My Trek to Machu Picchu - Part 1
Machu Pichhu, in the Cusco Region of Peru, has topped my list of “places to visit” for a long time. There are many ways to get to Machu Picchu— the easiest is probably to fly to the Cusco airport and take the train for about 4 hours. But a harder— and more adventurous!— option is to hike there. There are many hiking options offered by local guide companies, and the most popular are 3-5 day treks on either the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek. I chose the 4-day Salkantay Trek, which took us through incredibly diverse terrain— from glaciers to jungle— and was challenging enough, but still felt like vacation after all!
Machu Picchu is about 8,000 feet above sea level (2,430 meters), but much of the 4-day trek is higher than 11,000 feet and you’ll get as high as 15,000 feet on day two. Because of this, you need to spend at least two days getting acclimated to the high elevation before you start hiking. Almost everyone does this in Cusco— a very touristy but beautiful little city with old buildings and very narrow streets! At 11,200 ft (3,400 meters), Cusco was the highest city I had ever visited and I felt the elevation pretty fast— super tired, headache, shortness of breath just from standing for a long time! Luckily I was very comfortable in the little boutique hotel where I stayed and ate amazing, healthy meals at their restaurant. Highly recommend! The local Peruvian remedy to altitude sickness is coca leaves— you either chew on the leaves or drink lots of coca tea to help with the headache!
On the first day of the trek, the trekking company picked everyone up from their Cusco hotels at 4am (!) and we drove 4 hours to Challacancha, the starting point of the hike. At this point, I feel a lot better than the last two days and think I’ve gotten adjusted to the altitude pretty well. Luckily, our trekking company had horses to do most of the heavy lifting during this hike (such as our food and clothing)— each person only needed to carry a small backpack with water, snacks and other necessities for the day. We also had a chef that travelled ahead of us so that we always had great meals waiting for us at the next campsite. This of course made the trek a lot easier!
Day 1 hike stats:
Challacancha to Soraypampa
Distance: 12km / 7.45 miles
Highest elevation: 4200 meters ASL / 13779 feet ASL
Day 1 was meant to be a “warm up” day, and the first couple hours were relatively flat— but still at around 13,000 feet, the altitude was no joke. I was finding myself short of breath on the slightest uphill climbs— maybe I should’ve spent an extra day in Cusco! 🤔 I needed a lot of little breaks to catch my breath.
The biggest challenge of the day was the hike up to Humantay Lake (13,779 ft / 4,200 m). The lake was very beautiful and I’m glad that I have photos, because I had such a bad headache from the altitude that I barely wanted to move! Maybe you can tell from my smile! 😬
Luckily our campsite that night, Soraypampa (12,861 ft / 3,920 m), was 1,000 feet lower than Humantay Lake, but by the time we reached the camp I was feeling even worse— any movement felt like my head was going to explode. 🤯 I couldn’t really eat much for dinner and went to bed early since it was going to be another early morning with 5 am start. We slept in these amazing (but freezing!!) domes but I loved being bundled up in the sleeping bag! 😄 I fell asleep hoping that the altitude sickness would be gone by the morning, since day 2 was going to be the toughest of all with the hike up to Salkantay Pass (15,190 ft / 4,630 m). 🤞🏼