The complete guide for the Salkantay trek

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From Cusco, you can start several multi-day hikes to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trek is the most diverse hike you can do. During the Salkantay trek 5 days you cross different climate zones (from tropical to icy peaks), these are intensive days where you can enjoy the Peruvian hospitality, the beautiful mountain villages, and arrival at Machu Picchu at sunrise.

The Salkantay trekking in Peru is one of the most impressive things you can do during your trip to Peru. We are sure you will be amazed by the scenery from day one. The Salkantay trek is not an easy hike, preparation is essential. In this article, you read everything you need to know about the hike, how to prepare yourself, what to expect, where you should book the hike, and many more tips.

Salkantay view small
Salkantay trek small
Machu Picchu guide

Salkantay trek general information

Before we get into details of what you need to know about the Salkantay trail, here are some quick facts about the trek.

  • Location | Peru
  • Hike duration | 5 days
  • Start | Cusco
  • End | Machu Picchu
  • Distance | 74 km / 46 miles
  • Highest point of the Salkantay trek: 4630 meter
  • Highest point of the mountain the Salkantay: 6271 meter

5 days Salkantay trek itinerary

The 5 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu gives you the chance to get back to nature, as you walk for hours every day in an impressive area without having to share it with many other travelers. The Salkantay trek is one of the quietest trails in Peru that you can do. The beauty of the Salkantay trekking and Inca trail is that you follow in the footsteps of the Incas to eventually reach Machu Picchu. The views you have during the Salkantay trek are magnificent.

We did this Salkantay trekking tour, which we recommend. Later in this article, you can read why we recommend a tour. The Salkantay trek 5 days itinerary looks like this:

Salkantay trek day 1: Cusco – Mollepata – Soraypampa | 13 km / 6 hours

The first day is long, as you will be picked up very early in the morning from your accommodation and travel by minivan to Mollepata. Here you will get to know the guide, cook, and the cowboy who takes care of all the stuff (he uses donkeys for this).

Mollepata is located at 2900 meters above sea level, making it important to start slowly. This day you will hike 13 km to an altitude of 4200 meters. This makes the first day tough because you have to get used to the hike and the altitude.

The hike from Mollepata to Soraypampa is a nice walk that goes up evenly. During this part, you walk in open fields which give you beautiful views. Once you have arrived at Soraypampa you can have lunch. After lunch, the hardest part of the first day begins, the hike to Humantay Lake. In this small part, you have to ascend 300 meters. Once you arrive at Humantay Lake, you cannot believe that such a beautiful lake is located here. Together with the guide, you will do a typical Inca ritual in which you will stack stones and ask Pachamama (mother earth) for a prosperous journey.

After Humantay Lake you will walk back to Soraypampa and enjoy dinner and rest in the evening. In the evening it can be cold here because you stay high in the mountains. So dress well.

Salkantay trek day 2: Soraypampa – Salkantay pass – Huayramachay – Collpapampa | 24 km / 10 hours

The second day is the hardest. With stiff legs, you will walk through the Salkantay pass early in the morning from Soraypampa to eventually arrive at Pra Salkantay, which is the highest point with 4630 meters. You have to ascend about 720 meters this day.

The walk starts at Soraypampa at an altitude of 3900 and you have to walk up a winding path to the first point at Soirococha which is at an altitude of 4400 meters. The best thing about this part is that you can look over the entire valley, it is amazing to see all the snow-capped mountains.

Tip: if you think this part is too difficult, you can use a donkey that will take you from Soraypampa to Soirococha.

Once you arrive at Soirococha you have to walk steeply up to Pra Salkantay. This part is heavy! Walk at your own pace and do not deviate from this. At Pra Salkantay, of course, you have to take a picture to record that you did it.

After this the Salkantay tour becomes a lot easier, you will now descend for 2 hours and you will arrive at a camp where you can enjoy a well-deserved lunch. After lunch, you continue to the Amazon jungle and walk through a cloud forest. Your stop is at Collpapampa.

Salkantay trek day 3: Collpapampa – La Playa – Santa Teresa | 14 km / 4 hours

The third day is the easiest. After breakfast, you will walk to La Playa. The walk goes through the Santa Teresa valley, this is a great hike because you can see several waterfalls and different plant pieces.

Once you arrive at La Playa, you can visit several plantations where they grow coffee, bananas, and avocados. You can also taste local coffee here.

From La Playa, you will travel to Santa Teresa where you will stay. You can choose to be brought by van or you can walk, of course, the choice is yours. This day is not difficult at all but it is beautiful because of the completely different natural landscape you see.

Salkantay trek day 4: Santa Teresa – Hidroelectryc – Aguas Calientes | 19 km / 6 hours

The fourth day is a lot of fun because in the morning you can choose to go zip line or visit a hot spring. We chose the hot spring because it is wonderful to relax the muscles. This day is not hard, you have to walk a lot of kilometers, only most of it is flat.

After this, you continue your journey towards Hidroelectrica. This is a beautiful area where you walk past waterfalls and see many fields where they grow cocoa and coffee. Once you have crossed the river you walk along the river towards Aguas Calientes. Aguas Calientes is the village near Machu Picchu from where you can visit the lost city.

You will arrive in Aguas Calientes in the afternoon, after which you will have free time to discover the village or relax. You mustn’t go to bed too late after dinner because the next day you have to get up early to visit Machu Picchu.

Salkantay trek day 5: Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo – Cusco | 4 km / 1.5 hours

Today the day starts very early because you have to leave your hotel at 04:00 am to join the queue at the bridge at 04:30 am. When the bridge opens, the first travelers can walk up the mountain. This will get you to Machu Picchu at sunrise around 06:00 am, making you one of the first visitors. It is impossible to describe how cool this was, believe us this is a unique experience.

The guide will give you a tour and tell you everything about Machu Picchu. You will visit the palaces, temples, priest houses and other important buildings. It is amazing to see how well everything has been preserved.

After the tour, you will have time to explore Machu Picchu independently. What you will notice is that it is later in the morning, which makes it a lot busier.

After Machu Picchu, you walk back to Aguas Calientes to pack your bag at your hotel and catch the train to Ollantaytambo in the afternoon. At Ollantaytambo, you will be picked up by a minivan that will take you back to your hotel in Cusco.

As you have read, the Salkantay trek of 5 days is very diverse and super cool. We have so many beautiful memories of this trek and recommend this trekking to everyone because this is a trip that will stay with you for a lifetime! If you want to be sure of a spot, you can book the tour that we have done.

Salkantay trek map
Salkantay trek tour
Salkantay trail

Salkantay trek tour or Salkantay trek solo

Normally we recommend to do activities independently where possible. In the case of the Salkantay trek, we recommend doing this with a tour. Read our motivation below.

Hiking Salkantay trek with a group

We are used to traveling alone and determine our own planning for the day. The idea that we were going to do a trek of 5 days with a fixed group, with a fixed timetable, was new for us. The big question that we had was if we were doing the right thing. It turned out to be the best time ever.

If you walk with a group, you walk with a local who knows everything and prepared everything in perfection. They know the way and can offer immediate assistance where necessary. For us, it was important to walk with a group because we were going to walk at high altitudes for the first time so we wanted to have an expert who could see altitude sickness symptoms. Also, they can share information about the environment that you otherwise miss.

In our group, we were with 6 travelers, 1 guide, 2 cooks, and 1 porter (carried the cooking equipment, tents, and other necessities with the help of the donkeys). If you do the same tour as us, the group is small, which makes it great. At some organizations, they walk with 40 people with only 2 guides. We don’t like to walk in such big groups, in our opinion, it makes the whole experience a lot less special.

The pros:

  • Simple, because everything is arranged (tickets to Machu Picchu, accommodations, food, drinks). All you need to bring are your own necessities (more information at chapter what to bring with you for the Salkantay trek);
  • Traveling with a well-known organization means that your guides and porters are specialists who know the route well. Above all, they know what to do if things go wrong. After all, they are responsible for your safety;
  • A local guide can always tell you first-hand experiences;
  • The carriers ensure that you only have to carry a backpack and nothing else. You don’t have to carry your tent, mat, and other heavy gear;
  • You meet new people who become your friends.

The cons:

  • It is more expensive compared to doing it independently. For us, the additional cost was more than worth it;
  • If you are used to doing everything at your own pace and schedule, traveling with a group can take some time getting used to.
Salkantay trek highest point

Hiking Salkantay trek solo

It is not uncommon to do the Salkantay trek individually, however, you don’t see a lot of other people doing it individually. Most of the people do it via a group tour.

The pros:

  • The freedom to go wherever you want;
  • Often a lot cheaper than a tour.

The cons:

  • You have to carry everything yourself, arrange your accommodation, determine your own route, arrange all your entrances. You have to arrange everything yourself;
  • You don’t have an experienced guide with you who can help you in case of an emergency;
  • It is always safer to walk in a group than alone;
  • For female travelers, we don’t recommend walking alone.

Which Salkantay trek tour do we recommend

There are a lot of agencies that offer the Salkantay trek, which makes it very difficult to choose from. We have searched a lot for the best offer and found it (believe us it took a lot of time!).

When we went to find out our Salkantay trek, we mainly checked whether it was authentic. During our trip, we walked with 6 people the whole trek. For us this is authentic. Believe us, if you see those groups that run with 30 people, you don’t want this. It is also important that everything is well organized, that you don’t encounter any surprises. Finally, the organization needs to be professional and have excellent experience in the trek.

We have all experienced this in a very positive way with our tour and therefore recommend it. In addition, the tour is provided by GetYourGuide, which guarantees high quality. In this case, it is better to pay a little more than buy a ticket locally without knowing exactly what you will get. This will save you a few hours of searching😊.

To clarify for booking: if you want to book the same tour as us, you will be forwarded to the GetYourGuide site. The tour shown first in blue is the tour we recommend.

Machu Picchu

How difficult is the salkantay trek

In our opinion, the Salkantay trek is not difficult. It is not necessary to have an excellent fitness level, but a basic fitness is required. Because of this, we recommend that you do some extra training at home before the trip. The first two days can be tough, but after that, it’s not hard.

In general, the days are long but not killing. You have enough rest times and a long lunch break. During the evening you have enough time to relax. In the evenings you eat with the group and chat all evening. For us, this was also a very nice part of the trip because you will get to know the people well and can eventually become friends.

Our advice is to build up a fitness level a month before you travel in which you are used to walking for a few hours. The most important tip that we can give is that you do your trip through Peru in the same direction as we did. You find our Peru itinerary here. To prepare yourself physically, it is best to do the Salkantay trek at the end of your trip. As a result, you are used to walk at heights and your legs are also used to walking the meters.

Salkantay trek altitude sickness

Even if you are in top condition, if you exercise daily, this still hasn’t any influence on lowering the risk of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness can affect anyone, regardless of your fitness level. It is therefore important to acclimatize because once you go beyond 3000 meters you will feel it.

The best thing to do is to follow our Peru itinerary. This gradually gets your body used to the height. If you travel from Lima to Cusco and immediately start the Salkantay Trek, you will challenge your body extremely and expose yourself to a high risk of altitude sickness. We speak from experience because in our group were two travelers who did this and had a lot of problems with the altitude throughout the trip.

If you follow our advice, you do the Salkantay trek at the end of your trip, you should be fine. You mustn’t go too fast, take a rest if needed and drink a lot of water.

Salkantay trek view

Where do you stay during the Salkantay trek

The overnight stays during the Salkantay are more than fine. If you are doing an organized tour like us, you don’t have to worry about this. During our trip, we saw different accommodations and recommend the following.

The sleeping facilities during the Salkantay are more than fine. If you do an organized tour like us, you don’t have to worry about this. You stay the first three nights in a tent as you can see in the photo below. The last night you stay in Aguas Calientes is an excellent hotel.

If you want to do the Salkantay trek independently, you can use the accommodations below.

  • Day 1 | Soraypampa | camping area (S.10 / $2 per tent) | reservation not necessary/possible
  • Day 2 | Chaullay | camping area (S.10 / $2 per tent) | reservation not necessary/possible
  • Day 3 | Santa Teresa | camping area (S.10 / $2 per tent) | reservation not necessary/possible
  • Day 4 | Aguas Calientes | no camping, only hostels/hotels | Andino Hotel | If you want luxury and want to have a good rest before hiking to Machu Picchu, Casa del Sol Machu Picchu is recommended
  • Day 5 | Cusco | Amaru Inca & Illa hotel
Salkantay accommodation
Salkantay horse

What do you need to bring with you for the Salkantay trek

The Salkantay trek is a trekking tour where you pass the 4 seasons. One day you wear a T-shirt and shorts and it is incredibly hot, the next day you wear all your clothes because you are high in the mountains near the snow.

The fact that you walk through all 4 seasons is great, it ensures a different experience and challenges your body. Before the day starts, ask what the guide expects in terms of weather so that you dress well and don’t have to change during the tour.

Only bring what you really need. You really shouldn’t carry more than 10kg on your back. The lighter your bag, the more enjoyable the trip. In terms of clothing, it is important to wear layers instead of very heavy clothing.

We recommend the following Salkantay trek packings list:

  • Backpack with rain cover
  • Waterproof shoes
  • 5 pairs of underwear and 3 pairs of socks
  • 2/3 shirts
  • Hiking pants
  • Shorts
  • Fleece jacket
  • Thermal undershirt
  • Thermal pants
  • Jacket North Face (you really need this!)
  • Gore-Tex Jacket
  • Waterproof pants
  • 1 Hat, 1 Bandana
  • 1 pair of walking sticks
  • Gloves
  • Personal hygiene products
  • First-aid kit
  • 2 Water bottles or empty bottles
  • Money + snacks (the food is very good during the tour, but sometimes it is nice to have a snack)
  • Passport

If you do the Salkantay trek solo, you should also bring a tent, sleeping bag and mattress in addition to the above.

Salkantay weather
Salkantay waterfall

Best time to do the Salkantay trek

Cusco has two seasons, the dry season and the rainy season. The dry season is from April to October. The rainy season is from November to March. The rainy season is the worst time for hiking the Salkantay trek.

The best months to hike the Salkantay trek is during the dry season between April and October with July and August being the best. It does not rain much and the temperatures are pleasant. July and August are busier due to the summer holidays in Europe and the US. We did the Salkantay trek ourselves in the first week of September and the weather was perfect.

Travel insurance

You need travel insurance, especially when doing the Salkantay trek. We never travel without travel insurance and we advise anyone to travel with travel insurance. You never know what could happen and you don’t want to be faced with financial surprises in case of an accident.

We always use World Nomads, they also have good insurance for hiking at high altitudes. Fill in the form below for a quote.

Salkantay trek FAQ

1. Why should you do the Salkantay trek?

The number 1 reason for us to walk the Salkantay trek was the environment you are in. You walk for 5 days in very different environments. In other trekking tours the hike to Machu Picchu, the environment often remains the same which can become monotonous. This isn’t the case with the Salkantay trek at all.

With every step, the landscape changes, and the mountains reveal something new; rolling clouds, the breathtaking terrain, the towering mountains, or the smiling locals.

Walking in the area during the Salkantay trek has something magical. All you have to do is to walk and to enjoy yourself. You don’t have any stress and there aren’t many things that you have to think about during your walk. Just enjoy the walk. Great right?

2. Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail, which one is better?

One of the most frequently asked questions: which route is the best to hike to Machu Picchu? The Salkantay vs Inca trail is often compared with each other and there are advantages for each route. The reason we chose the Salkantay trek was that the environment was different every day, the height meters were better distributed throughout the day and it would be less stressful for your knees.

The Inca trail has many high steps so you put extra stress on your knees. The Inca trail is of course the most famous trail and the trail that the Incas used to walk to hike to Machu Picchu. The cultural experience of the Inca trail is better, that must certainly be said. The disadvantage is that you have to book months in advance because only 500 number (only 200 trekkers) people per day can start the trip.

Salkantay vs Inca trail in terms of cost the Inca trail ($740 – $900) is more expensive compared to the Salkantay trek ($280 – $400). Many travelers who had walked the Inca trail indicated that the environment during the tour remains fairly the same, with the Salkantay trek one day you walk between the snow peaks and the next day in the jungle. This was important to us so we chose to do the Salkantay trek.

If you want to know more about the Salkantay Trek or the Inca trail, you can read more information via the links.

3. What do you need to know before visiting Machu Picchu?

Officially you are not allowed to bring water and food with you. We actually did bring water with us and this was no problem. The rule is that people don’t make a mess. If you treat this with respect, you will probably be fine.

You are not allowed to bring walking sticks. If you have weak knees, it is best to take the bus back from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes.

We have written a separate article where we provide much more information about a visit to Machu Picchu. Read the article here: tips for visiting Machu Picchu.

4. I am not a camping type, will I enjoy the Salkantay trek?

The answer is very simple, yes! We don’t see ourselves as campers either, but we enjoyed it. The first three nights you stay in a tent, in a sleeping bag on a mat. The tour we did had gear from North Face which was excellent. This is important because there are also tours that use poor quality gear. This is the difference between a cheaper and a more expensive tour. We and the other members of the group slept well all nights.

You don’t have to carry and set up the stuff yourself, this is done for you. All you have to do is carry your own backpack and enjoy. We understand that the idea of staying in a tent is something that you need getting used to if you never do this, this was the same for us. Try it, because you want to experience this unique travel experience.

Conclusion

We hope this Salkantay trek guide helped you to convince and inform you to do the same tour as us. It has been one of the most beautiful moments for us during our trip and we hope you will experience it as well.

Are you planning your trip to Peru? Then you can use our Peru itinerary as inspiration to build your own itinerary.

After the Salkantay trek and your visit to Machu Picchu, you will probably travel back via Cusco to Lima. Read our article about Lima here: things to do in Lima.

We are curious about your experiences, what do you think of the Salkantay trek?
Share it in the comments below.

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