Here you will find an overview of the Salkantay trail and learn about various options for a typical day-to-day itinerary, the best time of year to do the hike.
You will also find detailed information on what level of fitness is required for the hike, how to train, what to bring on the trek, and how much you should budget for a budget, mid-range or private Peruvian Andes adventure.
The Salkantay trek is the second most popular trek to Machu Picchu, after the Classic Inca Trail.
Some of the advantages of the trek are its accessibility from Cusco, the physically manageable climb and the diverse, impressive scenery the pathway passes on your way to Machu Picchu.
While most trekkers enjoy the help of a guide company, it is possible to complete this journey on your own – and guidelines for this more daring adventure are also detailed below.
There are several route variations that each add a different flavour to your experience.
Typically, the hike is concluded over a 5-day/ 4-night expedition, although it is possible to squeeze the mission into 4 days and 3 nights.
There is also the option of combining the Salkantay trail with the Classic Inca trail, which are outlined further below.
Mount Salkantay (or Nevada Salkantay/Salcantay), the mountain after which this trek is named, is one of the most iconic mountains in the area surrounding Cusco.
It stands at 6,271m tall and the Quechua name Salkantay literally means savage or wild – it is not conquered by any but the most intrepid mountaineers.
Although the Salkantay Trail fortunately doesn't entail summiting its breath-taking peak, trekkers will spend much of their hike with an impressive view of Mount Salkantay on approach and while scaling the Salkantay Pass.
The mountain is located 60km North-West of Cusco and is directly south of Machu Picchu.
Although invisible from the Citadel, Salkantay was auspiciously located and believed to be one of the deities which determined the weather in the region.
Below is the most common 5-day/4-night itinerary used by most tour companies, although slight variations on this standard is possible. We have also given extra information for those planning on trying the hike unassisted.
There is the added convenience that permits are not required to hike the Salkantay Trek as they are for the Inca Trail.
This trek has the beautiful scenery of the Salkantay Trail as well as the historical importance of the Classic Inca trail. The route is longer and tougher than the classic Salkantay Trail, taking 7 days and 6 nights as well as an Inca trail permit.
A great trek overview video that won a few local travel film awards, and after watching it you will see why!
It captures the very essence of the Salkantay scenery along the trail and allows a sneak peak of the experience you could have on this journey.
When deciding what time to hike the Salkantay trail, you must decide whether you want to prioritise good weather or relatively empty trails.
The dry months are generally between the end of April and the start of November.
While the Salkantay trek is never quite as busy as the Classic Inca trail, during the dry season some of the crowds do overflow from the Classic Inca trail to the second most popular alternative, the Salkantay Trek.
For this reason, we recommend hiking during the shoulder dry months of March/April and October/November to optimise the hiking conditions.
However, it is possible for you to enjoy you hike at almost all times of the year, although we would advise strongly against going in the months of December, January and February when the rainfall is high.
The temperatures remain relatively constant throughout the year, with the average daily highs resting around 21°C and the night-time lows around 5°C.
It is common for temperatures to fall below freezing during the evenings though, so you must be sure to be adequately prepared by packing layered clothing. See out packing list for advice on how to beat any bad weather.
See more details about Machu Picchu overall weather here.
The effects of altitude sickness are felt by most at any point above 3,000m above sea level.
You will spend almost your entire trek to Machu Picchu above this point, reaching 4,600m (for the classic Salkantay Trek) or 4,900m (if you do the Salkantay/Inca combination).
Thus, you can expect to feel some degree of the symptoms with include fatigue, nausea and headaches.
It is impossible to predict your reaction to altitude sickness, which doesn’t have a correlation with your age or fitness level, so being wary of the effects and treatments is essential for a safe climb.
Some of the most important tips that will help in your efforts to avoid altitude sickness is to spend adequate time in Cusco (at least 2 days) or even some time in lower Sacred Valley.
It is important that you drink enough water – at least 2 litres per day, avoid drinking or taking drugs (including sleeping pills), and remember not to hike too fast.
If you plan to hike any of the Machu Picchu trails, make sure that you are adequately insured for up to 4,000m. We recommend World Nomads. Use the calculator below to get a quick quote.
The Salkantay and Inca/Salkantay Combo treks are both considered moderate to challenging (particularly the latter).
To ensure that you are in the best possible condition to undertake this adventure, you must be relatively aerobically fit, training about 3 times a week in the gym in the months leading up to your hike.
Exercises like cycling, running and swimming will be great to get your cardiovascular fitness up.
It is also a good idea to go on a few day-long hikes in your own country to harden your muscles, break in your boots and give you a feel for what you should be expecting.
The cost of your trip varies hugely depending on the quality of experience and touring company you choose.
You can of course undertake to do the trek alone, but this is not advisable to for an inexperienced trekker. Otherwise, there are tours which cost as low as $450 per person, all the way up to $1,300 per person.
See more details on Machu Picchu trekking costs here.