Salkantay – Part 5

View from the Trail to Aguas Calientes

This is the fifth and final part in a five-part series documenting our journey trekking the Salktantay Trek, from Mollepata to Aguas Calientes and eventually reaching Machu Picchu…

Day 5: Lucmabamba – Aguas Calientes

Start: 07:15 – Lucmabamba (2,250m)
POI: 10:30 – Pass (2,800m)
POI: 11:00 – Llactapata (2,500m)
POI: 14:45 – Hidro Electrica (2,050m)
End: 19:00 – Aguas Calientes (2,250m)

Summary: About a three hour, steep uphill trail along a beautiful Inca footpath to reach another pass at 2,900 meters, before descending slightly to the Inca ruins of Llactapata. From Llactapata, it was an even steeper descent to the river before reaching Hidro Electrica. From there it was a relatively easy (flat) and beautiful walk along the train tracks to reach Aguas Calientes, our final destination of the trek.

This day started way too early with rain waking us in our leaky tent not long after midnight. By 05:30 when it became light outside, we were wet enough and awake enough that we had to get up… We found some shelter under an overhang by the school, hung the sleeping bags to dry a little and had some breakfast.

Unwelcome Visitor

After breakfast, I went to put my shoe on again and there was another very unwelcome surprise waiting for me: I felt the most painful sting just on the tip of my naked toe. I screamed and threw the shoe to the ground and was more than a little astonished to see a little brown scorpion come crawling out. Lena immediately started screaming and crying, and insisted that we go to the hospital. I tried to play it off like it was nothing, but honestly it hurt like hell! It put even the most painful yellow-jacket or hornet sting to shame. Soon my whole foot was quite numb and my toe was on fire. I was having trouble walking. Lena mentioned again the collectivo to Santa Teresa, but I still wasn’t ready to give up. By that point, she was more than ready to get out of the woods!

I took some photos of the scorpion for posterity sake (this was my first scorpion sting after all!) and caught it in a plastic bottle so if my foot started to turn black the paramedics could at least make a positive ID of the creature. I was later able to show him to some friendly locals who confirmed that yes, scorpions are dangerous (they sting), but that there was no danger of my foot falling off (or death) as was Lena’s concern.

07:15 – Lucmabamba: Everything packed (wet) we starting again on the trail, me hobbling slowly. Unfortunately, the trail from Lucmabamba to Llactapata began to climb. Not only did it climb, but it kept climbing, and then got steeper. After four days of walking, and a mostly sleepless night, this was really bad news. Our legs had already taken such a beating, I wasn’t sure if they could take it.

Inca Trail

The trail itself was beautiful and followed an old Inca footpath, beautifully terraced and carved from the hillside. It was nice and wide, with occasional steps, winding around the edge of the mountain, giving great views of the Santa Teresa River valley. The higher we went, the more lush and moist the forest became; filled with thick vegetation and mossy trees. We had to stop to rest often and kept hoping the pass would appear around each curve. I was getting worried because I could tell if it didn’t come soon, Lena would really lost it.

View of Machu Picchu from Llactapata

10:30 – The Pass: Finally, after more than three hours of constant uphill struggle, the trail turned to the east and leveled slightly. We came into a very thick, mossy forest and after another 20 minutes began to descend again. Suddenly on the left side of the trail through a hole in the canopy, the ancient city of Machu Picchu came into view across the valley. This was a huge surprise and just the momentum we needed to push further to Llactapata.

Beautiful View at Llactapata

11:00 – Llactapata: At that point, I remember turning a corner in the trail and saying something like, “I think I see a house through the trees.” We came around a bend and into a grassy meadow- We had walked directly into the ruins, and framed perfectly in the empty stone doorway was Machu Picchu, high in the mountains on the other side of the valley! It was beautiful, and such and unexpected view… We were all alone there experiencing these ancient sites in a way I think few visitors ever do.

We ate lunch on the grass of the terrace in front of the ruins and marveled at the spectacular view for a while, before continuing down the trail towards La Hidro Electrica where we hoped to catch the train to Aguas Calientes. The trail down was steep and slipery. As steep as the trail up had been, this one was even worse. The farther we went, the steeper it became, plunging into endless zig-zags down towards the river below.

Hidro Electrica Train Station

14:45 – Hidro Electrica: We finally made it down to the river after about two hours. Another 20 minutes from the bridge brought us to the Hidro Electrica, and we were pretty relived to find that the train was there waiting. We had just about a half hour before the train was scheduled to leave that would take us to Aguas Calientes and save us the last three hours of walking. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the station, there was another surprise: Instead of $8, the tickets were $18 which would have really broken the budget. After some debate as to weather we would have to walk after all, I finally decided that we would just splurge and treat ourselves to a nice train ride. After 5 days of walking, we were tired and we needed it.

Frustrated Lena

So I went back to the ticket counter, money in hand ready to buy the tickets, but was instead in for yet another unpleasant surprise: Now I was being told that ticket sales stop 1/2 hour before the train is scheduled to leave! This was one very important fact that they had simply neglected to inform us about when we arrived about 45 minutes before the departure, and then stood around discussing it like idiots for 15 minutes only to find out it was now too late! To make matters even more frustrating, we found out that there was actually another train leaving later that afternoon, however for some not understood reason (by either us OR the Peruvians), this train was for Peruvian Nationals ONLY and did not take tourists. Usually Peruvians are pretty quick to take money for just about anything (especially from two stranded gringos) but for some reason there was no budging on this one: We would have to walk the last 9 kilometers down the tracks to Aguas Calientes.

Walk Along the Train Tracks

The walk was grueling, tiring, and towards the end- really painful. It really finished off our already tired legs and nearly broke my back. On fresh legs it wouldn’t have been so bad, but in our condition it was really torture. If we had been able to appreciate it (we weren’t!), the trail itself is beautiful. It follows the Vilcanota River through lush tropical forest and towering green mountain peaks. At several points along the trail there ware views of Machu Picchu and other ancient ruins on the mountain tops. At the moment, we scarcely noticed them- We were intent only on arriving to Aguas and (with some luck) having a hot shower that night.

19:00 – Aguas Calientes: We finally did arrive after more than three hours, well after dark, completely worn out and broken. Torwards the end, we had been stopping every 15 minutes or so, our backs were in so much pain… We arrived in sort of an exhausted delirium, found a cheap hotel, and were lucky enough to have a semi-warm shower before falling into a very deep sleep.

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8 Comments on "Salkantay – Part 5"

  1. avatar
    Lia
    13/12/2010 at 03:46 Permalink

    aaaah meine lieben, wenn ich diesen skorpion sehe, wird mir ganz schlecht! Bitte zieht euch einen undurchdringbaren Panzer an bzw. legt euch eine fliegenpeitsche zu! ich sterb hier sonst vor sorge!

  2. avatar
    Jonas
    03/09/2013 at 05:19 Permalink

    Hi

    Truly amazing blog!

    Me and my girlfriend are thinking of doing the Salkantay trek, but we still haven’t decided whether to go with a guide or not.

    I was wondering whether there were places where you can buy food along the way at all (just so you don’t have to carry everything all the way).

    Also, was it difficult to find the way or pretty straightforward (we’re not very experienced with map or compass)?

    Thank you again for the blog and for any answers to my questions.

  3. avatar
    Jason
    04/09/2013 at 09:01 Permalink

    Hi Jonas-

    In my opinion the trail was very easy to follow- It’s well trafficked, and easily visible, and there are regularly mule-trains or trekking groups passing if you ever need a bit a of direction. Not to mention in any of the small villages you pass through you will be able to ask the locals for trail descriptions, etc. Any time we were not quite sure which way to take, there was someone around who could help.

    There are a few places to buy food- but depending on if you go in tourist season on not, some of them could be closed. In Mollepata before you set out, there is everything you need, though it will be cheaper to get before leaving Cusco. After that, we passed a small shop/kiosk at least once a day except the third day (over the pass). That said, these are very tiny little shops, with limited supplies and of course you will pay a premium for everything you buy! I would plan on bringing everything you need in and top it off with some ‘extras’ when/if you pass by somewhere with supplies.

    As far as whether or not to go with a guide: In the end, that all depends on you- how much ‘adventure’ you are looking for and how much discomfort you are willing to face… I highly recommend it highly though! It was without a doubt one of the most memorable few days in Peru- and there were many high points of that trip!

    Good luck, have fun, and let me know your experience if you trek Salkantay.

    -Jason

  4. avatar
    Étienne
    04/11/2013 at 08:39 Permalink

    Hi Jason!

    First of all, thanks a lot for the information, you’re page is now one of the most useful result of the web for Salkantay!

    I was wondering about the entrance on the Machu Pichu, the ultimate step. Doing the trek on your own as I also want to do, how does it work at the last morning when it’s time to go on site? Have you prepaid an entrance fee in Cusco…is it free like the rest of the trail???

    Thanks in advance for any info you may provide me.

    Cheers,

    Étienne, Canadian backpacker!

  5. avatar
    Jason
    05/11/2013 at 06:42 Permalink

    Hi Étienne!

    Thanks for writing and I am glad you found the information helpful! It was a lot of work to put it all together, and it’s always good to hear positive response. We had a lot of trouble finding good information to plan our trip and wanted to try to provide as much information as possible to others who wants to try this trek.

    To answer your questions: You must pay the entrance fee to Machu Picchu. We did not reserve our tickets in advance, but rather purchased them the day before our visit when we arrived to Aguas Calientas. The entrance to Machu Picchu site is limited to a certain number per day so if you are planning to visit during the high-season it may be a good idea to reserve in advance, however this presents other problems such as arriving in time (considering unknowns along the trail). I think the best would be simply to arrive in Aguas Calientas and try to buy the tickets there for the next day, or even the day after… You may well be glad to have a day of ‘rest’ in Aguas Calientas before making the final climb to Machu Picchu!

    Good luck, good travels, and let me know if you have any other questions.

    -Jason

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