This Machu Picchu Trip Report was written by Ronan Lenihan, an experienced Earth’s Edge guide. This itinerary describes the route we used to take on our Machu Picchu Trek.
We have since updated this trip to take in some extra sights, including Choquequirao, Machu Picchu’s less visited sister city. You can read about our new Machu Picchu Trek itinerary here.
Machu Picchu Trip Report September 2018
On the 12th of September, I met with a diverse group of fellow trekkers in Dublin Airport.
We met early in the morning-5.40am and for the first time on an Earths Edges trip, everybody was on time… except me! After introductions and a quick chat, we checked in and made our way through. So began our long journey to Cusco.
It was a very tired team that arrived in Lima. We were delayed in the airport as some of our bags had gone off on their own adventure, so after we dealt with that we made our way to the hotel for the night. We didn’t have time to enjoy the hotel as we got in late and were up early to be back in the airport for our flight to Cusco.
In Cusco, we met the local members of our team. We were based in a hotel right in the centre of Cusco, close to many historic squares and buildings. We spent the rest of the day exploring Cusco and resting after our flight. Cusco is at 3400m and although not crazy high it was just high enough that you could feel it any time you went up a set of stairs.
The next day we were brought on a tour of Cusco to learn about the area and see many of the historical sites. This involved climbing to a viewpoint overlooking the entire city and visiting an Inca museum. The museum was very interesting as we learned an awful lot of the finer details about Inca culture, got close to llamas and tried some local dishes and drinks. Between the heat and the bit of altitude, we were pretty tired getting back to our hotel. It was early to bed as we were planning to leave Cusco very early the next morning.
The beginning of the Trek
We left Cusco very early in the morning for a long drive. Thankfully this was broken up by a visit to an amazing Inca site where we explored and saw many of the features up close. We also stopped in a small town and had a traditional Peruvian breakfast.
We eventually arrived at the trailhead and started our trek. Everyone was glad that the trip was starting in earnest and we were all in good spirits. The trail took us through forests, over rivers and up into a valley where other teams were camped. Along the way, we saw several birds of prey soaring above us.
The scenery got more spectacular the further up the valley we went with Salkantay peak at 6271m right in front of us. We reached our spectacular campsite at the foot of Salkantay. Although it was beautiful it was also our coldest and highest camp on the trip. That evening our cook crew cooked an amazing meal for us. They never fail to impress with what they manage to produce inside a tent with just a couple of stoves!
We awoke the next morning to a cold but beautiful day. As we were in the valley it was a couple of hours before the sun reached us. Despite having spent the night at 4410m everyone seemed well-rested and after a great breakfast, we started our days walk. It was to be our longest day but it was also probably the most spectacular.
We travelled uphill towards the base of Salkantay and reached a pass which at 4570m was our high point of the trip. After spending some time here admiring the views and taking pictures we started our descent into another even more beautiful valley.
Descending to Collpapampa
We spent several hours on the descent. This took us through a subalpine environment, into cloud forest and into the start of the rainforest. We eventually reached a dirt road and followed it to the small village of Collpapampa where we spent the night.
The next day our trek took us off the dirt road and into a valley covered in rainforest. It was scorchingly hot and although we were in the forest for much of the day the sun still penetrated through. We passed several small avocado plantations and farms along the way. Eventually, we reached the road head and a minibus was waiting for us to take us to a nearby coffee plantation to learn about small-scale coffee production. This was a really interesting and enjoyable tour and one of the highlights of the trip for me.
After the coffee plantation, we got back on our bus and made our way to the small town of Santa Teresa where we would be camping for the night. While here we visited the nearby hot springs which were a very welcome treat for our tired bodies.
In Santa Teresa, we said goodbye to most of our support team. The cook and his team had looked after us so well, with amazing food every day. Our chief muleteer and her team carried our bigger bags and camping equipment and set everything up each day so we could relax when we arrived at each camp. These treks would be nearly impossible without them, and we were sad to see them go!
First view of Machu Picchu
Our trek then took us to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. It was another extraordinarily hot day with very little shade. Our route followed the train tracks to Agua Calientes with a river on one side and rain forest and cliffs on the other. Along the way, we got occasional glimpses of Machu Picchu itself. It looked very high, isolated, and almost inaccessible from where we were.
After a few sweltering hours, we reached Aguas Calientes and it was a strange feeling. There was a massive contrast between our journey through mountains, rainforest and small towns to reach a bustling tourist town. We were in a hotel that night, and everyone relaxed or went exploring for the rest of the day.
Getting to Machu Picchu proper
The next day we got up early to visit Machu Picchu itself. There was a bit of bureaucracy and queuing to get on one of the buses to go up to Machu Picchu itself. This was understandable and necessary in order to manage numbers and preserve the site.
When we reached the entrance there was a lot of hustle and bustle but no indication what we were about to see. When we entered we followed a high stone wall and entered through a narrow gap. Everyone is completely blown away by their first sight of Machu Picchu, and photos simply never do it justice. All we could see before us was a massive expanse of buildings and terracing in a stunning location.
What was built is an amazing feat in its own right, but to build it in such a steep remote and inaccessible site is astonishing. We spent a couple of hours being guided around the site and nobody wanted to leave. Rather than leave the site and get back on a bus back down we all decide to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. It was a steep and hot ascent but well worth it for the views over Machu Picchu and the surrounding landscape. We took our time descending and eventually got back to Aguas Calientes and our hotel.
The journey home
The next day we left Aguas Calientes and took a beautiful train journey to Ollantaytambo and then onto Cusco. Along the way, we saw more Inca sites right out the window. When back in Cusco we said goodbye to our 2 local guides who were with us the whole way.
Our last day in Peru was spent exploring and doing some last bits of shopping before going for our celebratory meal. Our restaurant was in a small square under a few trees and we all enjoyed the food and the atmosphere. Most of us were pretty tired and didn’t stay out too late as we had another early start to make our long journey back home.
If you’re interested in booking your own Peruvian adventure, have a look at our Machu Picchu Trekking Trip page here!