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… 

Chilling in Cusco

Cusco was somewhere that we spent far too much time and money but eventually became very familiar with. Before our Machu Picchu trek we spent 3 nights getting used to the altitude (Cusco is over 3,600 metres above sea level) and then another 6 nights after that because we were too exhausted to move on again. All of this time was spent at the same hostel; Cusco Packers. It was further out of town (about a 20 minute walk) and didn’t have the world’s greatest facilities, but we liked it anyway. One of the main reasons was a guy who works there called Dan who was exceptionally helpful throughout our extended stay in Cusco. Unfortunately, for our first few days in Cusco, Kat was really unwell and we spent lots of time chilling around the hostel. I’ll try to keep this blog as short as possible and only about Cusco. I’ll post a separate blog about the Salkantay trek. 

View of Cusco


We ventured into the Plaza de Armas of Cusco at least once a day while we were there and visited various cafes, restaurants and bars. The plaza itself was very picturesque and constantly buzzing with tourists and people trying to get you to book various tours and treks. I genuinely don’t think I’ve ever said ‘No, gracias’ so many times in my life. There are loads of artesenal markets where you can buy anything from tablecloths to woolly hats. We decided to buy a llama key ring each and they are our favourite souvenirs from South America up to this point. One of our favourite places to visit was called Qucharitos – a quirky cafe that makes their own ice-cream and serves paninis and salads. I think we went here at least 4 times during our time in Cusco and I would highly recommend it for cheap and fresh food and desserts. Another recommendation that we have would be Jack’s Cafe for breakfast – well worth the queue out of the door! The portions were enormous and they serve good-quality coffee too. We had eggs, beans, toast, potatoes, bacon and tomatoes it felt very homely. We also visited many different places for coffee and the best 2 places that we found were Museo del Café (not cheap but a great atmosphere, good service and excellent coffees) and La Valeriana (great coffee, empanadas and cupcakes). A good place for drinks atmosphere would be Paddy’s Irish Pub – incidentally the highest Irish-owned pub in the world! I got a free poster from here but I seem to have misplaced it in all the constant moving around. We rented our trekking equipment (sleeping bags, hiking boots, socks, walking poles and a backpack) from a shop called Rosly’s and got a really good deal.
In our time in Cusco, we enjoyed experiencing the buzz of the city and thought it was a worthwhile place to visit even if it is very touristy and expensive. We had intentions of doing the Rainbow Mountain trek but decided that another 3am wake-up after our Salkantay trek was just not for us. Instead, we relaxed and waited to leave on our next night bus to Arequipa. 

A fun cocktail bar


Enjoying Museo del Café


Coffees


Umbrellas in Qucharitos


The next post will be about our incredible 5 day trek to Machu Picchu. 

Cotopaxi’s best secret

After our time in Quito, we walked the short distance to The Secret Garden Hostel to await our transport to Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi itself is an active volcano south of Quito. We weren’t heading for the volcano exactly, but an area of the national park nearby. From Quito, our small and very squished bus took us through bumpy and winding roads for over 5 hours until we eventually reached The Secret Garden, Cotopaxi. We loved the surroundings from the moment we arrived – greenery, mountains, volcanoes, animals and no cars as far as the eye could see. We’d booked to spend the weekend here, on a bit of a splurge, in rustic luxury and with 3 meals served a day included in the price.

Cotopaxi volcano


The first step was to leave our bags and gather with the rest of the arriving masses around the warming fire. We were given a small mug of mulled wine which went down a treat. The staff filled us in on all the details – where the facilities were, when the treks were, and most importantly, what time the food was served. After the initiation, we were shown to our room – a cute-as-a-button hobbit home built into the surrounding hills. It was like something out of a book (ha) and the views were absolutely stunning. In fact, the only view that was better than the one from our bedroom was the one from the toilet. Honestly; check the photo.

Hobbit home

Toilet view

There was no time to sit back and enjoy the landscape as we were heading off on a trek almost immediately after arriving. This one was through the forest to visit 2 waterfalls. We donned our borrowed wellies and woolly hats and set off with the rest of the group. The walk itself was actually quite enjoyable (yes, I did just say that) and not too difficult but the altitude made it quite hard to breathe. We had to climb some very slippery rocks at one point and I felt a bit like Bear Grylls. Both waterfalls we visited were beautiful and some of the group even jumped into the second one – I wasn’t brave (or stupid) enough for this. The walk back was equally as pleasant and we reached The Secret Garden just in time for a warming quinoa and potato soup. After this we had some time to relax before returning for a 5pm meeting. We did feel a bit like we were at school at times – set meal times, organised day trips, everyone sat at the same table – but we actually quite enjoyed the routine after weeks without any. Dinner that evening was nutritious and delicious and we enjoyed a bottle of red wine before teaching an older German couple how to play some card games. 

Enjoying a hike

Chasing waterfalls

Bear Grylls


The next day we arranged to go on a 5-6 hour hike up to Pasachoa mountain. We thought it would be good practise for future hikes. Little did we now just how difficult it would be. I genuinely think it may have been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. No exaggeration. Neither of us had hiking boots (but you know this from the Quito blog) so we took on the hike in trainers. By the end of the hike they didn’t even look like trainers – caked in mud, soaking wet and on the verge of ruin. We walked uphill for what felt like forever, waded through thick mud in the valley and climbed up wet rocks and trees in the forest. I spent 98% of the journey complaining. When we did reach the top of Pasachoa we had lunch and enjoyed the views. The walk back down was a lot easier and at one point I decided I would roll down to save time. In total, the hike took almost 7 hours and we were absolutely exhausted when we got back. Luckily, dinner was delicious (fresh burgers from the BBQ) and we were able to have an early night to recover. 

Top of Pasachoa

Views and dirty shoes


Our final day involved a lot of sitting around – we made the decision to not do another hike after the trials and tribulations of the previous day. Instead, we made the most of the breakfast and lunch served to us and read a book each. Then, along with a small group we had met, we hopped on the bus to head back to Quito. We were staying there for one more night before moving on to our next destination; Mindo. We loved our time at The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi and would recommend it to anyone who needs a break when travelling.