Episode 8: Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Episode 8: Podcast Extras + Breakdown

On today’s episode we’re walking you through our time in Peru and specifically our 5 day trek to Machu Picchu. We traveled to Peru in January of last year and spent a month, wandering around the southern half of the country and did things like a day hike up rainbow mountain, a stay in the amazon rainforest, a quick trip to the desert oasis of Huacachina, and of course spent some time in both lima and Cusco.

But today, we’re talking about the Salkantay Trek.

Listen Below!

Getting to Machu Picchu:

There are three main routes to Machu Picchu. There's the popular Inca Trail, the lesser traveled Lares Trek, and the one we chose, The Salkantay Trek. Each of these has a variation of days and you basically just start further up in the trail, or make a shortcut to trim off one day.

Why we chose the salkantay trek

After doing plenty of research, we found the Salkantay Trek would be a more challenging hike, much less crowded than the Inca Trail, and pass through more diverse and stunning landscape. And that's pretty much exactly what we're looking for in a hike. On the Salkantay Trek, there are also other activities to do such as, going to hot springs, visiting coffee plantations, and going zip-lining, so we felt it was a good mix of hiking and adventure that fit our style. 

How to Prepare

I don't think anything you read about the Salkantay Trek will make you think it's a walk in the park and super do-able for anyone. It is tough. It's 8-10 hours every day of hiking over rough terrain and it may be hot and humid, and it may be raining and freezing. You'll pass through valleys, rainforests, jungles, over mountain peaks with snow on them and muddy, rocky trails. And all of this will be at a fairly high altitude which could cause you to feel ill most of the time. 

So, take some steps to prepare! If you have the option of going on some hikes to train, we suggest doing that. If you can do a few hikes in higher altitude, that's the best option. During the time we went, I was working out maybe 3 times a week and felt like I was in pretty okay shape. And I think if it hadn't been for the altitude sickness I experienced, I would have done just fine with the rest of the hike. 

I don't think any of this should dissuade you from doing the Salkantay Trek, but knowing what you're in for and how you can prepare yourself is really key.

Packing + Must-have's:

This is a huge part of your preparation for the Salkantay Trek. Making sure you bring the right things and only what you need so you're not over-packing are essential.  

Waterproof gear + boots

Depending on what time of year you'll be going, if it's the beginning or tail end of rainy season, you may want to bring waterproof hiking boots. I would even recommend bring waterproof ones regardless of what time of year you'll be going. It realllllly sucks to have wet feet and wet socks, and not be able to dry them out over the course of a few days. 

On another note, make sure those boots are broken in sufficiently and are the correct size. The very last thing you want are stiff boots which give you blister on the very first day. Ensuring they fit correctly will ensure you have toenails at the end of your 4-5 day trek. Take the extra time to find a great pair, and I wish I had splurged and spent more money on a higher quality pair.

Day pack

You'll have to check with whichever company you chose to go with about how many bags you can bring and the weight requirements. We used the company Salkantay Trekking and brought only our 20-30 Liter backpacks and a small day-pack which we wore during each day. In the day pack we just carried our essentials like a rain jacket, gloves, money + passport in a waterproof bag, our phones, small digital camera, and water. 

With our trek, we were able to have the porters and horses carry our bigger backpacks and meet us at camp each night and then we only had to carry those tiny day packs. MUCH better than having to lug around a bigger bag on a tough hike. 

You may also have the option of leaving behind the rest of the stuff you don't need at the trekking company's office back in town while you go on the hike -- be sure to checkout this option and coordinate that with your weight requirement of the bag you can bring on the trek. For example, we left back at the office the rest of our regular clothes and toiletries we would not need for those days hiking so the horses and porter wouldn't have to carry that extra weight. 

Rain cover for backpack

We went during the tail-end of rainy season and so we had some light rain for some of the days of the hike. Both of us brought rain covers for our day packs just to make sure we kept out the rain on our important items.

hat/beanie

Nighttime can be very cold! We wore beanies (and sometimes gloves!) to bed nearly every night and I wore a beanie during most of the days of the hike as well. 

Headlamp for night time wees

The Salkantay Trek is like any camping trip you've probably been on in the sense that you'll have to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night or early morning. Bring a headlamp to help you out. You may also need it in the morning, as most days you'll be woken up before the sun comes up and you'll want a headlamp for the first hour or so of the hike.

Butt wipes/tampons/menstruation cups

Here's the thing about toilets in Peru in general, and of course on the trek, there may not always be toilet paper available. So please, bring your own wipes or toilet paper or whatever you want to bring. We opted for wipes so we could also have wipes for our hands. There are also not toilets available during most of the day, and you will usually only have a real toilet at your lunch break spot (maybe!) and there's always one at where you make camp for the night.

Ladies, I would not wish this upon my worst enemy, but if you have your period during the trek, first I would like to say I'm sorry and secondly, remember that bit about toilets and toilet paper I said before? Keep that in mind. If you're going to need to change your tampon frequently during the day, you may not have access to a toilet until nighttime. We found a good solution to this problem with a menstruation cup. These you can leave in for 12 hours which will certainly help you out by only having to change it potentially twice a day, and when you have access to a toilet. If you are interested in this route, I would buy yours ahead of time so you can get used to it and make sure you're comfortable using it. There are also different sizes, so you may have to try that out and ensure you have the right one!

You can find menstruation cups on Amazon or at stores like Target. They cost about $30, but they can last up to 10 years!

Sunscreen

You know when you're in the snow and it's cold, but you don't think to put sunscreen on and then you get sunburned as shit?  That's what the Salkantay Trek is like! You may be cold and on a mountain with snow, but please don't forget to put sunscreen on! Most likely you'll be wearing layers and you won't have much skin exposed very often, but just bring a little bottle to get your face and neck. I am nearly translucent and HAVE to wear sunscreen basically everyday and I put sunscreen on and still got sunburned! 

Altitude sickness medication

I had a feeling I would get sick, and boy oh boy, was I right. Virtually from the moment I stepped off of the plane in Cusco, I had a headache and felt nauseated. And then we had a 5 day hike ahead of us that was very challenging AND I felt like that the entire time. So, take some precautions, will ya?!

You can buy over the counter medicine in Cusco for altitude sickness, which I found took the edge off of me wanting to constantly puke. There are also coca leaves, which locals and visitors alike use in various ways to combat altitude sickness. You can make tea from the leaves, there is coca candy available, and you can just plain old chew on the leaves as well.

Make sure you stay hydrated and we even put Chlorophyl drops into our water, which essentially lets your cells take in more oxygen, and found we felt better when we drank this. If you’re sick like me, you probably won’t have an appetite and sometimes food will make you want to vomit. But, try and find some food that you can get down, because you’ll be trying to hike 8-10 hours a day, and you will need some food to get you through it!

Warmer jacket/fleece

Again, early mornings and nights are pretty cold! You’ll also be on top of Salkantay Mountain at some point, so bring a warm layer!

Waterproof bag

Depending on what time of year you’re going, it may be rainy season, so bring a waterproof bag for your important items like you passport, camera, or money! Even if it’s not rainy season, I would still bring a waterproof because you just never know and there’s nowhere to store your bag away from the elements during the day.

Hiking poles

You can rent hiking poles from your trekking company, so do so if you feel like you’re going to need them. They are compact-able, so if there are points during the trek where you don’t need them, just squish them up and tie them to your daypack. But, there are parts of the trek where they certainly helped out, so spend the extra bit of money and rent them!

Bathing suit

There are several versions of the Salkantay Trek, if you opt for one which includes the Santa Theresa Hot Springs (and you should!), you’ll need a bathing suit. Well, you don’t NEED one, I went in in my sports bra and workout shorts and it was fine, but it would have been nicer in a bathing suit.

Clean clothes for the last day

What’s worse than hiking for 8-10 hours a day in clothes that you hiked 8-10 hours in yesterday? Spending your last day at Machu Picchu in sweaty, dirty clothes! On the 4-5 day Salkantay Trek, you’ll be spending the night in a hotel on your last night before heading up to Machu Picchu at an ungodly hour the next morning. You’ll have the chance to shower (for the first time in 4 days) and the verrrrrrry last thing you’ll want to do is put those sweat-encrusted clothes back on your clean body.

Pack yourself a fresh, clean outfit for that last day and you’ll be so, so happy about it.

Refillable water bottle

This is an obvious one, BUT let’s just cover it anyway. Bring a water bottle. There is not water available during the day when you are hiking. Your camp cooks will boil water for you every morning after breakfast for you to fill up your water bottle and they will do the same at your lunch spot each day. So, make sure you have a bottle to fill up. We opted for foldable, packable water bottles to keep our load light.

You can find our water bottles here: Collapsable Water Bottle

Bring Cash

There will NO opportunity to get cash after you leave for the trek, until you get to your last night in the town of Aguas Calientes. You may need cash for optional activities, depending on which version of the Salkantay Trek you choose. There may be the option to go zip-lining, or go to the hot springs, and these will cost you a bit of cash.

Keep in mind there is a daily limit to take out cash at the ATM’s and it’s not very much; it can range from $130 - $225. So you may need cash to pay for the remainder of your trek, and you may need cash for these optional activities. Make sure you give yourself enough days to get out the amount of cash you’ll need.

Remember you’re out in the middle of basically nowhere -- no markets, cell-service, stores, so you HAVE to bring everything you need.