Machu Picchu by the path less travelled – the Salkantay Route

Jill Blunsom, Peregrine’s Latin America Destination Manager, explains the appeal of the Salkantay Trek, which follows quiet trails through some of Peru’s most astounding scenery, finishing at Machu Picchu.

The area northwest of Cusco may be South America’s richest destination for ancient ruins, but the real treasure is the land – and nowhere more so than on the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. The trek explores the Cordillera Vilcabamba, a rugged mountain chain that rises between the Apurimac and Urubamba rivers.

Any route to Machu Picchu is special – the isolated villages of the Lares, the ruins and iconic grandeur of the classic Inca Trail – but the Salkantay is unbeatable when it comes to remote wilderness. If you want to really feel that you’re heading to Machu Picchu the adventurous way – this is the only option.

On the trail

On the trail, you’re among the Andes at their most varied and captivating, soaring summits tumbling down from glaciers into golden grasslands, and steep northern slopes swiftly transforming into the rainforest-clad terrain of the Amazon Basin. That proximity to lush lowlands gives the area a sense of drama – stand at one of the high rocky passes and look out onto Mount Salkantay, cloud swirling up from the jungle to envelope the glaciated summit, and you understand why the peak is so named: Salkantay means ‘Savage Mountain’ in quechua.
The sense of solitude is powerful on the Salkantay. As the crow flies, you’re close to the tourist hotspots of the Sacred Valley, but you’ve sidestepped the crowds. You’ll know it when the trek joins the classic Inca Trail – it will be the most people you’ve seen since you left Cusco. Chances are, on the Salkantay trail, you’re only companions will be the mountains, green river valleys and the horses that carry your bags.

Challenging

The Salkantay’s a strenuous trek – you’re walking at high altitude, with several high passes well over 4,000 metres and the highest just shy of 5,000 metres – so it goes without saying that appropriate equipment and good preparation are both essential. Some time spent at high altitude before the trek is useful (a day or two in Cusco and the Sacred Valley helps) and make sure that you’ve put in some time on hills in advance of taking on the Salkantay.

Best of both worlds

The really great thing about the Salkantay trek is that there’s no compromise: as well as the remote wilds you follow, you also still get to walk the finest stretches of the classic Inca Trail, still arrive at Machu Picchu under your own steam and see the ruins in all their glory. Best of all might be the duration however – in total you spend a lot of time in the wilderness, away from crowds and towns, really getting among the best the Andes has to offer. It’s a remarkable part of the world, and to spend a week walking the trails really gives you the opportunity to appreciate the region’s splendour.
Take a look here at our 17-day tour, from Lima to La Paz, which treks the Salkantay route, as well as taking in Lake Titicaca and the Sacred Valley.

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