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.
Salkantay Trail Overview
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. Guidelines for this more daring adventure are also detailed below.
There are several route variations that each add a different flavor 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 6,271 m tall and the Quechua name Salkantay literally means savage or wild . Therefore, 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 was believed to be one of the deities that determined the weather in the region.
Typical Salkantay Itinerary
Below is the most common 5-day/4-night itinerary used by most tour companies. Although slight variations on this standard itinerary is possible. We have also given extra information for those planning on trying the hike unassisted.
Day 1: Cusco to Salkantaypampa via Mollepata and Soraypampa
Day 2: Salkantaypampa to Collpapampa, via Soyrococha, Abra Salkantay and El Passo – Huaracmachay
Day 3: Collpapampa to La Playa
Day 4: Option 1: Colcamaya to Aguas Calientes
Day 4: Option 2: La Playa to Aguas Calientes, via Lucmabamba
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Salkantay / Inca Combo Itinerary
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.
Day 1: Cusco to Ichupata via Mollepata and Soraypampa
Day 2: Ichupata to Sisaypampa over the Incachiriasca Pass
Day 3: Sisaypampa to Ayapata
Day 4: Ayapata to Chaquicocha
Day 5: Chaquicocha to Wiñaywayna
Day 6: Winaywayna – Machu Picchu
Best Time To Go
When deciding what time to hike the Salkantay trail, you must decide whether you want to prioritize 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 optimize the hiking conditions.
However, it is possible for you to enjoy you hike at almost all times of the year. Although we would strongly advise 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 our packing list for advice on how to beat any bad weather.
See more details about Machu Picchu overall weather here.
Trail Important Details
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 as it 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 liters per day, avoid drinking or taking drugs (including sleeping pills), and remember not to hike too fast.
Training For The Trek
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.
Salkantay Trek Costs
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.