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A Gay Travel Hike to Machu Picchu
Hike one of the most remarkable trails in the entire world on our gay Incan Trails tour on the Salkantay Glacier route. Experience breathtaking views while hiking and camping for four days in a land of enchanting mystery. Our reward after hiking past glaciers, tropical forests, ancient temples and small villages is our destination: Machu Picchu, Lost City of the Incas. Read The Gay Travel Blog about this Hike.
If you prefer a warm hotel bed and a more relaxing train and bus journey to Machu Picchu, consider our Machu Picchu Luxury Tour.
At its peak the Inca Empire stretched for hundreds of miles up and down the spine of the Andes, with a complex web of trails connecting villages, cities, and shrines. A haven for serious hikers and explorers, the area surrounding Machu Picchu in Peru offers natural beauty, history and enchanting mystery. Each day our gay hiking group will ascend and descend the Salkantay Inca Trail to witness new vistas, see incredible ruins (only visible by walking the trail) and live in the actual footsteps of those who built this path nearly 600 years ago. Each day the anticipation of seeing the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu itself, will pull us upward into the clouds, then down the forested slopes to the citadel. Before and after our hike we will also spend time touring Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley.
The exquisite vistas and remarkable sites along the trails of the Incas have attracted intrepid trekkers for the past several decades. The Salkantay Inca Trail provides a physical challenge which rewards hikers with views of Machu Picchu from a rare vantage point. Our ten-day tour offers a taste of Peru with an emphasis on hiking the Incan Trails and discovering the history of the Incas.
Please note exact itinerary for tour days in Lima and Cusco may be subject to change. A special thanks to our clients David, Ryan, Rick, Mike, and Michael for sharing beautiful photos from their journeys!
Days 1-2: Lima, Peru
Most tour members arriving during the evening of Day 1 or early in the morning of Day 2. For anyone in Lima during the afternoon of Day 1, we offer an optional half-day excursion to the nearby ruins of Pachacamac for an additional charge.
After breakfast on Day 2, we will hop on bikes for take a cycling tour of Lima city including: the Plaza Mayor, the Government Palace, the Cathedral and Archbishop’s Palace. We will also enjoy a visit to a collection of Inca and Pre-Inca arts and artifacts, and tour the Larco Herrara Museum with its extensive erotic art collection. Our lunch and dinner will be at two of the restaurants that have put Lima on the international culinary map.
Days 3-4: Breathe Deep: Cusco, the High Altitude Incan Capital
This morning we take a short flight from Lima to Cusco. After arrival in Cusco, we will check into our deluxe Cusco hotel and begin adjusting to the altitude in preparation for our upcoming mountain trek. Cusco is a lovely colonial city with plenty of diversions, and a chance to slow down and enjoy Andean hospitality, after our long days of hiking. On our arrival day, lunch will be on your own, but we will gather for a special dinner in a nearby museum.
During our full day in Cusco, we will have a city tour featuring Santo Domingo Monastery, the Cathedral and the Temple of the Sun. We will also head a bit out of town to visit the ancient walled complex of Sacsayhuaman, known for its tightly formed walls made of massive stones, and held together without mortar.
The evening will be free to check out the hip San Blas neighborhood where you can roam the ancient streets and shop at the square that is filled with native art galleries and craft booths. Cusco’s main square also features lovely shops and tempting restaurants, where you can stop for dinner, which is on your own today.
Day 5: Footsteps of History: Hiking the Salkantay Inca Trail
From approximately 1450 to 1530, the western coast of South America flourished under the vast Incan Empire. At the height of their reign, the Inca were worthy of comparison to the ancient Roman society. Their many achievements include superior roadways, government, and counting systems. Lasting roughly a century, the Inca culture was highly sophisticated, but most information about them was lost during the time of Spanish conquest. Today archaeologists continue to uncover some of the buried mysteries to further our knowledge of the Inca, and during our trek, we will discover more about this fascinating culture. The following itinerary is typical of the trek but may fluctuate based on weather conditions, campsites available and the progress of the group.
We have an early departure today and a half-day drive toward our trailhead at Challacancha (12,690 feet). We’ll stop in Limatambo, an ancient Incan town with fascinating ruins at Tarawasi. We will also pause for coffee in the village of Mollepata before continuing up our winding mountain road to Challacancha We’ll meet our horsemen and the horses that will carry our overnight gear, and begin our hike, gradually ascending to the base of Mount Salkantay. Our campsite tonight is at Soyrococha (13,800 feet) in a dramatic setting with a magnificent view of Salkantay Mountain, the second most sacred peak to the Incas, and its glacier (warm clothing is a must, along with a strudy poncho in the event of rain!).
Day 6: High Mountain Pass
We depart early after breakfast and start a 1.5 hour ascent to the Salkantay Mountain Pass (4,638 meters/15,213 feet), the highest point of our hike. Here, in addition to the stunning views of the surrounding glaciers of the Vilcabamba Mountain Range, we can observe chinchillas and condors in their natural habitat. From the pass we start our long, gradual descent toward the Urubamba River valley, with the tree line below us. We move slowly, not only to maintain our breathing and walking rhythm, but also to enjoy the outrageous mountain views. We will pause for lunch at Wayracmachay, then continue hiking along the flowing water of the Salkantay River.
At lower altitudes we will find a more tropical climate and a cloud forest where white slips appear out of nowhere, only to dissolve like a magic handkerchief and leave us with a perfect patch of blue sky. As the air warms, we will also see more butterflies and the occasional orchid. In the late afternoon we reach our camp at Andenes (9,481 feet). This is a beautiful spot surrounded by vegetation. We may also catch a glimpse of the very rare que-ua tree found only here in the Andes.
Day 7: A surprising range of climates in the Andes
Today’s hike is an easier walk through the Santa Teresa River valley, a more populated area with small villages of farmers who grow bananas, granadilla, avocados and some of the best organic coffee in the world. Along the trail we will have a hot picnic lunch. After another hour of hiking, we will take a vehicle for a half-hour or so to the trailhead for the new “Llactapata Inca Trail. We will follow this trail to our last campsite of Lucmabamba, where a local family will host us for a demonstration of the local coffee.
Day 8: Our first view of Machu Picchu
After breakfast, we begin our last trekking day. We hike mostly uphill for 2-3 hours to Llactapata Pass (8,974 feet), where we pause to explore the Incan Llactapata Ruins. And when we head up a short distance further to El Mirador, we will be treated to a rarely seen perspective of the legendary Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu from downriver, along with an incredible view back toward Salkantay Mountain.
We enjoy a final picnic lunch here, then begin a two-hour descent to the Aobamba River valley with its bamboo forests, coffee plantations and orchards. Our destination is the hydroelectric plant of Machu Picchu. Depending on timing, we will take a train for the last stretch of our trek, or walk along the tracks to the village of Aguas Calientes. There we will check into our hotel for the night, shake the dust off our clothes, enjoy a hot shower, and replace our sleeping bags with soft hotel beds at one of the finest hotels in the village.
Day 9: Exploring Machu Picchu
We wake up early and board a bus up to Machu Picchu itself. The ancient city atop the mountains at 8,000 feet seems untouched since being inhabited by the Incas. Because of its remote location, the Spanish conquistadors missed Machu Picchu and it became a refuge for the escaping Incas during the time of conquest. Amazingly preserved temples still stand with huge walls of artistically carved white granite. Every turn offers another view, another photo opportunity, or another chance to absorb the magic and the history that make this place so special.
Upon arrival our guide will give us a tour of the Inca citadel for about two hours. We will then have free time to walk around or climb up the rocky pinnacle of Huayna Picchu Mountain (pending availability of tickets) where one can appreciate spectacular views of all of Machu Picchu, the valleys and the surrounding mountains. Alternatively, you can visit the Temple of the Moon, the Sun Gate, and/or the famous Inca Bridge, or just relax and meditate.
In the afternoon, we meet in the town of Aguas Calientes to collect our luggage, board our train toward the Sacred Valley then transfer in a bus to our hotel.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a beautiful stretch of villages and ancient ruins spread across a broad plain beneath the gentle mountain slopes northwest of Cusco. The area is home to several grand haciendas, Inca temples, and quaint villages. It is also a fertile valley and major center of agricultural production for the region. With the Urubamba River as its source, native Andean crops such as white corn, coca, potatoes, and other fruits and vegetables flourish in expansive fields and along spectacularly terraced mountain slopes. We will have dinner at our hotel in the Urubamba Valley then get a good rest in our warm beds.
Day 10: Touring the Sacred Valley
Today is our last day, and we’ll make the most of it! This morning we visit the Ollantaytambo ruins, a massive Inca fortress. We’ll have a picnic lunch today in order to allow time for a special visit to Moray. Here we’ll marvel at the enormous terraced pits (theories suggest that these pits were dug to allow experiments with agriculture in varying conditions – but all in one place). We next visit the nearby Maras Salt Pans that look like a series of rice paddies aligned on a hillside – but the intricate irrigation system is actually to leave salt residue behind instead of irrigating rice crops as would be found in Asia.
Afterward, we will transfer to Cusco to head to the airport. An afternoon flight to Lima is included in the tour fee. (If you have a flight home from Lima between noon and 6 pm, please be sure we book an earlier flight for you.) For those with late-night flights, we are happy to arrange a room at a hotel by the airport for resting before heading to the airport.
Extension: You may extend your trip with additional time in Lima or Cusco or by adding on a private tour to the Amazon or Lake Titicaca. Please check with us if you are interested in a adding a post-tour expedition to your Peru adventure.
Price includes: Arrival transfer from Lima Airport to Lima hotel; All accommodations in hotels and tents each night; Tents and camping gear for three nights during the trek; All breakfasts, 8 lunches, 7 dinners; All group transfers and other ground transportation within Peru; Lima-Cusco-Lima flights; Departure taxes for flights within Peru; Tips for included meals, city guides, drivers, hotel luggage handling, Inca Trail cook and assistant guide; Hotel service charges and taxes. HE Travel provides complimentary Medical & Evacuation Insurance for every US Resident on our group tours who does not have other coverage.
Not included: International Airfare; Departure taxes for international flights (usually included in the ticket price, but occasionally charged as approximately $40USD separately); 1 lunch and 1 dinner; Tipping to main guide and porters on Inca Trail (est. $150 per traveler), and to HE Travel tour director; Personal items including: alcoholic beverages, snacks, laundry, and telephone calls.
Optional Tour Choices:
$1100 Single Supplement (for solo travelers who wish to enjoy a private bedroom and bathroom at hotels; note that tents for the three camping nights may be 2-person tents)
$90 Pachacamac Ruins Excursion
“HE Travel made my first attempt at organized tours for this Machu Picchu adventure amazing! Accommodations and food were outstanding including the vegan selection I needed. The experienced tour operators made traveling and group activities smooth, fun, and instructive.” – Yann Antonioli, Scotts Valley, CA
“Hiking the Inca Trail with my boyfriend is an experience that I will never forget! The history came to life as we walked among the ruins and learned about the inspiring history of the Andean people. And the camping was great! The food on the trail was incredible. Where else do you get served hot tea when you wake up in the morning?!?” — Ryan P., Colombus, OH
“The moment we had our first glance at Machu Picchu I was overwhelmed with emotions for accomplishing such a trek but also for seeing such an amazing site.” — J. Ralston, New York, NY
“I travel a lot, and have visited all seven continents. This trip was one of the best ever.” – John Kelly, Denver CO
“The Inca Trail trip was everything I expected it to be: challenging, exhilarating and spectacular. Our group developed a great camaraderie and we all had a FABULOUS time!”— Brian Farmer, San Francisco, CA
“No pictures can prepare you for the experience …after four days of hiking in the Andes – and seeing Machu Picchu for the first time. A breathtaking, tear inducing, goose bump experience.”— Bob Tuschman, New York, NY
Most of our trips draw more single travelers than couples. When couples do join us, it’s usually because they’re looking forward to interacting with a gay group; if they wanted a holiday by themselves, they wouldn’t have signed up to travel with us. Furthermore, the activities included with our trips serve as natural ice-breakers. Within a day, you’ll be traveling with friends. You don’t need to pay the single supplement if you’re traveling alone. We’ll be happy to match you with a roommate. Pay the single supplement only if you want a bedroom to yourself.
For selected trips, including cruises, we will charge half the single supplement if you request a roommate but we can’t match you with someone.
This tour starts and ends in Lima, Peru.
This trip includes very strenuous hiking at high altitudes. You should be prepared to hike for several hours each day, carrying a day pack. (Camping and meal supplies will be carried by local porters and on horseback.) We will be camping along the trail for three nights, often in primitive conditions. Temperature can vary on a daily basis from extremely warm to freezing. We highly recommend bringing walking sticks.
We will supply sleeping mats, tents, all kitchen and bathroom facilities (they may be primitive but they’ll work!) and sleeping bags on request (let us know when you choose your options). You may want to bring your own pillow or pillowcase to fill with a sweatshirt. Your own water bottle and lightweight backpack is recommended as well.
Unless you live in Denver or another higher altitude location it is not easy to prepare for mountain hiking. The best thing you can do is to be sure you are in good physical shape. Aerobic exercises such us running, cycling, and even long walks can help to boost your endurance and stamina. Still there is no substitute for the thin air of high-altitude hikes, so that is why we schedule a day to get acclimated before we start the trek.
If you’re asking the question, you should probably get light- or medium-weight boots. But first, consider how much you’ll wear them, and under what conditions.
Light-weight hiking boots (weighing up to 2-3/4 lbs. per pair) are made of synthetic materials, or a combination of leather and synthetic. The lighter weight means less work for your feet over a day of hiking, and the fabric breaks in faster than leather. These boots are fine for day hikes on good trails in dry conditions. If you expect to hit occasional snow, mud, or rain, be sure they have waterproof liners.
A step up are medium-weight boots, weighing 3 to 4 lbs. per pair. These are made with more leather, or sturdier synthetics. They offer more support and better resistance to the elements. For a week of day hikes in varied but generally dry conditions, these are ideal.
Boots that weigh over 4 lbs. are classified as — you guessed it –heavy-weight. These boots are serious, all-weather footwear. They’ll take longer to break in, and the leather requires special care. They’re probably not the best choice for your first pair of hiking boots. But once you’ve broken them in, they’ll last almost indefinitely, and provide more support than the others. Your ankles will appreciate the extra protection when you’re scrambling over scree. They’re more expensive, but heavy-weight leather boots can be re-soled, making them a worthwhile long-term investment for serious hikers.
You cannot attach crampons to light-weight boots, nor to many medium-weights. If you’ll often be hiking on glaciers, be sure your crampons and boots are compatible. If you’re just planning an occasional day of glacier hiking at some point, you’re probably better off renting boots for that occasion, rather than buying more boot than you really need.
The usual rule of thumb is to walk at least 50 miles in your new boots before wearing them for an extended hike.
Start with short walks. You don’t want to get halfway into a 15-mile hike and realize you’ve got a new blister forming. Wear the boots when you walk to work, to the grocery store, to do errands. When that seems comfortable, do a few short hikes in them. Aim for a couple of 10-mile day hikes in these boots before you head out for a full week.
If you’re buying heavy-duty or all-leather boots, 50 miles may not be enough. Purchase them well in advance, so you can be sure they’re broken in before you undertake a multi-day hiking trip.
The lighter the boots (and the higher the proportion of fabric to leather), the easier it will be to break them in. But ignore anyone who says light-weight boots don’t need any break-in time. They do; furthermore, your feet need time to gradually adjust to them. Finally, if you bought the wrong size, you want to figure that out before you’re in the middle of a long hiking trip.
Your boots will probably be most comfortable if you lace them a bit looser at the toes and inseams, and tighter at the ankles. (Reverse that when walking downhill, so your toes don’t slide into the tip of the boot.) Experiment till you’re comfortable. Keeping your toenails trimmed will also help ensure a comfortable fit.
You need to be sure you’ll get enough water as you hike. Chances are you will not need to purify water while on the trail. Our porters will provide boiled water each morning and evening for you to fill your water bottles. You can also purchase bottled water for the first two days on the trail from locals who sell from their homes. But if you prefer to be self-sufficient, the following procedures should help.
Staying well-hydrated is key to enjoying your hikes, keeping your energy level high, and staying healthy. As in many sports, the rule is: Drink before you are thirsty. In many areas, that simply means carrying one or two 1-liter water bottles and refilling them at rest areas that have tap water available.
Unfortunately, there are few places left in the world where you can assume that water in an outdoor stream or pond is safe to drink. You should assume that all water outdoors requires purification. If tap water won’t be available, there are two popular ways of meeting your needs.
Iodine tablets are dissolved in a liter of water, and will kill giardia and other organic agents. Chemical contaminants are not removed by iodine treatment, and it shouldn’t be used by pregnant women or people with certain health conditions — see the bottle for details. Nor is it a good idea for prolonged use. But a bottle of 50 tablets is small and portable, and works well for short trips or as an emergency backup. A second tablet, usually sold on an adjacent hook at the outdoors or camping supply store, will neutralize the unpleasant iodine taste.
Water filters use a hand pump to force water through a filter. These have made great progress in the past decade, but are still subject to clogging and breakdowns. Many campers and hikers prefer filters over water tablets. Always try out your new filter (and, for that matter, any new equipment) before you go hiking with it, and carry tablets as backup.
Backpackers sometimes boil water to kill any microbes. This requires carrying a camp stove and fuel, then drinking hot or warm water. It’s not a suitable approach for most day hikers.
Even in the city, you can find ways to get in better shape for the week. Any aerobic exercise will make a difference, even more so if your hiking will be at a higher altitude than you’re accustomed to. A great way to get in shape for hiking in hilly terrain is climbing stairs. Got an office on the 50th floor? You’re in luck.
If you feel a hot spot on your foot as you hike, take action before a blister forms. Never continue hiking if you feel trouble developing; it will only get worse. You may simply have a wrinkle in your sock, or a small stone or twig that’s rubbing. If a blister seems to be starting, cover the area with moleskin or a protective coating such as “Second Skin”.
Despite that, a blister may develop. Standard treatment is to pop it with a sterilized needle. (Use a flame, or rubbing alcohol, for sterilization.) Then cover with a protective coating. Moleskin is the traditional covering; the package will provide instructions. Many hikers prefer a new compound called “Second Skin”, which provides a moist coating that protects while also helping the injury to heal.
Naturally, that depends on a lot of factors, including the trail condition, how flat it is, and your level of fitness. A rule of thumb is to allow one hour to hike two miles; and another hour for each thousand feet of altitude you’re gaining. So 8 miles over flat terrain will take 4 hours for a typical hiker. If there’s a thousand feet of elevation gain involved, it’s likely to take 5 hours.
In some regions, such as the Alps in Switzerland, distances are posted in hours rather than in miles or kilometers. This works well on hilly terrain, where it can be hard to estimate how much of your time will be spent going up or down. You’ll soon figure out whether these times need to be adjusted for your own hiking speed and style.
First, you do not need one of those tall packs with a frame. Those are for backpackers, heading out for several days or more. The pack itself will be extra weight to carry around; and you’ll be tempted to carry more than you really need.
For day hiking, you just need a pack large enough to hold water, perhaps lunch, your map and compass, a sweater and rain protection, camera, sunscreen, and a few other small supplies. It’s helpful to have at least a couple of pockets to help you keep things organized; you don’t want to have to dig down past your sweater every time you reach in for the compass or sunscreen. A side pocket to hold your water bottle will make it easier to frequently take a sip, and stay well hydrated. A day pack with a waist strap will be more comfortable.
Glad you asked! (Okay, we admit: This question was a plant, so that we could offer a few helpful pointers.)
First — we can’t say it too often — be sure your hiking boots are broken in before you start a week (or even a full day) of hiking.
Next, be sure you get enough food and water. Have a good breakfast before you start out — lots of carbohydrates will help. Drink frequently during the day. Drink before you’re thirsty is the athlete’s motto. You’re burning off a lot of calories. Don’t be shy about having a Snickers, power bar, or other energy-booster as you go.
Take small steps when going uphill. They’re much less tiring.
Carry what you need to be prepared — but don’t over-pack.
Finally, stretch for five minutes when you get back home. Then you’ll be more prepared for a new hike the next day.
Five minutes of stretching each day, before you begin hiking, will help prevent stiffness and injuries. Here are two exercises to get started:
1. Find a buddy (or, lacking that, a tree) to hold for support. Now reach back with your right hand as you bend your right leg at the knee. Grab your foot and pull gently toward your butt, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with left hand and left leg. Then repeat again but crossing over — left hand pulls up your right leg, and vice versa.
2. Stand beside a bench or rock that’s about waist high. Face it, and rest the heel of one foot on it. Now, keeping the leg straight, bend forward slowly, then hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with other leg.
With all stretches, avoid jerking or bouncing. Stretch slowly, hold in the stretched position for about half a minute, then relax.
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