Visiting Machu Picchu is one thing, but hiking there is another!
Not as popular as the Classic Inca Trail, but still well known, the Salkantay Trek is a scenic trail leading to the world-famous site.
If you don’t want to book your trek months before your travels or have a lower budget, but still want a trekking adventure, the Salkantay Trek is the perfect choice.
Salkantay Trek Itinerary
The Salkantay Trek is a several day hike in stunning scenery including mountains, lakes, rainforest, small towns and of course ending with Machu Picchu as a highlight.
This blog post shows what you can expect during the trekking and shares all the information you should know.
If you only want to visit Machu Picchu itself, without doing a trekking, you should read:
How long is the trek?
The entire hike is approximately 72 kilometres long.
You can choose to rather do the hike within 5D/4N or 4D/3N, depending on your own preferences. The last day of the hike is always spent at Machu Picchu.
I chose the shorter version of the hike with 4 days, but will also share the usual itinerary for 5 days with you.
My group beginning the Salkantay Trek.
Is the hike difficult?
The Salkantay Trek is not an easy-peasy hike. Some days you will hike at high altitudes at almost 5,000 metres, going uphill most of the time. You should be in a good physical condition and prepared for some challenging and steep parts. Besides that, you will feel the altitude, which makes it even more important to watch out for your body.
You definitely need to spend at least 4 days in Cusco (located at 3,400 metres) before doing the hike, so you can get used to the altitude and give your body enough time to adjust.
➳ Tip: Kokopelli Hostel is an amazing place to stay in Cusco! They also offer free Coca Tea, which helps you to adjust to the altitude.
Beautiful Cusco- your starting point for the Salkantay Trek.
Day 1, day 2 and the steep climb to Machu Picchu on the last day are the most strenuous days compared to day 3 which one is relatively relaxing.
People who do much sport and fitness may not have any difficulties. I’ve done a few several day treks before, but I can tell you that this one was by far the hardest one! In the end, I made it well through the hike, but especially day 2 was challenging me the most, as I was struggling a little with the altitude.
Hiking at high altitudes over 4,000 meters can be challenging- be physically prepared. Even though walking above the clouds is a crazy feeling!
Day 1: Cusco – Humantay Lake
First exciting day! Your trekking will start in Cusco.
The tour company you booked with will pick you up from the hostel to bring you and the other tour members to your first camping spot close to Humantay Lake.
The drive will take a few hours, but you’ll start very early so that there is still enough time to hike.
➳ Tip: Take motion sickness tablets before the shuttle drive. Curvy roads for several hours plus increasing altitude is not a good combination. There was a girl in our shuttle who got very sick- her stomach couldn’t handle the drive…
Our camp for the night in the middle of nature surrounded by mountains!
After arriving at the camp, we started hiking to the top of Laguna Humantay.
The lake is located at 4,200 metres altitude and it took us around 1,5 hours to reach the top. That was my first time hiking at such an altitude and I have to admit that I needed to stop every now and then trying to suck in enough air into my lungs that felt too tight.
But, the effort was so worth it!
My happy face after an exhausting way up. How beautiful is the lake?!
The lake truly is a turquoise magnificent beauty in the Andes. What a reward! After spending some time up here, we were frozen and made our way back down to the camp, where an amazing lunch and hot chocolate was awaiting us.
➳ Tip: Bring a card game- we had plenty of time to hang out with our group in the evening & socialize, before heading to bed for the next big day.
Day 2: Highest Point & down to the rainforest
After a freezing night in our tents, our tour guide woke us up with Coca Tea at 4:30 AM. After pancakes for breakfast, we started the hardest and longest day of all.
Meet horse and donkey. We met them on our way up.
The way up, coming closer to Salkantay Mountain, was very steep and, again, the increasing altitude made me stop a few times. I was very exhausted after a few hours already, but the rewarding views pushed all my motivation to make it to the very top!
We could see the summit! So lucky with the weather.
Our tour guide was really caring about everyone, regularly checking if we were all doing fine.
I supplied myself on an hourly basis with some Coca leaves that I brought from my hostel. Apparently, if you place them in your cheeks and leave them there for a while, they help you to stay energized and prevent you from getting altitude sickness. Even though they taste awful!!
Far and wide no single human soul.
It feels so unreal to walk above the clouds, surrounded by those massive mountains partly covered in snow, some parts looking more like a moon landscape.
After 3 hours of hiking, we finally reached the highest point at 4,650 metres. I felt like I just arrived at another planet, that’s how strange and extraordinary the landscape looked up here, completely free of any human traces.
The highest point. It’s freezing cold up here & feels unreal, almost like on another planet. In the background you can see the Salkantay Lake.
After you reached the top, the rest of the day is just walking downhill.
The landscape then gets rainier and muddier, until suddenly you are surrounded by a complete different landscape of greens, warmer temperatures and tall trees- you made it to the jungle!
From now on, it will only go downhill.
Your camping spot will be hidden in Chaullay, which offers very different scenery than the first one.
Even though that’s the usual itinerary, our tour guide proposed to change ours because allegedly we hiked faster than what is usual. That’s why we skipped our camping spot in Chaullay and headed straight from there with a shuttle to Santa Teresa, where our group slept two nights instead of one. Another reason for that was because the trek from here is very straight and monotonous leading along a simple road where shuttles drive, so our guide offered to spend an extra day in Santa Teresa to do a small part of the Jungle Trek instead.
A pretty scary landslide
On our way to the shuttle, we got into a landslide happening directly in front of us! It was crazy to see the massive stones falling unpredictably from the sky and there was a serious problem about it: we were in the middle of it. To our right, there was the mountain and to our left nothing but the deep abyss. When we realized what was happening, we all started running for our lives. Within seconds the road behind us was covered with gravel, sand and stones. What a luck that our group just made it safely to the shuttle on time with nobody being hurt.
I guess the road closed for the next days and we were the last group being able to continue the trek.
Next to being in the middle of an earthquake in New Zealand and in a storm on a tiny fisherboat in the Philippines, I could now add a landslide to my natural catastrophic life situation list during 3 years of travelling…
What a scary moment for all of us!
Day 3: Chaullay – Santa Teresa
If you don’t skip this part like our group (which is unusual), this is your next trekking route.
Day 3 is the very easy part of the hike. The trek just follows along a road until reaching La Playa. After having lunch here the group will split, depending on who is doing only 4 days or 5 days.
Those who decided for the shorter track will be brought to Hidroelectrica directly by shuttle. From there you will continue 2 more hours walking along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes- the gateaway of Machu Picchu- where you will spend the night and head early towards Machu Picchu on the next day.
Meanwhile, the people who decided for the classic 5 day trip, will walk from La Playa to Santa Teresa to spend the night in this small town and visit the Hot Springs to take a relaxing bath.
Some cuddles were waiting for us in Santa Teresa!
Day 4: Along the train treks to Aguas Calientes
From Santa Teresa, your next destination will be Hidroelectrica, your lunch spot. From there, your group will follow the train treks to Aguas Calientes, where you’ll finally sleep in a normal bed and have a hot shower again!
The 4-day group will already be on top of Machu Picchu at that time!
Walking along the train treks to Aguas Calientes.
Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)- the gateaway to Machu Picchu.
Day 5: Machu Picchu – Cusco
Finally, the big day has come- Machu Picchu!
Starting at 4:30 AM in the morning with a few snacks inside my bag, I was so excited to finally start making my way up to the world-famous site. The night before, in Aguas Calientes, our tour guide had explained that it’s going to be only a short, but very steep way up- to be exactly: 1,600 stairs!
This will be your exercise for 1 hour- are you ready?
It took me sweaty 45 minutes to finally arrive at the entrance.
But, as soon as I entered the site and spotted the first view on Machu Picchu in full sunshine, I was SPEECHLESS! The view literally blew me away. It was such a magical moment, such a powerful place that every single effort coming here has been absolutely worth it!
This place left me speechless.
Epic views. 4 days of hiking were worth the effort.
Besides exploring the Machu Picchu ruins, I finished my whole trip with hiking up Huayna Picchu, which you can book in advance in addition to the Salkantay Trek. Arrived on the top, I knew that I would never forget the views and the feeling that entire place gave me!
➳ Tip: If you want to have enough time to explore the ruins and take photos of Machu Picchu, I don’t recommend to hike Huayna Picchu Mountain. Even though the views are stunning, based on my personal experience, you’ll already be super tired of all the previous hiking, so that you might be glad to have enough time to fully enjoy Machu Picchu and relax a little.
Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu- the height can be quite scary, but worth the views.
The whole track was challenging, that’s at least what my body was clearly showing me with the worst muscle pain and my legs that never felt so wobbly before. Even though, the track might push you to your limits at some points, the rewards you get out of it are so much bigger.
When the time at Machu Picchu was up, I headed to the exit and made all my way back to Hidroelectrica, from where my shuttle was bringing me back to Cusco.
It was the longest and hardest 7-hour drive I’ve ever had and I was feeling so exhausted and tired. I couldn’t wait to finally arrive at my hostel and have a long night of good sleep.
➳ Tip: Don’t forget to book an extra night in your hostel for the day after the trek!
Where to book and costs
You have two options to book your tour: online or in Cusco.
Speaking from personal experience, you should book your tour in person at one of the many tour offices in Cusco. There are so many operators on the street trying to sell you their best offer that you won’t have any problems to still find a spot. Don’t forget that the Salkantay Trek is not as common as the Inca Trail, which means you don’t have to book much in advance. Booking in person rather than online also is way cheaper!
I’d recommend: book your tour in Cusco.
Which tour company?
I booked 3 days before the start of my tour with Marvelous Peru by just going inside their office and booking personally (it was low season).
The tour was extremely fun, we had a nice group of seven people from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Sweden and Israel, so we were all mixed. Our tour guide was very knowledgable and caring for the group and the food was amazing!
Group photo! We had a great tour with Marvelous Peru.
I ended up paying only 180 USD for 4 days of Salkantay Trekking including the food, accommodation and entrance to Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. It was by far the cheapest tour I could find! For that experience, it definitely is the best price and probably what you would almost pay for visiting Machu Picchu in one day with all the transport costs, accommodation etc.
➳ Tip: What I learned about booking tours in Peru: when you book your tour in person instead of online, you are able to negotiate with the tour operator & end up saving a lot of money!
- Food for all days
- Entrance ticket to Machu Picchu
- Bilingual tour guide
- Vegetarian food on request
- Camping equipment
- Sleeping bags (you might want to bring your own if you have one, it gets freezing in the first 2 nights and I was happy to have two sleeping bags)
Things you should know
Before starting you start your Salkantay Trek adventure, there are few important things you should know, to be fully prepared on what’s expecting you.
Luggage for Salkantay Trek
When doing the Salkantay Trek, you will have to bring a few things like warm layers of clothes, bath utensils, important documents and medicine in case you’ll need it. Don’t forget: you’ll be hiking for 4 or 5 days in the middle of nature isolated from society.
Therefore, you should bring a comfortable backpack where everything that you need fits inside. Store the rest of the luggage you don’t need for the hike at your hostel in Cusco. Really reduce to the minimum of luggage! You don’t want to carry around a heavy bag when hiking steep ways up at high altitude.
➳ Good to know: You’ll have the option to book an extra horse for your luggage at an additional price, so you don’t have to carry the big bag by yourself during the hike. I didn’t take this option because I felt sorry for the horse carrying around other people’s stuff (obviously I’m an animal lover), so I carried my backpack for all 4 days, and hey, it was totally doable.
Find a packing list below.
Luggage for Machu Picchu
Now, if you have a bigger bag with you than just a day backpack (which is most likely), there will be one problem: big bags are not allowed at Machu Picchu. That’s why you need to bring another extra small day backpack for the stuff you need on the last hiking day.
When you get to Hidroelectrica, your tour company will organize luggage storage for your big bag. Then, you can pack the things you need for 1 night in Aguas Calientes & the day of visiting Machu Picchu in your smaller bag and leave the bigger one in Hidroelectrica. You’ll return here for your shuttle back to Cusco.
Check with your tour operator before starting the hike, it might be that each one handles the solution of luggage in a different way!!
There won’t be well equipped bathrooms during the hike until you arrive in Aguas Calientes. That means no shower and very simple toilets… without toilet paper. Make sure to bring your own! 😀
The altitude is something you have to get used to. It can be a very unpleasant feeling and tough for your body if you are not well prepared.
Don’t overstrain your body, take enough breaks, drink enough water and spend at least 4 days in Cusco before your trek to get used to the altitude.
➳ Tip: Coca Leaves are your best friend when it comes to altitude sickness. Start to drink Coca Tea in Cusco already and take some Coca Leaves with you for the trek.
The weather on the Salkantay Trek changes quickly. One day you are hiking at high altitudes where it gets really cold and frosty (snow is possible) when 2 hours later you’ll be in the rainforest where it’s humid and hot. One hour the sun is shining, another hour it’s pouring rain. That basically means: be prepared for all weather stages. Bring a rain poncho, dress in layer and be prepared to sweat and freeze.
Packing list for Salkantay Trek
- 1 top/shirt (humid temperatures in the jungle)
- Sports Bra
- Long sleeve shirt
- 2x warm sweaters
- Outdoor Jacket
- Rain Poncho!
- Hiking Pants/ Sport leggings
- Swim Suit (for hot springs in Santa Teresa)
- Small backpack (for Machu Picchu Day)
- Hiking Boots
- Warm Socks
- Toilet Paper
- Tooth Brush
- Tooth Paste
- Small shampoo
- extra light sleeping bag
- Mosquito Repellent
- Flash Light
- Camera & extra batteries
- Powerbank (you’ll be able to recharge only in Aguas Calientes)
- Water (you can’t refill water on the track, but buy it at a few stations you’ll pass daily)
- Some snacks (nuts, energy bars, apple, crackers …)
- Medicine: for altitude sickness( e.g Coca Leaves), motion sickness tablets, Ibuprofen/Paracetamol, something for stomach problems
- Blister plasters
- Extra cash in soles (for water, Hot Springs, toilets etc.)
➳ Must Read: Amazon Jungle Tour, Peru.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience doing the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu & could take some valuable information from it! If you have any questions or thoughts share them below. 🙂