Executive Edge Travel’s Yvonne Verstandig takes to the epic route along an ancient Inca pass while overcoming several challenges throughout the journey but, ultimately, makes every moment count during a Mountain Lodges of Peru experience.
THE toughest experiences are the most rewarding, I keep reminding myself as I arrive at Lucma Lodge in Peru’s Santa Teresa River Valley on New Year’s Eve after a five-hour trek. I’ve tackled five days of a seven-day trek to Machu Picchu – the epic route along an ancient Inca pass considered an adventure of a lifetime.
After braving the elements and the altitude, I feel like an intrepid traveller from the past discovering the region for the first time.
For the past 10 days I’ve been on a Peruvian quest from the culinary town of Lima to an elegant Delfin Cruise through the Amazon’s Pacaya-Simiria National Reserve to the Sacred Valley and Cusco, to this intense Mountain Lodges of Peru trek.
Only two more days of hard trekking left before I arrive at the crowned jewel of Machu Picchu…
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It all started in Cusco. Once arrived, I’m restless, or rather, quite breathless. Everything was moving in slow motion, or at least that’s how it felt upon reaching a new level of altitude.
The Palazo Nazarenes’s concierge was quick to offer coca tea, a natural remedy for altitude sickness, and advised to sip it slowly. For added pampering, all suites at Palazo Nazarenes have oxygen pumped into them to help guests acclimatise.
This night before I began a 6 night/7 day trek to Machu Picchu with Mountain Lodges of Peru my mind races.
Will I be able to cope with the altitude and the arduous trekking of this epic route?
One week of traversing mountainous elevations of almost 5000 metres and passing through nine different ecosystems lay ahead to arrive at the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. “Get some rest,” I keep repeating. My head is pounding already, just lying in bed at this altitude.
Face to face with Cusco
Cusco, looming higher in altitude than even Machu Picchu, is the capital of the Inca Empire and longest continually inhabited city in South America.
I had spent the day meandering through Cusco’s ancient cobblestone streets exploring the Mercado Central de San Pedro, local market and the 15th century Sacsayhuaman fortress which housed one of the bloodiest battles in the Spanish conquest. I had my own battle to face tomorrow though and my exhilaration was palpable. Little did I know that my endurance, stamina and will power were about to be put to the ultimate test.
The altitude won on Day 1, no question. But the first lodge’s view of Mt Salkantay, the second most sacred peak in Inca mythology, made the breathlessness worthwhile.
Glacier dip in icy waters
The next day I survived the four-hour trek with my heart pounding and head aching with every step of the incline to 4200 metres but the treat at the top was Lake Humantay where I braved a glacier dip in icy waters.
On the third day of the hike, and definitely the most difficult, I climbed to the highest point up the Rio Bianco Valley, circling Humantay Peak and crossing the Salkantay Pass at 4600m, while rain and sleet turned to snow in the middle of summer.
As I continued walking to the next lodge, I marvelled at the rugged scenery as I descended through green valleys with glacier mountains framing the backdrop to Wayra Lodge.
Day 4’s drastic temperature increase further helped me catch my breath as I headed due south into the Cloud Forest, warm air rising from the jungle below accompanied by colourful butterflies and striking orchids abound.
Mountain Lodges of Peru
Mountain Lodges of Peru, the company operating this trek, catered to luxurious indulgences despite the physical test.
At each lodge a glass of either hot mint tea or Chicha Morada (Peruvian purple corn juice) and a hot steaming towel awaited.
My muddy boots were whisked off to be cleaned and heated overnight. After resting, every night revealed some sort of presentation. One night we learned about the history of the Andes, the longest continental mountain range in the world.
Another night we watched a demonstration about how Peruvians cook their potatoes and meats in stone pots alfresco. And speaking of food, we even had a personal chef accompanying our group creating gourmet meals nightly.
Arriving at Lucma Lodge on the second to last night of the trek, it’s New Year’s Eve. The staff have decorated the whole lodge in the traditional colour of yellow for the annual celebration – yellow streamers, hats and masks, yellow castanets, yellow glasses – all sold in the local markets to commemorate the start of the new year.
As the new year is about to begin, I spent the evening reflecting on these rigorous but exhilarating days, my life, my family back home, and of course, the beauty of being alive. This Peruvian adventure has filled me with a combination of enormous gratitude and deep humility. I couldn’t think of a better place to ring in the new year.
On Day 5, after another five hours on foot, I finally caught my first glimpse of Machu Picchu Sanctuary from the southwest, an angle few travelers get to admire. After exploring the Llactapata Ruins, I begin the final descent to Aobamba River through lush bamboo forests.
Only a short train ride away
Aguas Calientes, the town of Machu Picchu, is only a short scenic train ride away with its glass-domed ceilings exposing the jagged mountainous wonder en route. This is it – almost there.
On the final day of the trek, I rose before the sun to tackle the three-hour steep incline to Waynapichu mountain to be rewarded by the best views over the Eastern side of the ruins.
Endless steps varying in size but, incredibly, no hand rails despite the sheer vertical drop on one side. I even had to crawl like a crab on my hands and feet through two tiny caves but at the zenith, the peak’s views to Machu Picchu were extraordinary.
The sacred heritage site was nothing less than mystical. After trekking for seven days with shaking legs and weary muscles, standing in awe in the shadow of the Lost City of the Incas, I finally caught my breath at the same time the moment took my breath away.
Did you know?
In 2006 Mountain Lodges of Peru sponsored the creation of Yanapana Peru, a not-for-profit Civil Association dedicated to social and environmental responsibility. Yanapana is committed to improving the quality of life through sustainable community development, in an effort to reduce extreme poverty in the Andean Highlands. Main activities of the association include donations for the enhancement of nutrition and infrastructure at a local public school, funding and training for local entrepreneurs, which include jam and honey, handmade textiles and organic coffee production. Other supportive efforts are directed towards child sponsorship programs, as well as medical prevention, detection and treatment programs.