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Day 3 of Salkantay began with another 5:30 wake-up call with coca tea. The hike in front of us would not be as bad as Day 2, but it was five more hours of roughing it even though the blisters on my feet called out in pain. The walk was mostly flat and through dense jungle within the mountains. There was a plethora of muddy spots that you could trip and fall on but the periodic streams and roundabouts near shiny cliffs led us to focusing on more positive nature-filled thoughts. After five hours of walking, a shuttle was waiting for us in a small town called Playa. The town was sparsely-populated and resembled a palm-tree desert. Kids and dogs alike stared, as rare passersby like us walked through their beloved town. The shuttle had been our motivation to get through another long hike and it was surprisingly a great incentive. All 18 of us climbed into two vans and jammed to Reggaeton as the tour guides and shuttle drivers laughed with us in awe.
Lunch was served soon after in another small town in the jungle. The restaurant was family-owned and well-kept with a bar and cocktail menu. The third day was apparently supposed to be the most fun because we knew there would be a party that night and a trip to the thermal baths before that.
The thermal baths didn’t disappoint, although personally I preferred the ones I had been to in Arequipa just a few weeks back because there were more options and less people. The only disadvantage at these thermal baths was that there were a lot of people and it could be difficult to find a spot to bathe in the warmth of the natural hot water. I chatted with the Brazilians from my group, at times just listening to and observing the animated Portuguese accent of theirs.
Three hours and an extremely flirty tour guide later, we were back for dinner and a party. Okay, so the party was more of a get-together because most people were too tired from the day’s adventures to drink and dance. The rest of us that stayed for the “party” enjoyed a bonfire the restaurant owners had prepared for us along with some beer and wine!
Day 4: Our fourth day of Salkantay was supposed to be a lot less walking than the first three days, so everyone was ecstatic to embrace the good news. The morning began with ziplining over one of South America’s highest ziplines. I did opt out of this activity as it cost extra and I had already ziplined on another one-day adventure, but from those that did it, they enjoyed it a lot and it is highly recommended for those that can conquer their fear of heights!
We were later driven to the town of Hidroelectrica, where our backpacks were supposed to leave on a train and arrive to Aguas Calientes (a.k.a. Machu Picchu town). Unfortunately, due to a number of teachers’ strikes that had been taking place for the past month, the trains were shut down and we would have to carry our own luggage. For the first three days, we had been spoiled because mules carried our belongings, but now we were at an all-time low on our energy levels and technology had failed us. I was extremely grateful when one of the younger Spaniards, Victor, volunteered to carry my backpack (which saved me from back trouble and a slower hiking time).
We walked 2.5 hours on the railroad tracks towards Aguas Calientes. The tracks were filled with rocks that dug through my tough hiking boots and somehow found an opportunity to poke at my blisters, resulting in constant pain. However, at least the walk was all flat and surrounded by more greenery and rocky rivers.
I have never felt so much happiness as I did when we arrived to our hostel in Aguas Calientes. Everything felt marvelous and my body had been craving a hot shower and a comfortable bed, which is exactly what I was rewarded with. The quaint town of Aguas Calientes was charming, so after dinner, a new German friend and I walked through it, scouting out cute bakeries in the process. Aguas Calientes benefits from visitors to Machu Picchu because most tourists stay in the town for at least one night, before making it to the ruins, which are only a 30-minute bus ride away.
Day 5: Five hours later, we were dragged out of bed at 3:45 am to stand in line for the bus to take us up to Machu Picchu. Yes, the line starts at 4 am even though the buses don’t run till 5:30! Around 5, there were hundreds of people in line, but because we were ready at 4 am we were the few ones in the front of the line and the ones that made it to the ruins right when they opened at 6 am. I recommend taking the $12 bus up to Machu Picchu. Yes, it’s early and yes, you may have to wait in line for 1.5 hours at down, but after hiking for four days, it is one of the most rewarding experiences you will have! Plus, from the very few that walked up the crazy number of steps to Machu Picchu, this option is not very scenic and will tire you out even more so you have less time to enjoy the actual ruins.
We entered the ruins right when they opened: at 6 am. The lack of sleep and early wake-up time were completely worth it. The views you see at sunrise in Machu Picchu are indescribable. The fog sets over the stone ruins and moves about until the sun peeks up from behind the shadows. It’s like the fog and the sun play games that produce only the most splendid of views and photographs. The ruins are filled with various places of worship because religion was quite important to the Incas. Before Hiram Bigham discovered the ruins in the early 20th century, there were farmers that lived in the ruins and essentially watched over them. A Peruvian explorer also discovered the ruins originally, but did not receive as much fame and credit as when Bigham brought his crew over from Yale University to study the ruins.
There are many different theories on what Machu Picchu represented and why it may have been built. One of my favorite theories was told by the Physical Therapist I worked with while in Cusco. He met many people during his appointments and he had a Peruvian historian as his patient. This historian told him that Machu Picchu could have also been a place for rehabilitation. Tools for creating various medicinal herbs for movement-based issues were uncovered when the ruins were excavated. Such an interesting theory that I had never heard of before!
Machu Picchu is really a gem and now I can fully appreciate it and understand why it is named one of the seven modern wonders of the world. The feeling you get while watching the sun rise standing in the midst of these ruins that are hundreds of years old is incredible. I would definitely recommend a visit to these ruins at least once in your lifetime.
What are you waiting for? Add it to your bucket list now!
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