Machu Picchu trek

If you’d asked me a year ago whether I would so much as consider going on a 5 day trek to Machu Picchu, I’d have laughed in your face. Those of you who know me, or read this blog, will already know that I am not a traveller. I have never particularly wanted to travel, I am not particularly good at it and I am very much a home-bird. So, to find myself backpacking through South America is very much surprising. Now, I am even less of a trekker than a traveller. I do not enjoy walking. I find it boring and difficult. I have been on 2 treks in South America so far – one to Pasachoa mountain and one in Valle de Cocora – and I spent almost every second of each complaining. Consider my own surprise, and that of most of you I’m sure, when I tell you that I (the constantly-complaining and non-trekking me) successfully completed 5 days of hardcore trekking in a row to eventually reach Machu Picchu. 

If you follow my blog, you’ll know from previous posts that we were stupidly underprepared for our 5 day trek. We had no walking poles, hiking boots, sleeping bags or warm clothes. In the days and weeks leading up to the trek we had to buy or rent almost everything in preparation.  (See below for the previously-mentioned leggings!) The tour company we had chosen for our trek was called Salkantay Trekking. They were quite a bit more expensive than most other companies at $400 each but we were assured from the reviews that this was worth it. This included our transport, accommodation, meals and a few added extras. The night before our trek we met our guide; the very lively Ricardo and the rest of our group. There were 10 of us in total. We were provided with a duffle bag for our clothes and sent away with absolute trepidation after having the trek explained to us. Day 2 was to be 24km of walking. Day 4 was to be even further. Safe to say I was not looking forward to it…

Ready to go!

New leggings


On the first day of the trek we were up at 4am to get ready and picked up from our hostel at 5. We were the last to be collected so had no choice of seats – inevitably we were sat nowhere near each other on the bus. Two hours of travelling later and we reached our stop for breakfast. Kat and I had an omelette each and then we were back on the bus for more travelling. A further hour down the road and we reached our drop-off point. Here we donned our waterproofs and I tried out my fetching yellow poncho and coat combo. We were given snacks and then before we knew it we were on our way. Our trek had begun. Roughly 3 minutes into the trek the path became very steep uphill and I was struggling to breathe because of the altitude. I wondered whether I would make it to day 5 if I couldn’t even make it to minute 5… Luckily I managed to soldier on and after 4 hours of walking, we finally made it to our first camp for the night. Salkantay Trekking actually offered very cool places to stay (we weren’t just in tents) and night 1 was in a sky lodge – a glass dome where, in an ideal world, you could see the stars. Unfortunately, it was freezing that night and the only thing you could see in the lodges was condensation. After lunch and checking into our own dome we were to trek to Humantay Lake. It was only just over 1km but the walk uphill was horrendous. It was cold, difficult and tiring. I surprised even myself when I made it to the lake in good time without too much complaining. The view was worth it and luckily the walk back down was slightly easier. It was lights out at 8pm that night after a tasty dinner, ready for a 5am wake-up call.

Humantay Lake

View from camp


Day 2 was the hardest day of the entire trek. We started early and after breakfast headed off to start the 24km slog. We had the option to take a horse for a fee but we both decided we wanted to walk (who knows why). It turned out to be one of the hardest things I have ever done. We walked uphill for a solid 4 hours until we reached the peak of Salkantay Mountain. The trek was made more difficult because it rained for the first few hours and then we were caught in a snow storm as we ascended the mountain. At one stage I couldn’t even feel my legs but I eventually made it to the top not too far behind the rest of the group (which I was chuffed about). Kat, who is more of a trekker than me, found it slightly easier but walked with me most of the way. After reaching the peak, we then had another 3 hours of downhill walking before lunch. After lunch was a further 3 hours to the next base camp. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relieved to get to somewhere in my entire life. That night was spent in tents inside a small building – the least luxurious of all the accommodation during the trek. Unfortunately, as we’ve found almost everywhere in South America, a dog decided to bark all the way through the night and keep us both awake. Not exactly what we needed. 

Yellow coat and poncho combo!

Salkantay Mountain


The third day of the trek was the easiest because most of the journey was on flat-ground and was only 12km – a piece of cake compared to the day before! We walked in good conditions to our third base camp – jungle domes. This was my favourite accommodation of the whole trek. We slept in massive green domes with one bed inside and not much else. They were warm and cosy and I got the best night sleep here. We had the option late in the afternoon to visit a hot springs about an hour away from the camp. Everyone in our group chose to go and we had an amazing time. We were able to have a shower for the first time in 3 days and enjoy the soothing warmth of the water. On top of that, there was a bar so we enjoyed a few beers and had a great evening. When we left the hot springs we felt so much better – we were clean, refreshed and a bit tipsy. Ricardo (our guide) stopped off on the way back to camp for us to have some tequilas and then bought 2 litres of rum and some bottles of coke for the group. That evening, between 11 of us, we drank every drop of rum. Eventually we were told to go to bed at 12.30am (4 and a half hours before we had to wake up). Maybe the rum was why I slept so well…

The group


The following morning we learnt of an overnight landslide nearby and were told (much to our delight) that we couldn’t hike the 7 hours up and downhill and would instead be transported by car to a place we could walk from. Kat was disappointed that we couldn’t walk but I was obviously overjoyed. The car took us to Hidroelectrica (a train station a few hours away) and then we had to walk along the train tracks until we reached the town of Aguas Calientes. It was gruelling and hard on the legs because the whole walk was on rocks and hardly ever any flat ground. By the end of the day we were absolutely desperate to get to our accommodation. When we got there, we weren’t disappointed. We were told we were staying in a hostel but it was more like a hotel. The rooms were massive, the beds were comfortable and the bathroom was huge; our own little bit of luxury after a long 4 days. Kat’s achilles was in a bad way and my knee was playing up so we spent a few hours resting before dinner. I tried alpaca for the first time and quite enjoyed it. After food we retired to bed ready for the main event the next day – Machu Picchu.

Inca Bridge


We woke up at 2.50am that morning (night) and joined a queue for buses to Machu Picchu at just before 3.30am. Never in our lives have we had to get up so early for a tourist attraction. We’d decided to get the bus because of our injuries and the fact that we had $25 left from Ecuador (the bus was $12 each). We were relatively early so were quite near the front of the queue and 30 minutes later the line was about a mile long. The bus got to the entrance of Machu Picchu just before 6 (opening time was 6) so we joined another queue to wait. When we did finally get in, we were some of the first few people in and were able to take some tourist-free photos. We watched the sun rise from behind the mountains and had various photoshoots. Machu Picchu itself was incredible and made the trek so worth it. It was an absolute once-in-a-lifetime thing to see. We spent the next few hours exploring the ruins, learning about the Inca people and enjoying the nice weather we had (very rare apparently). It was truly an unforgettable experience. Once we were ready to leave, we walked back down the millions of steps to Aguas Calientes (not easy at all), picked up our bags and enjoyed a few beers while we waited for our train. The train left for Ollytaytambo at 6pm and from there we jumped in a minibus to take us back to our hostel. We didn’t get back until gone 10 and we were exhausted and in pain.

We did it!

Machu Picchu

Sunrise

What a view

We absolutely loved our trek. It may have been incredibly difficult – in fact, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life – but it was so worth it and we’ll remember it forever. We met some amazing people, shared some incredible moments and got to do something that is on many people’s bucket lists. Just don’t expect me to be doing any more trekking for a while… 

A whale of a time on Ecuador’s coast

The next part of our journey was the best so far. After Mindo we had to somehow find our way to Puerto Lopez – our base for visiting Isla de la Plata. It proved to be quite difficult to get to from Mindo; we were told we had to get a bus to Los Blancos, then a bus to Santo Domingo, followed by a bus to Portoviejo, then a bus to Jipijapa and then finally a bus to Puerto Lopez. Luckily the journey actually involved fewer buses than this (3 in total). 

We got to Puerto Lopez at around 9pm and checked into our hostel (which incidentally had great reviews on booking.com). I have no idea how it had anything but awful reviews as it was the worst hostel we had stepped foot in – the tiny kitchen was in someone’s bedroom, there was a shop at the entrance of the hostel, the bedding was filthy, the bathroom was disgusting and the mattresses were wafer-thin. The killer for us though was that there were bed bugs all over some of the beds. It was this that made us leave the hostel without staying a night. So the two of us and another girl left to find a new place to stay for the night. We found one very quickly with 3 single beds and a hot shower for the same price! Safe to say we had a much more comfortable night than we would have done in the previous hostel.

The next day was amazing. We’d booked a tour to visit Isla de la Plata and go whale-watching. We set off with our group at around 10am on a boat to the island. On the way we saw some whales in the distance doing all sorts of somersaults. Unfortunately, something happened to our boat and we had to climb onto another. On the second boat we saw more whales, closer this time, but found it hard to see due to all the people. When we reached Isla de la Plata we saw sea turtles all around the boat which was incredible. We then set off on a 2 hour hike around the island and saw blue-footed boobies, lizards and other cool birds. 

Whales in the distance


Blue-footed boobies

After the trek we were able to go snorkelling, This was the first time that I’d ever been snorkelling and I loved it. The fish were the brightest I’ve ever seen and I loved swimming amongst them. It took some convincing for Kat to get it but she eventually did and loved it too! Then we got back on the boat and headed back to Puerto Lopez. The best part of the day was on this journey. We saw a baby whale and its mother swimming along with us. The captain of the boat got so close to the whales that we could see their sheer size. It was literally breath-taking and one of the best experiences of my life. When we reached Puerto Lopez again we were absolutely buzzing.

Dory?

Snorkelling

Whale hello there!

 

We decided to head to Montanita next and spent 2 nights there. We spent our only full day exploring the streets lined with market stalls, enjoying delicious food from the restaurants and drinking all day. I was a little tipsy by the time we got back to our hostel and opted for an early night. Next would be our journey to Vilcabamba, including a quick stop-over in Cuenca.

Chasing tail in Mindo

Following our time in Cotopaxi, we spent one more night in Quito before moving on again the next day. One taxi and two long buses got us to the town of Mindo within a few hours. Mindo is a small place in Ecuador, located in a valley surrounded by dense forests. We arrived to find a tiny and very quiet place. Our guesthouse was small and a bit strange – we were essentially staying in the home of an older couple. 

After checking in and unpacking, we found a small restaurant nearby for lunch. We shared salad and chips and were pleased to discover that it was both cheap and delicious – our favourite combination. I enjoyed a large beer (which, incidentally, is VERY cheap in Ecuador) and Kat ordered her new favourite drink – limonada natural. 

When we were suitably full, we went off to find some coffee. We’d read that one of the best places in Mindo was called El Quetzal so that’s where we headed. In actual fact, the coffee wasn’t great but we did enjoy the brownie – probably because El Quetzal doubles as a chocolate museum. This convinced us to book onto the last chocolate tour of the day. It was a great decision. We saw where the chocolate is grown, how it is made and got to try A LOT of it. We had coffee chocolate, chilli chocolate, dark chocolate, almond chocolate, etc, etc. They even let us try their home-brewed ginger beer. Safe to say, we were suitably stuffed with chocolate and left in very high spirits. That night we had another run-in with very loud and inconsiderate people in the guesthouse. It turns out that not everyone is willing to go to bed at 10pm. 

The next day we decided to check out the local hummingbird garden. We saw loads of varieties of hummingbirds and a few other species of birds. We watched them for a while and could have watched them all day. Kat was sad because she didn’t see a toucan so we had to add that to our to-do list. We had lunch in a lovely place with an American chef and ended up booking ourselves onto a night walk having bumped into the guide. It left at 8pm, so obviously we needed a nap to prepare ourselves fully. The walk itself was in the surrounding forest and we saw frogs, beetles, bugs, spiders and even an incredibly rare kinkajou. I have no photos from this walk because the only device we had with us decided to run out of memory. However, I promise that it was really fun and I would recommend it to anyone who visits Mindo. 


Hummingbirds


Now, back to those toucans. Kat wouldn’t let it rest that we hadn’t seen one yet, so we woke up at 5am the following morning to go birdwatching. There were 4 of us and the guide on the tour and we had one telescope between us. At times it was difficult to see the birds before they disappeared. However, we did see a very rare quetzal bird, woodpeckers, parrots and more hummingbirds. And of course, most importantly, we saw 4 different types of toucans. Kat was very happy. By the time we got back, we were shattered so caught up on our lost sleep with a nap and then went out for dinner.

Quetzal

Toucan


We rather enjoyed our time in Mindo but were ready to move on. Unfortunately, we were overcharged when we checked out of the guesthouse so this left a bit of a sour taste to our visit. Still, we were very excited for our next trip to Puerto Lopez. We were off to find some whales!