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If you think of Machu Picchu the Inca trail is what comes to mind. It’s the trail that everyone does and everyone’s heard of. If I say ‘Salkantay trek’ you’ll probably wonder where it is and where it goes (and so did I until I started looking up ways to get to Machu Picchu!). But, if you’re looking to hike your way to Machu Picchu, then the Salkantay Trek is a brilliant trail to choose. It’s the trail Thom and I went for as part of our three month trip around South America. If you’d like to do the same, then here’s your guide to the Salkantay Trek.
About the Salkantay Trek
Meaning “Savage Mountain” in Quechua, the Salkantay Trek is one of the more famous alternatives to the Inca Trail. It’s been named one of the 25 best Treks in the World by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine. It’s open to everybody and, unlike the Inca trail, there’s no limitation on spaces or permits (for now anyway!).
The Salkantay route connects the city of Mollepata in Cusco with Machu Picchu. It follows an ancient and remote footpath near the Inca Trail where you’ll walk past snow capped mountains and into lush, tropical rainforest.
The highest point of your Salkantay trek is 4630m high – higher than you’ll get if you take the Inca Trail.
Why we did the Salkantay Trek?
When we were planning our trip to South America I knew I wanted to hike to Machu Picchu, but I wasn’t sure how.
Having discovered that the permits to the Inca Trail were all booked up during the time we were in Peru I looked into alternatives.
That’s when we found that there were other ways to get to Machu Picchu that we hadn’t known about. The Salkantay was cheaper, longer, harder, arguably prettier and, most importantly, didn’t have the limits like the Inca Trail did.
Why should I pick the Salkantay Trek over the Inca trail?
The Salkantay trek is cheaper, longer, harder and it’s considered to be quieter in terms of foot traffic too. giving it a more authentic feel. Plus, the biggest point is that you don’t have to book it months and months in advance.
From what I know most people like the Inca Trail as it’s seen as the “traditional” trek and you get to arrive in Machu Picchu at sunrise. You also get to arrive at Machu Picchu for sunrise with the Salkantay Trek, or by staying in Aguas Calientes the night before.
Simply wake up at about 3.30/4am and head down to the foot of the hill Machu Picchu sits atop. You’ll find plenty of people hiking up the stairs to the gates of Machu Picchu. Then you can then enter the Lost City as the sun comes up.
You can also hike the Salkantay Trek without a guide if you have a reasonable amount of hiking experience. The Inca Trail is no longer an option should you wish to hike unguided due to regulations.
Which company did we use for our Salkantay Trek?
We took the classic Salkantay Trek 5d/4n with Quechuas Expeditions. I believe they’re a bit more expensive than some other companies but I think it’s worth the little bit of extra money. Our guides told us that this company respected them and paid them fairly unlike some of the others.
Our food was absolutely delicious, camping equipment was top quality and there were only four people in our group which was great. Some companies group together which means you could be trekking with over 16 people. Personally, I prefer smaller groups!
How much does the Salkantay Trek cost?
The Salkantay Trek we did with Quechuas Expeditions costs between $440 and $550 USD which includes a train back to Cusco (rather than a slow bus journey). There is a small discount if you’re able to show a student card which we did. You could also hire sleeping bags and other hiking equipment like walking poles from them if needed.
On top of this, you’ll also have to budget for tips at the end of your trek (about 50 soles per person, with more given to guide and main chef).
Whilst the above is the current price (2018) for the trek we did, you could probably find a cheaper tour guide if you’re strictly on a budget. One of the best ways to find a cheaper trek is to go around the tour offices in Cusco and see if they have any last-minute places. Where last-minute places are available you’re usually able to barter the price down slightly.
How long is the Salkantay Trek?
The Salkantay trek is 57.2 miles long (92km) and a guided trek usually take 5 days. Some tour companies offer shorter or longer versions too.
Salkantay Trek route
When we took our Salkantay trek trip back in 2014 we began our hike at Mollepata. Since 2017, a lot of guided treks on the Salkantay Trail have been starting at Soraypampa which shortens the trek by about 12 miles (20km). However, it looks like the Quechuas Expedition trek still starts at Mollepata.
- Day 1: Cuscco – Mollepata – Challacancha
- Day 2: Soraypampa – Salkantay Pass – Chaullay Collpapampa
- Day 3: Collpapampa La Playa Lucmabamba or Santa Teresa
- Day 4: Lucmabamba – Llactapata – Hydroelectrica – Aguas Calientes
- Day 5: Aguas Calientes Puente Ruinas Machu Picchu – Cusco
We also had the option of hot springs and to take a zip line trip during our hike with Quechuas Expeditions.
When is the best time to hike the Salkantay Trek?
The best time to hike the Salkantay Trek is between May and October when the weather is usually drier. We had some very, very wet days during our hike in mid-May so obviously this isn’t a guarantee!