The experience of seeing Machu Picchu is even more magical if you feel you’ve earned it… By trekking four days to get there for example. The Salkantay Trail is much less famous and popular than the Inca Trail – but without good reason. The diverse landscape offers tough-to-beat views!
You can do the trek (well prepared!) on your own, but we decided to go for convenience and do an organized, guided trek as most people do. It can be a tough cookie to choose an agency and to know what to expect, so the below can help you to get ready.
When & how long?
May to November is dry season, so the most recommended time to do the Salkantay (or Inca) Trail. June, July and August are the most popular months, so you are sharing the views with larger crowds. Wet season from December to April offers smaller crowds and greener hillsides, but a frequent shower too. Shoulder season, April to June or September to November can often provide the best of both worlds: fewer crowds, warmer temperatures and relatively little rain.
Most tour operators offer treks of 3, 4 or 5 days. Watch out: the 3-day trek is not easier, but the same as the 5-day trek, meaning you have to conquer the distances in a shorter period of time.
Which tour operator? For what price?
The hardest decision to make, because you obviously want to have the best tour, for the best price. But even for the same amount of days, tour operators charge a wide range of prices. The rule of thumb would be: you get what you pay for. The differences can be subtle though, for example: the knowledge and language skills of the guide, the size of the group, the quality of the material such as sleeping bags, the quality of the food & drinks, etc. Or the differences can be clear: Is the entrance to Machu Picchu included? Is the night at hotel in Aguas Calientes included?
For the most popular option, the 5-day trek, the average price is 400 USD. Before you book, you need to check, check and double check: how is the agency rated, and what is included in the tour? We booked the tour with Salkantay Trekking and paid 400 USD per person for the 5-day Salkantay Trail. The below information is based on our experience with them.
How’s the trekking?
Lucas tracked the Salkantay trekking with GPS. The mapping of our trekking (see below) gives a good indication and real life view of the distance and altitude covered each day.
Day 1: Cusco –> Soraypampa (distance covered: 12km)
Drive from Cusco to Challacancha (1); the starting point of the trek
7km hike from Challacancha (1) to Soraypampa (2); basecamp where you have lunch (easy)
5km hike from Soraypampa (2) to Humantay Lake (3) and back to basecamp (4) (moderate)
Day 2: Soraypampa –> Chaullay (distance covered: 22km)
7km hike from Soraypampa (4) to Salkantay Pass (5); the highest reachable point of Salkantay Mountain (challenging)
5km hike from Salkantay Pass (5) to Huayracmachay (6); lunch spot (moderate)
10km hike from Huayracmachay (6) to Chaullay (7); camp spot (easy)
Day 3: Chaullay –> Lucmabamba (distance covered: 18km)
15km hike from Chaullay (7) to Playa Sahuayacco (8); lunch spot (easy)
3km hike from Sahuayacco (8) to Lucmabamba (9); camp spot (easy)
(optional) drive from Lucmabamba (9) to the hot springs (35 soles for tranport & entrance)
Day 4: Lucmabamba –> Aguas Calientes (distance covered: 27km)
10km hike from Lucmabamba (9) to Llactapata (10); Inca Trail & Inca Site with distant view on Machu Picchu (easy/moderate)
5km hike from Llactapata (10) to Hydroelectrica (11); lunch spot & train station (challenging)
12km hike from Hydroelectrica (11) to Aguas Calientes (12); overnight in ho(s)tel (easy)
You also have the option to go from Hydroelectrica to Aguas Calientes by train (28 USD)
Day 5: Visit to Machu Picchu!
You can either take the bus or do the hike from Agues Calientes to Machu Picchu. For more information, have a look at the post ‘Visiting Machu Picchu like a pro‘.
How’s the accomodation?
On day 1, 2 and 3 we slept in tents. Salkantay Trekking provided a tent, sleeping mat, sleeping bag, liner and pillow. The tents were set up in huts to protect against the cold (it’s chilly at night at that altitude). On day 4 we slept in a basic hotel (private room, private bathroom) in Aguas Calientes.
On the second day we could shower at the hot springs, on the third day we could shower at the camp site. Before lunch and dinner warm water with soap and towel was provided to freshen up.
What food & drinks?
We were never hungry: snacks, basic breakfast (sometimes even eggs and pancakes!), lunch (3-course) and dinner (2-course) was included. The best part was happy hour: tea time with biscuits, but even with -wait for it…- fresh pop-corn or such delicious treats. The chefs went above and beyond to put something on the table for everyone. During lunch and dinner different platters were provided, so we could always choose something to our taste. They did a great effort for vegetarians and people with special diets, like gluten free, and also vegan would be no problem!
Hot and boiled water was provided in the morning and with every meal (+ tea, coffee or cacao powder). From time to time there was juice as well. No soft drinks or alcoholic drinks were included.
To be honest I cried a little paying the 400 USD for the trek, but in the end, it was more than worth it. If you are convinced to book an organized trek, remember to check and double check what you find important and what is included. Don’t hesitate getting in touch!