Oh the Salkantay Trail. You were all I wanted for 5 days and more.
When most people think of trekking to Machu Picchu, they’ll usually conjure up thoughts about walking the Inca Trail, stumbling upon ruins each day, and sharing each day and night with a guide and fellow travelers. That’s definitely not our experience on the Salkantay.
The Salkantay Trail is a 60.5km (37.5 miles), 5-day endeavor leading to Machu Picchu. (Compare that to the 4-day 45km/26 mile Inca Trail). To be clear, one of the biggest differences with the Salkantay (and one of the things I worried about before we left for Peru) is that, instead of coming through the infamous Sun Gate on that final morning, you’ll walk directly from the over-touristy Aguas Calientes. But, honestly, if you’re looking to go at it solo, are willing to give up some ruin-hopping along the way (there are plenty of ruins to see in the Sacred Valley before or after your trek), and are ready for some pretty incredible views, the Salkantay may be for you.
While we (a friend and I) went ahead and did the trek solo – after a lot of deliberation up to the last minute – there are plenty of companies that offer guided treks. I’d recommend waiting until you’re in Cusco to book anything, as the entire area around Plaza de Armas is filled with tour booking offices and you’ll be able to pick the best fit, and usually get a better deal than if you booked online before arriving. The cheapest tour we found ran around $180/person, up to about $550/person and higher.
If you’re in the Balkans and looking for a (relatively) easy, off-the-beaten track day-hike to the tallest mountain in the country, you should make it out to Durmitor National Park for a short trek up Bobotov Kuk.
So, after a decently adventure-filled day of biking and hiking the day before, today it was time to hike the tallest mountain in Montenegro – Bobotov Kuk. The whole reason I’d come to Montenegro (OK, there are obviously many more thingsto do in Montenegro, but with my short amount of time and desperate need for more nature, this was it).
Somehow another guy from the hostel and I ended up as the only ones without a ride from hostel host Alex to the start of the Bobotov Kuk hike. Undeterred, we of course took matters into our own hands. There was no way either of us was leaving Montenegro without climbing to this peak. So, after a hearty breakfast, we set out (with the dogs in tow) to the parking lot next to the supermarket. A few attempts later of calling out “Seblo? Seblo. Seblo?” (the town where we would start the hike) to anyone who would listen, I got some help from a woman running a newsstand. She agreed to call a taxi driver and within a few minutes we were off in his car, with a taste of local Montenegrin music for extra flair.
If you like hiking, consider yourself pretty adventurous, and like getting off the beaten track, you have to make it to Durmitor National Park in Montenegro. Formed by glaciers, the Tara River Canyon is the deepest in Europe, and makes for some gorgeous views.
I started out my trip to Montenegro mostly unplanned. At 1am, in typical non-planning-backpacker fashion, I was sitting around my hostel in Mostar, Bosnia, with one other Australian backpacker, curled up on the couch writing down all my bus times to get to Sarajevo the next morning. I had “planned” (because any sort of planning when you’re mostly just deciding on a whim which place to go next is always up for change) to go on to Durmitor National Park in Montenegro after Sarajevo for 1 quick day of hiking. I knew it wouldn’t be enough, but at this point in the trip, I was really trying to squeeze everything in. After a last minute move to check the weather, though, I realized the one day I had marked off for Montenegro hiking was expected to be a fully wet one with 90% chance of rain. Back to the drawing board – made a whole new page of bus times and routes to go to Zabljak, Montenegro at 7am instead of Sarajevo, and with that, snuck back into my dark hostel room, packed up last minute things, and crept into bed.
One mistake I did make (not even sure why because this is the first time I decided to do it) was purchasing my bus ticket online. Note: especially in these areas, it’s much easier to just buy your ticket at the station. Buses and trains were never full, and showing up with an online reservation and no printed ticket usually just causes more hassle. Sure enough, at my stopover in Nikšić, I had to buy a new ticket (only 5€ luckily) since the attendant wouldn’t accept my email confirmation. Luckily, the bus driver at the station in Mostar was extremely helpful, and even walked with me over to a tourist office near the station to ask them to print my ticket for me, reassuring me in broken English “Is OK. Is OK. Don’t worry” the whole time, as if caring for a lost, injured songbird. That’s about how I looked I’m sure.Continue reading “Montenegro: stray dogs, deep canyons, and biking without brakes”
The next day’s hike was definitely the hardest of all, as expected. It was marked a “black” trail in the ranking (which really only varies between red and black), and it does deserve that marking. We started off with about 1,000m almost straight up, usually with the help of iron wiring, steep steps, or just good ol fashioned uphill. It was fun, though, and if you’re decently in shape and not too afraid of heights, this might be one of your favorite days.
Highlights: the Eagle Statue, Weiner Schnitzel, and a quiet inn
After finding out about the Almatrieb festival, which is when all the cows come down from the mountains for the winter and get all dressed up and people celebrate in town with drinks and music and markets, I mostly decided to come back to Kufstein for Saturday and cut the 7-day hiking plan short. I just couldn’t pass this up. So, after breakfast downstairs at the inn, we headed out for another 2 days (Stages 4 and 5) before hoping to take a train back to Kufstein Saturday morning.
Stage 4 was gorgeous. We set out walking across town to the bus station, where we got tickets to Unterlangkampfen, where the trail started. It wasn’t fully clear where to get off the bus or where the trail started, but luckily we got off by a church, and that was just about where the trail started.
We headed straight up for a good while, with views back down on the towns below. We even came across a water source and an old bench on the way up.
Highlights: Almdudler, Kaiserschmarrn, and Chairlifts
The next morning, a little groggier after our late night of jagertee and schnapps, we woke up for breakfast at the Pension, another plate of meats, cheeses, breads, and yogurt. We met Anja, our new guide for the day (well, really, Deb’s guide, who was gracious enough to take us along for the ride). A gregarious, body-building type,she may have had a bit too much gusto for our tired faces first thing that morning, but I’m definitely glad we had her. Our first ascent wasn’t too bad (not at all like the first day), and mostly took us through wooded paths and then into open alpine pastures. We did pass little huts selling fresh buttermilk and other fresh goods along the way, which was a nice change of pace from the first day where we didn’t pass anything open until our drink stop). Continue reading “Hiking the Adlerveg: Day 3 (Hintersteinersee – Kufstein)”
The next morning, I headed down for breakfast early- hot coffee, a plate of meats and cheeses and breads, and of course butter, Nutella, and jam. I talked more to the American woman and to another German guy who’d stayed in his room the night before. Turns out, the American woman, Deb, is a travel writer and she was waiting for her guide for the day. She was also heading the same way I was, as was this new German guy. While I was planning to get through 2 stages that day, I agreed to start with them and just keep moving on half way through the day.
The 6 days I spent in Tyrol definitely proved to be very different than I imagined.
I set out from Innsbruck on Monday morning, after stopping by the Alpine Club to get any additional info I could. The guy at the Alpine Club was helpful and seemed to know the route pretty well. But, in broken English, he kept pointing at the map gesturing his hand in a “so-so” waving way, saying the weather wouldn’t be great and he wouldn’t recommend setting out, but that I could start today if I really wanted. I’m stubborn, so he told me where to go down the street to buy some detailed maps from the bookstore (this may have been my most reckless move of the trip so far, but I at least wanted to take as many smart precautions as I can). I grabbed those, and a bright red Mammut raincover at the sports shop next door, and set off for the train station to make it to my starting point: Sankt Johann. Hoping to beat the impending storms, I looked forward to some alone time on my gutsy solo venture. Lots of time to think, I figured.