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The TRUTH about the Salkantay Trek, Peru: An Honest Review & Guide

The TRUTH about the Salkantay Trek, Peru: An Honest Review & Guide

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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. 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

view along the trail of the Salkantay Trek
The trek is stunning!

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 the 5th day being the visit to Machu Picchu.

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 5,000 m (16,404 ft) 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 of 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

Machu Picchu, Peru
All the trails lead to one of the best places to visit in Peru – Machu Picchu!

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 comparison of these three hikes to Machu Picchu:

Salkantay Trek:

  • Distance: 74 km (46 miles)
  • Time: 5 days
  • Altitude: 4580 meters (15,026 ft) at the highest point
  • Things to do/see: Humantay Lagoon, Santa Theresa hot springs, Apacheta pass, views of Salkantay mountain, ziplining
  • Price: $400+ USD
  • Season: All year round

Jungle Trek:

  • Distance: Approx 60 km (37 miles) biked, 38 km (24 miles) walking
  • Time: 3-4 days
  • Altitude: 4,316 meters (14,160 feet) at the highest point
  • Things to do/see: Abra Malaga Pass, downhill mountain biking, ziplining, whitewater rafting,
  • Price: $350+ USD
  • Season: All year round (if it is foggy the mountain biking will be canceled)

Inca Trail:

  • Distance: 42 km (26 miles)
  • Time: 4 days
  • Altitude: 4,215 ft (13,829 ft) 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”

Related Read: Before you plan your trip find out everything you should know before visiting Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trek Review: Important Information to Know/Consider

Bailey with views of the Salkantay Trek in the background
Day 3 of the Salkantay Trek

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

Bailey wearing a poncho on the Salkantay Trek
We didn’t have fancy raincoats but we still made it!

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 likes 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 (1969 ft) in elevation and then descends 1,780 meters (5840 ft) over 22 kilometers (13.7 miles). 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! You can go on the same tour as we did by reserving online here.

Food and accommodations on the Salkantay Trek

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie in their tent on the Salkantay Trek
Selfie in our tent at camp number 1!

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 exact tour, although on the budget side, 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)

Cloudy view on the Salkantay Trek, Peru
Cloudy view on the Salkantay Trek, Peru

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 online in advance here!

How to Book the Salkantay Trek

Our group of hikers on the Salkantay Trek
Day 4 of the Salkantay Trk

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 by booking in person last minute, there are no guarantees about what you will get. Tour agencies team up and group people on the same tour charging 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, 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 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 Viator. Our Salkantay Trek tour took a special route, which visited the ancient ruins of Llactapata. So if you want a similar experience, book this exact tour 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

View from Llactapata – a place you’ll visit on the best Salkantay Trek tour.

Not all Salkantay Trek tours are the same. It’s important that you choose a tour that suits you best so you can have the experience that you’ve always dreamed of. Below, I’ve summarized the 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” version. 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 $400 USD.

4-Day Hike

This Salkantay Trek tour is slightly shorter in duration, with only 3 days of hiking the trail with one day (day 4) spent at Machu Picchu. This tour is great for those who are short on time, but in all honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise 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 particular tour is also the most budget-friendly at only $310 USD. It includes all of your meals 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, and want to see it all (including Llactapata) but are also somewhat budget-conscious.

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 experience like this comes with a higher price, but if you ask me it’s totally worth it – this might be the only time you hike Machu Picchu. This particular tour costs $695 USD and includes 4 nights 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 sharing our true experience would be a fun addition to this Salkantay Trek review.

Here’s the story of our tour hiking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu:

Day 1: Getting to the start of the Salkantay Trek

The road to the start of the Salkantay Trek
The road 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”

Standing at a lake on the Salkantay Trek
We hope you get better weather

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 guide Carlos
Our guide Carlos

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

Views of Machu Picchu from night 3 on our Salkantay Trek
Views of Machu Picchu from night 3 on our Salkantay Trek

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 22 km (13.7 mi) journey that would take us up through the Salkantay Pass. At over 4600 m (15092 mi) 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

Hiking up the original trail built by the Incas
Hiking up the original trail built by the Incas

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 changed 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 (including the one we did) 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

Hiking along the railway tracks on the Salkantey Trek
Hiking along the railway tracks on 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 8 km (5 mi) to hike so we got moving hoping to arrive in time for an afternoon beer.

The 8 km 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!

Book the same Salkantay Trek tour as us (with a night at Llactapata) here!

Overall Salkantay Trek Review

a Llama at Machu Picchu
a Llama at Machu Picchu

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!

You can book the Salkantay Trek online in advance here!

Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!

We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!

SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.

They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.  

We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!

Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel take a photo on the Salkantay Trek in Peru
Thanks for reading!

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:

9 BEST Machu Picchu Tours from Cusco + 8 Things to Know

Things to do in Cusco

Comparing the best Colca Canyon tours

The BEST things to do in Peru

Lori Lieberman

Sunday 12th of November 2023

Any precipitous drop offs for someone who doesn't love heights? I am a solid hiker but don't love "ledgy" hiking. Thoughts about Salkantay?


Sunday 12th of November 2023

Hey Lori,

No not on the Salkantay! Only on the drive to the start of the trail.

Thanks Daniel


Saturday 8th of October 2022

Thanks for sharing your experience. I really enjoyed reading this. For someone who's never done a multi-day hike before, is there anything a little easier in the US you can recommend that would serve as good preparation for this trip?


Saturday 8th of October 2022

Hey John,

I have no idea about hikes in the US, unfortunately. In all honesty, just start by going for runs or walking up and down stairs. Also, if you have some perseverance on the hike, you'll be fine!

Enjoy your trip and if you're worried, book with a great company!

Thanks Daniel

Nick Gill

Thursday 19th of May 2022

Just read your blog, great info. Planning on going in June 2023 and although it’s a year away thought I’d read up. If a book a 5 day trek similar to the one you took what happens after day 5 from MP in terms of getting back to Cusco and how long does it take to get back.


Thursday 19th of May 2022

Hey Nick,

So glad you liked the info.

Yes on the 5-day tours you finish up at Machu Picchu sometime after lunch and then head back to Cusco. You arrive back in the night around 7 to 9 pm. The journey takes around 6 hours.

Hope this helps!

Thanks Daniel


Friday 29th of April 2022

This is great information! I'm curious what gear you carried. Clearly, you didn't need a tent, stove, and most of your food. So I'm guessing you carried snacks, water, clothing, sleeping gear, etc. Is that right? Thanks in advance for your time.


Monday 2nd of May 2022

Hey Haj,

All our gear to camp was carried by the tour company such as a tent, sleeping matt, food, and cooking equipment. So you are correct, you just bring your personal items and yes you need to carry water. I recommend getting a water bottle with the inbuilt Lifestraw. Also, snacks are a great idea! Bring some treats for your guide!

Hope this helps,

Thanks Daniel


Saturday 16th of April 2022

Hi! How much rain did you get when you last visited in January? I'm thinking of booking my trip for early December, but I'm a bit concerned if that will be worth it because of the rainy season. Thanks!


Monday 18th of April 2022

Hey Luiza, we did get a bit of rain in January and it can ruin the views along the way. However, I still had a fantastic time and we got really good weather at Machi Picchu!

Because you are not going during peak season, just go and if the weather is good, book that trail when you are there.

Hope this helps