A Compelling Alternative to the Inca Trail
For many years, trekking the Inca Trail was the signature adventure travel experience in South America. Over time, it became overrun and loved to death, prompting the government to limit daily hikers. Still, while it’s undoubtedly a classic, it’s become a bit cliché and still remains crowded with gringos from around the world — not exactly what most hikers look for in a mountain wilderness experience. In response, some outfitters began offering alternative trekking routes, taking travelers to more off-the-beaten-path locations with equally, if not more, spectacular scenery. One of those was the Salkantay Route, starting above the highland town of Mollepata, winding between two massive glaciated peaks and over a high pass, and then descending down through the cloud forest toward Machu Picchu. About five years ago, Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP) made this route radically more comfortable by building a series of four lodges along the route, which are only accessible to groups booking the fully guided trekking itinerary.
After our first day of hiking, we arrived at the Salkantay Lodge, the largest of the four properties, situated in a flat valley (pampa) at the base of 5700-meter Humantay, and with stunning views of Salkantay (20,000 feet) as well. Since the MLP itinerary includes a layover day here for acclimatization, it was the only lodge where our group of nine was not totally private — and that meant only one other small group was there from the prior day’s departure. Since mules carried most of our gear, we only carried light daypacks, though everyone was still pleasantly tired from walking and the high altitude (12,600 feet).
After the jacuzzi session, dinner and a few drinks, everyone was off the following morning for a day hike up to a spectacularly-turquoise glacial lake at the foot of Humantay. It was a relatively steep climb up to the lake at 14,000 feet, but not too difficult. From there, some of us hiked a further thousand feet up the glacial moraine for an awe-inspiring full-frontal view of Humantay’s glaciers spilling down the south face, along with huge views back down the valley.