The Salkantay trek is a breathtaking walk through the Andes to Machu Picchu in Peru. This is a great alternative, in our opinion a better alternative, to the Inca Trail. The Salkantay trek became popular in the early 2000s when due to overcrowding on the Inca Trail, the Peruvian government started imposing a limited number of people on the trail.
The beauty of the Salkantay trek is that there are many different variations to it. It can be done as a couple-day trek or a full week, walking the entire way or using alternative transportation (trains & horses). It can also be done independently or with a guided tour group. Options are endless.
What Trek did We decide on?
Visiting Machu Picchu is one of the most memorable experiences and there are many different ways to do that. We narrowed our choices to the Classic Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek. On the Inca Trail, you walk through the Sun Gate to view Machu Picchu as the sun is coming up which is magical in itself. While Salkantay Trek leads you to hike through some of the most stunning parts of the world on your way to Machu Picchu.
We decided on the 5-day and 4-night Premium Salkantay Trek with the Salkantay Trekking company. Mainly because of the scenery and flexibility it offers.
This was our first hike at such a high altitude, and we wanted to do something like this with experienced guides. Salkantay Trekking offers an options to do this privately with just your group and guides, or with other individuals.
The night before the hike started, we met with the tour guides and the rest of the group that we would be hiking with for a debrief. The meeting lasted about 1.5 hrs. where guides explained what to expect for the next 5 days and opened it up for any questions anyone may have. At the end of the debrief we received a duffle bag with a daypack rain cover, poncho, and toilet paper in it to take with us and pack for tomorrow morning’s pick-up at 4 am.
At this time, you will also advise them if you will need sleeping bags and hiking poles or if you brought your own. With the premium tour sleeping bags and poles are included in the cost.
Things Included with the Salkantay Trek Tour
The duffle bag provided by the Salkantay Trekking can hold approximately 7 kgs (15 lbs), it does not have to be precise. This will be luggage that is transported for you from campsite to campsite and you only have to carry your daypack while hiking.
During the hike, the cook and the assistant cook will be hiking with you and preparing all your meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You will not be hungry that is for sure. The tour company also provides snacks to take with you every day.
As for the water, you can fill up with boiled water at the campsites or purchase a bottle of water along the way. Usually, as you are hiking you will come across small little shops that sell refreshments, snacks, delicious avocado sandwiches, fruit, etc.
Our only complaint was that there never seemed to be enough coffee. Peruvians love tea and every morning one of the guides will wake us up before dawn with a cup of coca tea, which do not get us wrong is delicious. But we also needed coffee.
The first night you will spend at the Sky Camp in Soraypampa at 12,795 ft – community toilets, no showers.
The second night is at Mountain Sky View in Collpapampa at 9,678 ft – with toilets and showers in each hut.
The third night is at Jungle Domes in Lucmabamba at 6,562 ft – community toilets, and hot springs.
The fourth night is at the Hostel/Hotel in Aquas Calientes at 6,693 ft – individual toilets and showers are available.
Our exceptional guides were Amaroso and Javier with Salkantay Trekking. I am still amazed at their ability to always be on top of things, but never seem to be in the way. The entire time they made sure that one guide was leading the group and the other was following the group, just to make sure everyone was accounted for and safe.
They are so much more than guides, they help with food, luggage, and coordination, they provide entertainment and history lessons, wake you up with a cup of coca tea every morning, and above all make sure you stay safe.
Additional Things Included in Premium Package
Sleeping bags and hiking poles.
Breakfast in Mollepata on Day 1.
Transportation and entrance fee to the Hot Springs on Day 3.
Train tickets from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calienteson Day 4.
Hotel with private bathroom and shower in Aguas Calientes.
Return bus ticket from Machu Picchu on Day 5.
Things to Know about Salkantay Trek
CURRENCY – Soles (PEN) are the official currency of Peru and make sure you bring plenty of cash with you – small bills. The cash comes in handy for buying extra water or snacks along the way.
ACCOMMODATIONS – accommodations are prearranged by the tour company.
WATER – Boiled water will be available at the campsites and lunch stops. But you will also have the ability to buy water, Gatorade, and other refreshments along the way.
LUGGAGE TRANSFER – your luggage is transferred by horse or vehicle from campsite to campsite and you only need to carry your day pack with you.
WHAT TO PACK – Layers, quick-drying clothes, and waterproof jackets, pants, shoes, hats, gloves, and travel-size toiletries. Our packing list for TMB and this hike were very similar.
COST – You can find the cost of every trek at Salkantay Trekking but do remember to bring additional cash with you for gratuity, snacks, and additional things you may want to do that are not included. The expectation is that you will tip a horseman, cooks, and guides – the amounts may be suggested by your guides. Below are our suggestions:
Horseman – 15-20 PEN/person
Two Cooks – 100 – 200 PEN/person
Two Guides – 400 – 800 PEN/person
TOILETS AND SHOWERS – Carry toilet paper with you, everywhere you stop outside of the campsites to use the toilet it will cost 1 – 2 PEN, some will give you toilet paper that others will not. The showers will not be available every day, so make sure you bring baby wipes.
FORMALITIES – Bring your passport with you, you will need it to enter Machu Picchu. Make sure it is in a zip lock bag while you are hiking so it does not sustain water damage.
If this is your first time in Peru, check out this post to make sure you are fully prepared.
Salkantay Trek Details
Distance: 75 km (46 miles)
Elevation: 8,300 feet ascend, 14,045 descend
Length: 5 days
Food and Water: Available on the trail
Lodging: Campsites and Hotels
Day 1: Humantay Lake – Sky Camp
The highlight of the day – Seeing Humantay Lake and the peak behind it!
You will get picked up at your hotel between 4:00 and 4:30 am today and drive for two hours to Mollepata. During the two-hour period, you will also stop to pick up cooking supplies for the next few days and the group chefs. At Mollepata you have an option to eat breakfast (included in the cost of the Premium tour) at 20 PEN. After breakfast, it is another one-hour drive on a dirt road to the trailhead.
At the trailhead in Challacancha, there is an opportunity to use the facilities (1PEN, make sure you have your own toilet paper) and do the last equipment check before starting the hike. From here, there is a short uphill part (~25 minutes) and then a relatively flat section to Soraypamapa.
Keep in mind that the hike starts at over 12,000 ft elevation and you will immediately feel the altitude. The first uphill part is going to feel brutal. You may experience your heart pounding like crazy, shortness of breath, and headache just stay at your own pace and drink plenty of water.
Much of the flat part of the trail follows the restored Inca water channel, the same as Levada on Madeira Island, still used by the locals. After 4.83 miles you will arrive at the Sky Camp.
The rooms will be assigned to all the hikers, you will have an opportunity to take your luggage, sleeping bags, and liner inside, and then a delicious lunch will be served. Our cook Santos outdid himself every day. After lunch, you may even have some time for yoga, stretches, or even a quick nap.
Around 2:00 pm, your hiking group will start the ascend to Humantay Lake (13,780 ft). It is only a 2-mile round trip, but it takes about 1.5-2.0 hrs. to get to it at that elevation. You will forget all your ailments once you arrive at the fairytale lake. It is just a stunning view.
After spending some time taking pictures at the lake with the Humantay peaks in the background you will return to the Sky Camp where another amazing meal will be served. And by 8:00 pm that evening the lights will go out and the stars will take your breath away. We really lucked out with clear skies the entire 5 days and the stars took our breath away every evening.
Sky Camp is located at over 12,000 ft. which means the nights can get below zero degrees. The sleeping bag and the liner that Salkantay Trekking provides should keep you warm enough however, getting from under the blankets in the morning will be nippy.
Day 2: Salkantay Pass – Collpapampa
The highlight of the day – Reaching the Salkantay Pass and witnessing the beauty around you!
Today is a big day when you climb to the highest pass at 15,190 ft.
You will be woken up gently by one of the guides and offered a cup of coca tea. Once you get dressed, in the chilly igloo a delicious breakfast will be waiting for you. By 6:00 am you will be on the trail heading toward Salkantay Pass.
Since the altitude makes this hike particularly challenging, 3.4 miles and 2,400 ft. elevation gain, you do have the option to take a horse up to the pass at an additional cost – 120 PEN + tip.
Once at the top, surrounded by endless beauty there is a sense of relief and sense of accomplishment at the same time. Your guides will serve another serving of coca tea and a sandwich or some other snacks. You will have enough time to take as many pictures as you like and then a brutal 10-mile descent to the Collpapampa begins.
At half point of the descent, you will stop for lunch and enjoy a longer break after, where most of us just laid out in the field for a quick nap. It is also a great opportunity to fill up on water, use restrooms, bandage up any blisters and reapply sunscreen.
As you continue descending you will notice the dusty, gravel trail and the surroundings slowly changing into a more humid cloud forest. Arrival at Collapapampa was a relief after such a long journey. And being situated at 9,514 ft, the breathing became much easier.
Beautiful camp houses are equipped with massive beds and private bathrooms, supposedly hot showers too, but we could not get ours to work so a cold shower for us.
Star gazing from these glamorous Andean huts was another amazing sight. The night was much warmer than the night before. We only used sleeping bag liners and provided bed linens, a sleeping bag was not needed.
Day 3: Lucmabamba – Jungle DomeS
The highlight of the day – learning about the coffee-making process and hot springs!
Day three is supposed to be the easiest hike day but combine that with the challenging day before and walking on the edge of the cliff and it starts to take a toll on some people.
It is a scenic roughly 11.5-mile hike, walking next to the river and observing flora and fauna. All this leads to the Lucmabamba, a coffee-growing region of Peru.
We arrived at Jungle Domes early enough to have lunch, a coffee experience, and then take a ride to the hot springs, where hot showers were available. Ride to the hot springs is 40 PEN/person plus a 10 PEN/person entrance fee, both included in the Premium package. Half of our group was interested in going to the hot springs and the other half stayed behind to relax, play cards, and have a few adult beverages.
A drive to the hot springs is a nerve-wracking hour, driving on the side of the mountain on the dirt road that looks more like a hiking trail than a road and a wooden bridge that could not possibly be rated for the vehicles to cross, but when you need a hot shower, you are willing to overlook some things 😊
After another delicious dinner, our guides set up a bonfire where we set, shared a few beers, listened to some music, and exchanged life stories.
The Jungle Domes only had twin beds and they seemed to be in the worst shape of all other accommodations, plus we were in the jungle part of the trek and a lot of people were afraid of bugs and spiders getting in. For us, it was the neighborhood roosters that kept us up.
Day 4: Aguas Calientes
The highlight of the day – the first glimpse of Machu Picchu from Llactapata!
On paper Day 2 may look scarier and harder on the body day, but Day 4 is when most people become visibly exhausted and frustrated. The first part of the morning is a ~2,700 ft climb to the highest elevation and then a short descent to Llactapata.
Llactapata is the first Inca site you will see on the trail and learn how dangerous vegetation is for the Inca ruins. A few minutes down was another open area with snacks and toilets where we took a break until the clouds cleared and Machu Picchu shyly appeared in front of our eyes for the first time. That first glimpse of the Incan Citadel is magical.
Our guides let us sit and enjoy this view for 20 minutes. The next part of the downhill hike to the lunch restaurant will be brutal and dangerous if it is raining. The lunch was delicious, and we took a short siesta in the restaurant hammocks after.
From here it is a short walk to Hidroeléctrica where you can decide if you want to take the train to Aguas Calientes or walk on the train tracks for 6 miles. Train tickets were already included in our package, so we took a train. If they are not, they are an additional $35/per person.
In Aguas Calientes, the dinner with the group is at the local restaurant and accommodations are hostel/hotel type. In either case, private bathrooms and showers are included.
Day 5: Machu Picchu
The highlight of the day – Machu Picchu!
We got picked up at the hotel at 5:30 am and headed to the bus station for Machu Picchu. You can opt out and walk up an endless number of stairs to the entrance gate to Machu Picchu.
REMINDER: Make sure you bring your passport with you to Machu Picchu. It is required for the entrance.
At Machu Picchu, you will spend two hours with your guides and then after that, you are free to explore on your own or opt-out for one of the other hikes: Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, Sun Gate, or Incan Bridge all of those are at additional cost.
Arrival at Machu Picchu is different for everyone, a lot of times it is covered with clouds and visibility is low. However, we truly lucked out with clouds clearing up, a rainbow popping up, and then just the majestic beauty of the world’s wonder. Its beauty, size, and engineering mastermind truly surprised us.
Once you are ready to return to town you can either take a bus ($12/person if it is not included in your package) or walk down the stairs.
Our group’s lunch, which is at your own cost, was at 12:30 and the train to Ollantaytambo was leaving at 2:50 pm. Once in Ollantaytambo, you will transfer to the van which takes you back to Cusco, and the expected arrival time is between 7:30 and 8:00 pm.
This is not an easy hike mainly because of the altitude. It plays a major role in your ability to hike the first two days. Understanding this helps you come prepared both physically and mentally. There are really no easy days on this hike other than Day 5.
On Day 1 everyone is eager to go and see how they are handling the altitude. After returning from Humantay Lake, you can sense the anxiety about the next day. Everyone is just thinking about getting to the Salkantay Pass, but if you can handle the altitude and make your way up there, the hardest part is the descent – 10 miles and 5700 ft down.
Day 3 is supposed to be easy, but most people are just really tired from the day before, and if there is no cloud coverage it can be brutally hot. But, soaking in the hot springs afterward does help.
Day 4 is long, especially if you do not take the train. The descent from Llaqtapata Pass to the Aobamba (lunch location) is brutal and straight-out dangerous if you are caught there in the rain.
Day 5 really surprised us with how magical we found Machu Picchu. The entire time we were wondering if the visit to this wonder is worth the crowds that come with it and it was. The pictures just don’t do it justice and plus you get to see Llamas up close and personal.
All in all, this is a challenging adventure, but an adventure worth having.
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