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The 5-Day Salkantay Trek

Written by:
Claire Dean

Published: 02-05-2023

The Salkantay Trek is one of the most popular ways to hike to Machu Picchu. Less famous than the iconic Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is both easier to book and a cheaper trek as there are no permits involved. On top of that, many say the Salkantay is just as beautiful if not more so than the Inca Trail! For these reasons, many people looking for a multi-day trek to Machu Picchu choose the Salkantay Trek. Find out more about this epic 5-day Salkantay trek here.


The 5 day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an epic adventure that takes you through some of the most stunning landscapes in the Peruvian Andes. The Trek culminates in a visit to the awe-inspiring Machu Picchu. This challenging trek is perfect for those looking for a more rugged and less crowded alternative to the Machu Picchu Inca Trail tour.

The Imposing Salkantay Peak

Background Information

The Salkantay Trek is 74 km (46 miles) long and is most commonly hiked over 4-5 days (with a visit to Machu Picchu on Day 5). The Salkantay trek 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 through 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 higher elevations brought them “closer to god.” The Salkantay Trek is named after the mountain that the trail passes, The 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 forests.


The Salkantay trek begins in the village of Mollepata. This is where you'll start your journey towards Soraypampa, your first campsite. Along the way, you'll pass through picturesque Andean villages and enjoy incredible views of the snow-capped peaks of the Salkantay and Humantay mountains.

Stunning Andean Scenery


Salkantay Vs. The Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is a world-famous trek, that is constantly ranked among the best hikes in the world. However, as many people will tell you, you will experience directly, that the Classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is crowded and usually booked throughout the year. While this is often the case, you should remember that the Inca Trail is one of the most amazing hikes in the world, and why so many people want to trek it! The whole system of Inca Trails called the Qapaq Ñan, is a network of ancient footpaths that connected the most important sections of the Inca Empire. The Incas built the trails, which are still used today by local people and visitors from all over the world. 


The Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu is one of the most famous and iconic treks in the world. The trek offers a stunning combination of natural beauty, ancient ruins, and Andean culture. The Inca Trail forms part of the Inca road network called the Qapaq Ñan. Salkantay Trek is also part of these ancient Inca pathways.

Inca Trail

The Salkantay Trek is the lesser-known trek to Machu Picchu with more wildlife, breathtaking mountain scenery, and spectacular views. The Salkantay Trek is an option for hikers who want to experience the beautiful mountainous scenery of the Peruvian Andes and see an incredibly diverse nature and landscape that gradually reveals stunning views. It is a longer and more challenging trek than the Inca Trail, but it offers stunning scenery and a more authentic experience of the Peruvian Andes, passing through traditional Andean communities. There are certainly fewer ruins along The Salkantay trek, but there is the opportunity to visit glacial lakes, hot springs, coffee, and mango plantations as well as the lesser visited archaeological site of LLactapata.


Day 2 of The Salkantay Tek to Machu Picchu is the most challenging day of the Trek. You ascend to the Salkantay Pass, which sits at an altitude of 4,600 meters (15,092 feet). The views from the pass are absolutely breathtaking, with panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Salkantay Trek


Whichever route you have selected, both treks offer breathtaking vistas, Inca ruins, and rich history of The Inca's way of life in this region.

Altitude is an Issue

I have already mentioned the high elevation of the Salkantay trek and it is worth it to talk a bit more closely about the acclimatization and the possibility of altitude sickness. Try to arrive in Cusco at least two or three days before the trek starts and focus on doing some physical activity. Close to Cusco, are Sacsaywaman and Qenqo ruins, which are awesome places to visit. You can take plenty of day trips from Cusco and give your body some time to adjust to the elevation. There are a lot of things to do in Sacred Valley near Cusco, such as an uphill hike to Pisac Ruins or visiting Rainbow Mountain, both of which are at high elevations.


Acclimatization is a crucial aspect of the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu. It involves hiking at high elevations where the air is thin and oxygen levels are lower. o help mitigate the effects of altitude, it's important to spend at least two to three days in Cusco or other high-altitude areas before beginning the trek.

High Elevation


Adequate acclimatization is very important because you will spend the first night 3800 meters above sea level. The following day, you will cross the mountain pass and sleep about 3900 meters above sea level, which is really high for an unacclimatized hiker. Although no one can ever know how you will be affected by the altitude, it is always better to be prepared and know what to expect (you might experience a headache or shortage of breath for example).


Mules play a crucial role in supporting treks like the Salkantay Trek. They are often used to carry supplies, equipment, and luggage for trekkers. The rugged terrain and high altitudes of the Salkantay Trail make it challenging to transport heavy loads on foot. This makes mules invaluable for transporting gear and supplies to the campsites along the route.

Mules on The Salkantay Trek


Why Book a Guided Trek?

Hiking with a guided group is the most comfortable option for enjoying the Salkantay Trek. Generally, the most challenging thing will be to find the right, professional, and honest tour operator. Always remember you will get the service you've paid for... sometimes it is not worth saving a couple of dollars and ruining your experience. When you take a tour, you don't need to worry about food, transportation, campsites, or equipment. Camping equipment is included in the price, you must only rent a sleeping bag with linen, mattress, or walking poles if needed). Always check if the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu gate and Machu Picchu entrance is included in the final price. You will also walk only with your day pack as the travel agencies have porters who carry your extra clothes for you. Hiking is a joy when all you need to concentrate on is the quality of your photos and the stunning scenery all around you.


Booking a guided Salkantay Trek trip with a reputable Peru travel agency offers several advantages. You can enhance your overall experience and ensure a safe and enjoyable journey through The Andes. Experienced guides are familiar with the terrain, weather conditions, and cultural significance of the areas you'll be trekking through.

5th Day Hiking to Aguas Calientes


Another thing to consider is that on the first day, you visit the stunning Humantay Lagoon. This turquoise lake is a short hike from Soraypamapa on day one and many people actually do a day hike there. However, while you are in the region, it's a great idea to visit Humantay Lake on this excursion. You can also unwind in natural hot springs on your third day in Santa Teresa. Access to such beautiful natural pools definitely makes the Salkantay trek a great choice for your trek to Machu Picchu!


Humantay Lake is a stunning turquoise lake located near the base of the Humantay Glacier. It is a popular destination for trekkers on the Salkantay Trek, as it offers breathtaking natural beauty and a chance to experience the high Andean landscape up close.

Humantay Lake

When is the best time to hike Salkantay?


With a bit of preparation, you can hike the Salkantay Trek all year round, probably with the exception of February, the wettest month of the year. The official dry season starts in May and ends in October. During those six months, you have a high chance to see clear skies and enjoy the sunshine throughout the day. Expect lots of hikers, especially in June, July, and August, when people in the USA and Europe have holidays. These months are Peruvian winter, which means the weather is sunny, dry, and more stable, but temperatures are lower. The rainy season starts in November and ends in April. Hiking in this season is more unpredictable.


The best time to hike the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is during the dry season. This runs from May to September. During this time, the weather is generally clear and dry, with sunny days and cool nights, making it ideal for trekking in The Andes.

Winter Salkantay 


It rains the most in February when there is also a higher chance of landslides, mudslides, and some impassable sections. That’s why reputable companies, don’t run the trek in February. If you plan on hiking independently, to stay safe, we recommend avoiding walking the trail in February, too, just in case. The rainy season is the summertime, which means temperatures are higher, although it still gets cold in the evening, especially at high altitudes.


The rainy season on the Salkantay Trek runs from November to March. January and February typically experience the heaviest rainfall. Trekking during the rainy season can be challenging due to wet and muddy conditions, as well as the possibility of landslides and swollen rivers.

Rainy Season on Salkantay Trek


If you want to hike the Incredible Salkantay Trek, contact us here to reserve your epic hike!