The complete Salkantay trek guide: 18 essential things you need to know

Are you planning to do the Salkantay trek in Peru? A great decision! Here’s everything you need to know about the Salkantay trek, can you walk it alone or is it better to do it in a group, which tour agency to book with, what you need to bring, what is the best time to do the Salkantay trek, how much it costs, how though is it and how can you prepare yourself. Perhaps most importantly, we will tell you why you should do the Salkantay trek instead of the world-famous Inca Trail.

The Salkantay trek in Peru is one of the most breathtaking beautiful experiences you can have during your travels. We are sure that you are amazed by the scenery from day one.

During this 5-day trekking tour, you will cross different climate zones (from tropical to icy mountain peaks), these are intensive days where you can enjoy the Peruvian hospitality and the beautiful mountain villages that you pass. The 5 days you will spend on the Salkantay trek in Peru are one of the most inspiring and challenging days you will have on your travels. The highlight is the hike to Machu Picchu, which will be so rewarding.

The Salkantay trek isn’t an easy walk, preparation is key. Preparation for altitude sickness, whether you want to do it individually or with a group, whatever you need to bring with you. There is a lot you need to know before you even start the trek.

We have completed the Salkantay trek. We share all the tips you will need for this epic and beautiful Salkantay trek. You can book your ticket easily via the below link.

Salkantay trek guide
Salkantay view small
Salkantay trek small

#1 Salkantay trek facts

Before we start giving all our tips, here are some facts about the Salkantay trek.

  • Location | Peru
  • Hike duration | 5 days
  • Start | Cusco
  • End | Aguas Calientes
  • Distance | 74 km / 46 miles
  • Highest point of the Salkantay trek: 4580 meter
  • Highest point on the Salkantay: 6271 meter

#2 Salkantay trek one way

The Salkantay trek can only be done clockwise. In theory you can also do it counterclockwise, but then the hike to Machu Picchu is at the beginning which isn’t recommended to do because you lose all the magic of the trekking. The purpose of the Salkantay trek and Inca trail is that you experience how the Incas felt when they walked for days to arrive at Machu Picchu. During our 5-day trip we didn’t saw anyone who did it against the clock, so we advise to do it like everyone else (clockwise).

Our Salkantay trek itinerary:

Day 1 | Cusco – Mollepata – Soraypampa | 13 km / 6 hours

Day 2 | Soraypampa – Salkantay pass – Huayramachay – Chaullay | 22 km / 9 hours

Day 3 | Chaullay– Collpapampa– La Playa – Santa Teresa | 16 km / 5 hours

Day 4 | Santa Teresa – Hidroelectryc – Aguas Calientes | 19 km / 6 hours

Day 5 | Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Ollantaytambo – Cusco | 4 km / 1.5 hours

You can read the program in detail in this link.

Salkantay trek map
Salkantay mountain

#3 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 are between July and August. It doesn’t rain much and the temperatures are pleasant. July and August are busier because of 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.

#4 Group or alone

Whether you go with a group or alone, it is always one of the most frequently asked questions. For the Salkantay trek, we recommend doing it in a group. The Salkantay trek isn’t always clearly marked so you can get lost.

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 5-day trek with a fixed group, with a fixed timetable, was new for us. The big question that we had was if we 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 30 people with only 2 guides. We don’t like to walk in such big groups, in our option, it destroys the whole experience.

The advantages

  • Simple, because everything is arranged (tickets to Machu Picchu, accommodations, food, drinks). All you need to bring are your own necessities (more information at #10);
  • 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 getting used to.
Salkantay trek highest point

Hiking Salkantay trek individually

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 advantages

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

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, regardless of which country you are in
Salkantay funny

#5 Which tour agency?

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, 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. This will save you a few hours of searching😊.

#6 How fit do you need to be to do the Salkantay trek?

It isn’t necessary to have a marathon condition, however, it is strongly recommended that you do some extra training at home before the trip.

In general, the days are long but not killing. You have enough rest times and a long lunch break.

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.

#7 The environment is awesome

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 expect the walk itself. Great right?

Salkantay trek view

#8 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 travel 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 do it our way, you do the Salkantay trek at the end of your trip, you should be fine. You mustn’t go too fast, get enough rest and drink a lot of water.

#9 Where do you spend the night during the trek

The overnight stays during the Salkantay are more than fine. If you 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.

Day 1 | Soraypampa | camping area (S.10 / $2 per tent)

Day 2 | Chaullay | camping area (S.10 / $2 per tent)

Day 3 | Santa Teresa | camping area (S.10 / $2 per tent) | Lodge: VIP Jungle Lodge ($6 per person)

Day 4 | Aguas Calientes | no camping, only hostels/hotels | Andino Hotel ($54 double room) | If you want luxury and want to have a good rest before hiking to Machu Picchu, Casa del Sol Machu Picchu is recommended ($157 double room)

Day 5 | Cusco | Amaru Inca ($50 double room) & Illa hotel ($71 double room)

Salkantay accommodation
Salkantay horse

#10 What do you bring

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

Salkantay trek list: things you need to bring with you (if you go on a tour)

  • 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
  • Personal hygiene products
  • First-aid kit
  • Water dropper cleaner
  • Money + snacks
  • Passport

Salkantay trek list: what you need to bring with you (if do it individually + list above)

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag
  • Mattress

#11 You across 4 seasons

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.

Salkantay weather
Salkantay waterfall

#12 How much does the Salkantay trek cost

If you do the tour that we did it will cost you $298 per person.

If you do it individually it will cost you S.641 / $194 per person.

  • Transport | S. / 225 / $64
  • Food | S./100 / $29
  • Entrance Machu Picchu | S./152 / $43
  • Accommodations (3 camping / 1 night Aguas Calientes) | S./204 / $58

#13 Travel insurance

You need 100% travel insurance. 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 altitude. Fill in the form below for a quote.

#14 Lovely downtime in the evening

The Salkantay is a tough trip, you are walking for hours, but luckily you have enough time to relax in the evening. 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 really well and can eventually become friends with you.

#15 Salkantay vs Inca trail

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 is more expensive compared to the Salkantay trek. 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 Inca trail or a combination of the Salkantay and Inca trail, you can check the below tours.

4 Day Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu

Salkantay trek and Inca Trail to Machu Picchu 7 days

Machu Picchu guide

#16 What you need to know before visiting Machu Picchu

Tips for people who do it individually (for people who do a tour more tips below)

Buy your ticket to Machu Picchu in advance, as it isn’t possible to do this at the entrance. There are two-time slots (6:00 AM to 12:00 PM & 12:00 PM to 5:30 PM) to choose from. During the high season, you must book your ticket a few days in advance.

Also bring your passport, which you need to show with the tickets at the entrance.

Besides Machu Picchu you can also buy Huayna Picchu Mountain and Machu Picchu Mountain hike, below all tickets for Machu Picchu:

*regular ticket

You must be present at the time stated on your ticket. If this does not work, you can no longer use your ticket.

If you want to use a guide, you can easily book it here. The advantage is that you get all the information about Machu Picchu. The disadvantage, if you don’t do this, is that when you look at something you don’t understand what it is. We have done this and recommend it to everyone.

Tips for everyone when visiting Machu Picchu

Officially you are not allowed to bring water and food. We have done this 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.

Machu Picchu

#17 Your return trip from Machu Picchu to Cusco

There are several options for traveling from Machu Picchu to Cusco. The easiest and most expensive option is a direct train (Expedition 34) from Machu Picchu to Cusco. The cost is S.277 / $78.

The option we did: take the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo and then take the bus to Cusco. It’s cheaper than the first option but still a good option. The train ticket is S.180 / $50 (The cheapest train departs at 17:35). The bus ticket is S.15 / $4.

You can also take the train from Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica and take a minibus from there to Cusco. This is more difficult to do. Train ticket and bus ticket are each S.60 / $16.

The last and cheapest option is to walk from Aguas Calientes to Hidroelectrica (10 km) and take the bus to Cusco. Bus ticket S.60 / $16.

train to Machu Picchu

#18 Conclusion

We hope our tips have helped you to do the same tour as us. For us, it has been one of the most beautiful moments during our trip and we hope that you will experience it as well. We are curious about your stories. Are you still planning your trip to Peru? Then you can use our travel route through Peru as a building block. For each destination, we have written an article.

Next destination

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

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Salkantay Trek guide pin II
Salkantay Trek guide pin I
Salkantay Trek guide pin III

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