Peru Trekking: How to Hike with a Bunch of Strangers and Have a Great Time

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After having been trekking before in Nepal and back in the US, I set my bar high while on the Salkantay Trek with Killa Expeditions. Even though it seemed impossible, they seemed to raise that bar, and Peru as a whole left us speechless, with its kind culture, rainforests, and even rainbow colored mountains. We had a large group to accommodate for—13 to be exact!—and before this trip I had only known Maria and Chaniel through instagram. (Thank goodness for girls who love mountains as much as you do!) It turned out to be the biggest learning experience traveling with so many people, and we made memories that will last a lifetime.

The trip kicked off with the 13 of us all meeting in Cusco from all over the US. Maria and Stacey came from Seattle, I came from Portland, and the other large part travelled from Minnesota. We were all happy to arrive safely, along with our bags! Theft is a major problem at the Lima airport and smaller regions, so pack accordingly while flying with nice camping gear.

The streets in Cusco immediately had our full attention, and we took two days to acclimatize and explore the city. They are beautiful cobblestone, winding up and around all different directions, the walls are colorful, the people and their handmade goods are stunning. Excitement levels were high.

We spent the next two days…

partying acclimitizing to the high altitude.

We explored all corners of the city, drinking plenty of hangover soup at Pariwana Hostel Cusco (Party Wanna). HOLY WOW, the Peruvians know how to make soup. It was such a different experience having a restaurant at a hostel— since i’m so used to backpacking and cooking my own meals, but everything was so cheap it was nice to not have to worry about this.

The San Pedro Market downtown Cusco quickly became a favorite. As everyone began to trickle in on different flights, we would meet at the hostel and take them to the market. We all bought handmade alpaca sweaters, bracelets, and stocked up on dried fruit and nuts for the trek.

The first night consisted of a cozy dinner at Iznkazuela. Prepare your tastebuds for this stew!! We had a great time sipping cocoa beer and warming up in this cozy restaurant.

Other restaurants we thoroughly enjoyed before/after the trek in Cusco were:

  • Greens: incredible smoothies, frequented every morning. Metal straws were a nice touch!

  • Organika: the path to get you there will have your legs burning but your heart will be happy walking the old streets and enjoying this delicious menu.

  • Pachapapa: known for roasting Cuy, guinea pigs (a locals favorite), grass fed alpaca dishes, and a large selection of organic wines from the Cusco region. We listened to a local play his harp and sipped on a spicy grenache on their patio.

Peru has one of the greatest biodiversities in the world, due to the presence of such dramatic geographical features as the coast, Andes, and Amazon River. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into on the Salkantay Trek due to my lack of planning, but every. single. day. it got better and better.

Salkantay Trek

This trek took us to spectacular landscapes, where mountains, Inca ruins, waterfalls, and jungles are plentiful. The icing on the cake is exploring the last day at Machu Picchu. This trek is approximately 60 km (37 miles) and has a total of 4,600 m (15,092 ft.) of elevation gain.

We opted for the 5 day trek with Killa Expeditions after finding their impressive instagram feed (58k and growing). After speaking with the owners of Killa, Nicole and Jose, we knew we wanted to trek with them. They follow responsible tourism practices to a T, and have an impressive amount of sustainable commitments. They set the bar for the tourism industry in Cusco, and it is obvious why. Their expertise of their guides, efficiency of their company as a whole, and effectiveness in leading green, eco friendly treks had us hooked. We were also amazed with how easy it was for them to accommodate us all.

(photos courtesy of Thatcher Brusilow)

Frank deserves his own blog post, but to sum things up, I think we got the best guide anyone could ask for. Many of us had previously trekked in Nepal, Morocco, New Zealand, and Patagonia on guided expeditions, and we collectively agreed that Frank went above and beyond what we’re used to, which is saying a lot. He was funny, helpful, knowledgeable, and made for an unforgettable team leader.

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Frank, teaching us how to turn ichu grass into rope

@franklinaragonvillagra

We all appreciated the small touches–the hot cocoa and popcorn happy hours, tea in the morning tent-side, tasting fresh fruits along the trek, and even surprising one in our group with a birthday cake and wine.

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Takeaways from the Salkantay Trek

1. The days in the Jungles were just as cool if not better, than days in the mountains. The humidity made them a little bit tougher in my opinion… but I loved stopping to catch my breath and hear all the unique sounds of the birds in the trees. Frank made these days so special by giving us samples of berries… and letting me borrow his trekking poles when I hurt my ankle. (Seriously he’s the best.)

Aren’t they so cute?

2. If there is a furpal to be found…. LEAVE IT TO ME TO FIND IT. I seriously don’t think there has been a country i’ve traveled to and not made a new animal friend. When we were walking through the Santa Teresa Valley we stopped to visit a coffee plantation, tasted banana, frozen passion fruit popsicles, and played with some adorable puppies and kittens. They sure put us all in good spirits which we were in need of after three full days of trekking!

3. Trekking is more than just getting to your destination. On the fourth day some of us decided to skip going to the hot springs and instead relax back at the village. The kids came out to play with us and we showed them the drone, played soccer, did cartwheels. It was probably my favorite experience of the trek.

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4. You don't want to skimp out on the details when you are booking a trek. The gear that Killa has is QUALITY. We found that while other companies had 'cheaper rates', there were ethical questions on our end on how they could afford to pay all their guides and staff at a fair rate and get us to our destination. You can sleep well and warm at night knowing that you are paying for an experience that is well worth the money. We were given thick blankets every night along with hot water bottles to bring into our tents.

Our campsite the 1st night on the Salkantay Trek

From the start of the trek, we got introduced to our team of cooks and horseman, and they were all smiles throughout the trek. Custino was our head chef and cooked THE BEST MEALS I’ve ever experienced in the outdoors. Another Killa Expeditions brag: they don’t use paper or plastic plates, cups, or utensils, and make a conscious effort to buy from the local farmers. The recycling efforts we witnessed on the trail were more advanced than what is witnessed at home most of the time. Keep it up Killa!

Our day up at Machu Picchu was foggy and beautiful, but i’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exausted. If you are considering to plan a trip and really want to make the most of this sacred site, stay hydrated and eat a BIG breakfast. We made this mistake and it made the day much tougher.

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The entire experience was one we will never forget. Luckily I had a few extra days and decided to head to Huacachina with Kyla and Stacey. We landed in Lima expecting their would be a bus straight to Huacachina, but quickly realized that wasn’t the case. With only 30 min free wifi at the Lima airport we were tested on our ability to think on our feet. Spoiler alert: We made it!

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I’ll have to save this beautiful place for the next blog post. Until next time!

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