Salkantay

Salkantay Trekking

SalcantaySalkantay or Sallqantay (in Quechua) is the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range, part of the Peruvian Andes. It is located in the Cusco Region, about 60 km (40 mi) west-northwest of the city of Cusco. It is the 38th highest peak in the Andes, and the twelfth highest in Peru. However, as a range highpoint in deeply incised terrain, it is the second most topographically prominent peak in the country, after Huascarán.
Salcantay's proximity to Machu Picchu makes trekking around it an alternative to the oversubscribed Inca Trail; this is known as the Salkantay trek.

The name Salkantay is from sallqa, a Quechua word meaning wild, uncivilized, savage, or invincible, and was recorded as early as 1583. The name is thus often translated as "Savage Mountain".

Directly to the north of Salkantay lies Machu Picchu, which is at the end of a ridge that extends down from this mountain. Viewed from Machu Picchu's main sundial, the Southern Cross is above Salkantay's summit when at its highest point in the sky during the rainy season. The Incas associated this alignment with concepts of rain and fertility, and considered Salkantay to be one of the principal deities controlling weather and fertility in the region west of Cuzco.

A BRIEF REVIEW

Fancy a rare look at the sacred city of the Incas? Take the road less traveled to the southwest entrance of Machu Picchu.

(By Ellen Galvin )

In the Andean cultural tradition, “spirit” (or energy) is found in all natural forms – the trees, plants, rivers, rocks and high mountain peaks. It is also found in our bodies and our breath, which I’m struggling to catch after climbing a 15,250-foot mountain pass on the way to Machu Picchu.
I have come to Peru to reach the sacred site of Machu Picchu via the footpaths that the Inca traversed more than 500 years ago. Until recently, that meant backpacking and camping with the thousands of other travelers who come every year to visit one of the world’s wonders. Fortunately, it’s now possible to experience the spectacular landscape by day while savoring fresh Andean cuisine and curling up under goose-down comforters by night.

In 2007, Peruvian businessman and philanthropist Enrique Umbert fulfilled his vision of creating an environmentally responsible, lodge-to-lodge trek to Machu Picchu via Salkantay Trek, also known as the “other” Inca Trail. The all-inclusive, seven day adventure entails moderate to strenuous hiking on trails that cross nine different microclimates. Participants overnight in four of Umbert’s Mountain Lodges of Peru.

The route offers a chance to experience authentic cultural traditions that seem to be disappearing in today’s world of homogenized travel. My adventure begins at the breathtaking altitude of 11,150 feet, in the well-preserved Inca capital of Cusco. The original inhabitants of the city considered it “the navel of the Earth,” and Cusco’s historical prominence isevident in the massive, Inca-built walls that form the foundations of modern buildings and the steep, cobblestone streets that have remained unchanged for centuries.

To acclimate to the altitude, I spend a few days exploring Cusco and the nearby Sacred Valley. In the folk-art markets of Pisac and Chinchero, the vibrant, ever-changing colors of the surroundings delight the senses. The sky morphs from royal blue to ominous gray – and back again – in a matter of minutes.

Local villagers wear traditional clothing in deep hues of red, dressing for themselves, not for camera-toting tourists. The inhabitants of this area do not possess much in the way of material wealth, but it is clear that they are rich in culture and spirit.

The Machu Picchu trek officially begins a few days later, when I join a guided group for a five-hour drive to the Soraypampa Valley. Our destination is the luxurious Salkantay Lodge & Adventure Resort, which serves as our base camp for the next two nights. Tucked between the snowy peaks of Humantay and Salkantay, the lodge lies at 12,470 feet and offers several half-day hiking options for visitors to become accustomed to high-mountain trekking. Umbert is also staying at the lodge, and I join him for an afternoon of horseback riding through the rugged pampas. Wearing a handwoven poncho and chullo, the traditional knitted hat of Peru, Umbert explains his mission to bring socially responsible tourism to this beautiful yet remote area of Peru. His lodges employ guides, porters, cooks and housekeepers from the surrounding communities. A separate,non-governmental organization, Yanapana Peru, provides support through educational projects, environmental awareness and tourism training for the local population.

The crisp mountain air fuels my appetite, and I return to the lodge for a meal of pumpkin soup, fresh trout and organic quinoa. A post-dinner pisco sour makes it difficult to choose betweensettling in front of the cozy fireplace or soaking in an outdoor whirlpool under a starry night sky. I hate to leave the Salkantay Lodge, but the innkeeper assures me that the other lodges on the way to Machu Picchu are equally special. Of course, there is the small matter of crossing the SalkantayPass, the highest point of the trek at 15,250 feet – not exactly easy for someone who spends most of the year at sea level. So I am especially grateful to the two Andean priests who present a ceremonial despacho (offering) to the spirit apus who reside in the surrounding mountain peaks. 
The priests offer prayers and material gifts of food, communicating directly with the mountain spirits to ensure our safe and healthy passage. The next morning I awake feeling energized, and I quickly work into a steady hiking pace.

Four hours later, I reach the summit. From this lofty perch, I can imagine what it might be like to be a condor, soaring over the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba. It is beautiful – but cold. Fortunately, lunch is only minutes away. The arrieros (muleteers) had sped downhill to greet us with warm coca tea and fortify us with hearty corn soup and causa, a deliciously simple mashedpotato terrine stuffed with tuna and avocado. With the mountain pass behind us, the remainder of the trek seems easy. From the cold, dry climate of the High Andes, we descend 6,900 feet through the increasingly verdant scenery of a cloud forest punctuated with colorful orchids and buzzing with hummingbirds and parrots.We pass through coffee, banana and passionfruit orchards and chat with curious children along the trail.

zWe spend one night each in three odges located at strategic points along the route.Each lodge is a hidden gem, smaller than the first» but offering gourmet meals, private bathrooms and 400-thread-count sheets. The staff place chocolates and hot water bottles in our rooms at night and clean and dry our hiking boots while we sleep. This is adventure at its finest. By the last day of the trek, the beauty and diversity of Salkantay Trek  have convinced me that the journey is more important than the destination. Then, suddenly, it appears: magical, mystical Machu Picchu, balancing like a crown atop a jagged and lush hilltop. I have two days ahead of me to visit the site and marvel at its mystery. It will be everything that I had ever imagined. But for now, I stop to savor this distant yet special view

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