A visit to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail is usually the first trip that comes to mind for travelers planning a trip to Peru. As many have found out in their planning stages, getting a permit for the Inca Trail can be quite difficult without a lot of lead time. Luckily, there are a few other options. The most popular “second choice” trek to Machu Picchu is the Salkantay Trek. In this guide, I’ll provide all of the information a traveler will need to enjoy a hike of the Salkantay Trek with a final day at Machu Picchu.
The Salkantay Trek begins south of Machu Picchu in the town of Soraypampa at 12,800ft. Hikers cross over the 15,177ft Salkantay Pass on day one, and then continue for 40 miles of mostly downhill trails on their way to Machu Picchu.
Best Time To Go:
The climate in the Andes has a high level of variation based on season and elevation. The optimal time to hike the Salkantay Trek is during the months of July and August, at the peak of the dry season. I hiked the Salkantay Trek in July and had mostly dry weather with only one rain storm during our visit to Machu Picchu on the final day. The first day going over Salkantay Pass was pretty cold, with the daily high in the mid 30’s (F), and the nightly lows in the high single digits. Once we lost elevation, the daily temperatures were in the 60s with the nightly lows in the 30s and 40s.
- The wet season in the Andes of Peru spans from November to March when the climate is warmest.
- The sunny and dry season spans from April to October and is the optimal time for backpacking and trekking. Expect cool days and cold nights.
Guided vs Independant Trekking:
For this trip of the Salkantay Trek, Julia and I went with a guided tour from Alpaca Expeditions. I’m usually a do-it-yourself kind of backpacker, but wanted to get the most out of this trip without having to pack food, a tent, or other items a self supported affair would require. I’m really happy we went with Alpaca Expeditions because our guide, Effrain, was phenomenal. He taught us a lot about the history of the Andean people and the locals that live in the area. Our chef was from Cusco and cooked up regional meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We also had two porters who was assigned to the horses that carried all of our gear from campsite to campsite. This allowed us to carry very light daypacks for enjoyable daily hiking experiences. Having had this guided experience, I might go with a self supported trip next time to save on money and free up a little time for exploration. For a first time visitor, I would recommend a guided tour through Alpaca Expeditions. For those looking to travel without a guide, this blog has pretty good info.
Another thing to consider when traveling with a guide is that you’ll be joined by a group of fellow trekkers (unless you pay for a private guide service). To me, this is the biggest risk of traveling with a guided service, as you have no control over the attitude and fitness levels of the other group members. We were fortunate that the two other couples in our group had decent fitness and good attitudes.
- Knowledgeable guides with information on the region
- Regional meals and snacks
- Most gear is provided and transported from campsite to campsite
- Support of the local economy by giving porters jobs
- Transportation to and from Cusco is provided
- On a guided itinerary without much room for autonomy or improvisation
- Expensive at ~$550 per person
Directions And GPS Tracks:
- The Salkantay Trek begins south of Machu Picchu in the town of Soraypampa. To begin in Soraypampa, you’ll take a bus from Cusco. The length of the bus ride is about 3 hours. If you’re in a guided group, the bus ride will be provided for you.
- Download GPX
- See track on Strava
Hike Map And Elevation Profile:
- Distance: ~52 miles
- Minimum Elevation: 5887 ft
- Maximum Elevation: 15,178 ft
- Time: 5 days
- Permits: Required for Machu Picchu, but included with a guided service. If solo, see here.
- Visa: Single entry tourist visa to Peru for US citizens
- Trail Condition: Mostly single track, with some asphalt and dirt roads as you approach Machu Picchu.
- Cell Phone Reception: Very limited
Gear, Food, and Water:
The gear you bring will be decided by your choice of going with a guided tour or not. I’m not going to get too much into gear, food and water for self supported hikes because if you don’t already know what you should be bringing, you shouldn’t be going without a guide.
If you plan on going without a guide service, check out my John Muir Trail Gear Guide to see what I bring on a self supported backpacking trip. You can also see my John Muir Trail Food Guide. My planning and gear for a self supported trip of the Salkantay Trek would be pretty similar to what I brought on the JMT.
If you plan on going with a guide service, make sure to check what they will be provided before you arrive. With Alpaca Expeditions, they provided food, water, tents, sleeping pads, and horse transportation for all of our things from site to site. The only things we needed to bring during the day were our hiking essentials. You can see what I bring with me on day hikes on my Essential Hiking Gear Guide. The exceptions to that list are that I would include bug spray and a bug head net.
The Salkantay Trek begins in a fairly remote part of Peru with only small villages and no close-by hospitals. Make sure to come prepared with the proper gear, and most importantly, proper fitness. If you’ve never hiked at altitude before, plan to start slow. If this is your only trip in Peru, take at least 48 hours to acclimatize in Cusco. Here are a few other things to consider:
- If you’re not going with a guided group, make sure to leave a detailed itinerary with someone you’re close with.
- Make sure to stay hydrated. When hiking at high elevation in cold weather, you will sweat much less than you are used to. Once you are dehydrated it is often too late. Mixing dehydration with elevation sickness can be a nasty combination
- Familiarize yourself with the early signs of altitude sickness, and be proactive in your approach to combating these symptoms.Altitude sickness usually manifests itself with an early headache followed by dizziness and a loss of appetite. Don’t be afraid or too stubborn to stop.
- Be hyper-vigilant of weather. The conditions can change by the hour at high elevation in the Andes. Always have your warm layers and waterproof layers readily accessible. This is especially important when heading up and over the high passes.
- Have a first aid kit, gear repair kit, and blister treatment kit ready to go in your day pack.
- Check your health care plan to see what kind of international coverage you have. Consider international travel insurance for the off chance of a catastrophic event.
- Although crime is not common, keep an eye on your belongings when passing through the small villages. You can also bring along small gifts to hand out to the children.
- Make sure all water is boiled and properly treated. There are wild dogs and herds of alpaca and llama all throughout this region of the Andes. Treat all water as if it’s contaminated.
See My Documentary:
In this documentary I start out with my travels on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Pichhu and follow with my experience on the Ausangate Trek. Please enjoy!
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
Miles (Elev. Gain)
|Day 1: Cusco to Soraypampa to Wayracpunku||9 (3000 ft)||Wayracpunku|
|Day 2: Wayracpunku to La Playa||14 (1500 ft)||La Playa|
|Day 3: La Playa to Llactapata||7.5 (2600 ft)||Llactapata|
|Day 4: Llactapata to Aguas Calientes||9 (981 ft)||Aguas Calientes|
|Day 5: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu||5||None (Cusco)|
Our first day began with breakfast, which was our first introduction to our incredible chef, Super Mario! Effrain gave us the breakdown on our 9 mile trek for day one. We started at 12477 ft in Soraypampa…
We woke to the faint hint of light that paints the sky just before daybreak. The sun rises a little later in the mountains, as it takes a little more time to clear the towering peaks on the horizon…
The first few miles of hiking on day three followed a road through an organic coffee farm. It was amazing to see all of the coffee beans laying out to dry. Our guide told us that a lot of the beans go to waste on certain farms…
Sparkling sheets of clouds moved quickly overhead, allowing beams of light to shine in our direction over the heads of mountain peaks in the distance. We had our final breakfast with Mario, and of all the things…
The sun had just risen as we walked though the gates of the park, and we followed Effrain closely as he told us stories of Hiram Bingam and Inca legend. When we arrived to the destination he had talked about…