Group departure - Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu - 5 Days - Apr 9 - Apr 13, 2018

Traveler: Laura M. - Local specialist: James M

Salkantay Trek with Quechua Treks Peru to Machu Picchu, 5 Days, 4 Nights

After a couple years saving up for our dream adventure to Peru and Machu Picchu, my fiancé and I were finally able to take the time to plan our trip for the end of the rainy season in early April. My brother and his wife joined us as well and the four of us had an absolutely amazing visit to Peru! After a lot of research, we decided on booking a guided trek through KimKim with Quechua Treks Peru; this turned out to be an experience of a lifetime, one to be so fondly remembered and that cannot be fully shared with others in words and photos. You simply had to be there.

From the start, James at KimKim was always available to answers questions and helped us get set up with the travel plan and trek we wanted. He was in touch with us from beginning to end and made sure we were able to coordinate with Quechua Treks for what was needed, from contacts, to prices, to dietary restrictions! Thanks so much, James! Mayra was also in touch with us from Quechua Treks and helped us along the way.

We arrived in Cusco in order to acclimate to the altitude for about 2 days before our trek. Cusco is located at over 11,000 ft and our Salkantay Trek would take us to almost 15,000 ft. On the night before our trek, our guide Rolfi met with us to provide our briefing for the trip. We immediately felt at ease with him and with the entire crew, whom we were introduced to the next morning (muleteers/porters/tent men Americo and Huaman, chef Edgar, assistant cook Donato, and Ronaldino our driver). As two women, my sister-in-law and I felt respected and never uncomfortable in a group of otherwise all men. My sister-in-law was the only one among us four who really spoke Spanish and while Rolfi our guide was very fluent in English, no part of the language barriers between us prevented us all from enjoying each other, constantly laughing, gesturing, translating for each other, cracking jokes, and learning from each other. I felt that everyone became family and I will never forget each of the wonderful crew members and the warmth they showed us. They took such good care of us.

The food prepared by our chefs, Edgar and assistant Donato, was out of this world, fresh, filling, healthy, and so good; there were hot drinks, fresh fruits, jams, vegetables, quinoa, bean bread, an abundance of tasty gluten free foods and snacks due to dietary restrictions, salads, potatoes of course, chicken, hearty soups, stir-fry’s, desserts, even a cupcake for my birthday made last minute; we agreed that we enjoyed our meals on the trek much more than the delicious food we tried later in Lima, said to be THE food capital. Hot water and tea in the morning! Being used to “roughing it” on camping and backpacking trips, when I saw pictures of how our meals would be served at tables with nice table cloth, napkins, utensils, and camping chairs in a tent I thought we were going to be over-pampered but wow was I grateful for the comfort of a space like that after a long day’s trek. Edgar and Donato were with us during days 1-3 of our trek.

Ronaldino was an excellent driver, negotiating rough and narrow roads expertly, getting us to our starting point and meeting us later at different points of our adventure on day 3 and at the end on our last day to get us back to Cusco from the train. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with him and loved getting to know him a little!

Americo and Huaman were our muleteers and the entire crew helped quickly and efficiently set up and break down our camps. We typically started ahead of them on our treks while they finished packing up the horses and mules but before we knew it, they were passing us up, running ahead to meet us at lunch and the end of the days. Americo and Huaman were with us during days 1-2 of our trek. They were wonderful.

Rolfi :) our guide was the heart of the entire group, bringing everyone together. He never stopped cracking jokes, was a wealth of history and information to our million questions, constantly pointing out things to us as we trekked, and always had the best stories to share. He was unendingly patient with us as we were perpetually, “National Geographic,” stopping to take photos of the beauty around us and as we huffed and puffed during our ascents. Rolfi was nothing but encouraging and great fun. I don’t think we ever ran out of good conversation. He was there with us from start to finish, ensuring that each of us were feeling well and enjoying ourselves, extremely astute to each of our interests, and we all learned a lot from one another. We loved him and could not have asked for a better guide! It was hard for us all to say farewell to everyone in our crew and especially to Rolfi.

The sights were unforgettable. Incredible microclimates with endless kinds of flora and fauna, butterflies, waterfalls, wild strawberries, racing clouds, tree canopies. Thousands of years old aqueducts and ancient Incan ruins, meeting local people along the way. We were awed by the numerous valleys, towering mountain ranges, glaciers, and our summit views. On our 1st night of camp, our bright view of the milky-way galaxy was incredible. We loved touring the coffee plantation, zip-lining and very much enjoyed the hot springs on our 3rd day. Our camping tents were perfectly comfortable. Our train ride on Peru Rail and accommodations in Cola de Mono and Aguas Calientes were also very nice. Machu Picchu and its history was unreal and climbing Huayna Picchu was totally worth it!

After this extraordinary trek, I felt changed, refreshed, and encouraged in many ways related to my personal life. I returned home feeling better about myself, the extreme physical challenges I faced, and my motivation to take the time to eat healthier and take kinder care of myself re-emerged. I left Peru gaining new perspective and new friends I felt sorry to part with. From the bottom of my heart, thank you Quechua Treks Peru and KimKim family.

Tips about this trek, during the end of the rainy season in early April:
The weather for us ranged from 30’sF at highest altitudes to 60’sF. Obviously, the weather will vary from year to year but during the trek, there are MANY difference microclimates you will travel through, with weather changes occurring even from minute to minute, from rainy, windy, sunny, freezing, very comfortable temperate, to humid and hot. You will always feel different based on whether you are moving or sitting still.

Our guide provided us each with a duffel bag the day before our trek that would mostly be carried on the mules to hold our belongings that we could mostly access at the end of each day only, until the next morning when we were back on our way; at times later during the trip, we were also responsible for hanging on to our duffels ourselves (carrying them to our hotels, the train, etc). The bags are meant to hold 7kg of your belongings maximum, which is completely manageable.

- General packing: while you are away on a trek, many people find that they are able to leave some things with their hotel/air bnb in cusco. I ended up leaving my main 42 L hiking backpack and souveniers I had picked up in Cusco to this purpose and taking just my 22L REI flashpack as my day pack, the rest stored in the duffel bag that was provided. They do keep your bags covered on the mules but it was advised to store the belongings inside the duffel in a trash bag or dry sacks just in case of heavy rains, so we did so.
- Clothes: clothes with merino wool mixed or tanks of polyester fabric are the way to go to prolong your laundry and to temperature regulate. For our trek, I did fine with 2 pairs of trekking pants, 1 pair of shorts, a merino base layer top and bottom for the cold evening/days, 3 tshirts/tanks, 1 merino bra, swim suit, 2 merino toe socks, 1 regular merino pair of socks. Toe socks are amazing, I did not get one blister. Merino wool socks are double-amazing, you really can wear them for many days without developing odor. I brought extra changes of things in case of dirt and/or getting wet from rain.
- Outerwear/Raingear: Umbrella. Genius Rolfi. He gave credit to a group of Japanese trekkers he led about 15 years ago. I did not have one and being a bit of a Seattle snob about umbrellas, wish I had. The weather changes are fast and often on the trek and there already is a lot of stopping to un-layer and re-layer jackets, hats, hoods, rain covers, etc. Having an umbrella would have reduced some of that :) My trekking pants dried very quickly from body heat even after getting soaked several times, and while moving I was not cold. Others in my group brought outer rain pants and that was helpful to them as well. I had one ultralight down and one fleece in addition to a base layer if needed for warmth and that was plenty. A headband to go over the ears, beanie, and a water-proof hat for sun and rain in addition to my light rain jacket/wind breaker. Sunglasses, of course. Rain cover for my day pack. Gloves. Small dry sacks and sandwich/freezer bags for some things just in case to extra protect some items in my pack.
- Shoes: To lighten weight, I was happy I went with Saucony Peregrine trail runners; these are not water proof but dry quickly while wearing from body heat and whenever I expected rainy weather, particularly the first 2 days, I went ahead and wore water-proof Sealskinz socks. For the most part, the peregrines stayed dry anyway. I also brought a pair of LL Bean Maine Hunting Shoes and a pair of flip flops to wear around camp and also at the hot springs for the flip flops.
- Other Equipment: I brought one trekking pole and this was helpful to me during steep ascents and especially descents. At Machu Picchu itself, they may or may not let you in with a trekking pole but if so you will definitely require rubber caps. Power adapter for when there was access. My 5000mAh external battery was perfect for keeping my phone charged for photos. Headlamp.
- Snacks: snacks were actually provided to us for the trail every day but we did bring some of our own such as jerky, chocolate/candy, peanut butter.
- Backpacks: My day pack was under 10 lbs not including water, while my porter pack was about 12 lbs. In my day pack/on me, I kept personal valuables like my passport, an extra pair of socks, my baselayer top, hats, gloves, sometimes my camp towel, snacks for the day, water, external battery for my phone, jackets and fleece, rain cover, some toilet paper, pain relievers like advil, first aid basics, insect repellant, sunscreen, sunglasses, trekking pole.
- Water: Camelback pouch, 2 to 3 liters size is plenty. You will get clean water refills every evening and morning. No need to bring water purifiers.
- Altitude prophylaxis/meds: acetazolamide is essential to help protect you from altitude sickness. Start 24 hours before you arrive to Cusco and continue for 1-2 days after your highest elevation. I also acquired the typhoid vaccine.
- First aid/bug repellant/sunscreen: lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellant (we really liked the Picaridin instead of DEET; it doesn’t leave a residue and a little bit goes a long way). Quechua Treks carries a first aid kit and oxygen tank if needed but I brought my own kit as well, including ace wrap, Zofran, some basic antibiotics in case of bacterial diarrhea, bandaids, advil/Tylenol/Benadryl/antibiotic ointment, leukotape in case of blisters, among other first aid basics of choice.
- Sleeping: My thin sleeping liner plus down quilt for 20 degrees F was plenty warm for the purpose of this hike. Quechua Treks provides the inflatable sleeping pads and for the first night or two comfy sleeping liners and pillow were also provided; however, I believe these got wet during a heavy rain and so I was glad to have brought my own liner. Earplugs were very nice to have.
- Toiletries/laundry: you may laugh, but having the Pstyle for the ladies was perfect, especially when we had to use that “Incan toilet” on the trail. At camp and at rest-stops on the trail, there were toilets. Bring your own toilet paper just in case. Aside from your personal toiletries, wet wipes were nice to have for extra clean up if needed and Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap (2 oz) was perfect for hand-washing a couple things along the way. I found that bringing a couple clamps/clothespins was helpful for drying out some clothes on the trail (hooked onto outside of my pack) or overnight. Camping towel.
- Money: If you have a debt card with no foreign transaction fee, withdraw money in soles at an ATM such as at the airport when you arrive in Cusco. In Cusco, while restaurants generally accepted mastercard or visa, pretty much everywhere else except for fancy stores only take soles. In Aguas Calientes, most of the shops in the market will take a credit card as well and will often accept small denominations of USD. Best to have denominations of 50 or less in soles while you are on the road and keep some 1 sole coins to use toilets at rest-stops along the trail. Set aside some soles ahead of time for tipping your crew.

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James M, local specialist, responded to this review:

Hi Laura, we're all blown away by your review. For you to take the time to let us know how it was, is incredible. The guys all appreciate it, Laura, it's not very often that they get the mention their work merits. I'll make sure everyone sees it :) When we get groups like yours, you understand what we're about and you made the most of your time here. Your group is the reason we do what we do, it was a pleasure to have you with us & please keep in touch. Your pictures are some of the best I've... read more

Hi Laura, we're all blown away by your review. For you to take the time to let us know how it was, is incredible. The guys all appreciate it, Laura, it's not very often that they get the mention their work merits. I'll make sure everyone sees it :) When we get groups like yours, you understand what we're about and you made the most of your time here. Your group is the reason we do what we do, it was a pleasure to have you with us & please keep in touch. Your pictures are some of the best I've seen, the variety of flora I still find astounding! We hope you'll be back to Peru some time.
best regards, James