The Salkantay Trek is for the purists, for those who know that there is more than the Classic Inca Trail or the Short Inca Trail. If you are going Salkantay trekking then you know that the Incas created more beautiful trails and there are more ways to get to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay trail is not for the faint-hearted. You need to have some of that Salkantay courage flowing through your veins. Crossing the Salkantay Pass with its high altitude isn't that easy. Do you think you are Salkantay enough? In this blog post, we show you how to get to Machu Picchu via the coolest way. Let’s go!
Last updated: May 2020
You either came to read this blog post because you already know that the Salkantay Trek is the most beautiful trek in the Cusco region, or you are exploring options after you have found out that there are no more permits for the Classic Inca Trail. Either way, you have come to the right place.
What is the Salkantay Trek?
The Salkantay Trek is one of the many treks that you can find in the Cusco Region of Peru. With roughly 75 km / 46 miles of distance and about 3000m / 10.000 ft of elevation, this trek is considered a tough one, when compared to the other trekking options in the area. A typical Salkantay Trek will start in Cusco, where you get fetched from your hotel and from where you will be taken to either Mollepata or Soraypampa. A great drawcard for the Salkantay Trek is that you don’t only get to see Machu Picchu, but that you also get to see Llaqtapata. Pronounced as “Yakhta-Pata”, Llaqtapata is an archeological site about 5 kilometers away from Machu Picchu. It is believed that during Inca times Llaqtapata was a resting place on the way to Machu Picchu. Still today, on some treks Llaqtapata is used as a rest site. Make sure you choose the right itinerary if you want to spend the night here.
The Salkantay trek is all about the Salkantay Pass. This 4.580 m is the highlight of the Salkantay Trek and it is one of the reasons why the Salkantay Trek is not an easy one. Altitude sickness can occur when you are doing this hike. Later on, we tell you what you can do to prevent this happening to you. The Salkantay Trek was named of the Salkantay Mountain, also known as Salcantay or Sallqantay, in Quechua. It is the highest peak of in the Vilcabamba mountain range and it is, freely translated, dubbed the Savage Mountain. This is because the word Sallqantay means something like savage, uncivilized, wild or invincible. Do you now see why we ask you if you are Sallqantay enough?
How Hard Is The Salkantay Trail?
We hope haven’t scared you in our last paragraph. You might believe that the Salkantay Trek is extremely difficult. Don’t worry, it’s not. None of the itineraries for the treks to Machu Picchu are designed for mountaineers. They are designed with tourism in mind. This means that everyone with moderate fitness should be able to do these treks. The same applies to the Salkantay Trek. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely not too difficult for you to accomplish. When considering the Salkantay Trek, you just need to be aware of a few things. We will list them for you here.
- Spend at least one extra day in Cusco to help you get used to the altitude.
- The second day of the Salkantay Trek is the toughest.
- Don’t rush yourself. Enjoy.
- Once you’ve crossed the Salkantay Pass, it gets easier.
In order to get the most out of your trek, you should always take it as easy as possibly can. You are not doing a mountain race, so you might as well take the time to enjoy the scenery. You don’t get to spend every weekend in the Andes. Bring plenty of snacks and hydrate properly. On higher altitude, you need more water and one of the benefits of trekking is that you burn a lot of calories ;) If you are struggling on the first day of your Salkantay Trek, know that you can always rent a horse for the second day. This can help take the edge off when climbing up to Salkantay Pass. You won’t be needing any support for the rest of your trek. You will enjoy more descent and flatter trails.
When Should I Do The Salkantay Trekking?
If you are thinking of trekking the Salkantay, it is good to know what you are in for in terms of weather. The Cusco area of Peru knows two distinct seasons. There is the dry season and then there is the rainy season. The dry season lasts from April to October with the driest months being June, July, and August. This is also the busiest season. Don’t worry, you are not doing the Classic Inca Trail, so you don’t have to worry too much about permits.
The rainy season is from November to March and the worst months to go trekking to Machu Picchu are December, January, and February. It is not impossible, but you should ask yourself if it’s worth it. Oh, you like rain? Then go ahead! At least the Salkantay Trail, unlike the Classic Inca Trail, isn’t closed in February.
What Does The Salkantay Trek Cost?
This is not an unimportant question. If you want to make your Euros, Dollars or Sols go further, you should research your options carefully. Most people prefer to do the Salkantay Trek with a trekking company but you can of course also do it the vagabond way. Below we give you a rough estimate of the costs of your upcoming Salkantay Trek.
Guided Salkantay Trek
The cost of your guided Salkantay Trek depends much on the trekking company operating your trek. There are plenty of options and because of that, there is also a lot of competition. It does not only depend on competition though. Some trekking companies, for example, offer an extra night at Llaqtapata, where others just stop by and hike straight to Aguas Calientes. Expensive is also not always better. Some companies are for example more specialised in the Lares Trek or the Inca Jungle Trek, and that is why they have more costs when operating the Salkantay Trek. Costs for a guided Salkantay Trek vary between 310 EUR (350 USD) and 700 EUR (780 USD). That is a massive difference if you consider that every trek is pretty much doing the same route and concludes at Machu Picchu. Depending on which trekking company, a 5-day version can sometimes be even more affordable at the one company than a 4-day trek with the other company. Check our offers for the Salkantay Trek here and compare your options. The prices of your guided Salkantay Trek are always without accommodation in Cusco. You will have to add that your cost overview if the sole reason for traveling there is trekking and visiting Machu Picchu.
Solo Salkantay Trek
You don’t necessarily have to make use of a trekking company to get your Salkantay Trek going. Although you will not have the benefit of a guide, solid accommodation, cooked meals, and porters, you can definitely do it on your own. If you are thinking of crossing the Salkantay Pass on your own, the following costs may apply to you:
Transport: 40 EUR / 50 USD per person for the bus to Mollepata, bus from Hidroelectrica to Cusco and train from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco.
Accommodation during Trek: 58 EUR / 70 USD per person for shared accommodation during the trek.
Food: Expect to spend about 30 EUR / 35 USD on food during the trek.
Machu Picchu Tickets and Permits: About 68 EUR / 75 USD. You will have to organize this a few days in advance.
How High is The Salkantay Pass by Salkantay Mountain?
The Salkantay Pass is your biggest obstacle during the Salkantay Trek. The pass has an altitude of 4600m / 15100ft above sea level. On a typical Salkantay Trek, you are most likely to cross the Salkantay Pass on the second day. It is key to take it easy while crossing the pass. If you are prone to altitude sickness, then this is where it can happen. Fortunately, once you have crossed the Salkantay Pass, you will descend pretty quickly. This will aid your acclimatization and should settle the worst symptoms of altitude sickness.
Salkantay Trek Altitude Sickness
Altitude Sickness (AMS) can ruin your trip to Machu Picchu. Often people wanting to do an Inca Trail like the Salkantay are in a hurry and fly in via Lima, which is on sea level. They then find themselves in Cusco, which is on an altitude of 3399 meters. To give you some perspective, mountaineers like to ascend so-called three-thousands, mountains at 3000 meters above sea level. You can understand that Cusco is high. From Cusco, you go even higher, because the Salkantay Trek crosses the Salkantay Pass at 4600m. There’s a solid four-thousand. The dangers of altitude sickness should be taken seriously. Our trekking experts always advise people who are interested in the Salkantay Trek to spend at least one day in Cusco. Ideally, you spend two days in Cusco. And why not? There is plenty to do. It is a great city and spending some time there will help you to get used to the altitude. Our trekking experts are well aware of the hazards of Altitude Sickness. They have written blog posts about AMS when trekking in Nepal and know that you shouldn’t rush your way up Mount Kilimanjaro. One golden rule applies while trekking on altitude: Listen to your body.
Listen To Your Body
When your body needs rest, your body tells you. Listen carefully to your body. Be aware and talk about the symptoms of altitude sickness. If your body wants you, let your friends, your guide, your porters know how you feel and take a break. Don't let that get worse. Eat as much as you can. Don’t skip your meals, even if you don’t like what you have on your plate. Believe us, you will enjoy the food in Peru. Your body works hard and needs a lot of carbohydrates in order to make more distance and to be able to bridge more altitude. Forget about your slimmers diet and buy those extra snickers. Trekking is hard work and can easily burn more than 4,000 calories a day. In fact, it’s one of the reasons why you can like trekking! Eat, your body will thank you.
Alcohol and Coca Leaves
If you drink alcohol, you will probably also drink it during your Salkantay Trek. Some trekking companies make it a ritual to have a shot at the Salkantay Pass. Be careful though, because it won’t help your acclimatization. You will have to increase your water intake. This is a lot easier when it’s hot and you’re sweating, but at a high altitude, you need to be disciplined. Drink 3 to 5 liters per day and drink some tea when you can. You’re hiking and not partying – so leave (most of) the alcohol for after the trip. Alcohol stimulates mountain sickness and that’s not just because alcohol dehydrates you.
The Incas used coca leaves as a remedy for loads to illnesses and physical problems. Today, locally, coca leaves are still used to suppress the effects of altitude sickness. Don’t tell your mom we told you this, but go ahead and try it out. Last but not least: Choose a longer itinerary. You can do the Salkantay Trek, but doing it in 5 days will not only make you enjoy your Salkantay Trek more, but it will also aid your acclimatization. Longer is always better.
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Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu 5-Day Itinerary
If you are looking for an itinerary which covers everything there is to see and has accommodation, guides and porters included, you can opt for the 5-day Salkantay Trek as offered by our partner Conde Travel. Poppy of Where’s Poppy did the same and even made some useful videos that give you an impression of what to expect on the Salkantay Trek. A video speaks a thousand words!
Day 1: Cusco – Mollepata – Soraypampa – Humantay Lake
Your adventure will start with a pick up from your hotel or hostel. Be prepared for a 4-hour bus ride. Halfway through the ride, you will stop in Mollepata at an altitude of 2,900m for 20 or 30 minutes break, then continue with your journey directly to the last bus stop in Challacancha where you will meet your porters and horses who will carry the equipment and where you will start to hike. When you arrive in Soraypampa at 3.900 meters, base camp will be set up from where you can enjoy the beautiful views of Salkantay´s snow peak. Here you will have a break to enjoy lunch. After lunch, you will visit Humantay Lake at 3,459m before beginning your return to base camp in Soraypampa around 5:00 pm. Here, the camping team will be waiting with a lovely cooked dinner.
Day 2: Soraypampa – Huayra Pampa – Chaullay
Early in the morning, you will enjoy your breakfast and start with a 3-hour hike until you reach the highest point of the expedition, the Salkantay Pass (4600 m.a.). From there, the next stop is Wayracpunku (Huayra Pampa), for our next meal. Afterward, the trip will continue going to the high jungle where you will observe large trees with their arms extended over the streams, all full of bromeliads and orchids. This walk will last around 5 hours and you will reach your camp in Chaullay at 2900 meters. Here you will enjoy dinner.
Day 3: Chaullay – La Playa – Santa Teresa
After having breakfast around 6:30 am, you will head towards Sahuyaco (La Playa 2,080 masl). This is a great spot for your lunch. You will then continue your trip in our transport to Santa Teresa at 1550 meters where base camp will be set up and you will enjoy a relaxing reward in Cocalmayo: The Hot Springs. You will then enjoy a traditional Peruvian dinner and rest well to prepare for the next day.
Day 4: Santa Teresa – Hydroelectrica – Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu
The next morning, after a good breakfast, the bus waits for you. Those who booked in advance will do zip-lining. The rest of the group will go to the Hidroelectrica meeting point where the entire group will join for lunch after the activities. After a bit of relaxation in this place, the group will continue walking along the railway that leads through this great jungle that the Inca knew by heart to our final destination: Aguas Calientes. We walk for about 3 hours and you will find beautiful waterfalls, different ecological farms and possibly the curious wildlife of your arrival in the region (arrival fixed around 4:00 p.m.). Here the group will spend the night in a hostel. At night everyone will meet at a local restaurant to enjoy a great dinner and have an informative session about the next excursion to Machu Picchu. Then you can visit the city, which is wonderful after sunset.
Day 5: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu – Machu Picchu – Cusco
You will get ready around 4:00 am to climb to Machu Picchu, the trek will follow an ascending path crossing the high jungle, just in time to see the spectacular sunrise. After passing the control entrance around 6:00 am the group will have a private guided tour for 2 hours in the Inca citadel, later everyone will be free to enjoy Machu Picchu on their own. Late in the afternoon, according to the departure time of the train, the group will descend hiking to Aguas Calientes to catch the train back to Ollantaytambo where everybody will be picked up and transferred to Cusco. The group has to be at the train station at least 30min before departure. The Salkantay Trek finishes on the square of San Francisco, Cusco.
Salkantay Trek Map
If you are looking for a Salkantay Trek map, it's best to focus on the following one as used by Alpaca Expeditions for their Salkantay Trek.
What To Pack for Salkantay Trek
If you are trekking the Salkantay solo, you will have to carry everything on your own. If you make this decision, we trust that you know what you are in for and that you know how to make it yourselves as comfortable as possible. You will need a lot of stuff; stuff that you won’t need if you are trekking with a trekking company. This packing list is for those who have booked with a trekking company and are wondering what they do and don’t need. Don’t need, that’s right: This is one of the added benefits of booking your Salkantay Trek with a trekking company.
When packing your bags for Peru and the Salkantay Trek, there are some things you can not leave behind. The following items are a no-brainer :)
- Valid Passport (a copy will not be accepted)
- Valid Student Card (if you booked as a student)
- Immigration Card (That piece of paper you receive on the incoming plane)
- Hiking boots (light, comfortable and broken in)
- A good quality daypack (light, small and comfortable)
- Water storage for at least 2 liters; either a camel bag, flasks or bottles
In Your Daypack
The benefit of booking with a trekking company is that you won’t be able to bring all your belongings along on the trails. You only need to carry your daypack and can leave some stuff with the amazing porters that will make your trek more comfortable. Don’t compromise on the quality of your daypack. It is important to note that due to local regulations, your backpack should not exceed 25L. All larger backpacks can not be taken into Machu Picchu and will need to be stored outside the gates.
- Hat and sunglasses
- Rain gear
- Warm layers (fleece / long sleeved tops)
- Sun cream, bug spray
- Hand sanitizer
- Toilet paper
- Personal medication
- Camera, extra batteries
- Head torch
- Extra snacks, power bars, chocolate
- Extra money for souvenirs, drinks & tips (small change is useful for paying to use the villagers’ toilets on the first day.
Your trekking company will supply you with a duffel bag which you can fill with all the other stuff you won’t be needing during the day. The maximum allowed weight is usually 7KG and that includes your sleeping bag and your air mattress. We advise you to bring the lightest stuff and to definitely not bring too much. Bring at least the following items:
- Sleeping bag (usually for rent at trekking company)
- Air mattress (usually for rent at trekking company)
- Light shoes for around camps
- Warm jacket, hat, and gloves
- 2-3 t-shirts (wicking)
- 1-2 hiking pants/trousers
- 4 sets of undergarments
- 4 sets of hiking socks
- 1 fleece
- 1 Warm, down jacket for the coldest nights
- Quick-dry towel
- Wet wipes
- Toothbrush and paste
- Face moisturizer
- Power pack/battery charger
- Plastic bags to keep wet or muddy clothes separate
If you are comfortable wearing some of the items again the next day, you can definitely save on some weight for the porters. Your excess luggage can normally be stored at your trekking company. This service is free of charge or a small fee is calculated.
How To Get Fit for The Salkantay Trek Peru
One sure way to get good at what you do is to practice. The best practice for hiking is hiking. Seeing that you are interested in the Salkantay Trek, we assume that you already like hiking. Hike a bit more. If you are lucky enough to be surrounded by hills or even mountains, it is time to see them more often. When? If you are new to this, we suggest starting six months before your planned departure by simply going for an hour (or two) hike a week.
When you get the hang of it, after about three weeks, it’s time to beef up your intensity. Bring a pack of 10 to 15kg and add a longer hike of three hours to your week. If this lifestyle is new to you, you will soon reap the benefits of trekking. After a good few months of solid hiking, it is time to put your endurance to the test. Do back to back long hikes. You can simulate a few days of constant trekking by going hiking for a few days. Easy at that. Plan a smaller trekking holiday or keep it simple by hiking your favorite route on repeat. If you are comfortable hiking for 4 hours a day, 3 days in a row while carrying a 10kg to 15kg backpack, you will be fine.
Moderate Strength Exercise
You will need to get a bit stronger. One way to get stronger is to do some basic strength work. You don’t need a gym membership, as merely using your bodyweight can already give you the results you are looking for. Once or twice a week, depending on how you are feeling, you can do two sets of 10 lunges, 10 squats, and 10 step ups. If you want to push yourself a bit more, you can try to add some pull ups and push up to your routine. Going the extra mile in your strengthening is, however, really not necessary. You can already enjoy trekking when you just stick to the basics. This is not a fitness competition. That should get you fit!
Where To Book the Salkantay Trek?
You can book the Salkantay Trek in Cusco during your travels but it is better to book your Salkantay Trek in advance. The Salkantay Trek always includes Machu Picchu at the end of the journey. For Machu Picchu you need tickets and they need to be organized in advance. Trekking companies always need some time to book these tickets. It is therefore convenient to book in advance, online. On Bookatrekking.com you can easily compare and book local providers and hikes. In addition, we have the lowest price guarantee. Have you found the Salkantay Trek of your dreams? In that case, you can proceed with the booking. At Bookatrekking.com you pay a deposit of 15% of the total amount. You pay the remaining amount on location prior to the trek directly to the trekking company.
Find here all our trekking options for Peru and check this page to get all our quotes for the Salkantay Trek. Have you checked our Peru travel guide yet?
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