchu.
On our way back to Cusco we visited a textile factory run by a group of local women. It was fantastic to shop in a locally run place where traditional methods are still used to manufacture the clothing. Everyone bought a few bits and bobs except Liam who bought half the shop!
We finished off the trip with a great night out in Cusco…but I can’t tell you about that, what goes on tour stays on tour!!!!
I was chatting to the expedition Doctor Lucy on the way home and we both agreed the trip never felt like work which is a testament to a great destination and the people in our group. To say I had an interesting and diverse group would be an understatement! Having spent 11 days with this crazy bunch of people I now know infinitely more about flying jumbo jets, horses, stone, SEO, animation, karate and corporate banking, as well as a wide range of other useful topics!
If you are interested in joining us on one of our Machu Picchu treks contact us today!