More than anything, I return from vacation feeling very grateful. Grateful and blessed that I had the opportunity to travel to Peru, see the incredible Machu Picchu, learn about Incan and Peruvian culture, and create a bunch of unforgettable memories with friends.
The trek was absolutely incredible, and I saw sights I never thought I’d be lucky enough to see. But it also kicked my ass. I got horribly sick on the second night (a high fever paired with throwing up at 2 a.m., not fun), but fortunately recovered in-time for the last two days. Machu Picchu was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. That, or I was delirious from being sick, high off coca tea, lightheaded from the altitude, and blissed out from being on vacation. Just kidding. It’s really that amazing.
Before venturing out on the 5-day Salkantay Trek by Wayki Trek, I relied on numerous blog posts and packing lists from friends to help me prepare for the trip. So, for future trekkers, I’m paying it forward by writing my own recap and sharing my packing list.
But first… photos!
The trek kicked off on a high note. Two hours in, we stopped at a glacier lake with colors that look photoshopped. This panorama is straight off my iPhone, no color adjustments made:
Our crew on the first day… take a close look, because only two of us tributes make it out. Kidding, kidding.
Our first campsite, an hour trek below Salkantay Pass. Since we were there on a full moon, the glacer was bright white at night, reflecting the moonlight. Amazing.
Salkantay Pass on the morning of the second day. This was the highest altitude of our climb, at 15,200ft.
After we hit the peak, we descended into the cloud forest. It was pretty incredible to see such a diversity in landscapes within a day.
We also saw a ton of animals. The horses carrying our gear, the stray dogs that would walk with us for a while begging for scraps, and the many, many farm animals we encountered in the mountainside villages. Jill and I also spotted the bright red Cock-of-the-rock, the national bird of Peru.
The final walk to Aguascalientes (the city below Machu Picchu) was extremely zen. After hiking up and downhill for days, it was wonderful to walk on a flat path bordered by a roaring river and scenic mountains.
On the last morning, we saw Machu Picchu and climbed up Huayana Pichu, the tall mountain overlooking the complex. This is Machu Picchu:
And the Huayana Pichu climb, which was steep, but so, so worth it. Expect to climb straight up for about 45 minutes.
My top 3 memories from the trip, as told to my roommate Emily:
Now, for future trekkers…
About Wayki Trek
We chose Wayki Trek because they came highly recommended by my friend Evelyn. Evelyn chose Wayki because “they are a) under indigenous management, b) fund local community schools, and c) were highly recommended by friends.” Evelyn, who is a better person and a better blogger than I, wrote about her experience here. You should probably read her blog post and skip mine.
Our Wayki guide, Edgar, was absolutely amazing. He has all the characteristics a talented guide should have: knowledgable, patient, kind, and fun. But what made Edgar go above and beyond is how much love and respect he had for the people and culture around him. Because of Edgar, our group developed a genuine appreciation for Peruvian and Incan culture.
As for all the logistics, Wayki was super on top of it. Everything from the original orientation, to hotel-to-trek transfers, to amazing food, to tickets for Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu, and Peru Rail, everything went off without a hitch. We never had to worry about a thing, which meant we could focus on trekking and vacation.
About that altitude thing
For context: Denver, CO is roughly 5,200 ft above sea level. Cusco, the city where you begin the trek, is at 11,000 ft. Salkantay Pass, the highest point of the trek, is roughly 15,200 ft. Cambridge, MA (where I live), is about 18 ft. So to answer your questions:
- Will I be affected by the altitude? Yes.
- How can I prepare for the hike? Get diamox from your doctor, and arrive to Cusco about 2 days before the start of your trek to acclimate.
- Steph, how were you affected by the altitude? I couldn’t breathe. I’m a fairly fit person (I run and yoga pretty regularly), and I went to bed with my heart pounding every night. On the steep climbs, I inched up like a snail because I could not catch my breath.
- And, how did you prepare for the hike? I checked in with my doc before I left for Peru, and in addition to getting some vaccines, she gave me diamox. I took it immediately upon arrival. I also did a few steep training hikes (up the side of ski hills). Steep hikes are hard to begin with, but at altitude, it was even harder.
All About that Gear
If you go hiking regularly, you shouldn’t need to buy much for this trip. The only items I truly had to buy were replenishing toiletries, and the thermoball jacket, which came recommended to me by two friends. Also, this is a gear list for the trek, but don’t forget warm clothes for Cusco and stuff for the flight (earplugs, headphones, adaptor, travel pillow, etc).
- Passport (with more than 6 months validity)
- Small carry-on suitcase or duffle to pack into. You’ll leave this at the Wayki office, since they’ll provide a duffle for the horses.
- Camelbak 3L day-pack (I think you could make do with a 1.5 or 2L, but I already had a 3L).
- Sleeping bag (I rented one for 8 soles/day in Cusco)
- Hiking poles (you can rent them from Wayki)
- Ultralight waterproof medical kit
- Packing cubes (they are so useful! More on that here.)
- 6 underwear
- 2 sports bras
- Sleeping shirt
- Sleeping shorts
- Patagonia lightweight short-sleeved shirt, midweight long-sleeved shirt, and lightweight long-sleeved shirt (their Capilene stuff is my favorite, I’ve owned these shirts for 3+ years and they are still in great condition)
- Patagonia fleece (for warmth at night)
- North Face thermoball jacket (I love this thing. It’s super light, super warm, and packs down into its own pocket)
- Fleece-lined baselayer pants (for warmth at night)
- Hiking pants
- Waterproof pants
- Rain jacket
- Mittens for night
- 2 pair wool hiking socks
- Hiking boots
- Flip flops
- Sun hat (wide brim to cover your neck)
- Wool or fleece hat
- Ankle wrap / Knee support (whatever you need)
- Lip balm with suncreen
- Baby wipes (when you can’t take a shower, these will do)
- Toilet paper
- Hand santizer gel
- Insect repellent
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
- Deodorant (you won’t be showering for a week, be kind to your tent-mate)
- Pads / tampons
- Hydrocortisone, because you will get bit
- Microfiber travel towel
- 12 granola bars and 2 chocolate bars (be sure to bring your favorite snacks, because Wayki provides meals but not snacks. And you’ll want snacks on the trail.)
- Camera (I just used my iPhone)
- Eyemask (for the plane, but useful for the tent)
- Portable charger
- Headlamp with fresh batteries (a must)
- 3 plastic bags
- 4 zip-lock bags
What I forgot, so you will remember:
- More toilet paper!
- Break your big bills into small bills, no one accepts anything larger than a 20 sole bill on the trail. You’ll want to bring around 400 soles to buy things at villages along the way, and to tip your horsemen, cooks, and guide.
- Pillow (or, I used my packing cubes and they actually worked out great)
- Pepto Bismol / Imodium and Gatorade (I got really sick on the trip, my friends supplied me with these which helped a ton)
- Nalgene (I thought a CamelPak would suffice, but an extra water bottle would’ve been handy for rinsing hands, keeping next to your sleeping bag, etc.)
- Water purification tablets or a UV water santizer
- Face wipes (my friend Krys brought these to share, and they were so refreshing).
- Hotels: We stayed at Casa San Blas before the trek and Rumi Punku after. Both were cute, comfortable, and clean. And, both had pretty roof terraces where we had coca tea and enjoyed the view.
- Restaurants: A memorable favorite was Trujillo, which was quiet, authentic, delicious, and off the tourist path. We also went to Chicha, which was heralded as the best restaurant in Cusco. It was very good and not expensive compared to American high-end restaurants.
- Things To Do: My favorite Cusco stop was the San Pedro Market, which was filled with crafts, fruit, meats, fish, and foodstalls. I wish I spoke Spanish so that I could’ve tried everything. It reminded me a ton of the Asian markets I grew up around, and miss enormously living in the U.S., so it felt like home. My second favorite stop was Qorikancha, because of the odd blend of history. It’s a Spanish church built on top of an Incan temple. There’s incredible Incan masonry with a beautiful Spanish courtyard. The space felt incredibly sacred and peaceful to me. The one sight I wish I could have seen was Sacsayhuaman (pronounced almost like “Sexy Woman”), which features Inca masonry at an epic scale. These are walls that look like they have been built by giants. Most stones are taller than a person, and on average weigh between 120 – 200 tonnes (or about 100 cars).
And with that, I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from the trip… because llamas are the most hilarious things ever.
Enjoy the trek!