Where did you stay in Cusco?
We stayed at El Tuco, a nice little hotel in Cusco. Not exactly thrifty at about $35 for a private matrimonial room but very nice and clean with a simple breakfast included, a fantastic kitchen, good wifi, and the owners are so helpful and speak really good english. They’re on TripAdvisor. Check them out!
How did you get to the beginning of the trek from Cusco?
If you’re doing this solo (or without guides/tour companies) you’re going to have to get a colectivo (cheapest) or cab (not as cheap) or another option would be to GO to the tour companies and after they try very hard to sell you a tour you may be able to say “hey look, we just want a ride in your van to the trail head and we’ll go off on our own after that.” Ultimately they want your money and if they have empty seats in their vans, they’ll probably sell you one.
We took a taxi to some obscure square in Cusco at 4 am. That’s where the colectivo to Mollepata picked us up. I can’t remember name of streets anymore. The owner of El Tuco told us where to get the colectivo to Mollepata. Salkantay Trek
If you get the colectivo, it’s going to drop you at Mollepata and it’s a long walk along a dirt road to the trailhead. Your first day is pretty much 5 hours along a dirt road. If I could do it again, I’d try to get a hold of some empty seats in a tour bus and get dropped right at the trailhead. It would shorten the first day significantly but ask yourself if you really want to walk along a dirt road for 5 hours.
You could also pay a taxi a lot of money to take you to either Mollepata or the trailhead.
Anyways, those are the options!
Is it hard to navigate the trail?
If you’re an experienced hiker, you shouldn’t have any problem navigating the trail. It is fairly easy to follow. Most days there are big groups starting out, plus there are locals around and little villages, so if you had an emergency it wouldn’t be long before you find help.
Is the altitude a problem?
The altitude is something that effects everyone differently. We had been at high altitude for a while, and this wasn’t as high for us–so we had no problems :) If you haven’t had experience at this altitude, give yourself 2-3 days of time in Cusco to adapt. Drink lots of water, chew cocoa leaves, and you can even take medicine if it’s really bad. Probably though, the worst you’re going to feel is breathlessness while hiking and headaches and a little nausea.
How many days did you walk from Mollepata to Agua Calientes? How many kilometers per day?
4 nights and 5 days with the 5th night in Aguas Calientes. We went up to Machu Picchu the 6th day and were back in Cusco by 6th night. I’m not sure how many kilometers exactly per day. A very rough estimate is 60 km overall so maybe 12 km on average per day. (Some days are more than others though). If you’re fit though, I wouldn’t worry about it. We nearly always set up our camp with plenty of daylight.
Did you have any problems camping by your own?
No problem camping anywhere. You can camp nearly anywhere (as long as there isn’t a “Privado” sign) There are plenty of good looking campsites all along the trail with flat places for your tent and even crude fire rings (but we don’t light fires-not a lot of fuel anyways).
How much money should I bring?
I don’t want to quote an exact figure. There are no ATMS out there until you get to Aguas Calientes. You’ll need money for snacks (if you want them) and most nights camping.
Optional: Dinner at La Playa. Hot meal and few cold beers half-way through your trek? Yes please! Probably $6-8 per person.
Should I be worried about theft on the trail?
I think it is highly unlikely but of course not impossible. There aren’t many people out there. If they do steal it’s probably because you left your things unattended. Don’t leave anything outside your tent at night. In Colombia they say “No dar papaya” which means “don’t just give away your papaya.” If you’re not careful keeping a close eye on your stuff, then it is more likely to be stolen. But that’s probably not what you’re afraid of. Far scarier would be a forcible robbery of your person under physical threat. This is extremely rare. I do not think it makes sense to worry about it. You are more likely to be riding in a car with no seatbelts and that is a direct threat to your life, especially with how people drive in Peru. Certainly there are desperate people out there. You mitigate your chances of theft by NOT carrying a huge backpack, wearing fancy clothes and jewelry, including watches, having a fancy camera around your neck, or carrying a lot of money. It also helps not to act crazy or get drunk, which brings undue attention to yourself and makes you more vulnerable. Although petty theft happens, it probably won’t if you’re using common sense. Get travel insurance and don’t worry about it.
Is there the possibility to buy food and water on the way or should we bring enough food and water for the whole trek?
Water: Plenty of water on the trail–and donkey poop. We use aquamira drops to purify our water. There are lots of methods from iodine tablets to UV light thingies. We each carry two 1 liter plastic bottles.
Food: Almost every day you’ll pass at least one hut that sells coke, chips, chocolate, and ramen noodles. If you want to eat healthy stuff, plan on bringing all your own meals. There’s an awesome central market in Cusco with a grocery store right across the street from it-so you’ll be able to find plenty of pasta/sauce, nuts, fruit, etc. There are two places on the trek with restaurants where you might plan on incorporating a meal–one is La Playa, in which you can camp right on the front lawn of a restaurant, and another is Santa Theresa (we didn’t go there, as we opted to go to Llactapata instead-but a lot of the big group tours go there on the last night and there are hot springs in the town and a few restaurants.) There is a little shelter at Llactapata and it seems like they’re trying to set up an operation there where they serve meals, but when we were there they were only set up for serving food to big groups–for us they could only sell us over priced drinks and snacks.
Okay, sorry- long paragraph. I’d plan on bringing all your own food, except a dinner and maybe breakfast at La Playa and you can buy snacks almost every day from some hut or another.
How did you do it with Machu Picchu entrance tickets? Did you buy them in advance? Did you visit Machu Picchu after or before your trek?
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BUY TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME. You can show up in Aguas Calientes and just buy Machu Picchu tickets for the following day. (Well, this was true when we were there in Sept, 2012) It makes planning so much easier. We visited Machu Picchu at the end of our trek. You have the reward of hiking 5 days, getting to Aguas Calientes, doing the final trek up Machu Picchu (you’re not going to take an overpriced bus up, are you?) and feeling the sweet, sweet reward of having literally walked to Machu Picchu from 60 kms away!
I think for a long time you used to have to get the tickets weeks/months in advance, but that is no longer the case, as far as I know. Just buy the tickets the day you arrive in Aguas Calientes and you’re good to go for the following day in Machu Picchu. The only thing that may sell out are tickets to Huayna Picchu, as they only issue a few hundred a day. You can probably buy them the day before, but the are likely to sell out the day before. If your heart is set on going up there, hedge your bets by giving yourself an extra day in Aguas Calientes.
I just looked up some recent reviews on trip advisor (March 2013) and according to a 2 reviews it is still advisable to buy tickets the night before you go up in Aguas Calientes. According to those reviewers, it’s super hard to buy the tickets online (website always down or malfunctioning) and the Cuzco office closed randomly. If you DO want to go to Hyana Picchu that does sell out sometimes…….but main entrance tickets are usually abundant the day before.
Where did you camp each night? What was your overall “plan?”
Day 1 - Mollepata to 25 minutes past Soraypampa (There’s a huge fancy resort at Soraypampa and also a huge circus tent group camp.) We passed the group camp and about 20-30 minutes later found a lovely, flat pampa right next to the river. There’s plenty of camping in this direction so you can go farther if you’re feeling energetic.
Day 2 - Hike to the Salkantay Pass. We were there before lunch. Then we came down and hiked downhill all afternoon and camped at Camping Andinas (old Inca ruins-there’s a big sign). There’s a little old man who lives across the road–I don’t know if the land on that campsite is actually his, but he likes to have a “tip” for allowing you to camp there. He’s really nice and I’d just give him a couple dollars. I have no idea what else he lives on up there. Cool ruins to camp on. Kinda spooky.
Day 3 - More hiking downhill to La Playa. We did pass through a little village an hour or two past Ruinas Andinas and this is where all the groups camp. Therefore the people there have made their houses into little restaurants-but pretty basic and not always open if there aren’t groups around. We bought cups of coffee and some chocolate. You MAY be able to get little sandwiches (very basic) but I wouldn’t depend on it. Then we camped that night at La Playa. Walk all the way through town until you see a sign for “camping” or just ask the locals where you can camp and they’ll direct you. There are two competing restaurants with big grassy lawns. You can camp (small fee-can’t remember how much but cheap), and this gives you access to their toilets and showers. Then you can get a nice cold beer and a hot meal, which is what we did. Most large groups continue on down the valley to Santa Theresa and the hot springs.
Day 4 - The road forks just at the end of La Playa (close to the camp grounds) and it’s downhill to the left for Santa Theresa and to the right for Llactapata. It’s a short but brutal uphill climb to Llactapata. If you hike to Llactapata you’ll take that right fork and soon you’ll see an old Inca “road” that is well signed. You follow that until you get to Llactapata. Very cool ruins. We had lunch here. But the actual camping is about a 10 minute walk below the ruins. There’s a tiny sign nailed to a tree that says something like “water, snacks, camping-10 minutes this way” The fee to camp there is very small, but you have access to water and toilets and there’s a nice refugio you can hang out in with windows overlooking MP and seriously it’s one of the best campspots I’ve ever camped on. The view of Machu Picchu is just amazing.
Day 5 - There is a sign from lasts night’s camping area that shows you the steep downhill trail to the Hydro-eletric plant. We got there by about 11:30 am. You sign in with the ranger dude and now you have a choice. Wait for the ridiculously over priced train which only comes at 3pm and cost $20 per person for a 25 minute ride…OR walk the track. It’s about a 2 hour walk to AC. And it’s a nice, flat walk. And it’s free!!! Ignore the signs that say “no walking on the track” — everyone does it, including the police who also ignore the sign.
Get to Aguas Calientes by mid-afternoon. find a cheap hostel – further from town center is cheaper! dump your stuff, go buy your Machu Picchu tickets. And give yourself the gift of a good feed. You deserve it! TIP: Aguas Calientes is a moneysucking hole–it’s horrible and adorable at the same time–which is just the worst! The cheapest place to eat is upstairs ABOVE the market. It’s where all the locals eat and you’ll definitely be one of the few non-Peruvians. We had our breakfast there for about $3 per person, and they packed us a lunch to take to MP for an additional $2. (Most hostels in town pack you a “box lunch” for about $15) Take my advice, go to the market the morning you’re planning to hike up, eat breakfast and have them make you a sandwich, buy some chips/chocolate/apples whatever, and you’re set to go. If you’re planning on watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu, then the market option won’t work because they don’t open that early.
Some people get up at 4am and hike up the mountain and that’s cool and all but since we spent the night at Llactapata the night before and watched the sun rise and set over Machu Picchu we didn’t feel like we needed to see that particularly. Oh yeah, and it was raining that morning. But we tramped up Machu Picchu mountain at 7am, ate our sandwiches at the sun-gate, and were pretty much done seeing all we wanted to see by 1pm. Then we hiked down and at that point we should have bought more sandwiches or scarfed a slice of pizza or something because we decided to try to make it back to Cusco that night, and we did, but without food!!!
How did you get back to Cusco the cheapest way possible?
We walked the 2 hours back along the tracks to the Hydro. Around 4pm We negotiated with a cab to get us to Cusco. Actually we took 2 cabs. The first went right through Santa Theresa to Santa Maria. And the second one took us through some other town (forget the name, but here we transferred from cab to van) and we got to Cusco around 11pm. (That was a long day!!!)