Our Managing Director James McManus talks through our new Machu Picchu Trek, why we’ve changed it, and why taking the trip with us here at Earth’s Edge is the best choice for you.
The Ultimate Machu Picchu Trek
When we first started treks to Machu Picchu I never wanted to do the Royal Inca Trail. It’s a popular route that is often crowded and can almost be seen as an unadventurous and crowded Machu Picchu Trek. I always like to take clients someplace different and give them that special experience. In most of our destinations such as Elbrus, Aconcagua and Stok Kangri we get to offer people something a little different and I draw great pride in that. That’s why we have been doing the more remote Salkantay route to Machu Picchu over the last five years.
It’s such a wonderful trek but I felt we were still not offering that total experience of the Andes and Peru. I also felt for the travel time between Dublin and Cusco we were not spending enough days trekking. There are several different airlines that operate indirect flights from Ireland to Peru. All of which involve a 13-hour flight from either London, Paris, Amsterdam or Madrid to Lima. By the time you connect to one of those cites from Dublin in Europe and then connect to Cusco from Lima in Peru, it’s the bones of a two-day journey in each direction. On our old itinerary, we were spending four days travelling for only six days trekking, which was in my opinion not enough reward for all the travel time.
Changing our Machu Picchu Trekking Route
With that in mind in late 2018, I started researching a longer trek so we could add four or five days to our itinerary. Obviously, mountains and trekking routes are not uniform and it proved to be very difficult to find a route that suited. After a lot of research and a lengthy chat with my close friend and partner in Peru, Edgar we came up with the ultimate Machu Picchu trek. Edgar is a knowledgeable Quechua guide with over 20 years experience working in the Peruvian Andes so it was fantastic to work with him on the new itinerary design. It was he the first mentioned Choquequirao to me and it immediately piqued my interest.
When he told me about the ancient Inca site of Choquequirao, it immediately piqued my interest. When I heard less than a handful of tourists visit every day, I was determined to design an itinerary around visiting this lesser-known sister city of Machu Picchu. We came up with an epic 16-day itinerary which includes a 10-day trek that traverses the Andes between Choquequirao and Machu Picchu.
Choquequirao is the much lesser known sister city to the world-famous Machu Picchu, which obtained UNESCO world heritage site status in 1983. What makes Choquequirao special is it is twice the size of Machu Picchu and it gets a fraction of the visitors of Machu Picchu. Unlike Machu Picchu which is accessible to the masses by a rail and bus route, one must complete two tough days of trekking to reach Choquequirao.
As a result, visitor numbers for Choquequirao are roughly 3000-4000 per year compared to Machu Picchu’s 4000-5000 per day! This means we get all the time and space to explore this stunning city without the crowds. We have included a guided tour of all the main sites in Choquequirao including Ushno (ceremonial platform), Hauqaypata (main plaza), Urin (upper square) and have time to explore at our leisure unguided too.
Hiking from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu
The next challenge was to connect Choquequirao back to Machu Picchu, as let’s face it Machu Picchu is one of those must-see places! In order to connect the two sites, we designed a longer trek which is much tougher than the Salkantay trek. Instead of one high pass on the Salkantay trek, our new route has with several long ascents including two high passes standing at 4,150m and 4,668m. We also descend into deep river canyons and enjoy pristine mountain views on a route which gets much less traffic than the Salkantay or Royal Inca trails.
Without question, my favourite day on the Salkantay trek was the day we walked from Collpapampa to La Playa. The route is almost all flat or slightly downhill as we follow the Lluskamayu river on a beautiful trail through thick jungle. There is a huge amount of bird life and endless flowers to marvel at but as per the norm with me, the highlights are always food related!
After several hours on the trail, we pass through some small hamlets which all sell amazing avocados. Far from the small, hard, and stone-like specimens we get in Ireland these are proper ripe, soft and creamy avos. The farmers have spoons you can borrow and salt at the ready which makes for the best snack while on the trail.
Once we reach La Playa we head straight to Fredie’s coffee farm for lunch. However, it’s no ordinary lunch. Upon arrival, they introduce us to Pachamanca – a traditional and very tasty Inca dish which involves slow cooking spiced meat and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves and buried in the earth with hot stones. After inspecting the Pachamanca we go on a short coffee tour learning about the entire coffee process from planting to roasting our own coffee at the end of the tour. When we have devoured the Pachamanca and get all buzzed up on coffee we continue on to our campsite in Santa Teresa. From there we head to the natural hot springs, which is the perfect way to end a great day and soothe tired legs.
The good news is we have managed to plan our route from Choquequirao to Machu Picchu and still include this amazing day. The same goes for all the other highlights of our old itinerary, including plenty of time for shopping in Cusco, visiting the women’s co-op in the Sacred Valley and of course plenty of time to explore Machu Picchu.
Cusco and Rainbow Mountain
With our new itinerary increasing from 11 to 16 days, we’ve included an optional day tour to Rainbow mountain. We have added a spare day in Cusco at the end of our new Machu Picchu Trek itinerary so you can choose to relax and explore Cusco for the day or take a day trip to Rainbow mountain. Rainbow mountain known locally as Vinicunca is a stunning natural site created by layers of sedimentary rock of different mineralogy eroding due to weather.
We now have four nights in Cusco on our itinerary two before the trek and two after. The two at the start are essential to allow enjoy time to acclimatise properly before we start trekking. Over the years we have received a lot of feedback from clients that they would love an extra night in Cusco at the end itinerary so it’s been great to fit it in. Cusco is a stunning city to explore with so many Inca and colonial sites to visit. My favourite spot in the city by far is the San Blas market. Although only a five-minute walk from the main square, this traditional market is the real heart of the city. You can find all types of produce there but the range of fresh fruit and veg available is particularly impressive. It’s a great place to stock up on fruit and nuts for the trek. There are also food stalls where you can sit and eat traditional food with the locals which I would highly recommend if you want to get a real authentic meal in Cusco.
All in our new Peruvian itinerary taking in Choquequirao, Machu Picchu and Rainbow mountain is the very best itinerary available and I look forward to sharing the experience with you in 2019.
To find out more about our Machu Picchu Trek, you can use the contact form on the right-hand side, or you can book your place directly on our Machu Picchu Adventure page.