Take in majestic sights during the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. // © 2016 Jenny Ersbak
Feature image (above): Colpa Lodge, one of the four remote lodges on the trail // © 2016 Jenny Ersbak
Mountain Lodges of Peru also guides trips on another ancient Inca trail. Compare and contrast Salkantay with the Lares Trail to Machu Picchu
, which has a heavier cultural focus and is considered a soft/intermediate trek.
On the first night of our stay at Peru’s Soray Lodge, we were greeted by a canopy of stars glittering overhead — the only source of light illuminating the towering peaks surrounding us. Scenes like this came standard on our seven-day Salkantay Trek, an intermediate/advanced journey between four remote lodge outposts that culminates at Machu Picchu.
The following day we rose at first light and scrambled to the top of Salkantay Pass, a 15,213-foot behemoth that would test our bodies and our limits. But, though the terrain may be rugged, creature comforts abound on Mountain Lodges of Peru’s (MLP) Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. At the conclusion of each day’s inspiring (albeit challenging) hike, we were greeted by hot showers, a hearty gourmet meal and top-notch service.
But the heart of MLP isn’t about cushy accommodation. All provided stays are simply a home base to ponder the greatness of a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. The Salkantay trail follows an ancient and remote Inca footpath through the Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range before dropping steeply into the cloud forest of the Santa Teresa River Valley. The topography is otherworldly, creating a seamless connection to the inherent mysticism embedded in Andean culture. It’s a journey few foreign visitors will ever know, and the remote nature of the trek adds to its appeal.
However, trekking isn’t the only activity on Salkantay. MLP offers travelers a fantastic mix of optional excursions on and off the trail, from ziplining to traditional Pachamanca meal prep and horseback riding.
Despite some initial reservations about my city-girl skillset, I opted for an equestrian ramble in the Soraypampa Valley. I was introduced to my trusty steed, Diva, and immediately eyed her for any signs of rogue behavior. Satisfied that she had no intention of biting, bucking or carrying me off into oblivion, I swallowed my pride and saddled up. Diva trotted her way up and out of the valley, expertly navigating the steep ascending trail and depositing me at the shores of the turquoise Humantay Lake.
On another day, we arrived at Wayra Lodge after trekking for seven hours to find a ragtag crew of hikers staring longingly at the lodge entryway and material comforts beyond. I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt knowing I would be wrapped in goose-down bedding while other multiday trekkers were packed like sardines in their tents. But my guilt over getting the best of both worlds — raw adventure and comfort — dissipated later that evening as I was offered a refill on my pisco sour and second helpings of lomo saltado.
For anyone doubting their fortitude on a trek such as Salkantay, I will say this: The promise of a warm bed and delicious food are miraculous motivators.