Machu Picchu – it’s mythical, it’s majestic, and it draws women worldwide into the empowering challenge of reaching it on foot. That mystique, kindled among the snow-capped Andes Mountains, calls adventurous women like you to brush the mud from their hiking boots and head to Peru with AdventureWomen for another unforgettable journey.
In November 2018, AdventureWomen Ambassador Eliza Hatch and her trail companions hiked the glorious and less-traveled 40-mile Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru like only AdventureWomen can. Here is her story…
By Eliza Hatch
“Last fall, after three months of training, I set off with 13 amazing women on the AdventureWomen lodge-to-lodge trek in Peru, culminating with a full day in Machu Picchu and side hike to Huayna Picchu. Our trekking days were challenging; hiking on constantly varying terrain while acclimatizing to the high altitude made each day feel unique and satisfying.
From Cuzco to Mollepata to Machu Picchu, our journey was an immersion into colorful Andean communities as much as it was a trek with killer views and a physical test of a woman’s grit and fitness! The journey to Machu Picchu began in Cuzco where everyone met for the first time, each woman feeling energized to start exploring Incan ruins. The Sacred Valley was our first stop because it’s the perfect introduction to the mysterious world of the Inca – a feast of impressive ruins that are about 600 years old. It’s also a good place to acclimatize; after landing in Cuzco (11,152’), you descend into the valley, which helps your body get used to altitude.
We walked above the ever-widening concentric stone circles of Moray where we tried envisioning what this really looked like as an early experimental agricultural station. The royal hilltop estate ruins of Pisaq included remains of temples, military structures, and terraced farmland! To say that the Inca were extraordinary craftsmen and ingenious farmers is almost an understatement. It really whet our appetites for the stone masterworks of Machu Picchu.
What are some of our earliest memories of this stretch? The lush panorama: gently sloping mountainsides, rushing rivers tumbling down from high in the forests, grazing llamas and alpaca, and enchanting farm towns.
After seeing these incredibly historic sights, the next step was a paced walk past more ruins of canals to reach the Camino Royal or Royal Path. A wonderful three-hour hike brought the Mount Salkantay glacier into view and our first lodge stay.
“It felt so luxurious to be the only tourists”
We went on an acclimatization hike up to Lake Humantay at 14,200’. The view of the turquoise water from above was spectacular; only our group was allowed to be up above the lake, though we were joined by a few curious cows.
A rainstorm rolled in, so we hiked back to the lodge, discussing how we planned to cover our floors with wet clothes so they’d dry in time for the next day. As we walked up to the warm, welcoming, comfortable lodge, we saw the best thing you could ever see as a wet hiker – a basket with a sign that said “WET CLOTHES”. The amazing lodge staff hung our clothes in a warm room to dry, allowing us to enjoy our evening by the fire. It felt so luxurious to be the only tourists within miles staying at this remote, unique lodge.
Receiving the shaman’s blessing
That evening, we sat down with a local shaman named Sebastian who performed a ceremony to bless Pachamama (Mother Earth) and each of us. It was an incredibly powerful experience in which we were encouraged to think about our three deepest hopes and receive the shaman’s blessing.
We felt like a family and a team
Of course, one of the biggest highlights of all was crossing the Salkantay Pass at 15,213’. After just over five hours of trekking across plateaus, around boulders, and up a set of switchbacks nicknamed the Siete Culebras, or Seven Snakes (there were many more than seven switchbacks, of course), we neared the top of the pass. We were all tired, sore, dirty, and feeling like we were going to climb forever, yet as I climbed those final feet, I had an overwhelming sense of pride that literally brought tears to my eyes. I knew how hard I had worked to get there, but I also knew how much harder some of the other women worked – to overcome injury, to train while juggling a family and full-time job, or to deal with the mental challenge of hiking for so long. I was so proud to be a part of this group of strong, independent, supportive, remarkable women, ranging in age from their early 30s to mid 60s; we felt like a family and a team.
“I had an overwhelming sense of pride that literally brought tears to my eyes.”
A magical experience
After several more days of hiking and a beautiful train ride, we arrived at Machu Picchu. If you haven’t been there, it IS everything you have imagined. It is inexplicably peaceful, calming, and also tremendously curious. Once an Incan emperor’s summer palace, enormous portions of the estate are still standing so we could explore the homes, outbuildings, the Citadel, and emperor’s residence, sparking our imagination about what their life was like. We were able to spend an entire day there – hiking Huayna Picchu in the morning, with some of the women facing an incredible fear of heights and feeling triumphant that they completed the hike, and then spending the afternoon learning the history of the site. By the end of the day, we were the last group in the Citadel as the sun started to go down. It was a magical experience.
“We arrived at Machu Picchu. If you haven’t been there, it IS everything you have imagined”
True to the AdventureWomen woman-to-woman cultural experience, we wrapped up our incredible trek with a train ride to Ollantaytambo to meet artisans of a women’s master weavers cooperative led by Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, a master weaver herself and the first woman from her village to attend university.
After being shown their bold array of beautiful handwoven traditional goods from dyed and natural wool, we were taught how to tell the difference between real alpaca wool and polyester imitations by touch. Cuzco welcomed us back to city life, providing time to reflect together on our newfound friendships and successful trek to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!”