After the generous breakfast in Guest House Estrellita (15 Sol) we passed the day in travel agencies, comparing prices for the Salkantay trek.
The prices range between 170-450 USD for the exact same trip. If, by any chance, you get to the 450 USD agencies, you are welcome to put them on the black list of the official tourist information center not far from the Plaza de Armas. The price of 170 USD includes 4 days of meals, 5 days of guidance, 3 days of baggage carrying (5 kg only, or a big backpack for 2 people), 3 bus rides, a train ticket, a night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes and the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. You save about half of the costs if you do the trek by yourself. You should consult the official tourist information center, because the agencies would tell you out of it by lies. To avoid carrying everything by yourself you can hire a donkey porter, but then it is not sure you would save much money. For the entrance to Machu Picchu you can get a 50% (20 USD) student discount if you have the ISIC card. Maybe it is possible to lower the price if you take the late train from Machu Picchu (35 USD instead of 50) and take a cheaper hostel than what is offered (the showers are never really hot). You save a bit of money if you pay in USD rather than Sol, because they have bad rates. You have also agencies specializing with Israelis, meaning you get the same thing for a higher price and you probably travel with Israelis (not recommended).
Our agency wasn´t really good so we recommend on another that gave our friends a better service, even though it is an Israeli agency - Havitush. We found out that we needed to book the trip for the following morning if we wanted to get to the Huayna Picchu mountain in the last day the entrance there is still free. If we had booked for a day later, the entrance there would have cost us 150 Sol (there is no student discount for this).
Getting ready to the trek kept us awake until midnight, and in addition we had to wake up at 4 AM. On the van we met our group for the following days: a British couple, a Scottish-Irish couple, 3 American girls, 2 Argentinian guys, a German girl, a Swedish big guy, a Colombian girl and 2 local guides.
When we got to Mollepata, there was a nice breakfast table in front of us, and everybody dug in. When we finished eating, we discovered that this meal wasn´t included, so we had to pay 7 Sol more. Annoyingly, we were the only ones not aware of this fact, because of our last minute booking, at 9 PM. Right before starting the walk, we were introduced to the complete accompanying staff: a cook and his helper, and a donkey porter. Our guide, Fabian Pio, strongly recommended to buy Coca leaves, water and walking sticks and most people listened to him.
The first day was mostly uphill on a dust road towards the Humantay pass. The first lunch was surprising in many ways. We got to a scenic lunch place, where they prepared a table and chairs for us.
Before starting to walk, we declared ourselves as vegan, but the chef had no idea what the difference is between that and vegetarian, so we explained we don´t eat meat, fish or milk and overlooked the eggs. We had to eat a lot of bread and crackers we brought from Cusco to complete the modest but tasty lunch. Again, we were encouraged to buy expensive water (8 Sol for 1.5 liters) there. We got to the campsite under the glacier in the height of 4,200m.
Most people complained about the cold night, but we were quite warm in our many clothes and quality sleeping bags joined together.
Pio woke us up at 5 AM, offering coca tea, which we refused as it is a drug. All other people disagree with us, and consume coca tea and leaves eagerly, as it is supposedly good against altitude sickness.
The climb to the pass (4,650m), under the Salkantay mountain (6,270m), was easy for us, but most people around us had to make a big effort to get there.
Surprisingly, the difficult part of the walk was going down to the Challhuay campsite (3,900m).
On the way down, we had snow fights. In the camping it was much warmer, and Pio tried, unsuccessfully, to organize a football match. Our group preferred to drink beer, and we amused ourselves by solving crossword puzzles.
The porter was about to finish his work with us and leave on the following morning. Pio explained that it was a custom to tip the staff that came with us on the trip, but we refused to join in, as we don´t believe they work for poor salaries, as tourists claim.
This time we got to sleep late and were woken up at 5:30 AM with the usual offer of coca tea.
It was a short day of walking downwards through various fruit trees in a semi-jungle until our lunch place.
Maybe because of our constant complaints regarding the small amounts of food we got, we received an open bouffet, and could eat enough to be full. The rest of the way to Santa Teresa we did by car, although personally we prefered to walk. We were 19 people in a 15 people van, so we had a flat tyre after 10 minutes.
During the ride we passed many banana and coffee plants. In Santa Teresa, Pio arranged for the driver to take the group to the free hot spring for a "special" price (10 Sol). He forgot to mention that we could easily walk there in half an hour. It started to annoy us that we had to add more money to this expensive trip, so we stayed in town, and did some shopping. Dinner was again satisfying, and our group was amazed to see how much rice Amit could consume.
Again, we woke up at 5:30 AM with the coca tea offer. After breakfast, the cook gave us all the leftovers. Up to the hydroelectric power plant we walked up the river along side many vans that transported lazier tourists.
We had early lunch there, and then proceeded to walk alongside the railway in another semi-jungle. It was so hot that we stopped for a swim in a freezing stream. The view was amazing and the peace was broken only a few times by the passing trains.
The day ended in the Machu Picchu town, which is falsely called Aguas Calientes. There we splitted into 3 hotels depending on what the agency booked. We got the nicest room we had on this trip, with a private bathroom and shower. Unfortunately, this didn´t mean we had hot water. After 4 days in the dirt, we could settle for a cheaper hostel or for the nice looking campsite in front of the entrance to the Machu Picchu site. For our last dinner, we were happy to get fried bananas instead of fish, but we were less thrilled to get our breakfast for the next day - an orange, a candy, a snackbar and a bit of juice. Again, money was collected to tip the cook, his assistant, and the guide´s assistant. This time the tips were bigger and again we refused to join in. We went to sleep right after dinner, to try and get some sleep before climbing to Machu Picchu before dawn.