Stairs - thousands of them, from 2000m to 2720m. A 4am start, queueing at the gate, and then stairs, stairs, stairs… and more stairs, for hours. Worth it, of course - the ancient city of Machu Picchu.
11km, 2000m. The only way to get to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu, is by touristy train. It’s super expensive, so most backpackers hike along the tracks from the hydroelectric dam. Occasionally a train comes along, so make sure to step out the way, and don’t get caught in a tunnel or on a bridge… Day 4 we hiked the tracks and arrived at our hostel in Aguas, ready for an early start the next day.
LIKE A BOSS 12km, from 2900m to 1560m. After a relatively easy day’s hiking, we hit the hot springs and had a bonfire party in the evening.
23km, from 3900m to 4600m, then down to 2600m. Day 2 was supposed to be the most beautiful scenery, but unfortunately it was cloudy. After reaching the highest point at Salkantay pass, we descended down into the jungle on the other side - into a completely different world, with hummingbirds, lush greenery and muddy paths. A bit of rain in the late afternoon wet the tents a little, but it stopped in the evening and the stars came out.
19km, from 2900m to 3900m. The best value-for-money out of the Machu Picchu options is definitely the five day Salkantay trek. It’s not the Inca Trail, but it’s still a spectacular, challenging hike through some of the most amazing and varied terrain, ending at Machu Picchu. Nine of us set out at 4am on day 1, and we had excellent weather - sunny and bright all day. The glacial mountain was always in view as we wound along the path, eventually arriving at the first camp at it’s base.
On the way we stopped for coca leaf tea which was quite delicious. Also, some Peruvians had dressed up a lamb and were charging tourists to hold and take photos with it. It was a fairly easy hike, from 4800m to 5000m, and paved the whole way. For some reason they are developing the area heavily, which seems like a bad idea for conservation, especially since the glacier is receding really quickly.