A Guide To The Salkantay Trek And Machu Picchu

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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.

Salkantay Trek 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.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Guided Pros:

  • 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

Guided Cons:

  • On a guided itinerary without much room for autonomy or improvisation
  • Expensive at ~$550 per person

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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:

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Key Points:

  • 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

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Safety Precautions:

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.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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!

Hike Description:

 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)

Salkantay Trek Day 1

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…

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Salkantay Trek Day 1

Salkantay Trek Day 2

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…

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Salkantay Trek Day 2

Salkantay Trek Day 3

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…

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Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trek Day 4

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…

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Salkantay Trek Day 4

Salkantay Trek Day 5

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…

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Salkantay Trek Day 5


A Complete Guide To The Ausangate Trek

Hiking The Mobius Arch Loop And Camping At Alabama Hills


23 thoughts on “A Guide To The Salkantay Trek And Machu Picchu”

  1. Great post. Thank you for sharing your experience. I have a plan to visit this amazing place with my friends. We got some information from “Green Peru Adventures” who is going to be our tour operator at our trip time. We are very much excited for our trip. Hope we will enjoy a lot.

  2. Hi Drew,

    Great post! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It’s so awesome going on these adventures through your eyes.

    I observed that getting permits to most of the popular Trails are quite a task. What would you advice one to do?

    By the way, I love your blog and I’ve spend almost 3 hours here!

    • Thanks, Rita! I actually need to update this post now that there are new guidelines for visiting Machu Picchu. They just went live this week. The two most important changes are regarding time and guides. Tickets will now be issued for a morning slot or an afternoon slot, and visitors cannot stay past their designated times. The second, and more major change, is that all visitors must be accompanied by a licensed guide now.

  3. Amazing experience for the Machu Picchu journey. Actually the are different routes to get to Machu Picchu, for example: Lares, Cachiccata, Choquequirao, Inca Jungle and the trip to Machu Picchu by bus via Hydroelectric.

  4. Awesome post and experience, thank you for sharing!
    The Salkantay Trail is the less traveled route into Machu Picchu. It’s a longer, more strenuous hike than the classic Inca Trail, but it is well worth it. It has fewer tourists on it plus it goes over a 15,262′ pass between two glaciers. The scenery is simply breathtaking. We book through this company http://inkatrailexplorer.com/alternative-treks-machu-picchu/salkantay-trek-machu-picchu-5days/ They were very well organized and did a fabulous job. We were on the trail for 4 days until finally arriving at the ancient site of Machu Picchu and we saw everything from glacier peaks to boulder fields to tropical jungle ecosystems. We went in December after main tourist season so we did not encounter the huge rush of hikers and tourists that can often be found on the trail. We absolutely loved this 31 mile, 4 day trek through the Peruvian back country! Highly recommended

  5. This sounds like a great trip. I’m also looking to go with Alpaca but was wondering what you advice is for choosing the 4 day or 5 day Salkantay Trek? I really want to go with this company from the dates they are doing the 5 day trek isn’t going to work with my flights. Was wondering whether to do the 4 day trek with them if they are company worth going with, or if the 5 day is a must and I should go with someone else

    • Having only done the 5-day, I can’t really speak on the 4 day. Having said that, I don’t think I would have wanted to edit any parts of the 5-day out. I will say that Alpaca is one of the best reviewed companies for a reason. Great food, great service, and great business practices. Feel free to mention my blog/name when booking. You can’t go wrong with Alpaca.

  6. Awesome info and amazing pictures. Thanks for the detailed write up which helped us with our trek through Salkantay. Where to next? We wanted to do some additional treks in Peru but this one had us beat.

  7. Hey Drew I checked your blog and wonder how many hours in average did u walk on Ausangate trek. The length looks like so short for day hikes I did several similar hikes in Peru, even longer and higher altitude like Alto Mavo, carrying food for 9-12days and still passing during a day average of 25kms (18miles) I am askig as im planning this hike on June this year

    • We didn’t walk very long each day. We had later breakfasts, long lunches, and early dinners. It was more about enjoying the views on this trip and not putting up maximum distance each day.


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