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Trying to decide on a hike to Machu Picchu? Well, this blog is our honest Salkantay Trek review which includes all of the information you need to know to decide if this hike is for you!
After lots of research, we finally booked the Salkantay Trek to get us to Machu Picchu, Peru. It was a hard decision, but after completing the hike, it was one we didn’t regret.
In this blog, I’ll let you in on what to expect on the Salkantay Trek, who I think the hike is best suited for, as well as some other important things to consider like choosing the right tour and more!
About the Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is one of the most popular ways to get to Machu Picchu. Less famous than the iconic Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is both easier to book and cheaper. And on top of that, many say the Salkantay is just as beautiful! For these reasons, many people looking for a multi-day trek to Machu Picchu choose the Salkantay Trek – as we did!
The Salkantay Trek is around 74 km (46 miles) long and is most commonly done over 4-5 days (with visiting Machu Picchu on Day 5.)
It also holds historical significance, and like the Inca Trail, was a route the Incas once took to get to Machu Picchu. The main difference is that the Salkantay Trek is through the mountains reaching nearly 5,000m above sea level, whereas the Inca Trail is walking on ruins much of the way. It is said that the Salkantay Trek was the route that religious leaders took to get to Machu Picchu because the high elevations that brought them “closer to god.”
The Salkantay Trek is named after the mountain that the trail passes, Salkantay Mountain. It isn’t just this mountain you’ll see on the hike though as the trail offers varying landscapes including glaciers and tropical Andean forest.
But should you hike the Salkantay Trek or opt for a different multi-day hike to Machu Picchu? In this blog, I’ll compare the Salkantay Trek with the two other most popular treks, the Inca Trail and Jungle Trek, as well as tell you about my personal experience in detail. This way, you can learn if the Salkantay Trek is for you or not!
Salkantay Trek vs Jungle Trek vs Inca Trail
To me, the first step in reviewing the Salkantay Trek is to compare it to the other options in the area for guided hikes to Machu Picchu.
As you probably already know, there are three main hikes you can do to Machu Picchu: the Salkantay Trek, the Jungle Trek, and the Inca Trail. Each is special in its own way and suited for a different type of traveler.
Here is a table comparing these three hikes to Machu Picchu:
- Distance: 74 km (46 miles)
- Time: 5 days
- Altitude: 4580 meters at the highest point
- Things to do/see: Humantay Lagoon, Santa Theresa hot springs, Apacheta pass, views of Salkantay mountain, ziplining
- Price: $230+ USD
- Season: All year round
- Distance: Approx 60 km (37 miles) biked, 38 km (24 miles) walking
- Time: 3-4 days
- Altitude: 4,316 meters at the highest point
- Things to do/see: Abra Malaga Pass, downhill mountain biking, ziplining, whitewater rafting,
- Price: $250+ USD
- Season: All year round (if it is foggy the mountain biking will be canceled)
- Distance: 42 km (26 miles)
- Time: 4 days
- Altitude: 4,215 meters at the highest point
- Things to do/see: Authentic Inca pathways, Wayllabamba ruins, Phuyupatamarca, Valley of Llulluchapampa
- Price: $700+ USD
- Season: Closed for the entire month of February each year.
Why Choose the Salkantay Trek?
After carefully learning about all of the options to hike to Machu Picchu and completing the Salkantay Trek for myself, there are a few reasons you should consider the Salkantay Trek over the others including:
- A cheaper option than the Inca trail
- Amazing views including the highest pass and views of Salkantay mountain
- Humantay Lagoon (bright blue lake with mountains in the backdrop)
- Option to do the same ziplining as the Jungle Trek
- The authentic trail to Machu Picchu walked by spiritual leaders as it “brought them closer to god”
Salkantay Trek Review: Important Information to Know/Consider
For my Salkantay Trek review, I’ve broken it down into a couple of stand-out categories below. These cover the main things to know and think about before booking the Salkantay Trek for yourself.
The difficulty of the Salkantay Trek
To me, the Salkantay Trek was a little challenging. I’ve actually done quite a lot of hiking in Peru, and for comparison’s sake, I thought it was harder than the Colca Canyon but easier than any hikes I did in Huaraz, Peru.
The Salkantay Trek is best suited for someone who does like to hike. I wouldn’t recommend it for anybody who has never done multi-day treks before or doesn’t enjoy full days of hiking.
Day 2 is the most challenging day that takes most people around 9 hours. It climbs 600 meters in elevation and then descends 1,780 m over 22 kilometers. This is a full (challenging day of hiking.) But, it is also rewarding and beautiful.
The altitude is also a problem. If you get very bad altitude sickness then the Salkantay Trek might not be for you. To prevent altitude sickness, it is best to spend a couple of days in Cusco before starting the trail and take altitude sickness pills while on the trail.
If you like a challenge, the outdoors, and hiking then you’ll love the Salkantay Trek – as I did!
Food and Accommodation on the Salkantay Trek
The food and accommodation you get on the Salkantay Trek completely depends on the tour you book. Some more luxurious (and expensive) tours provide accommodation along the entire way along with meals supplied by the hotels. Other more budget tours, will camp the first three nights and have a cook come along to make your meals nightly.
On my tour, although a budget tour, the meals were delicious and filling. I did bring a few of my own snacks but barely needed them as I was fed enough by my tour guide.
Almost all tour companies provide a hotel on the final night in Aguas Caliente. Although basic, our hotel was a comfortable 2-star hotel with a hot shower and a spacious room.
Along the trail, you will find small shops or places to buy things like snacks, pop, or beer. At the camps at night, you can also purchase items like alcohol or chocolate.
Things to do and see (besides hiking)
If you go on the Salkantay Trek you will have to option to add on a couple of different activities which are important considerations of the Salkantay Trek review.
The first is the hot springs at Santa Theresa. Here, you can soak your sore muscles for a couple of hours for only a couple of extra dollars.
Second is ziplining. I personally didn’t do it as they didn’t seem overly exciting to me, but others did and really enjoyed the experience.
You can also buy extra hikes at Machu Picchu including Machu Picchu Mountain (like I did) or Huayna Picchu.
You can book the same type of Salkantay Trek tour that we did – camped at Llactapata – online in advance here!
How to Book the Salkantay Trek
One of the great things about the Salkantay Trek is that unlike the Inca Trail, it does not need to be booked several months in advance. In fact, there are so many tour companies running this tour that you could literally arrive in Cusco and book the tour for the next day.
However, I don’t overly recommend this.
While you will be able to negotiate the best deal boking in person last minute, there are no guarantees what you will get. Tour agencies team up and group people on the same tour changing everyone at different prices. The salespeople will also tell you anything to make the sale even if it is a lie.
If you book in person, there is no guarantee of the quality of the tour you will get, and no repercussions for the tour company afterward if they lie to you (or rip you off.)
This is why I recommend booking online. This way, you can read other customers’ reviews ahead of time and have the power to leave your own review afterward. This helps ensure the company stands by what they offer.
If you book with a third-party booking company such as Viator or Get Your Guide, they also include detailed descriptions of all inclusions. If you have any problems, you can deal with them as opposed to having to argue with the tour provider directly.
Of course, many people do book directly in Cusco without any problems. It is totally up to you at the end of the day and I am only sharing my opinion.
It’s also important to note that not all Salkantay Trek tours are created equally, and there are a few things you should consider before choosing your tour (more on that below.)
You can browse a range of Salkantay Trek tours on both Viator or Get Your Guide. Our Salkantay Trek tour did a special route, which visits the ancient ruins of Llactapata. Book this tour for a similar experience where you’ll spend the night at Llactapata and watch the sunset with Machu Picchu in the distance.
The BEST Salkantay Trek Tours & the Different Types of Tours
Not all Salkantay Trek tours are the same. It’s important that you choose a tour that suites you best so you can have the experience that you’ve always dreamed of. Below, I’ve summarized that main types of tours that you can choose between, as well as the tour we did (and loved!)
Classic 5-Day Hike
This 5-day, 4-night Salkantay Trek is the “classic” verison. This version is slightly shorter than the next couple of tours I will mention that have the added difficulty of hiking to Lllactapata. This tour allows you more time to relax at the hot springs in Santa Teresa as well as in Aguas Calientes. It includes 3 nights at a campsite, one night in a hotel, as well as all of your meals.
This tour is best for those who want to experience the Salkantay Trek without any extra kilometers added to the hike, and more time to relax. It’s also budget-friendly at only $300 USD.
This Salkantay Trek tour is slighly shorter in duration, only 3 days of hiking the trail with one day (day 4) spend at Machu Picchu. This tour is great for those who are short on time, but in all honestly, I wouldn;t recommend it otherwsie as it will be somewhat rushed.
This tour costs $550 USD and includes two nights of camping and one night in a hotel as well as all of your meals.
5-Day Hike with a visit to Llactapata Ruins
This 5-day hike includes a side-trip on day 4 to the historical ruins of Llactapata. These ruins are stunning, and from them you get an incredible view of Machu Picchu in the distance. This is a unique point of view that I highly recommend.
This particular tour is also the most budget-friendly at only $290 USD. It itcludes all of your meal as well as camping for three nights and a hostel for one night. It’s a great option for those who are up for a challenge, what to see it all (including Llactapata), but are also somewhat budget-concious.
5-Day Hike with one night at Llactapata – Our Personal Recommendation
This is the tour that we did and one that I highly recommend. What sets it apart from the others is that you spend the night up at Llactapata on the third night. What is so special about that? Well, you will have an incredible mountain view of Machu Picchu as the sunsets. It’s pure magic.
Of course, an experence like this comes wiht a slightly higher price, but if you ask me it’s totally worth it. This particular tour costs $590 USD and includes 4 night of camping, 1 night in a hotel, and all of your meals.
My Experience on the Salkantay Trek & What to Expect
We wrote this story about our INCREDIBLE experience on the Salkantay Trek hoping to help others decide if the Salkantay Trek is the right choice for them. We thought it was a fun addition to this Salkantay Trek review and shares our true experience.
Here’s our story of hiking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu:
Getting to the start of the Salkantay Trek
It was 4 am and we were up and waiting to catch a minibus to start our hike to Machu Picchu. We had booked a slightly different version of the classic Salkantay Trek and were super excited to start.
We drove up a narrow road (similar to the Crazy Road in La Paz, Bolivia in parts) gradually climbing in altitude along the windy road with just enough speed to disrupt any sleep I planned on getting.
We arrived safely with a newfound gratitude for what it meant to be alive and breathing. I’m always thankful for being alive at the end of treacherous drives along sheer drops some hundreds of feet in depth.
After the treacherous drive through the mountains, we were at the beginning of the Salkantay Trek. Our first day involved an easy four-hour hike to our camp.
Camping at “Muddy Town”
The village we camped at translated from Quechua (the native language of the Incas) to “muddy town.” This was very easy to see why as we had rain that day and the floor was inches thick with mud.
The mud didn’t stop us from exploring the area with a hike to a lake at the base of a snow-capped mountain. The mountain was covered in a thick sheet of ice that hung seemingly weightless. The lake was pale green and reflected the mountain peaks off of the calm water.
At Muddy town, there was a sheltered area with tables where we ate dinner, tents all pre-setup for us, a small shop selling snacks, as well as a pit toilet.
Our tour guide Carlos (or as we called him Carlitos) was short in stature but big in heart. His round face and giant smile gave him one of the friendliest looks I have seen in a person. He talked with so much passion and energy about everything he knew over the 5 days with us.
On our first day, with a strong look of urgency in his eyes, he spoke of his ancestors and what the highlands of South America meant to his people. From the Condor to his native Quechua language, his expressions were deep and as he talked his voice softened as if to hold back tears.
From that moment I think we all realized he was the best tour guide for our hike to Machu Picchu. And it is true, the guide really makes or breaks the tour!
Day 2: The Toughest Day
We woke up at the crack of dawn to Coca tea served to us in our tents as promised to us by Carlitos the night before. Coca is the plant used to manufacture cocaine, but in South America, it has been used for centuries for all sorts of natural remedies.
However, in this case, it was a simple way to get out of bed while it was freezing cold.
We set off at 6 am on the 22km journey that would take us up through the Salkantay Pass. At over 4600m, it would be the highest Bailey and I had hiked to date. This day was promised to be the most difficult day of the entire Salkantay Trek.
The weather was wet with light rain. The fog moved through the valley like a snake would slither through a rocky path only sometimes giving us small glimpses of the mountains around us.
At the Salkantay Pass, the weather was much more brutal. The cold wind splinted through the warm alpaca jumpers we wore and the rain froze our exposed faces. The weather hindered any chance we had at amazing views along the pass.
As we descended down the rocky path, our surroundings quickly changed from the grey, rocky, low grass landscape to the dense rainforest. The humidity became more apparent as the temperature rose and more plants and animals appeared.
Not so long after, we had arrived at our second camp. Surrounded by green vegetation but still plagued by the muddy ground (worse than our previous night) we took refuge on an elevated wooden deck. Here, we were safe from the rain and spent our evening chatting around a table with beers and tea.
We often discussed in a hopeful tone that tomorrow the sun would shine and joked that there would be a need for sunscreen, a hat, and lots of water to combat the harsh sun.
Day 3: The Inca Trail to Llactapata
It was still dark when we rose from our tents that morning, but to my surprise, I could see in the distance that the fog was clearing and by the time breakfast was finished the sky showed us its beautiful color in small holes in the clouds.
The hike that day was short but grueling as we headed up a steep path built by the Incas hundreds of years earlier. The Incas were magicians with stonework, they could build all the structures they required without the use of cement or any other kind of bonding.
The path was hard to see in most places as hundreds of years of erosion and growth change the landscape, but in some areas, the quality of Inca stonework remained resistant to the elements and as strong as the day they built it. This made me think of buildings today, even with our advances in technology could they stand the test of time?
“Thank god” I muttered to Bailey as we conquered the last few steps. We sat down on a fallen tree and caught our breath before heading to Llactapata (Inca ruins that were once the guardhouse overlooking Machu Picchu.)
Carlitos showed us around the Llactapata ruins site. It was situated on the side of a steep cliff that was dwarfed by the surrounding landscape of the Andes Mountain Range. Through the valley, only 5 miles away, sat Machu Picchu. It sat on a mountain’s peak, the outline of the rock walls was strong against the vegetation.
We simply stared over at the ancient city in utter awe. This was the first time I had seen Machu Picchu with my own eyes, although from a long distance, I was amazed by its beauty and locality.
We spent the night not far from here with mountain views. This was one of the highlights of our time on the Salkantay Trek.
Please note: This is NOT the traditional Salkantay Trek route and almost all tours now camp at a place called Playa. Some tours (such as this one) do still visit Llactapata on day 4 so you can enjoy the same magnificant view of Machu Picchu in the distance and walk this true Inca Trail!
Day 4: The final day of the Salkantay Trek
It was our last day before our visit to Machu Picchu and we only had a few kilometers to hike so we decided to take a break at the nearby Santa Theresa Hot Springs. It was a perfect way to soothe our sore feet after the previous days but we still had 8km’s to hike so we got moving hoping to arrive in time for an afternoon beer.
The 8km’s involved walking along the train tracks that head to Aguas Calientes (the town below Machu Picchu.) The hike was easy apart from dodging an approaching train every now and then.
Aguas Calientes is a small town at the base of the mountain in which Machu Picchu sits. Almost everybody who visits Machu Picchu spends the night before here.
We got a hotel on this night, and it was great to have a hot shower! We went out for dinner and beers at a local restaurant with our group where Carlitos briefed us on what to expect for day 5 where we would go to Machu Picchu!
This officially marked the end of the Salkantay Trek for us and what a journey it was!
Overall Salkantay Trek Review
I loved the Salkantay Trek. To me, it was the perfect combination of a challenging hike mixed with rewarding views as well as having plenty of time to relax.
Sure, the first couple of days and nights are tough camping and walking far distances. But by the time you reach the hot springs it gets fairly easy and spending a night in a hotel at Aguas Calientes felt like pure luxury!
I think that after walking for four days Machu Picchu seemed even more amazing.
I would easily recommend the Salkantay Trek to anyone who is up for the challenge! It is so worth it!
I hope that my Salkantay Trek review has helped you decide whether to tackle this hike or not. If you have any questions, be sure to comment below so I can get back to you!
Be sure to check out our other Peru blogs or some of our favorite articles below:
- Cusco on a Budget
- 33 Things to do in Cusco
- Colca Canyon Tours: A Guide to Choosing the RIGHT Tour
- Peru Highlights: The BEST Things to do in Peru