I recently got back from Peru (half work and half vacation). We did the Salkantay Trek, which is an alternative to the Inca Trail, since they only allow 500 people on per day and lots of people want to hike to Machu Picchu – i.e. the next available reservation to hike the Inca Trail is in September (almost 5 months away). One thing to note, we only saw about 25 people at the most on the trek we did… I liked that. You can do the Salkantay Trek in anywhere from 4-7 days (depending on how much you want to see, and how much time you have). Because of limited time, we did it in 2-days, then headed to Machu Picchu then Cusco.
As I often quote, “life begins where your comfort zone ends” … well, congratulations to myself, because, the first day of the trip was one of the biggest mental challenges of my life … and anything but cozy and comfortable. It’s kind of crazy when you get altitude sickness, there is little you can do to relieve it, aside from going down to a lower elevation… and you have to be smart about paying attention to the symptoms (because, being alive is fun), but those mental and physical challenges can be good for you from time to time… and the world is so much more fun once that challenge is over (funny how that works). What’s even funnier, is once it’s over, you usually just want more.
Well, I didn’t necessarily do what you should do, but here’s what you shouldn’t do if you want to have a nice night’s sleep above 12,000 feet.
O.k. ready, don’t do this: Get two hours of sleep, get on a plane in Lima at 6:00 am (at sea level) to Cusco (11,200), hike for 6 hours, then sleep at 12,795 feet. Don’t be fooled, although I am smiling in this picture below, my head is about to explode from altitude sickness. I did a lot of different types of Ujjayi breathing throughout the night (yes, seriously) drank a ton of tea, thought I was going to die a couple of times (half kidding), but thankfully survived.
What I should have done: Got a good night sleep the night before my flight, flown to Cusco, acclimated for a few days, then started the trek like a normal person. Oh, and drink lots of tea (I actually did do something right).
One point: As miserable as I was (literally one of the worst night sleep of my life), when I got out of the tent in the middle of the night to use the “ladies room”, I saw one of the most beautiful sky’s I have ever seen. Millions of stars and glowing glaciated mountains. I won’t ever forget how brutal that night was, but even more so, I won’t ever forget how magical that sky was, seriously, never. Pretty amazing.
Tired? yes. Head pounding from the altitude? yes. Hiking for 10 hours straight? brutal. Worth it? um, yes.
Machu Picchu … I would live in one of those houses if I could.
Cusco … No more altitude sickness, wine and cheese … and my Spanish is getting better. Life is good.