Lakes and Mountains. Jungles and Rivers. Hot Springs and Railroad Tracks. Peru’s Salkantay Trek takes you through the best of what Peru has to offer. It ends at Machu Picchu, the capital of the Incan Empire. Check out my helpful hiking guide about what to expect on this unforgettable trek.
Things To Know Before You Go
-The sleeping bag is not usually included in the price. A lot of tour companies will charge you 50 soles for one of them. You have the option to pay at the pre-trip meeting or before you get on the shuttle the morning you depart. Most places in Cusco will also charge you around 50 soles or more for a sleeping bag so it’s better to just do it through your tour company to save the hassle.
-Bring a poncho on this trek. If you don’t have one, then I recommend buying one in Cusco since it will be cheaper than buying one on the trek. The weather can change in an instant so you never know when you might need it. Thankfully, our group lucked out with the weather and I didn’t have to use mine on the Salkantay Trek.
-Bring extra camera batteries. If that’s not possible I would try sticking the batteries you have inside a warm sleeping on the first night (the coldest night) to preserve their battery life.
This day has a really early start. I set my alarm for 4:30 am. I’m not a morning person but this time I had some extra energy because I was excited about the trek. A young guide rang the doorbell at the hostel just after 5:00 am and walked to the meetup spot for the shuttles at Plaza San Francisco. Our shuttle set off after sunrise. I tried to catch a bit of extra sleep as it chugged its way north to Mollepata. Here we stopped for breakfast and a bathroom break before continuing onto Challa Cancha where the hiking began.
This section of the hike is 7km with a few ups and downs. It took us 2.5 hours to arrive at Soraypampa (3900m or 12795ft). We quickly put our things in our huts for the night and settled down for lunch. After enjoying a nice meal, we rested for a bit before hiking up to Humantay Lake. The weather was perfect on Day 1, and we were rewarded with excellent views of the lake, mountains and surrounding area. As the shadows began to creep over the lake, I hiked back down to Soraypampa for dinner.
The accommodation for Night 1 was little huts with enough room for two hikers and enough insulation to keep up pretty warm on the coldest night of the trek.
Quick Tip: Buy some food the night before to eat for breakfast on the first day to save a bit of money. Breakfast on Day One in Mollepata is not included.
There was a knock on the door of the hut. The chefs greeted us with an early wake-up call and a cup of coca tea. I laid in bed for a little longer before gulping down my coca tea, packing up and heading to breakfast.
There were a few clouds covering the mountaintops at sunsets but they cleared by the time our group began hiking around 7:30 am. It should take around three hours to ascend 5km and reach Salkantay Pass (the highest point of the trek at 4630 m or 15190 ft). After taking plenty of pics and soaking in the views, our guide Julio sat us down in a quiet spot to explain each of the mountains in our view and why they were considered sacred.
It should take around 1.5-2 hours to descend 5km into Huairaspampa which was our lunch stop for Day 2. A light drizzle became to come down after I started hiking after lunch so I put on my jacket until it slowly dissipated 15 minutes. Luckily, that was the only rain we had during the Salkantay Trek. The remaining 8km descent into Chaullay took me around 2.5 hours.
The accommodation for Night 2 was bunk-style beds with room for four people. However, we ended up picking a room with most of the slates missing on the top bunks so there was just two of us in our room.
Quick Tip: After reaching the Salkantay Pass, there’s an option to take a trail straight down or turn right and take a slight detour on a rocky path. Take the detour because you get a closer look at the surrounding mountains (including Nevado Salkantay) and a rest stop at Laguna Salkantaycocha which has a stunning shade of light blue.
This day online consisted of around 4.5 hours of hiking at a pretty leisurely pace. We took longer breaks and spent time learning about the variety of plants used as medicine by the indigenous people. Our guide Julio did an excellent job of explaining everything and making it interesting.
Pretty much of all today’s hiking was spent hiking along Rio Santa Teresa. However, I anticipated we would be hiking around 16km but it turned out we hiked less than 10km. Maybe it was because of the mudslide dangers on the trail ahead or maybe because we were short on time. We ended up stopping at Winnaypoco and took a colectivo to La Playa. Here we were given a quick coffee-making demonstration before relaxing and sitting down for lunch. I don’t drink coffee so I didn’t taste it. The coffee drinkers in the group seemed to like it.
After lunch, our group hopped into the colectivo again with all of our stuff and made our way to Santa Teresa. Once we arrived, there was an option to visit the local hot springs here. It’s not included in the price but I went anyway because the rest of my group went. However, it was nothing special (more warm than hot and dirty than clean) which left me feeling that we should have spent more time hiking instead of going to the hot springs.
Our accommodation on Night 3 was a two-person-tent situated outside but set up under some wooden covering for rain protection.
Quick Tip: Save money on buying water and fill up your bottles after dinner time with hot water used for tea and coffee. Don’t worry it will be really cold by morning.
Today the group split up for the morning. Some of the group did the optional zip line and adventure tour (costs extra) and the rest of the group hiked along the Urubamba River to Hidroelectrica. This section of the hike was 11km and took around 2.5 hours to complete. We ended up relaxing in Hidroelectrica until the rest of the group arrived from the zipline tour.
Lunch was served in Hidroelectrica and then the group set off together for the last 10km of the hike to Aguascalientes. This section of the hike continues alongside the Urubamba River in the valley surrounding Machu Picchu itself. A good portion of it is spent walking next to the railroad tracks and the surrounding views are absolutely stunning.
In total, our group hiked about 2.5 hours until we reached Aguascalientes mid-afternoon. I explored the town for a bit before picking up my extra luggage at the train station and meeting the group for our final dinner together.
Our accommodation on Night 4 was a room with two beds (although some rooms had three beds) at a hostel in the heart of Aguascalientes.
I had an early 4:30 am wake-up call because my entrance ticket to Machu Picchu was for 7:00 am. I did rain quite a bit on the hike up to Machu Picchu itself but it stopped by the time I entered the ruins. The clouds hanging over the ruins did give it some spooky vibes. I also had an entrance ticket for Machu Picchu Mountain which I definitely recommend doing if you are an avid hiker.
It’s a steep hike (elevation gain of 652m/2139ft in about 1 mile/1.5km) but the views looking down onto Machu Picchu are more than worth it. By the time I had reached the summit of Machu Picchu Mountain (3082m/10111ft) the clouds had cleared and I was treated to amazing views for miles around.
I am a fast hiker so the climb up to Machu Picchu itself took me 46 minutes going up and 37 minutes down. I imagine it would take the average person around 60 minutes and 45 minutes down. The climb up to Machu Picchu Mountain took me 66 minutes going up and 50 minutes down. The average person usually takes around 90 minutes to hike up and 60 minutes down.
If you have a ticket to Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu, make sure you have a 6 am entrance ticket for Machu Picchu so you have enough time to complete a guided tour before starting the hike up. There was a mixup and I ended up receiving a 7 am entrance ticket for Machu Picchu (when the rest of my group had 6 am entrance tickets). Therefore I had to leave my guided tour at the halfway mark in order to start hiking Machu Picchu Mountain in my allotted time slot.
For the Machu Picchu Mountain Hike, the two available time slots are between 7:00 am-8:00 am & 9:00 am-10:00 am. Meanwhile, the two available slots to enter Wayna Picchu are 7:00 am-8:00 am & 10:00 am-11:00 am.
Entrance tickets to Machu Picchu Mountain and Huayna Picchu are both $15 USD (or 50 Peruvian soles) if you purchase a Machu Picchu. Huayna Picchu sells out really quick but I ordered my ticket for Machu Picchu Mountain one month before I started the Salkantay Trek. Only 400 tickets are sold per day for Huayna Picchu while 800 tickets are available daily for Machu Picchu Mountain.
Shout out to Dos Manos Peru and the awesome guides on our trek (especially Julio and Susana) for making this an amazing experience! You definitely need to add this trek to your bucket list!
If you like this blog post, feel free to check out my hiking video of the Salkantay Trek below.