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(Alternative Inca Trail)
Duration: 5 days
When to go: Best from April to December although can be done year round.
Altitude: 2400m to 4600m
Difficulty: Moderate to difficult
Fees: : 129 Peruvian Soles for the trek from Soraypampa to Lucmabamba and 124 Peruvian Soles to enter Machu Picchu on the final day of the trek. Total 253 Peruvian Soles (about US$86) which makes it even more expensive than the Classic 4 day Inca Trail trek.
Please note: The official entrance fee for the trek Mollepata - Pampa Salkantay - Lucmabamba - Llactapata is 129 Peruvian Soles. This can be checked on the government website http://www.inc-cusco.gob.pe/tarifas2009.html (right at the bottom of the page). Although trekking companies were warned in 2008 that an entrance fee would be introduced later in the year many have chosen to protest about the fee and refuse to pay it. Instead they have been trying to change the route of their treks to avoid the government check-point. When purchasing a trek you must check to see if this entrance fee is included in the price of the trek. Some companies include it and some do not.
If the entrance fee is not included in the price of the trek then you may have to pay this additional fee yourself at the start of the trek (remember to take the correct amount in Peruvian Soles as the officials working in the government control point at Soraypampa will not change dollars and are unlikely to be able to give you change. In future it is likely that the entrance fee will have to be paid in Cusco prior to trek departure. We will keep you informed of the latest developments.
The mountains of the Cordillera Vilcabamba rise to form a ragged chain between the regions' two great rivers; the Urubamba and the Apurimac. Along the cordillera's northern side, massive snow peaks collide with lush tropical rain forests. Located northwest of Cusco, Nevado de Salkantay, the cordillera's tallest peak, is at the eastern end of the chain and rises to 6271 meters above sea level. The name Salkantay means 'Savage Mountain' which may refer to the swirling clouds that rise up from the jungle lowlands and engulf the peak.
The Salkantay - Santa Teresa - Machu Picchu is often referred to as the "alternative Inca Trail". In recent years it has become popular due to restrictions and price increases on the Classic 4 day Inca Trail. Trek permits are not required for this alternative route so reservations can easily be made upon arrival in Cusco even as late as just one day before departure! More adventurous independent trekkers can do this trek without either a guide or using the services of a trekking agency but a guided tour is recommended. Although many guide books and travel agencies often describe this route as "the-road-less-travelled" or a great trek to "get away from the crowds" this can be misleading. There is currently no control over the maximum number of trekkers so during the peak season (June - September) there can sometimes be more trekkers than the Classic Inca Trail and each year it is becoming more popular especially with Latin American visitors.
(the itinerary may be different depending on the company you choose)
Day 1: Cusco - Sayllapata - Soraypampa - Soyrococha
We depart Cusco at about 06:00 and travel by bus to the start of the trail at Sayllapata (3200m). On the way we'll stop for breakfast at a typical restaurant and will be able to enjoy some superb views of the snow-capped "Apu Salkantay" and the Apurimac River valley. In Sayllapata we'll meet our "arrieros" (horsemen) who will accompany us on the trek. We'll trek for about 3 hours passing through small Andean communities until we stop for lunch at Soraypampa (3850m). After lunch we will trek for another 4 hours to our campsite at Soyrococha (4200m)
Day 2: Soyrococha - 7 Snakes - Salkantay Pass - Colpapampa
On the second day we will climb up a steep series of switchbacks known as the 7 Culebras (7 snakes) to El Paso or Salkantay Pass which at 4600m is the highest point of the trek. From this point we will have spectacular views of the snow-capped peaks of Salkantay mountain (6271m) and Huamantay mountain (5917m) as well as several nearby glaciers. If we are lucky we may be able to observe the Andean Condor in its natural habitat. We will then descend for about 3 hours through dramatic cloud-forest to Huaracmachay (3750m) where we will stop for a well deserved rest and have lunch. We will pass small lakes and moraines along the route. From now on the scenery starts to change from high mountain terrain to a more tropical climate. It is a further 3 1/2 hour trek downhill to Colpapampa (2600m) where we will camp the night.
Day 3: Colpapampa - La Playa
Today is a much easier day, walking mainly downhill for about 3 hours to Lluscamayo where we will stop and have lunch. We will notice the climate becoming much warmer as we enter a zone of high-jungle known locally as Ceja de Selva (or the eyebrow of the jungle). There are many small plantations in this area growing coffee, coca and several types of fruit such as bananas. We may also be lucky enough to see the "Gallito de las Rocas" (Cock of the Rocks) which is Peru's national bird. If we have time we will also be able to take a refreshing shower under a waterfall. In the afternoon we will walk for about 3 hours to our final campsite just outside the small village of La Playa (the Beach) at the much lower altitude of 2000m. There is a small shop here that sell soft drinks, snacks and even a beer!
Day 4: La Playa - Lucmabamba - Llactapata - Hidroelectrica - Aguas Calientes
Breakfast at 06:00 for an early start. We will take local transport for the 20 minute ride down the warm Santa Teresa Valley to the village of Lucmabamba. From Lucmabamba we start a gently climb to a recently investigated Inca site called Llactapata (2700m) perched high up on the side of the Vilcanota River Valley. From here we get our first views of Machu Picchu - the magnificent "Lost City" of the Incas. After a rest we descend along quite a steep path to the valley floor and to Hidroelectrica (1870m). As you may have guessed this is the location of the Hydro-electric power station that provides energy to Cusco. There is also a train station here connecting it to Aguas Calientes and then onto Cusco. At around 3:30pm we'll try and take this train for the 45 minute ride to Aguas Calientes where we will spend the night in a hostal. Please note that this train is often unreliable and has just one or two wagons. Tickets can only be bought when boarding the train and cannot be bought in advance. If the train is not running or is already fully booked when we arrive we will have to walk the 2 hours to Aguas Calientes along a scenic trail beside the Vilcanota River. Dinner will be provided in a restaurant in Aguas Calientes.
Day 5: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Aguas Calientes - Cusco
Rise early around about 04:45 !! to take one of the first buses up to Machu Picchu. I'm sure you'll agree that, although it's tough getting up, it's well worth the effort to see the "Lost City of the Incas" at its quietest in the early morning light. You'll have plenty of opportunity to take photos and have some peaceful time alone to enjoy the sun rising from behind the mountains. Our guide will give you a tour of Machu Picchu telling you about Inca history and significance of the major sites of interest. The tour takes about 2 hours after which you will have free time to explore the ruins on your own or climb Wayna Picchu - the mountain that overlooks the ancient Inca city (allow a minimum of 1.5 hours). By 11:00 Machu Picchu quickly fills up with tourists arriving by train and appears crowded by comparison with the early morning. Most people are ready to take the bus back to Aguas Calientes around 1pm where you can have lunch in one of the many restaurants. Late afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo where a bus will be waiting to bring you back to Cusco.
(trek itinerary used with permission from Peru Treks)