On our fifth and final day of the Salkantay Trek, we woke up early and long before sunrise. We grabbed a quick bite at the continental breakfast bar in our hotel, and were out the door at 5:00 AM to catch one of the first buses up to the park gates. We also wanted to spend a little more time with Blue the morning of our Machu Picchu visit, in order to thank him for his company. The night before, we frantically searched online for ways to bring him home with us, but we couldn’t find any options that would work.
We were shocked to see close to 100 people already waiting when we arrived at the bus stop in Aguas Calientes. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones looking to get an early start. Luckily, they had more than enough buses ready, and we we able to catch a ride on the 5th one.
We arrived at the Macchu Picchu park gates in the dark just before they opened to the public. We found our guide, Effrain, and met up with the other four members of our trekking group. Effrain had a plan, he told us of the best view in the park, and that if we hurried in and got there first, we’d be able to take pictures with Machu Picchu and have nobody else in the frame. As a lover of photography, it sounded like a great plan to me.
The sun had just risen as we walked though the gates of the park, and we followed Effrain closely as he told us stories of Hiram Bingam and Inca legend. When we arrived to the destination he had talked about, my jaw just about hit the floor. Up until this point, I had yet to see the ruins in the way one hopes to while visiting. All at once, I could feel years of dreaming come to life. Seeing Machu Picchu had been much more than a bucket list item for me, it had become a minor obsession. It was a very special moment to be looking out over the Inca ruins with the conical Huayna Picchu standing proud in the background.
Effrain walked us around the park for a few hours after our major moment to start, and dove a little deeper into the history of this storied Inca site. Much like when I visited the Colosseum, or major cathedrals in Europe, I like to mentally take myself to a place that feels like I’m living in a different time. A little bit of make believe really helps bring the history and stories to life.
We enjoyed four hours in the park before making our way over to Huayna Picchu for a nice little peak climb. It was difficult to make it over to begin the climb up though, as we kept stopping to see and hear more about the ruins we were walking through. I could have easily spent a few days exploring the park, but unfortunately only had time for one.
The climb to the summit of Huayna Picchu was short, but pretty steep. The footing was pretty good in most places, but I was wishing I had a pair of approach shoes on, instead of my trail runners. Earlier in the day, Effrain had told us about the the prevalence of three animals in the Inca way of life. They are the three totemic representatives of the Inca cross, a puma, condor, and snake. From high above on Huayna Picchu, we could see that Machu Picchu was shaped like the condor.
The Inca built the trail up the side of Huayna Picchu and divided it into sections of terraces and temples. Many believe it was used as a defense look out. Others believe it was home to the high priest and local virgins. Each day before sunrise, the high priest would walk down to Machu Picchu to signal the coming of the new day.
At the summit of Huayna Picchu, the skies opened up with rain in an unexpected downpour. We had to quickly make our way down the mountain and to the safety of coverage just outside the park gates. To our surprise, guess who was waiting there for us? Blue! It was incredible to see him one last time. The Inca gods were smiling on us that day. This was our gift from Pachamama.
The final part of our trek was catching our train in Auguas Calientes, riding to Ollantaytambo, and finishing the trek back to Cusco on our bus. In all, a wonderful trek and trip that I would highly recommend.