The city of Cusco is the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, overthrown by the Spanish back in the 1500s. It is a beautiful fusion of Spanish colonial and Incan architecture. Many of the buildings still have original mortar-less stone walls from the time of Pachacutec Inka. My main problem with the city is actually it’s popularity. Machu Picchu has become such a heavily visited destination that Cusco, as the portal to the ancient ruin, has become overrun. Every corner has a tout asking if you want a tour, or to buy a painting or a massage. My favorite was a guy walking around selling peanut butter. There is plenty to see and do but I am here for one purpose: Machu Picchu. Ever since I saw it in an old National Geographic when I was 12, I have wanted to visit the mountain citadel.
Back in the 1990s, this was a serious adventure destintion; I found an old Lonely Planet guide from 1994 once that requested that you not have campfires within the ruins as it would “damage or stain the stone walls”. Nowadays the site is highly regulated and costs have skyrocketed. People can reach Machu Picchu as a day trip from Cusco, by way of a combination of bus and train. The other popular option is to take the Inca Trail, a 4 day trek along one of the old Inca roads. To do this option I would have had to book almost a year in advance. Anyone who has met me knows that planning more than a month or two in advance in my life is pushing it.
This left me with one of the alternative routes which would get me as far as Aguas Calientes, the small tourist town below Machu Picchu Mountain (think Banff in the jungle). I have decided to do the Salkantay trek, a 5 day hike that will lead me over a mountain pass, past the sacred Salkantay Mountain and down through a cloud forest into the Peruvian jungle and finally to Aguas Calientes. And because I want it to be a proper adventure, I have also decided to do this solo. There are plenty of tour companies that would take me as part of a trekking group, sending along an English-speaking guide and a mule train for gear, setting up my tent ahead of time each day and feeding me along the way. Way too easy, right?