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Michael’s Machu Picchu Travel Journal

First Ascent Trip Report: Machu Picchu Exclusive Lodge-to-Lodge Adventure

This is the way to visit Peru! I just returned from our Machu Picchu Exclusive Lodge-to-Lodge First Ascent adventure. It was an exciting new trip that had been in the works for nearly a year. An exclusive agreement was made with our partner in Peru to provide a unique and more comfortable experience on a rarely used route to Machu Picchu. Dan Austin asked me to take part in our first trip to assure the authentic Austin-Lehman Adventures stamp, representing our distinct style and attention to service, was firmly embossed on the trip from start to finish.

The newest and less frequented means to Machu Picchu is via the “Salkantay Route.” The trail descends through 16 different microclimates and passes below the glacier enshrouded peak of Apu Salkantay. The new route hugs mountainsides, ascends steep passes, and meanders through a blossoming jungle. Having worked in Peru for many years and walked the original Inca Trail more than 15 times, the biggest difference between the two trekking experiences that I noticed was the lodges.

While a tent and sleeping bag are inviting after a long day of hiking in the Peruvian Andes, nothing compares to sinking into a comfortable bed with a feathered duvet, a personal heater, and your own luxurious bathroom just steps from your bed. As opposed to camping, the exclusive lodges offer valuable amenities such as a jacuzzi, large beds, hot showers, electricity, snacks, a full bar, wonderful food and impeccable service.

Another great advantage to hiking the new route is the limited amount of foot-traffic it receives. In six days on our trip, we passed only two hikers. More frequently we encountered locals shepherding donkeys, horses, cows, and sheep on the trail. A hiker on the ‘classic’ Inca Trail can expect to see at least 500 fellow hikers each day! This new route climbs to greater heights than the classic trail, reaching over 15,000 ft above sea level, nearly three times the height of Denver. Most days we hiked at least six hours, if not eight. Though this hike is certainly not for the fainthearted, the rewards are beyond description.

At these heights, and with the consecutive days of extensive activity, training before coming on this trip is essential. The altitude can bring unforeseen difficulties, as shortage of oxygen can lead to occasional exhaustion, headaches, and general listlessness. This can be combated with locally produced coca tea, lots of water, and hiking at a personal pace. There is no need to worry, as oxygen is always on-hand, guides and staff are trained in CPR and First Aid, and even emergency horses are present in the unlikely event that a guest twists and ankle or knee.

The hike on the Salkantay Route is a bit longer than the classic trail, spanning five nights and six days, including the visit to Machu Picchu and an extra day to acclimate. On our first day, we hiked to an alpine lake where we found ourselves dwarfed by a snow-capped mountain hovering above the water, stretching over the jagged horizon. While sitting around the lake, absorbing the tranquility and natural beauty, an Andean Condor flew so close to us that we could nearly reach out and touch it, something neither our guide nor I had ever experienced before.

As we began our descent from the second lodge, we noticed a variation in the vegetation. Changing from hearty shrubs that embraced the ground for protection to lush plantations of tropical fruit trees, coffee, bamboo, and mosses of vibrant colors, the trail crossed rivers, streams, bridges, and traversed a part of the Andes that offers a glimpse into its wide-ranging diversity and natural beauty. With glaciers still visible in the distance, the Andean foothills are encased in such lush vegetation that, as I looked across the valley, I felt lost in the verdant abyss of the collective landscape.

As the descent continued, our surroundings become more tropical, coinciding with the vegetation of Machu Picchu which is located in the rainforest. This signaled that our trek was coming to a close. The following day we had our first glimpse of the Lost City of the Inca and an in-depth tour led by our local guide who covered the complexities of Machu Picchu and tied in what he’d discussed all week with our group. Anyone that so desired (and had enough energy left!) was also able to climb the two peaks at Machu Picchu.

Throughout the journey in Peru, there was such varied and amazing landscape that something new revealed itself every day – culturally, naturally, and personally. These rewards came in new and varied forms. Seeing Peru on our exclusive Lodge to Lodge trip is an experience that will leave you wondering why it took you so long to visit the Andes… and how quickly can you return.

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