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To the end of the world, back, and everywhere in between Some take holiday, some go on gap year and some never come back...this is for all of us, lost in travel

The world’s deepest canyon and the road to Machu Picchu (Arequipa, Colca Canyon, Cuzco, Salkantay)

PERU | Friday, 26 October 2012 | Views [1288]

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

 I didn’t do justice to Arequipa. I only stayed there for one night but I really like the city. It was themost charming place I’ve seen since Cuenca. For me however it was a launching pod to Colca Canyon. In Arequipa I reunited with Kalypso and we headed together for 3 day trek in the valley.

As we are girls who do not choose the easy way, we decided to do it ourselves and on arrival to Cabanconde chose the least popular route. We trekked to Llahuar and from there to Fure and then down to San Galle. This is supposed to take 3 days but we opted to go for completion in 2 days. The canyon is hot. The trekking maps for the area are no existent as the agencies want to make sure you book through them. There are also no signs on the way. So of course we got immediately lost…

But regardless of that the walk is beautiful. The road to Llahuar is easy – about 4 hours walk down the canyon. But we were carrying all of our stuff and a massive supply of water as we were told its crazy expensive down there. And so after getting to the bottom we felt we deserved an evening of chilling in the thermal spa. When we got there we immediately knew we made the right choice not following the tourist route.

There were hardly any people along the way and the sight is amazing and peaceful. After a relaxing night we decided to walk to Fure which we heard was also a very special spot and then proceed to the oasis of San Galle.

We got the directions from our host who was insisting that the road is flat… So it came as a bit of a surprise that the first thing we had to do is climb a steep mountain to the next village… We were the only gringos on the way and the local were incredibly helpful at showing us the way. It turned out to be a pretty hard trek all the way to Fur with only about an hour worth of flat surface. Fure lies among the waterfalls and even though we did not go to the biggest one the one just on the road to town was pretty impressive. After a coffee and a snack in the village we continued on… It was hard 4 hours of hills and then steep decline to the oasis of San Galle. The work was rewarded by a relaxing swim in the pool.

The next morning we decided to get up early and tackle the 3 hours steep climb up back to Cabanaconde. And that’s were things went a bit bad… We heard that ‘normal’ people make the climb in 3 hours, fit in 2 hours and sportsmen in 1.5 hours. So we decided to go for 2 hour challenge. What we did not count on is our hostel feeding us half cooked pancakes for breakfast which unfortunately made their reappearance during the climb.

But even with that little obstacle we made it in 2.15 hours so not too bad… Not wanting to wait for the scheduled bus I had a bright idea of picking a ride with a tourist bus… What we did not realise that the bus had many scheduled breaks along the way, including an hour stop in ‘tourist’ thermal baths and another one for lunch… So even if we travelled in more comfort (on a previous bus we had a doubtful pleasure of travelling with a neighbour that was giving out the most disgusting farts and that was combined with the non-existent, windy road) we ended up arriving in Arequipa later than the normal bus…

We were hoping to have a bit more time in Arequipa but as a result of bad travel choices all we had the time for was a shower and few emails before we jumped onto a night bus to Cuzco. We were not lucky with that one either… Right behind us sat a family with a lot of overexcited kids who would start shouting every time we stopped: ‘Are we in Cuzco yet?’, waking the whole bus up..

Tired we arrived to Cuzco, hopped in a cab to our hostel which couldn’t check us in until 13.00pm (we were there at 7am). So we went for the best croissants coupled with decent coffee to lift our moods. Then we run around town looking to book the Salkantay trek and so once we finally checked in, it was time to sleep and recharge batteries.

I loved Cuzco. It has the beauty of a colonial town, tiny little streets on the hill of San Blas, good food and good vibe. Booking the trek in 2 days time (rather than my usual sleep and go next day) gave me a chance to really appreciate it and I had an awesome time there.

Cuzco of course is the main place from which to visit Machu Picchu and so with the Salkantay trek booked (it drops you off at the bottom of the ruins) I was ready to see some spectacular Inka stones… Salkantay is famous for being the toughest way to get to Machu Picchu. You are warned right, left and centre that you need to be acclimatised and fit to do and with such a hype surrounding it, it was bound to be disappointing… OK, I have to admit, I was a bit tired of trekking, got a cold in Cuzco which made me feel crap, so that might have influenced me opinion of the trek.

The first day was plain boring for me – we walked for 7 hours along the road to the first camp, granted, at the foot of Salkantay, which makes for a beautiful site. Second day is the hardest one – you are going over a Salkantay pass at 4750m and it’s a 3 hour climb to get there, from there you go down for 5 hours to the camp. I was not well… Got really sick in the morning so most of the climb I was focusing on not being sick… Even with that when I arrived at the highest point I was disappointed at how easy it was. We were also out of luck and the clouds have settled so we couldn’t see the peaks. We then went down through the misty canyons with the weather slowly changing for warmer, more tropical one. That part, I must admit, was pretty amazing.

After lunch things got worse for me as I started to pick up fever. Wanting to get into bed as soon as possible I pretty much run all the way to the next camp. Throughout the journey the canyons were substituted by more vegetation and the rise in temperature. That night it was off to bed for me pretty soon as the fever spiked and I was feeling real bad.

The next day I was not better but luckily it was only 5 hours walk through the warm jungle to the next camping spot. With the jungle vegetation came abundance of wild strawberries so I pretty much stuffed my face all the way to the camp. We slept in Santa Teresa which is home to really nice thermal baths so we sent the afternoon chilling and healing our trekking wounds. At night we had kind of strange party with bonfire and disco combined…

Last day of the trek you have an option - take a bus half way through to Hidroelectrica or just walk all the way. Of course we chose the second option and we did not regret it. It’s a really nice walk through the valley with amazing waterfalls. Once you get to hidroelectrica it’s an easy, flat walk around the Machu Picchu mountain. The railway track drops you off at Aguas Calientes aka Machu Picchu town.

It was time to get a shower, proper dinner and get ready for visiting the site next morning.

I heard from many people that it’s really worth getting to the top at sunrise and getting inside as a first person in. And so we got up at 4.30am, got to the bottom as the gate was opening, run up in 40min to be at the main gate before it opens at 6am. I was the second one through the gate and sprinted up the remaining steps. Thanks to that I was one of the only 4 people up there for the first 20min and that moment is breath taking, with the sun rising over the ruins, no tourist insight, is just amazing!!! After 20min other visitors started to pour in and it was time to join our tour of the site.

We also booked the tickets to go up to Huaynu Picchu which is a mountain overlooking the main site. So after few hours of wondering around we headed up. It’s steep!!! Takes about 40min to get up tiny steps but the views are amazing! After that we were pretty ready to get back down… Decided to take the final group photo and I handed my camera to a teenager who proceeded to push the lens back in thus breaking my camera!!! I could not believe it! It was third time that my camera got broken! Luckily it was at the end of the visit to the town otherwise I might have thrown him off the mountain. And so we proceeded to get down, had a relaxing swim in river and then waited for our train back to Cuzco. For me personally Machu Picchu was the best thing about the trek, although there is something special about walking to the site rather than just taking the train. It somehow connects you with the Inca’s more and you appreciate it more.

Back in Cuzco I decided to spend another full day there, recovering from the trek and enjoying the awesome city. After that it was goodbye to Peru as I was heading for Isla del Sol and Bolivia!

Tags: arequipa, canyon colca, inka ruins, machu picchu, salkantay, trekking

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