The Salkantay Trek: acclimatization in Cusco

Early last year, we committed ourselves to what has, to date, been our most adventurous undertaking: the Salkantay Trek in Peru, from Cusco to Machu Picchu. And then the training began, which we posted very briefly about here.

Has it all been enough? In nine weeks we fly to Lima. A few days later we’ll head to Cusco (11,000 ft elevation), where we will acclimatize for three days (two is the recommended minimum) before beginning the trek. And then…well, we’ll see.

Seven days of hiking, officially billed as 37 miles but in reality–at least according to our Fitbits–was more like 60 miles in total. We had never before done anything as physically demanding as that.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be posting about the experience of the trek itself. But before any hiking begins, it’s strongly recommended to acclimatize for a couple of days in Cusco (11,254 ft.). We’re very glad we decided on three nights, as it was time enough to both recover from the altitude as well as see a few sights. I’m not sure whether we’ll ever find ourselves in Cusco again, but I definitely wouldn’t mind visiting this beautiful city again.

The Plaza de Armas–Cusco’s main square–is a visual reminder of the Spanish colonial history in this city, covering the area that was once called Huacaypata, a sacred plaza of the Incan empire. I’ve found various references to the Quechua name translated as both “square of warriors” and “square of tears.”

It’s a vibrant, bustling plaza at any time of day or night, and we enjoyed a glass of wine on the balcony of a quiet restaurant we found for lunch on our first full day, opposite the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, also known as Cusco Cathedral.

That day we also walked to the Mercado Central de San Pedro, where it seemed everyone in town was shopping, and you could certainly buy everything.

On day two, we set our sights on climbing to Saqsayhuamán (pronounced approximately like “sexy woman”, but not really), about a 45 minute walk uphill from the main square. We were rewarded for our efforts with spectacular views over Cusco, as well as a look around this hilltop fortress, with impressively large stones forming the base of the massive walls. It’s believed that some sections were built as early as 1100 A.D.

It was definitely a wonderful, sight-filled few days in Cusco, and a great start to our trek, which would begin the next morning. Stay tuned for Day 1 of the Salkantay.

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