Adventure Travel Guides: The Heartbeat of Peru’s Salkantay Trek

Some of life’s greatest journeys begin with a single step.  And some of life’s greatest adventures are found in the company of others.  

Soft-spoken with a gentle demeanor, Dalmiro Portillo is an expert guide with over 25 years of trekking experience.  He exudes a kind of mysticism that only a life in the mountains could produce.  While other guides are gregarious and full of intensity, Dalmiro pulls his enthusiasm for trekking from the spiritual connections found in nature.  His passion is contagious.  It’s the driving force behind our 7-day, 35-mile trek.  It is a journey that will take us from the shadows of snow-capped peaks, rushing rivers, and lush jungle, to the ultimate bucket list destination — Machu Picchu.

For hard-core adventure seekers, the Salkantay Trek is truly the road less traveled. The trail follows an ancient and remote Inca footpath through the Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range before dropping steeply into the cloud forest of the Santa Teresa River Valley. The topography is other-worldly. It’s a journey few foreign visitors will ever know.

Dalmiro understands the impact a trek like this can have on his clients.

“They don’t know what to expect, but they hope for something beautiful, something different. And our job is to make these dreams come true… I want them to know that they are not isolated with their feeling, that this a collective experience, a form of interacting

It’s no surprise that I immediately recognized a kindred spirit in Dalmiro.  I felt an overwhelming urge to tap into his knowledge and expertise, hopeful that a hint of his mystic energy would rub off on me.  I probed him about his early life.  His love affair with the mountains came at a young age.  He can recall hiking and camping with family and friends as a teenager.  But it wasn’t until after University, working as a bartender in Cusco, that he befriended local adventure outfitters who offered him a chance to guide.

“I started this job without even planning… It was like starting something incredible, when your hobby becomes your job. I started to make my living out of this. And this only became more intense, the work and my passion for it.”

Salkantay holds a special place for Dalmiro. The mountain, one of several sacred peaks or apus that ring Machu Picchu, is a symbol of his native culture and heritage.

“First time I saw Salkantay closely it had a great impact on me. I was very impressed and each time I am back there, I need to share this sensation. I feel like being part of the mountain, of the environment, of that place.”

Toward the trek’s conclusion, it was obvious a deep camaraderie had developed between Dalmiro and his clients, including myself. His role as a guide was fundamental in helping each of us push past our limits, a duty he does not take lightly.

“At the end of the day, you become a guide and a teacher. This is an incredible responsibility because among your clients you can have all kinds of people, with different levels of preparation, who rely on you and follow your guidance.”

For me, it was difficult to describe my Salkantay experience. How was I to recount this journey to friends and family back home? Dalmiro was all too familiar with this predicament.

“A veces no es necesario decir palabras, sólo sentir.” Sometimes the words are unnecessary, you just feel it.

To learn more about Dalmiro and the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, watch GLP’s new film in partnership with Mountain Lodges of Peru here:

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