Peru 2018: Machu Picchu

Day 6:

Machu Picchu; the sacred place of Peru where 5,000 people visit per day. No visit to Peru is complete without Machu Picchu. It’s probably the most important archaeological site in Latin America, built in the 1400s.

If you’re in Cusco like I was, then your Machu Picchu day tour will start at 3:30am. The most important thing to bring is your passport; you cannot enter Machu Picchu without it. It is about a 2 hour drive to Ollantaytambo train station. The train ride from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes town is quite scenic beside the Urubamba river surrounded by the mountains. If you’re not half asleep, look outside your window (on the left side where the river is).

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This train ride is also about 2 hours. Then after all that, you’re finally at the last stop; Aguas Calientes town.

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From here, follow the crowd to the buses which transport you to uphill to the Machu Picchu entrance. A lot of transportation right. This is the bus ride that will give you you’re first glimpse of Machu Picchu. That image that you’ve seen in all the photos. Boom, you’re actually going to stand there with llamas. But, not without effort, there are big stone steps everywhere. Be prepared to climb stairs, lots of big stairs. Machu Picchu is bigger than I thought it would be. And also, it is a perfect place for photos with all the green hills in the background.

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The ruins themselves are really nice too.

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And let’s not forget the llamas.

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If you were one of the lucky ones to book months in advance, then you can go to the top of Huaynapichu; the small mountain in the background of the typical Machu Picchu photos. Only 400 people are allowed per day. As an alternative, you can climb the much higher Machu Pichu mountain. If you’re looking for the Huaynapichu description, then this post isn’t for you. I tried to reserve it, but 2 months in advance was still not good enough. So after my walk around the ruins, I proceeded to summit Machu Picchu mountain. Its pretty much the monster moutain when you turn your body 180 degrees from Huaynapichu.

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My legs never get a break. I took my time going up the endless stone steps to the top; about an hour or so. There are several viewpoints along the way. Make sure to bring enough water since it gets really hot.

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Once you’re at the top, you’re so high that the ruins look like a spec within the vast green hilly landscape.

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Descending this mountain is tough because the steps are really steep. Just take it easy on your knees.

Once you’re ready to go, keep in mind that 1000s of people will be taking the bus back down to Aguas Calientes. Get ready to wait in line for at least 30 minutes. Before you leave, make sure to put that Machu Picchu stamp on your passport right at the entrance/exit. You’ll be hungry after all those steps in the sun and Aguas Calientes has enough restaurants to serve 1000s. I walked for a few minutes until I saw the word ‘buffet’, and that is where I stuffed my face. As before, its 4 hours to Cusco. Enjoy the scenic train ride back and eat dinner a good dinner at Cusco.

Peru 2018: Salkantay trek part 2

Day 5:

We all had to be awake at 5am for breakfast. Coca tea was definitely being served for the altitude. Honestly, I didn’t sleep well since my breathing kept waking me up (the high altitude). Also, it gets really cold in the domes. My un-rested body is going to get wrecked today, bring it on.

There is an option to ascend by riding a horse. The thought crossed my mind and many people do. But I ended up choosing to just hike it. The hike can be divided into 3 sections, like an hour for each section. The first section is mostly a 30 degree uphill march similar to the Humantay Laguna trail. The endpoint is called Salkantaypampa; 13,451 ft (4,100 m). I was tired since the beginning. But no excuses.

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The second section is called the Siete Culebras; the 7 snake switchbacks. Basically, the trail becomes so steep that you must ‘snake’ your way up. This was just killer. My steps felt like I mountaineer 10 minutes from summiting Everest; slow and with much effort (didn’t need an oxygen mask or anything). I’m starting to regret not getting on that horse. The endpoint is called Soirococha; 14,436 ft (4,400 m). This is about the same elevation as Mt Rainier. I’ve never been higher than that before, and Mt Rainier was the toughest thing I’ve done physically.

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The third section is the last section. Salkantay mountain is front of you the entire time. Salkantay is looking down at me and telling me not to give up. One step at a time. No pain no excuses. The peak of the trail is at 15,190 ft (4,630 m). Just when you think it’s over, you make a left turn and see more uphill. This altitude had me wobbling like a drunken zombie. Everything hurts. I didn’t get this far to stop now. C’mon. Push. The mantra in my head repeats, force power strength rage! I can’t believe I made it. Celebration time!

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While the rest of the group descended to the jungle for another 2 days in the jungle toward Machu Picchu, I turned back to base camp and then Cusco. But first, since I had the whole area to myself, photo time!

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And then the long descent back to base camp. Look what happened to my hand from being exposed for just a few hours without sunscreen.

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Machu Picchu is tomorrow!

Peru 2018: Humantay Laguna

Day 4: Humantay laguna

I reserved a 2-day tour with Salkantaytrekking (great tour company in Cusco). Traditionally, the Salkantay trek is a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu just like the 4 day Inca trail and 4 day Jungle trek. However, I’m not a much of a jungle guy so I decided to only do the ascent portion (2 days) of the Salkantay trek. My visit to Machu Picchu by train would be on the 3rd day instead of a 4th day; saves me a day while avoiding the hike in a hot jungle with bugs.

The tour started early around 4:00am. It is a 2 hour drive to the trailhead. After breakfast, we started the hike at Challacancha; 11,500 ft (3,600 m). The two major mountains in the area are Humantay and Salkantay. These 2 monsters were in the distance throughout our hike to base camp. The morning hike had great views and it started to seem more like walking in the Himilayas rather than Peru.

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Base camp is called Soraypampa; 12,861 ft (4,100 m). The altitude at this base camp is already as high as Mt Fuji. The most important thing is to apply the sunscreen. Any part of you that is exposed will get burnt.

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Once at base camp, we each claimed a dome. These domes are really cool and so much better than a tent; spacious and no noise when its windy. During the day, the domes are covered to avoid heat getting trapped and then uncovered at night for star-gazing.

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Other than the views, I was most impressed with the kitchen setup. There was more than enough food to feed the 50+ people at base camp. This was the first course out of 5 for a table of 10.

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We then proceeded to hike to the Humantay Laguna; 13,779 (4,200 m). It’s just one relentless 30 degree uphill march. This is when the altitude really started to affect my performance. I was tired within the first few minutes and every step required effort. For the entire hike, my heart beat was really fast as if I was sprinting. I only have one photo of the trail in the beginning and you can zoom in to get a sense of the distance. It doesn’t seem like much but trust me, it isn’t a walk in the park.

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Well, as with almost all hikes/trails, you are rewarded in the end. Behold, the Humantay laguna.

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The sun started to go down as we descended back to base camp. The weather drops like 5 degrees per hour. At night, the temperature is below freezing, even inside the domes, so keep that in mind when packing clothes. Back at base camp, dinner was even more impressive than lunch; amazing. After dinner, you can look up at the stars as you get warm in your dome.

Tomorrow will be a really tough hike to the peak of the Salkantay trail, so it’s time to get some rest.