Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu: it’s like Peru in a nutshell

With this 5 days trek, you leave from bursting Qosqo (Cusco) to start hiking into a fantastic valley, you will pass amazing snow y andean peaks, admire glaciers and lakes, cloud forest and humid jungles before ending up at the amazing archaeologic site of Machu Picchu.
The trek brings you in the steps of the chaskis´ steps, the inca messengers. Thanks to a vast network of inca trails which was connecting Cusco, mountains and the jungle and a system of relay, a message could reach Machu Picchu from Qosqo in only 5h. For you, it will be in 5 days, on one of the world´s top 25 treks, according to National Geographic.


What I loved about the Salkantay trek

  • Reaching Machu Picchu after a trek is a fantastic experience and will be an incredible memory.
  • The huge advantage of this trek compared the classic Inca trail is that you get to experience the different eco systems and landscapes that the peruvian country is made of: from mountains, to jungle and all of it in 4 days.
  • Make sure you trek pass by Llactapaca, you will be walking on a recently re-discovered inca trail leading to a well preserved Chaski house. From there, you finally get the first glimpse of your objective: the legendary Machu Picchu!
View on the way down from Salkantay pass.

View on the way down from Salkantay pass.

Salkantay trek, day by day

Day 1: The warm up (5-7h, 15kms). You will leave Qosqo early morning for a couple of hours of drive. Depending on your agency you will start working either from the village of Mollepata or from Marco Casa, at the end of the road, uphill to Soraympampa camp. I loved that our version of the trek follow the old Inca aqueduc, on the least travelled road. If you make it to the camp early, you can check the amazing Umantay lake, at the foot of the glacier (count 2h for the return journey). Tonight you will sleep at 3800m, temperature frequently passes below 0 but you won´t believe how many stars you can spot on a clear night.

Day 2: The longest day, but also the most beautiful (9-10h, 19kms). Today you will conquer the “wild, savage” mountain Salkantay hiking up a pass at 4600m. After standing victorious next to the sign, you will soon realize that the second part of the day will be tougher: from the dramatic mountain chain to the camp at the border of the jungle, it’s 1100m of decent you will have to walk.

Day 3: A change of scenery (6h, 16kms). After your exploit of the previous day, you might get up a bit tired. You will trek down the valley and then following the river at la deja de selva (“eyebrow of the jungle”). You will be surrounded by tropical plants and fruits, butterflies in a hot and humid atmosphere. You will reach Sahuayaco for lunch and relax the rest of the day. Sleep at Sahuayaco.

Day 4: Demanding but exceptional (7-8h, 12kms). After 3h uphill on a recently re-discovered Inca trail, you reach the chaskis’ house at Llactapata, where you get in the distance, the first glimpse of your objective: Machu Picchu. The views of the site and the mountain chain are stunning. Then, it’s a steep 1h30 downhill, difficult if it has been raining recently. After the last 2-3h of flat walk along the railway, you reached Aguas Calientes where a hot shower is waiting for you. Congratulations, you made it!

Day 5: This is the day! You made it to Machu Picchu (check this article for making the best out of your time there).

View from Llactapata. In the distance, the mythic Machu Picchu, on the 3rd day of our trek!

View from Llactapata. In the distance, the mythic Machu Picchu, on the 3rd day of our trek!

Is the Salkantay trek difficult?

Don’t be fooled by the number of kilometres (around 50kms), this is a tough trek due to its elevation. Try to get to Cusco a few days before the trek to make sure you have enough time to acclimatize to the altitude.


  • Would you have less time, the Salkantay trek is doable in 4 days as well.
  • I liked the 5 days version better as you trek the all way to Aguascalientes (no bus or train) and trek on a less crowded former inca trail. Be aware that not all companies offer to pass by Llactapata.

Can you do the trek on your own/ without a guide?

Peruvian ceviche, gourmet starter on the trek.

Peruvian ceviche, gourmet starter on the trek.

Regulations doesn’t require you to be with a guide -there are no permits for the Salkantay trek-. So yes, but only if you are a group of experienced hikers, properly equipped and acclimatised. Don’t hike alone.
Note that there is no possibility to buy food until Aguas Calientes. As you will have to carry all your equipment, set up camp and cook yourself, you should plan to cover less kilometers each day. I recommend for example to arrive the day before at Mollepata to start hiking early morning and to split the second day in two.

Be aware that trekking on your own you will miss a huge part of the history around the trail as well as a great cook that can give you a taste of the peruvian gastronomy. We actually had the opportunity to try ceviche or even “cuy” (guinea pig), in the middle of nowhere. And we are still wondering if they hunted it or brought it alive…

Equipment – what to bring, what to leave

Be prepared for a variety of climates!
Photo 17-09-14 10 31 49

  • A good windproof and waterproof jacket
  • Several layers
  • Hiking shoes of course
  • Walking poles
  • A warm sleeping bag (-5C), rent a good one at your agency
  • Sun glasses, sun block and hat
  • A clean change to feel awesome after your warm shower in Aguas Calientes

Did you do the Salkantay trek and would like to share some wisdom? Have you trekked another alternative trail to Machu Picchu during your stay in Peru? Share your experience below!

Based on trek made in September 2014

6 thoughts on “Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu: it’s like Peru in a nutshell

  1. Into the mild says:

    Elevation pills.
    I grew up in the mountains and have been very active my whole life, but being able to run forever didn’t prepare me for the lack of oxygen while walking at a steady pace.

    Also, amazing cover photo.

    • Amandine says:

      Many people who come on vacation underestimate this parameter because they think (and they are) fit but as you say, nothing really prepares you for that. Indeed Elevation pills can be a good tip for people short in time, even if as always I believe the best medicine is to take time and get use to the altitude -if you can 😉

    • says:

      Hi Chante,
      We trekked with Quechua Expedition that had good service (actually as many member of staff with cook/horsemen and guides as tourists!). Food was excellent guides interesting. The agency is locally owned so that was also a little plus for us.
      They were one of the view agencies on Tripadvisor with a majority of good reviews. (note that they are quite pricy though).
      Let us know if you have a good experience with another one, might serve other travellers!

  2. Inés says:

    Hi Amandine! I am a 27 year-old woman, and have been considering doing the Salkantay Trek, but have no previous trekking experience. Would you recommend it or do you think i maybe i should choose a less challenging trekk? Thank you! Inés

    • Amandine says:

      Hi Ines,
      Obviously it is not easy to evaluate your level of fitness at a distance :-).
      If you have never done trekking before going with an organized tour is a good option as you will be able to focus only on the physical challenge and won’t have to carry much, it will be a good introduction. If you are relatively fit and can walk 4-5h a day, you should have a good enough base. If you get tired after a couple of hours, maybe choose something less challenging?
      That could be a good idea to book the trek for in a couple of months and to try to exercise a bit more regularly until then. The fitter you are, the more you will appreciate it 🙂
      Let me know if I can help with something more!

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