Salkantay: the other trail to Machu Picchu


A five-day walk from the snowy heights of the mountains to the jungle of Machu Picchu.
The traditional trail that goes from Ollantaytambo isn’t the only route to Machu Picchu.

The journey that runs through the pass of the snow-capped Salkantay, the second tallest mountain in Cusco, is a unique five-day walk that starts from the village of Mollepata, three hours from Cusco, which takes you from the snow-capped mountains at an altitude of 4.600m to the high jungle of Machu Picchu.

*Towards the pass.*

The first days starts with a short walk to a small lagoon crowned with one of the glaciers of the Vilcabamba mountain range, where the profound silence is only interrupted by the sound of flowing water. This place is dominated by the turquoise waters of the springs, which make a sharp contrast with the white of the snow and the intense blue of the sky.

The snowy territory of Salkantay gives us an awe inspiring landscape crowned with snowy peaks. The immensity of it all makes us feel tiny. The walk continues and each step surprises us with a beautiful stage where nature is the star of the show.

On the second day of our journey we entered Salkantay Pampa, at 4,200m, territory crowned with a large mountain. Salkantay translates as ‘indomitable’ and, as the Andean people know very well, very few have reached its peak. Salkantay is famous among Andeans for its constant and unpredictable avalanches that have taken the lives of several climbers.

After an even slope, we arrived at the Salkantay pass, where a sign and cairns (stone markers of piled up stones) made by other travelers showed us that we have arrived at 4,549m.

We looked around us and felt that we could almost touch the snow and arrive at the other face of the snow-capped Tucarhuay, with its panoramic views of snow-capped mountains like the Pumasillo, at 6,100m, as well as other mountains of the Vilcabamba mountain range.

The walk continued, this time downwards and with the landscape changing at every step. The mountains of Vilcabamba showed us a different face at every stage of our journey. We left the imposing presence of the snowy Tucarhuay behind us to go into a cloudy forest.

*Descent into the Jungle*

The downward trek took us into the forest where we were suddenly surrounded by orchids, butterflies, leafy trees and waterfalls crossing the natural trail. The landscape, each time greener, completely took over that of the mountains.

The crossing at the Santa Teresa river announced the arrival of our next destination: Collpapampa, where we breathed deeper, the sun warmed us and we left behind the snowy peaks and the forest that had received us. It was time to rest and count shooting stars.

We continued the journey and the next day we entered the forest to take the Inca Trail that would take us to the complex of Llactapata, Incan control point where we could see Huayna Picchu in the distance. We took another look and another walk, and arrived at our grand final destination: Machu Picchu.

We remembered our trail companion: the Salkantay. Thousands of images and starry nights came to our minds and we arrived ready to be dazzled by the great Incan sanctuary.