Laguna on the Salkantay trek
As mentioned in my last post, last week I set off on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu and it blew my breath away. Over the course of five days we covered more than 70km and saw everything from cloud-capped, high-altitude mountain peaks to emerald green rainforest, and every day brought with it a new adventure. Day one involved trekking around 15km to our campsite before scrambling up cow-covered, countrified hills to reach a laguna where a kaleidoscope of colours bounced off of the calm, flat, mirror-like water – it was truly stunning. On day two we went from climbing up to 4,600 metres to admire the snow-capped mystical peaks of the Salkantay mountain (where every step felt like a marathon) to descending into an expanse of jungle (and trekking for a total of nearly ten hours).
Cloud-capped mountains at 4,600m
The third day involved some much-needed flat walking and an indulgent few hours spent in a natural hot spring, and the fourth saw us hobble along a railway track with all luggage in tow as we approached Aguas Calientes, the nearest town to Machu Picchu. Arriving back into civilisation after several days of nothing but nature was weirdly exciting, although the novelty soon wore off when I saw the army of tourists and extortionately-priced tex-mex joints lining every hilly street.
On the approach to Aguas Calientes…
As expected though, the last day didn´t disappoint. After clambering up 1,700 steps (and almost dying), we eventually reached the lost city of the Incas and were greeted with mesmerising views over the iconic cloud-capped, towering rocks that surround the 500-year-old plus city.
The lost city… Machu Picchu
Believed to have been the home of Inca leaders, the city managed to escape the prying eyes of the Spanish invaders and wasn´t discovered until 1911 when an American archaeologist stumbled upon it. It was a lot more intact than expected, and after learning about its history we (slightly stupidly) decided to climb Montana Machu Picchu – and so descend another 2,000 steps. The impressive views from the top made every second worth it, and the whole trek is going down as one of the best things I´ve done on my trip so far.
Finally arrived… Montana Machu Picchu
That wasn´t my first experience of trekking in Peru – from Arequipa, another beautiful city dotted with European influences and impressive architecture – I ventured out on a two-day trek into the Colca Canyon and was rewarded with unique views over the dry, dramatic mountain landscapes – all while witnessing huge, metre-long kondors soar by.
Kondors at the Colca Canyon, Peru
Prior to that I spent time hiking around the islands set on Lake Titicaca. I stayed a couple of nights in Puno, the Peruvian base for exploring the ´highest navigable lake in the world´, and booked a tour through Edgar´s Adventures – one I’d recommend. We set off on a boat to the Uros islands – a group of tiny, man-made blocks of floating land made entirely of stitched-together reed which a number of families call home.
Uros floating islands, Puno
From there we moved on to Amantani, a naturally-formed, larger, hillier island which offered stunning views over the glistening blue lake, and did a homestay with a local family. Amantani has so far managed to avoid the hordes of hotels and restaurants that characterise Isla del Sol, a more developed island on the Bolivian side, and it was filled with natural beauty. After a strenuous sunset hike and a hilarious night spent learning Quechua dances while dressed up in traditional clothing, we set off for Taquile, another natural island located a couple of hours away. Learning about the communities´ age-old traditions that still continue today was fascinating – they include married women all wearing black and red, men throwing stones to chat up women and husbands wearing their wives´ hair on a belt…
Taquile island, Lake Titicaca, Peru
The Peruvian islands offered a pretty different experience to the Bolivian side of things – Isla del Sol was busier and a lot more touristy, though it offered a charm of its own that I came to love after one day spent trekking from north to south (a hike I´d recommend – it takes about four hours). Copacabana – the Bolivian base for exploring the lake – was a lot more quaint than Puno, with rows of cute, affordable restaurants lining its streets. We hired mopeds to explore it properly and found ourselves surrounded by nothing other than an emptry coastal track, a clear blue sky and sparkling turquoise vistas – pretty idyllic (until I fell off of mine and found myself stranded for a good half hour hopelessly attempting, and failing, to turn the engine back on – thankfully my friends came back to rescue me). All in all Lake Titicaca was stunning from both sides, and it´s definitely worth spending a few days on the islands themselves to enjoy the delicious, fresh trout available and to appreciate the impressive views over the expanse of blue, ocean-like water.
As all of that suggests, I´ve had a pretty amazing time exploring Peru and the north of Bolivia – next on the list is Lima, and from there it´s up into Ecuador and Colombia – only time will tell what adventures both hold in store…