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Tuesday, 04 March 2008

Mountain Lodges of Peru: Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge

Written by Christina Kay Bolton
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Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuMountain Lodges of Peru’s Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge trek is a high-end hiking experience unique in Peru that distinguishes itself from other companies in many ways. First and foremost are its gorgeous lodges with impressive architecture and stunning views. Until 2007, trekking in the Machu Picchu area involved camping out through freezing nights at high altitudes – most people hiking the Inca trail in the high season got so cold at night that by 2-3 am they’d be up and ready to start the next days hike. It makes an immeasurable difference to have a warm room, a hot shower, a comfortable bed and hygienically-prepared three course meals.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuMountain Lodges of Peru takes the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu – an old Incan route that goes over a very high pass and slowly descends until it overlooks Machu Picchu from above. One advantage of the Salkantay route is that horses can use it to carry your baggage. There are also ‘emergency horses’ that you can ride should you have trouble crossing the pass or if you’re knees give out. Another plus is that you get to see real life as it is lived in the Andes. We saw locals passing by as they came back from the market with all their purchases strapped to the sides of horses (including live chickens with their legs fastened down with ropes and their heads popping out of the netting!).

You won’t see that type of thing on the highly regulated Inca trail. Horses were banned a number of years ago, and now it is used almost exclusively for tourists and only open to 500 people a day including porters and guides. The disadvantage of Salkantay is that the path tends to be muddier due to the number of hooves traversing it, but at the same time it has far fewer people. Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuAt one point, when I was walking through boulder fields amidst glaciers, I felt so far from the rest of the world and its troubles that I experienced the expansive freedom that only being deep in nature can provide.

 

 

Day 1

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuOur day started early: pick up at our hotels in Cusco was at 6:45am. A four hour drive to the trailhead followed, with a stop at a small Incan ruin about halfway there. Our van got stuck in thick mud just short of the trailhead outside Mollepata, so we started our hike from there while the driver and crew ingeniously found a way to get out using adobe bricks. The hike to the first lodge began around the same altitude as Cusco (3350 meters or 11,000 feet) and went 400 meters straight up over a pass until flattening out the rest of the way to the lodge.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuWe got our first taste of hiking at high altitude with less oxygen when we started uphill, as most of us experienced the heavy breathing, racing heartbeat, and frequent stops to catch our breath that are common with newcomers here. Luckily our guides Javier and Miguel were very patient and professional, and kept encouraging us to go at our own pace and take small steps. When my boyfriend wasn't feeling well due to altitude sickness, Javier responsibly suggested he take the van to the lodge as the first day's hike was optional.

Javier led the way and set the pace while Miguel brought up the rear with those who were struggling more. Miguel would say, “slowly, slowly” as we ascended. Following him was our main horseman, Don Mercindo – an older gentleman who was always smiling, helpful and extremely patient. He also threw people's day packs on the horses when they needed a rest.


Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuThe views became more spectacular as we climbed, and one benefit of having to stop a lot was the many photo opportunities. Since we left Cusco April 4th,we were at the tail end of the rainy season and there was still quite a bit of water to deal with, evidenced by the many waterfalls to cross (that dropped precariously over the edge of the cliff!).

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Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuEventually we came around a corner and there was the lodge in an unbeatable location tucked right under Mount Salkantay. The incredibly gracious staff lined up to greet us and made sure we were given coca tea – the local cure for altitude sickness symptoms. We were invited into the nice lounge area with a roaring fire for pre-dinner snacks and shown to our rooms soon after.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuThe rooms were gorgeous, with the most fabulous view of Salkantay that you can imagine – completely spectacular. King sized beds, huge fluffy towels and large showers (which also have a mountain view!) awaited us. Dinner was prepared by the resident chef who served excellent three course meals. Our first night we had squash soup, river trout with mashed potatoes and vegetables and a cherimoya (Custard Apple) mousse for dessert. During dinner the staff went around to our rooms and did their turn down service – clearing the wet towels away, leaving chocolate truffles and coca leaves at our bedsides and placing hot water bottles in our beds to make the cool nights cozier. The staff is so helpful and accommodating; they help you with any special requests.

Day 2

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuAfter a plentiful buffet breakfast with fruit, yogurt, cheese, meat, cereal, bread and hot porridge, we hiked up to the glacial lake near Salkantay. It was a steep hike up in much thinner air as we reached over 4200 meters (13,800 feet), but we were rewarded by seeing icebergs dotting the turquoise water and glaciers that were practically beside us.Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu We were further rewarded when we made it back down to the lodge for a fabulous lunch of quinoa salad, lomo saltado (stir fried beef and vegetables), and fruit salad.

 

 

 

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The chefs also did a great job of keeping track of all our food allergies/preferences. We had one vegetarian and two people who couldn't have dairy in our group, as well as a smattering of other foods that needed to be avoided. On most occasions, the chefs would not only leave out the dairy, for instance, but they would prepare a separate dish without dairy for those guests. When we had cherimoya mousse, for example, they prepared a traditional black corn pudding that was generously presented as an alternative.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuSince we were to stay at the Salkantay Lodge & Adventure Resort for two nights to acclimatize, we had the rest of the afternoon free to rest, use the Jacuzzi with the unbeatable mountain view, buy Andean weavings from a local couple, read by the fire, or watch the horses grazing in the fields. It is also possible to come to Salkantay Lodge solely for an equestrian vacation.

In the early evening we had pisco sour making lessons at the bar with Sergio, the bartender. He told us Peru was the originator of the popular drink (though every other South American country I’ve been to makes a similar claim). After another great meal and interesting dinner conversation we went to bed for our early start the next day.


Day 3

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuWe set off at 7:15 for the highest pass of our trek – 4848 meters, about 16,000 feet. We walked slowly up for about 5 hours, taking breaks to eat our hearty snack packs which were provided each day of the excursion. The weather started out beautiful but then it began to rain, hail, sleet, and snow. It felt like such an accomplishment when we finally made it over the pass with Javier cheering us on by dancing on a large rock at the top.

It was snowing quite heavily as we went over the pass, but as we started to descend into the clouds and cloud forest below us it turned to a thick mist. After about an hour climbing down, we had a nice lunch set up for us in two tents – one was a cooking tent and the other held camp tables and chairs for eating. There was even a small toilet tent set up. It was nice to have a hot meal on a cold, wet day.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuAnother two hour trek down through the otherworldly landscape of bright green grass, red rocks and spongy moss with huge boulders scattered about brought us to the next lodge – Wayra – just beyond a roaring river in the damp cloud forest.

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuUpon arrival, we were handed coca tea and given slippers. We left our muddy boots in the entrance area and the staff cleaned and dried them for us. The lodge was smaller than the first, but had a nice lounge area with a fireplace, an open kitchen and a large candelabra. The staff was excellent as in Salkantay, but Wayra didn't have their own resident chef, so our traveling chef provided the meals at this lodge and at all the rest. Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuFor dinner we had soup, stuffed trout, and stewed tree tomatoes for dessert. The only issue here was the condensation on the floor from the mist in the cloud forest, which created thin puddles on the bathroom floor throughout the night. The thin foam sandals the staff provided were necessary for late night bathroom trips if you didn’t want to end up with sopping socks.

 

 

 

Day 4

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuWe woke late to a gorgeous view of the surrounding mountains and a bright blue sky. After hugs with the staff and many photos we were on our way. We only had a 4 hour hike to our next destination – Colpa Lodge. The hike was mainly downhill, but the rainy season and the cloud forest made our trek especially muddy. As we started descending the landscape kept changing. We saw hummingbirds, butterflies, begonias, orchids, and towering bamboo.Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu


 

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuWhen we arrived at Colpa we watched the staff prepare a traditional Peruvian feast for a late lunch. A fire was heating a beehive shaped shell of thick stones, and once it became extremely hot they threw lots of potatoes on the bottom, then cracked the stones open and placed whole chickens, guinea pigs, and sides of pork and lamb on the stones with more stones placed right on top. The meat was covered with ears of corn and fava beans before the whole arrangement was sealed with cardboard and plastic sheets, and dirt was shoveled on top with some clumps of grass to hold it all together. It was left for an hour or so and then carefully undone with all the food put into buckets and brought in for our midday meal. Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuThe potatoes were tender and filled with juices from the meats that dripped into them. This type of feast is typical in Peru on important occasions.

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It was a sunny day and the lounge chairs out front with views of the mountains and village were full all day. Some caught up on sleep and others tried the hot tub, and still others partook of the bar while lounging in the sun. Colpa was another beautiful lodge with walls of glass to capture the views.

Day 5

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuWe rose at 6:00 for another 8 hour day of hiking. The trek was varied: up, down and flat, hugging cliffs and crossing waterfalls. The hiking became easier as we moved to progressively lower altitudes, making it much easier to breathe. We had the view of a rushing river filled with rapids for the entire day.Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We saw an increasing diversity of species in plants, flowers, birds and insects, including absolutely stunning iridescent butterflies, whose wings appeared almost translucent when still, but when they flew their wings reflected the sun and turned pearled shades of purple and yellow. We passed huge stalks of corn growing high on steep hillsides and wondered how it could possibly be harvested. Our cooking crew set up a nice lunch for us at a prime lookout along the way, complete with a cake the chef baked using a large covered skillet.Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuAfter a few more waterfall crossings on narrow bridges, we came to the outskirts of a town and the end of this part of the trail. We said goodbye to our ever-present, ever-gracious horseman, Don Mercindo, and to all the other horses and horsemen. Our bags were loaded in vans and we were shuttled about ½ hour away to another trail that led to our final Mountain Lodges of Peru lodge. Lucma Lodge was only about ½ hour walk up which was good since we'd been going all day. Porters carried our bags up. We were lower in the cloud forest now, almost down to the rain forest, surrounded by coffee and banana plantations. This lodge had a similar architectural style to the rest and was also very peaceful.Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuAfter too short a stay at the last lovely lodge, we ascended past hundreds of orchids and through the forest to the pass near where we would look for Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, it was raining when we got to the lookout and we didn't see the memorable view of Machu Picchu from above. We did see the small Incan ruins that resembled an outpost or a checkpoint at the edge of the forest. At a lower viewpoint we saw a fleeting glimpse of Machu Picchu as the clouds passed momentarily. After that it was hiking straight down for the rest of the day, descending to the valley where the train runs.Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

 

 

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At 4:40 we boarded the train for a short ride to Aguas Calientes – the departure point for our Machu Picchu experience the next day. We settled into our respective hotels for a restful night (at about 1800 meters/6000 feet this would be the lowest point on our trip and hence the easiest place to sleep). My hotel was Sumaq, which was fabulous (read the article here ).

Day 7

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuA 7:30 bus brought us up the mountainside to Machu Picchu before the day tours arrived from Cusco. It was perfect, sunny weather – especially since it is frequently misty there. Miguel was our guide at Machu Picchu, and explained its fascinating history and the significance of each of the temples and the complex as a whole. I was very impressed by the size of Machu Picchu and intrigued by the stories about it, particularly its secrecy. How the Incas were able to keep it secret from the Spanish forever – even though there were 6 trails leading to it – seems like a miracle. Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu PicchuWe spent 5 ½ hours at the complex, so there was time for a short hike to the Sun Gate after the 3 hour tour or for exploring more of the ruins. Afterwards, everyone headed back to town for lunch, the train back to Ollaytaytambo and a van to Cusco.

Seeing Machu Picchu was the crowning glory on our 6 days of hiking. We'd followed a trail people had taken for hundreds of years to arrive at this sacred city. And as they were in awe of it back then, we were now.

 

 

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Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

Mountain Lodges of Peru, Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge, Salkantay trail, travel Peru, trekking Cusco, travel Machu Picchu, trekking Machu Picchu

 

. . . . . .

Mountain Lodges of Peru’s Machu Picchu Lodge to Lodge trek is a very well organized, well equipped project with excellent guides and facilities. I highly recommend it as it really stands out among the other options for trekking in Peru. And unlike many other trekking lodge to lodge trips throughout the world, this one ends at one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!

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Details: On Fridays from late March-November fixed departures leave from Cusco. The all-inclusive weeklong package RT from Cusco is $2,500pp. If you have your own group, trips can be arranged anytime. Contact Natalie Umbert in the US at (949)759-7777 (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.), or Denise Cooper in Peru (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., +51 84 243636 or +511 4217777) for more information. www.mountainlodgesofperu.com

©Christina Kay Bolton

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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