Salkantay: top of the sky

Terra Explorer
December 16, 2020

The first time that kayaker Diana Samarizich knew anything about the hike to Salkantay was through a National Geographic ranking recognizing it among the best in the world. Years later, she had the opportunity to see this snow-capped mountain from the road, on the way to Cusco. She was impressed by its magnificence over the other mountains and felt an inevitable urge to approach.

Although she had been practicing adventure sports for a long time (besides being a kayaker, she has competed in mountain biking and practiced climbing and surfing), she had not hiked for several days on a mountain range. The opportunity came thanks to explorer Piero Vellutino, founder of Terra Explorer, who invited her to take an alternative route that offers adventurers a unique travel experience to Salkantay. This is the chronicle of her adventure.

A new perspective

Located in the Cordillera Vilcabamba in the department of Cusco, the snowy Salkantay reaches 6,271 masl. Its name comes from Quechua and is a contraction of Salqa that means “wild” and Antay that means “to cause avalanches.” It is a mountain that occupies an important place in the Andean worldview as it is recognized as an Apu, which means “lord/dame” and is associated with divinity.

Our plan involved six days of altitude walking exposed to sub-zero temperatures, so my first steps were to prepare myself physically doing cardiovascular training and acquire the appropriate mountain clothing and equipment. When the day arrived, we left at dawn from Cusco in a northwest direction towards Soraypampa, the starting point of the trek.

Related: Salkantay and Ausangate: Two majestic glacier mountains in the navel of the world

At about 4,000 masl. we started the hike at a slow but safe pace, on a path that follows a stream of glacial water and accompanied by huallatas, a type of Andean birds. After a brief stop for lunch, we deviated from the classic route to make way for our adventure. It took us five hours to reach the first camp, a pampa known as Ichupata, which runs protected by the imposing snow-capped Salkantay.

I had never been so moved by a mountain. I don’t know how much time I spent in absolute silence and admiration, but I understood from our first encounter why it is considered sacred in the local culture.

On the second day, we set out to take the first path at 5,000 masl. and a condor surprised us halfway through the climb with a leisurely and Majestic flight. Later, the route revealed the Salkantaycocha lagoon, a natural reservoir of turquoise water that rests on the snowy slopes.

We reached the highest point of the trek, and life seemed a dream between the height, the snow, and the apachetas of walkers who once paid tribute to these mountains. Each step with little breath was worthwhile as we realized the luxury of being completely isolated in natural landscapes that only improved as we advanced.

We walked some original sections of the Inca trail and spent a starry night in Tocto with a new view of the Salkantay, the east face of the snowy landscape that is only visible to those who venture into the mountain on this trek.

As a gift from heaven, it snowed on the third day on one of the four paths we did, and we had the privilege of seeing the Andes getting quickly white. It is very satisfying to cross the mountain range and conquer the highest points of the walk as they allow you to discover new valleys, and proudly leave long stretches of effort behind. Already in the middle of our trip, I began to feel the pleasure of walking for hours, and I started to be in a sort of constant meditative state.

The landscape changed a lot during the last days, as the route begins to descend towards Chilca in the Sacred Valley, the final point of our trek. We walked along a zigzag path to the beautiful Ancashcocha lagoon through a canyon where we crossed the river numerous times over small wooden bridges with thick vegetation and an unparalleled view of the snowy Veronica.

Related: 4 essentials for trekking in Cusco and its surroundings

It is necessary to emphasize the importance of choosing a good operator to make an excursion of this size. In our case, the agency took care of all the complicated logistics required for this type of hike in remote locations with a team of expert porters, cooks, waiters, and guides.

Some of the details we were most grateful for were the hot water bags that we found in our tents every night to sleep warm, as well as room service with local coffee in the mornings, the dining rooms with heating system, and the small lunch boxes that gave us the extra touch of energy on the go.

This experience gives us the opportunity to leave our comfort zone momentarily to discover Peru in a privileged way. All of us who recognize the pleasure and importance of traveling should take the time to make the alternative route to Salkantay.

Want to design a tailor-made trip to Salkantay or any other destination in Peru? If so, contact us and receive a quick response from our travel designers experts. We are sure you will love this place as much as we do!

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