One cool October morning in Peru, I stood at the trailhead of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, as my guide Hipolito prepared our group for the five-day journey to come.
“A while back, I read a book,” Hipolito shared. “It said that in life, if you meet someone along the trail, it means the trail is talking to you. The Salkantay talks to you. You’re here, and afterward, you’re going to be a different person.”
With the whole trek still ahead of me — a total of 75km (46 mi) — I wasn’t sure how accurate Hipolito’s words might prove to be. But as our journey progressed, bringing us ever closer to the ancient heart of the Inca Empire, I started to see they held some truth.
Every moment along the way — bonding with fellow trekkers over cups of coca tea in the morning, building an offering of stones at the Salkantay Pass, breaking open fresh golden passionfruit once we reached the rainforest — was another layer of our experience. And like rings on a tree, these layers slowly accumulated and grew in meaning, so that by the time we reached Machu Picchu, I was different.
I’d felt my lungs gasp for air on impossibly steep switchbacks, and gazed up in amazement at sacred snow-capped peaks. And when I finally walked through the main gate of Machu Picchu, I knew the view was one I couldn’t have appreciated quite so much had I not spent the last four days slogging through rain, snow, mud and humid jungle heat to reach it.
I hope the following illustrated map of my experience on the Salkantay Trek inspires you to consider a journey to Machu Picchu — and to discover how the trail might change you, too.