The High Alpine Approach to the Inca Citadel of Machu Picchu
The Classic Inca Trail is overrated and over-subscribed.
It’s still worth doing if you could manage to get a permit as only 500 people ( including guides, cooks and porters ) are allowed on the trail each day – which is still a lot in my opinion.
A popular alternative nowadays is Salkantay Trek – which strictly speaking is a misnomer as the original one refers to the high alpine approach via Inca Chiriasqa Pass ( 4,950 m a.s.l.) that skips the the more rural and less scenic part of the Classic Inca Trail and joins it only after the village of Wayllapampa and as such would be subjected to the same quota system and the same restrictions as the Classic Inca Trail.
Inca Trail &Salkantay Trek
What the trek now popularly advertised in Cusco ( where most tours operators are located ) refers to is a mishmash of three trails and should be properly called Mollepata – Salkantay – Santa Teresa Trek which culminates at Machu Picchu typically on Day 5 of the trek.
There is only one high mountain pass involved, uninspiringly called Salkantay Pass at 4,580 m at the shoulder of the majestic Salkantay massif, the rest is mostly downhill and level and is usually substituted with some form of transport where the trail is no more than a glorified rural dirt road. The route is often described as a “ back door “ approach to Machu Picchu as it arrives at the official access town to Machu Picchu, Agua Calientes from the west, passing the Inca ruins below first along the river Rio Urubamba.
The trek is not only less strenuous compared to its Classic counterpart but it also draws less people and you are less likely to camp amidst crowds of other trekkers on the way. Scenic-wise it’s wilder and more spectacular as you will not only traverse plenty of cloud forest but also a proper glacial landscape and an alpine tundra with a tropical jungle valley all thrown in on the first 2 days of the trek, it’s just mind-bogglingly varied !
But to me the best thing really is to have a proper rest in a town with modern amenities the night before visiting Machu Picchu as I found myself all worn-out by the time I got to Machu Picchu on the Classic Inca Trail and didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I’d thought after all the efforts.
Arriving at Cusco fresh and overwhelmed by its sight and sound ?
So next time if you fly into Cusco clueless with what to do for the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu and is gutted to learn that the Classic Inca Trail is all booked out till the following summer the alternative Mollepata – Salkantay – Santa Teresa Trek is actually not a bad substitution and you could save yourself some money to spend on lodgings, meals and booze while getting to see the awesome Inca citadel as well !
This is what I’d like to do with all my collection of 360° panoramas from different treks I’d done in the past. Combining different forms of photography the visual impact is more compelling and gripping in my opinion.
For a synopsis of the trek please watch this video before you embark with me on this 5D4N adventure 🙂
Get the most from this Google Earth 3D reconstruction of the trail we are about to take !