Salkantay A Tough Path to Machu Picchu, Harder Than the Inca Trail

by | Apr 11, 2024 | Peru Travel Blogs, Salkantay Trek | 0 comments

Salkantay Trek Travel Guide

Nestled within the majestic Peruvian Andes lies a path less traveled but rich in mystery Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and breathtaking nature. The Salkantay Trek 5 Days, revered as an unparalleled alternative to the famed Inca Trail, captivates those who seek a profound engagement with the legacy of the Incan empire.

This guide is dedicated to unfolding the essence of the Salkantay Trek, exploring its meandering trails, and the immersive cultural encounters that lie in wait.

Ready yourself for an expedition that promises to challenge, enlighten, and reward, as we take you through this quintessential adventure on your travel list.

Why Choose the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu?

The Salkantay Trip guided Tour emerges as one of the most celebrated ways to reach the awe-inspiring site of Machu Picchu. While it doesn’t boast the same renown as the legendary Inca Trail, it compensates with several compelling advantages.

Firstly: Securing a spot on the Salkantay Tour tends to be more straightforward and financially accessible, making it an attractive option for many adventurers. Additionally, its scenic beauty rivals that of the Inca Trail, capturing the hearts of all who traverse its path.

As many do, opting for the Salkantay hike opens the opportunity to experience a 74 km (46 miles) journey spanning 4-5 days, culminating in the majestic view of Machu Picchu.

This path not only offers breathtaking natural beauty but also holds deep historical significance, echoing the steps once taken by the Incas themselves.

Unlike the Inca Trail, which meanders through ancient ruins, the Salkantay hike challenges trekkers with high mountain passes, reaching elevations nearly 5,000 meters (16,404 ft) above sea level, believed by the Incas to bring them closer to the divine.

Salkantay Mountain, the namesake of the trek, is just one of the many spectacular sights along the way.

Explorers can expect a rich tapestry of landscapes, including pristine glaciers and vibrant Andean forests, making the trek a feast for the senses.

In the following sections, I’ll offer a comparison between the Salkantay hiking tour and two other popular routes to Machu Picchu – the Inca Trail and the Jungle Trek. Additionally, I’ll share our insights from the expedition, helping you to decide if the Machu Picchu Salkantay Trek is the right adventure for you.

Salkantay Trekking Tour 5 Days
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Here’s a comparison of the Salkantay Trek options, featuring prices from various travel companies.

Customer Question: Hey, y’all I’m going to be doing the Salkantay Trek sometime in October and I’m having a really hard time choosing a tour company. I was all ready to book with Alpaca Expeditions but then I saw a bunch of recommendations for Machu Picchu Reservations and saw that Machu Picchu Reservations is USD 350 cheaper than Alpaca.

The pricing for Tour Leaders Peru Adventure falls between Alpaca Expedition and Machu Picchu Reservation, at USD 590.

The tours seem similar so I’m really confused about what would explain such a price difference and makes me concerned about booking the cheaper one.

I’ve read lots of recommendations to wait to book in person but since my time is limited and Machu Picchu tickets look like they are selling out a couple weeks in advance, I want to book online.

Anyway, any thoughts? Would love a tour company that will have lots of young solo travelers but also isn’t too challenging (i.e. rest stops spaced out well, options to take a horse/zipline instead of hiking some parts). This will be my first time doing an overnight trip camp so excited but also want to make sure I’m booking with a good company!

Read the Complete comment about the tour company recommendation for the Salkantay Trekking in Peru Reddit here

Salkantay Trek Map 5 Days
Salkantay Peru Trek Map 5 Days

The Salkantay Trail Experience – Itinerary and Distance

Imagine standing below the towering peaks of the Andes, the crisp mountain air fills your lungs, and the path before you unfolds with a promise of discovery.

The Salkantay hike is not just a hike; it’s a spiritual and physical odyssey.

Day by day, you will witness a transformation from lush tropical forests to barren foothills, culminating in the breathtaking glory of Machu Picchu.

Here’s a snapshot of what to expect and Distance

Day 1: Cusco to Soraypampa – Salkantay Basecamp

Embarking from the historic city of Cusco, the trek starts with a scenic drive leading you to Mollepata.

From there, a gentle walk unveils the first glimpses of the Salkantay Peak. The trail ascends slowly, preparing you for the challenges ahead before you reach Soraypampa for your first camp.

Day 1 DistanceChallakancha – Humantay Lake – Soraypampa campsite: 13 Km (8.08 miles)

Day 2: Soraypampa to Chaullay – The Toughest Hiking Day

Today’s leg brings the most physically demanding stretch of the trip, taking hikers over the Salkantay Pass Elevation at nearly 15,200 feet. Descend into moorlands and highland plateaus, filled with alpacas and guanacos, before camping in the warmth of the cloud forest in Chaullay.

Day 2Soraypampa Sky Campsite to Collpapampa: 22 Km (13.67 miles)

Day 3: Chaullay to La Playa – Mosquitos Day and HotSprings

The landscape begins to transform again as the forest canopy gradually thickens. The trail snakes along the Santa Teresa River, crossing waterfalls and encountering unique wildlife. An overnight stop at La Playa offers a lush, serene setting.

Day 3 Distance of hikeCollpapampa to La Playa: 16 Km (9.94 miles)

Day 4: La Playa – Llactapata – Aguas Calientes

Hikers will traverse the valley, passing coffee plantations fruit orchards, and Llactapata inca ruins. This route is rarely trodden by tourists, allowing for an intimate look at local life.

After a long but rewarding hike, a train ride takes you to the town of Aguas Calientes, where you’ll rest before the final ascent to Machu Picchu.

Day 4 HikeColpapampa to Aguas Calientes: 19 Km (11.81 miles)

Salkantay Trek Travel Guide
Trek The Salkantay Llactapata view Trekking Peru

Day 5: Machu Picchu

The pinnacle of the hike unveils the legendary city of Machu Picchu. A pre-dawn hike leads you to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate, where the lost Incan city reveals itself in the early morning light.

Spend the day exploring before descending to Aguas Calientes, and enjoy a well-deserved rest at a local hotel.

Day 5 Machu Picchu Walking TourAguas Calientes to Machu Picchu: 4 Km (2.49 miles)

How to Reserve Your Spot on the Salkantay Trekking

A distinct advantage of choosing the Salkantay Trek over the popular Inca Trail is the flexibility in booking.

There are plenty of tour operators in the market means it’s possible to land in Cusco and secure your spot for a trip to salkantay the very next day.

However, this method, while potentially budget-friendly, is not without its downsides. Last-minute bookings in person might allow for negotiating better deals, but they also come with uncertainties about the tour quality.

The lack of accountability for tour operators, combined with variable pricing and the possibility of misleading sales tactics, makes it a gamble.

For a more secure and reliable booking experience, we recommend booking through reputable Companies like www.tourleadersperu.com. Advantages include access to reviews from previous customers, detailed tour descriptions including what is included, and the option for free cancellation up to two weeks before your tour starts.

While some may successfully book directly in Cusco without any issues, doing it online through a trusted site gives you a crucial safety net by ensuring transparency and accountability from the tour providers.

When choosing a Salkantay Trekking tour for 5 days, it’s crucial to understand that not all offerings are equal. Factors such as the route, campsites, and included amenities can vary significantly between tour operators.

Our Salkantay hiking adventure, for instance, offers a unique itinerary that includes the ancient ruins of Llactapata, offering a distinct perspective of Machu Picchu. For an enriching experience that combines adventure with historical exploration, we recommend booking our exclusive tour directly.

This guarantees not only the path you’ll take but also the quality of your adventure into the heart of the Peruvian Andes.

NOTE: Do not attempt the Salkantay Trek without a guide.

Salkantay Trek Tour Leaders Peru
HumanTay Lake Salkantay

Salkantay Adventure Planning and Preparation

Achieving success on the Salkantay Trek requires careful planning and preparation. This includes knowing the best time to go, understanding the demands of the trail, choosing the right equipment, and perhaps most importantly, ensuring that your body is ready for the adventure.

When is the Best Time to Go to the Salkantay Hike?

The ideal time to take on the Salkantay Tour is during the dry season, which runs from May to September. The months of July and August are the peak season, with clear skies providing stunning vistas of the Andes. However, shoulder months like May and September offer favorable weather with fewer tourists.

What to Pack

Packing light is crucial, as you’ll be carrying everything on your back for several days.

  • Essential items include a good pair of hiking boots
  • Warm sleeping bag
  • high-altitude sunscreen.
  • Packing layers for changing weather conditions is also key to being prepared for anything the Andes might throw at you.

Related Post: Salkantay Trek Packing List

Physical Training and Acclimatization

The Salkantay Trek is demanding, with a few days reaching high altitudes. Cardiovascular training and hiking can greatly improve your endurance.

Arriving in Cusco a few days before your trek is recommended to acclimate to the altitude and reduce the risk of altitude sickness.

Booking Your Trek

When booking your trek, research and choose a reputable tour operator. Ensure they are licensed, have good salkantay trekking reviews, and prioritize safety and eco-sustainability.

Some tour companies offer a range of trekking options, from self-guided to luxury, so select one that aligns with your preferences and fitness level.

The Salkantay Route vs. Classic Inca Trail

The age-old debate confronts many travelers: Salkantay or Classic Inca Trail? Both paths lead to the mesmerizing Machu Picchu, but each offers a different experience.

Salkantay Trek Experince and Distance

The Salkantay Trek is known for its rugged beauty, including high mountain passes, tropical cloud forests, and close encounters with rural life. It’s a more challenging route, often favored by those seeking adventure and unspoiled natural settings.

  • Distance: 74 km (46 miles)
  • Time: 4-5 days
  • Altitude: 4,580 meters (15,026 ft) at the highest point
  • Things to do/see: Humantay Lagoon, Santa Theresa hot springs, Apacheta Pass, views of Salkantay Mountain, ziplining
  • Salkantay Trek Cost: $650+ USD 8+ Hikers
  • Season: All year round

Inca Trail Hike Experince to Machu Picchu and Distance

The Classic Inca Trail presents a more culturally immersive experience, with its well-preserved ruins and traditional Andean culture. This route is regulated and requires permits obtained months in advance. The trail is also considered less strenuous but offers fewer high-altitude challenges.

  • Distance: 42 km (26 miles)
  • Time: 4 days
  • Altitude: 4,215 meters (13,829 ft) at the highest point
  • Things to do/see: Authentic Inca pathways, Wayllabamba ruins, Phuyupatamarca, Valley of Llulluchapampa
  • Inca Trail Price: $800+ USD 10+ Hikers
  • Season: Closed for the entire month of February each year.
Inca Trail Private Tour
Inka trail Private Tour To To Machu Picchu

Inca Jungle Trek

  • Distance: Approx 60 km (37 miles) biked, 38 km (24 miles) walking
  • Time: 3-4 days
  • Altitude: 4,316 meters (14,160 feet) at the highest point
  • Things to do/see: Abra Malaga Pass, downhill mountain biking, ziplining, whitewater rafting, Cocalmayu HotSprings.
  • Inca Jungle Price: $400+ USD 12+ People
  • Season: All year round (if it is foggy the mountain biking will be canceled)

Which Hike in Peru is Right for You?

The choice between the three trails ultimately comes down to your interests and physical abilities. The Salkantay is likely the right choice if you’re up for the challenge and crave the wilderness.

Alternatively, if you prefer a more historical and cultural trek with creature comforts along the way, the Inca Trail may be better suited to your taste.

Why Choose the Salkantay Trail?

After carefully evaluating the various pathways to Machu Picchu and having completed the Salkantay Trek ourselves many times, several compelling reasons emerge for choosing it over other options.

Firstly, it serves as a more economical alternative to the Lares Trek or Choquequirao Trek, while also being less crowded, offering a more serene hiking experience.

The trek provides extraordinary views, including the highest pass and the awe-inspiring Salkantay Mountain, setting it apart from other trails.

A highlight of the trek is the breathtaking Humantay Lagoon, showcasing a bright blue lake set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop, an experience you wouldn’t want to miss. Additionally, it offers the opportunity to partake in the same exhilarating zipline tour available on the Jungle Trek, adding an adventurous twist to the trek.

Most intriguingly, the Salkantay Trek is steeped in cultural significance, historically walked by spiritual leaders who believed it brought them closer to their gods. This path not only challenges your physical limits but also offers a profound sense of spiritual enrichment, making the Salkantay Trek an authentic and memorable route to Machu Picchu.

Salkantay Trip Five Days
Cocalmayo Hot Spring Salkantay Trek 5Day

Salkantay Trail Review: Important Information to Know/Consider

For my personal Salkantay Trek review, I’ve broken it down into a couple of stand-out categories below. These cover the main things to consider before booking the Salkantay Trek for yourself.

Duration and Difficulty

First up, it’s crucial to understand the duration and difficulty level of the Salkantay Trek. Typically, the trek spans over 5 days and 4 nights, covering a distance of approximately 72 kilometers (about 45 miles).

Day 2 of the Salkantay Trek is widely acknowledged as the most demanding, requiring around 9 hours of hiking. The day begins with a steep ascent, climbing 600 meters (1,969 ft) in elevation before undergoing a significant descent of 1,780 meters (5,840 ft) over a distance of 22 kilometers (13.7 miles).

Although this constitutes a challenging day of hiking, the rewards are immeasurable, offering stunning vistas and a deeply satisfying sense of accomplishment.

However, it’s also the day when the effects of altitude can be most acutely felt. Those prone to severe altitude sickness might find this trek particularly challenging.

To mitigate this, it’s advisable to spend a couple of days acclimating in Cusco before commencing the trek and to consider taking altitude sickness medication as a preventative measure.

Salkantay trek 4 days
Salkantay pass 4600 – Group Picture

Salkantay Weather Conditions

The weather on the Salkantay Trek can be quite variable, greatly influencing your experience. The best months to undertake the trek are from April to October, during the dry season, when the sky is clearer, and the views are unobstructed.

However, night temperatures can drop below freezing, so it’s essential to be prepared with appropriate gear. The wet season, from November to March, sees fewer trekkers but comes with the challenge of rain and possibly slippery paths, making the trek more demanding.

Booking With a Reputable Company

Choosing a reputable trekking company is paramount for safety, comfort, and overall enjoyment. Look for companies with positive reviews, responsible environmental practices, and fair treatment of their staff, including porters and guides.

The inclusion of meals, camping equipment, and entrance fees to Machu Picchu should be clarified beforehand.

Related Post: Salkantay Trekking Tours Pros and Cons

Acclimatization and Altitude Sickness

Be aware of the signs of altitude sickness, which can affect anyone, regardless of fitness level. Symptoms include headache, nausea, and dizziness.

Proper acclimatization, staying hydrated, eating carbohydrate-rich foods, and taking it slowly can help mitigate these symptoms.

Consider talking to your doctor about altitude sickness medication before your trip.

In conclusion, the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an unforgettable experience, offering incredible natural beauty, challenging hiking, and a deep cultural immersion.

By preparing appropriately and knowing what to expect, you can ensure a rewarding and enriching adventure.

Food and Accommodations on the Salkantay Trekking

The food and accommodation you get on the Salkantay Trek completely depend on the tour you book. Some more luxurious (and expensive) tours provide accommodation along the entire way along with meals supplied by the hotels.

Other more budget tours will camp the first three nights and have a cook come along to make your meals nightly. You can contact me to create your budget Salkantay Tour, we include meals camping, a tour guide, transportation, and More.

Please bring along some snacks, although it may not be necessary as we ensure to provide sufficient food for every trekker.

Nearly every tour company includes accommodation in Aguas Calientes on the final night of the tour. Our budget tours feature a stay at a 3-star hotel in Aguas Calientes, ensuring comfort and convenience.

Along the trail, you’ll encounter quaint shops offering items such as snacks, soda, or beer. At the evening camps, there are also opportunities to buy drinks or other essentials.

Salkantay Trek Inca Trail To Machu Picchu 7D/6N
Salkantay Campsite

Things to do and see (besides hiking) on the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu

If you go on the Salkantay Trek, you will have the option to add on a couple of different activities that make your overall trekking experience even more memorable!

The first is the hot springs at Santa Teresa, also known as Cocalmayo Hot Springs.

Here, you can soak your sore muscles for a couple of hours for only a couple of extra dollars. After a few days of hiking, you’ll be grateful for this—trust me!

You can also zipline

which is an entirely different sort of adventure from your trekking! Also located in Santa Teresa, this 2-hour zipline tour includes six ziplines, two rappels down waterfalls, and crossing a suspension bridge that will make your stomach drop. While I didn’t partake in this zipline adventure, I heard great things from others! 

You can book this zipline tour in advance for USD 67 per person. Once you’re at Machu Picchu, there are even more hikes to explore.

Huayna Picchu Vs Machu Picchu Mountain

Machu Picchu Mountain (recommended) and Huayna Picchu are both very popular and have limited spots. 

You can purchase your admission tickets in advance, which gives you time to hike either mountain for even more incredible views!

Booking your tickets in advance to include either hike is essential if you want to add these to your itinerary.

Huayna Picchu Mountain
Huanya Picchu
Huayna Picchu Mountain Hike
Machu Picchu Mountain

Environmental and Cultural Impact

The beauty of the Salkantay Trek is inextricably linked to the environment and the people who call it home. Being a responsible traveler is paramount to preserving this delicate balance.

Sustainable Trekking

Participate in Leave No Trace principles, staying on established trails and properly disposing of waste. Support local communities by purchasing goods and services directly from them, and select tour operators with a strong commitment to eco-friendly practices.

Cultural Interaction

Take the opportunity to learn about the indigenous communities you encounter along the trek. Respect local customs and traditions, seeking to understand and appreciate the unique way of life of the Andean people.

Reaching Machu Picchu via Salkantay

The final part of the trek takes you from the gateway town of Aguas Calientes to the ancient Lost Incan city.

Entering the Citadel

A pre-dawn start leads to the unforgettable moment when the mist lifts to reveal Machu Picchu. Spend the day exploring the myriad terraces, temples, and houses. A knowledgeable guide can enrich your visit with historical and cultural insights.

Visitor Information

This Lost City of the Incas sees high tourist traffic, so it’s best to visit during the early morning or late afternoon to avoid crowds. Tickets for the citadel can be purchased with your trekking company in advance.

Leaving a Legacy

Feel the weight of history as you walk the same paths the Incas did. Leave behind only your footsteps and take with you memories of a lifetime from one of the most awe-inspiring destinations on Earth.

Overall Salkantay Trek Review

The Salkantay Trail is an experience that I wholeheartedly recommend for those looking for an adventure that challenges yet rewards immensely.

For me, as an official Tour Guide, it strikes the perfect balance between the rigors of a demanding hike and the unparalleled beauty that such efforts unveil, coupled with ample opportunities to unwind.

Indeed, the outset can be tough, with long treks and nights spent camping in basic conditions. However, the scenery transforms as you progress, and reaching the hot springs marks a turning point towards ease and relaxation.

The luxury of spending a night in a hotel at Aguas Calientes is a welcome contrast after days of strenuous effort.

And there’s something about the approach to Machu Picchu after several days on the trail that makes it appear even more spectacular. For anyone ready to take on this challenge, know that it’s worth it.

The Salkantay Trek is not just a hike; it’s an epic adventure that leaves you with memories to treasure for a lifetime.

Machu Picchu Trek
Final Day Machu Picchu After Salkantay Trek for 5 day Hike

Thanks For reading our Machu Picchu Salkantay Trail Travel Guide

The Salkantay Trek challenges you physically and rewards you with breathtaking landscapes and cultural interactions. It’s an adventure that will forever hold a place in your heart and your collection of travel stories.

When the time comes to don your boots and begin the ascent, I encourage you to take that step – the Salkantay Trek awaits.

For similar tales of adventure and travel, and for more valuable insights on making the most of your trek to Machu Picchu, continue to explore our blog. And remember, the greatest stories are those we live for ourselves.

I hope my recount of the Salkantay Trail has provided the clarity you need to determine if this adventure suits you. Should you have any inquiries, feel free to drop a comment below—I’ll make sure to respond. As you map out your itinerary, don’t miss our extensive collection of Peru travel articles, particularly those focusing on Peru, for more inspiration and guidance.

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Cesar Conde

I’m Cesar Conde, owner of Tour Leaders Peru & Travel Advisor and my other side job is Nomadic Digital. I share my own amazing Tour Experiences, travel stories, guides, and itineraries for travelers like you and me!

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