Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Lagoon

We decided to get to the lost, Inca City – Machu Picchu by foot. The Most popular trek is the Inca Trail, but it needs to be booked well in advance. We chose the alternative – Salkantay Trek that leads through the high mountains and tropical rainforest of Peru.

Salkantay Treak is 85 km long with the highest point of 4600 masl. It could be quite a challenge!

If we add to that all the walking in Machu Picchu and the way back to Hydroelectrica, we will have 95km all together! Seems like a lot, but it is definitely worth the effort!

Salkantay Trek day 1
Salkantay Trek day 1

Salkantay Trek step by step!

Day 1

The very first day of the 5-day Salkantay Trek began for us early, at 5am when the guide came to pick us up from the hostel. Soon, we were on a bus that drove us to Mollepata, where we could buy breakfast. Actually, every participant of the trek was made to order a 7-sol breakfast that included bread with jam and coca tea.

Start of Salkantay Trek
Start of Salkantay Trek

Luggage limit 5kg per person!

Then, we had to weight our extra kilos that were to be transported by the horses. The limit per person is 5kg and that includes also a sleeping bag, your own or rented. Our guide introduced himself together with his collegue and we all got on a bus for another 50 min to the starting point of the Salkantay Trek, located 3500 masl. For some hikers, the start was already hard because of the altitude sickness. Just a friendly advise – don’t start a trek the day after flying into Cusco. If you don’t acclimatize properly, it will be no fun later on while climbing in the glorious but demanding Andes.

Crazy Apacas – the team of 15 people for the next 5 days!

Our 15-people team was named “Crazy Alpacas” and from that moment we became a family for the next 5 days. Let’s start the hike! The first 30min was hard and steep. We were already out of breath but then our guide explained that only 2,5 more hour flat hike and we’ll have our lunch. This sounded like a relief. This was also the base camp and the place of our accomodation in tents.

Crazy Alpacas ready for challenge!
Crazy Alpacas ready for challenge!

Lagoon Humantay – a warm up hike to 4200 masl

We ate a delicious meal, unpacked a little bit and got ready for another challenge of the day, 1-hour steep hike to Humantay Lagoon, located at 4200masl. This was hard but it was supposed to prepare us for the 2nd, most difficult day. The Lagoon was extraordinary. Although it was difficult to get there, everybody felt super rewarded with the view of the lake and the glaciers with the beautiful and warm weather. Another hour more and we were back in the base camp, ready for Happy Hour, which meant coca tea and popcorn. Our group started socializing, exchanging travel stories and future plans. What a team!

By 8:00 pm we were ready to crush in our tents! During night, there was a huge thunderstorm and massive rain so we were glad our tents were put under the roof. Otherwise, we would be washed away to Cusco!

Day 2

Wake up call with a cup of coca leaf tea was set up for 5am. We had 30minutes to organise our backpacks and get ready for a new, challenging day. At 5:30 we met the rest of Crazy Alpacas at the breakfast.

The first hour of the hike was easy because we were walking just a little bit up hill with a moderate tempo. The Salkantay Mountain was sometimes visable from behind the clouds and these were spectacular moments that gave us more energy. The next 3 hours we had to hike up, and it was the toughest part of the whole trek. The first guide was leading our group and the 2nd guide was at the end, waiting for the hikers that needed some more time. We all had a lot of coca leaves into our mouth and kept them inside our cheaks to make sure we get the coca essence slowly but regularly. The group was great, always waiting for the last person, just like a family.

In case of any problems – horse transport available for 100 soles!

If somebody didn’t adjust well to the altitude, it was possible for him/her to take a horse for that part of the hike which cost 100 soles. We both felt well that day and hiked without any problems to the altitude of 4600masl starting from 3900masl that morning. The landscape around was fantastic, especially while we reached the Salkantay Pass, the highest point of the trek.

At the top, our guide showed us a ritual of saying thank you to the Pachamama by sacrifying 3 coca leaves.

Because our timing was good and the weather permited we made an extra hike to see the amazing, blue Salkantay Lagoon.

Way down from Salkantay Pass

From now on, we had a long long way down. Our lunch was waiting for us at 2900masl and we were supposed to reach this camp after 7 long hours from the starting point of that day. If you book the treck, keep in mind that different agencies inform about different things that are included in the whole expedition. We, for exampe, expected to be given some snacks while hiking and that was not true. That’s why we were extremely happy after making it to the lunch point! After the enegry-fix meal we had another 3 hour-trek till the 2nd base camp where we spent the night. The landscape changed into the tropical forest so we needed to put on the insect repellent. The 2nd base camp offered again tents for us and a cold shower. You could pay 10 sol extra and take a hot one, though. That night was again, a little scary because of the huge thunderstorm going on for at least few hours. No worries, we survived!

Long way down
Long way down

Day 3

Day 3 was exciting! After a 6-hour hike we were going to visit the thermal pools in the afternoon. The trail led through the rainforest, at the bottom of the tropical valley. It was much warmer then during the previous days. The one who suffered the most was Mike, as he got food poisoning. Still, he made all the effort and walked the whole distance himself.

Inca Rituals

During the hike, we got to know some information about the plants that the Incas used to paint their faces. And this activity was also carried out in our group. We had a few stops on our hike to buy for example granadillo, 3 for 1 sol! The last part of our trek was fun because we crossed the river with the use of man-powered “cable car”. That was fun!

Peruvian coffee, hot springs and Inca Tequila!

It the lunch spot we could finally try the real peruvian coffee. It is suprisingly hard to get a good caffeine fix in Peru. Locals drink only instant stuff if any at all.

In the afternoon, we could go to the thermal pools in Santa Theresa for an additional cost of 10 soles per person. It was a much needed time to relax. All the muscle pain slowly went away and we could marvel at the wonderful mountains around. In the evening, we had an inka-tequila party planned, 1 shot only 1 sol. Luckily, it turned out to be the best medicine for the stomach problems so finally Mike felt much better!

Day 4

The long way we had to cover on the day numer 4 was a bit boring. We had to walk from Santa Theresa to Hydroelectrika Mamy kilometers just down the road we shared with another cars and buses. Unfortunately, we found out that our extra luggage was not going to be transported anymore. Luckily, two friendly ladies from our team decided to take a lift to the next point and took our backpacks with them. What a relief. This was one of the drawbacks if the trip, we didn’t know exactly what was included in the price and what wasn’t. Anyways, the group we belonged to was amazing and it made up for all the small disadvantages.

Optional Zip Line shortcut

That morning, instead of walking that 3-hour distance, you could zip line first and then get transported to the place of our lunch – Hydroelectrica where the whole team met again. The zip line attraction cost 100 sol per person and was 4-km long. We decided to walk, but our friends who ziplined were very satisfied with the whole adventure! The trail lead along the unpaved road that was used by cars as well, so it was a bit dusty, noisy and unpleasant. At Hydroelectrica, we could leave our exta luggage and pick it the next day. We only took what was needed for the one night stay in the hostel and visit to Machu Picchu.

Along the railroads Aguas Calientes

The last part of the trail led along the rail roads to Aguas Calientes, the town at the footsteps of the Inka City. The trek seemed very long that day, we all felt pretty tired at this stage. Also, there were many insects, like sandflies and mosquitos around and we all got bitten pretty bad. Best to stay in long sleeves even though it is warm and humid. After getting to Aguas Calientes, we got accomodated in 4-people rooms with the comfortable beds, hot showers and wifi! Wohooo! We met with all the Crazy Alpacas at the dinner. We could celebrate the 85km that we already walked! But we still had 10 more to go on a final day.

Day 5

What an amazing Day! We had to wake up at 3:30 am to be in line to the 1st entrance go Machu Picchu at 4:00am. Then, it was „only” 1700 stais up… and after the visit to the Inka World we still had to walk back to Hydroelectrica to catch a bus back to Cusco. More about that in a next entry!

Welcome to Machu Picchu Pueblo!
Welcome to Machu Picchu Pueblo!

To sum up the 5 day Salkantay Trek

When we were browsing best rated agencies on TripAdvisor we were supprised by how expensive the trek is, because it was quoted at 400 USD per person. Fortunatelly in Cusco there is a lot of competition between tour operators and we found an offer for 170 USD. We went with “MachuPiccu Trail” agancy. At the office they will tell you anything just to convince you to purchase. Later on it turns out that not everything is included after all.

Extra costs that we had to pay during the “all inclusive trip”:

  • The first breakfast in Mellopata and the last day lunch and dinner (if you come back to Cusco by bus).
  • 10 soles for the entrance to the National Park and the Humantay Lagoon.
  • 10 soles for the hot springs in Santa Teresa and 15 soles for the transportation.
  • You have to carry your extra-kilos luggage on the way from Santa Teresa to Hydroelectrica (we were told it’s gonna be transported first by horses and then, by bus).
  • On the 3rd day we were asked to pay tips for the horseman and 2 cooks that were travelling with us. When we decided to pay 10soles each (15 people in the group) we heard it’s not enough because they each have to get at least 60 soles! That was a very uncomfortable situation. Does it mean these guys are getting paid only from our “compulsory tips”? Sounds so wrong!
  • Always carry your own snacks. They were not included, at all!

Anyways, the adventurous hike through mountains to Machu Piccu is amazing! We encourage you all to take the challenge. It is great way to experience the land and the history of incas. We are always happy to help if you have any questions let us now in the comments!

12 Replies to “Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu”

  1. I am looking at your blog and it seems to me that You love trekking. Please, take me with You next time, I can never convince my husband to trek with me 😉

    1. We love hiking! Join us nest time, for sure! <3

  2. What a journey! Talking about the cocoa leaf tea makes me nostalgic for my time in Peru. You’ve certainly managed to capture the wonder and incredible serenity of such an iconic area!

  3. Sounds like an amazing trek! The pictures are awesome 👏
    Amandine @choupi.schuppi

  4. This sounds like a great time! I have never done anything like this, for fear of getting lost. But those pictures make me want to try! Your pictures are absolutely stunning and your article is very well written! Thank you for sharing!

  5. What an adventure! The lagoon and Salkantay pass are absolutely breathtaking! Looking to plan my trip to Machu Picchu in March so it was great reading about your experience. Thanks for sharing!

  6. absolutely stunning! definitely something on my bucket list!

  7. findworldsbeauty says: Reply

    This looks like an astounding nature activity, reminds me a bit of Patagonia, haven’t been to Peru yet but it will certainly be included on my next South American adventure, I was written some articles on South American countries and their fabulous scenery, you can check them out here: http://www.findworldsbeauty.com/south-america/

  8. Alexander Popkov says: Reply

    I saw everyone posting things about Machu Picchu, but it is first time I get to know that there is an awesome 5 day hike next to it. Cool!

    1. That’s so cool you could find something new on our blog! Thanks for the comment 🙂

  9. This is a great article. It is good to know that there are other options. Good tip about the price difference compared to online to. I am hoping to go to Peru soon and would love to do this trek. Although it sounds difficult, the scenery and your stories make it seem totally worth it. I’m a little afraid of heights though, so I hope this wouldn’t be a problem.

    1. I don’t think you would have any kind of trouble while hiking! It’s awesome so if you get w chance, don’t hesitate to book the trek. It will be a lot of fun!

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