Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu - 5 days

The Salkantay trek is for everyone looking for an adventure. Most people know about the Inca Trail, but there are different and more exciting ways to get to Machu Picchu. This trek is a challenging but rewarding experience. The Salkantay Trek is also considered one of the top 25 best treks around the world by NatGeo Magazine.Here we will show you all you need to know about this trek and some important tips and advices.

What is the Salkantay Trek?

The Salkantay Trek is an alternative to the Inca Trail to get to Machu Picchu by walking (mostly). It is named after the Salkantay mountain which is the highest mountain (20.570 fasl) in the Vilcabamba region in Perú.

It is very popular due to its beautiful landscapes and difficulty that comes with the altitude and steep paths. Also, it combines a section of the Inca Trail which you can do if you´re short on time. The highest elevation during the trek is the Salkantay Pass with 15190 ft and a total distance of 46-56 miles of distance, depending if you return to Cusco by bus or train.

It is usually completed in a period of 5 days and 4 nights, but there are shorter and longer versions, depending on the way you plan your trip, and budget.

When is the best time to do it?

It is helpful to know the weather before planning to do the trek. The dry season in Perú is from April to October, of which the busiest and driest months are June, July and August. Rainy season lasts from November to March. We wouldn’t recommend trekking during December, January and February, since these are the most rainy months.

Daily clothing

On the dry months, weather and body temperature can change really quickly throughout the day. Day 1 of the trek is mostly hot due to the walk under the sun and probably you won’t feel that cold since you’re moving all the time. So, try not to carry many jackets until the sundown and nighttime. That’s when it gets really cold and when you’ll want to be heavily covered up from head to toe. We’re talking thermal clothing, puffer jacket, gloves, beanie and fuzzy socks.

Day 2 starts with a cold morning, but through the effort, you’ll stop feeling very cold and opt for a more comfortable and less heavy clothing. Although, you’ll arrive at the Salkantay Pass where you’ll rest around 10 am where it gets the coldest and most windy; so be prepared. After that, the extreme cold is over and more tropical climate is ahead of you.

Day 3 is overall humid and relatively warm, you’ll manage wearing a short sleeve shirt and a fleece jacket or sweatshirt.

For day 4 you’ll only need you jacket for the morning since the weather in the zip lines is very warm. The walk to Aguascalientes has a nice weather where you won’t need much coverage.

Day 5 depends on your ride to Machu Picchu. If you’re walking, maybe try to skip the jacket since you can get really hot, or carry a light one in your backpack. If you are taking the bus, there won’t be any problems with carrying your belongings or getting cold.

What should I pack?

Weather can be irregular since the first two days are very cold and the rest are more warm and humid. Although you won’t be carrying your stuff at all times, a light backpack is suitable for this trek. For us, the ideal packing would be:

  • A light fleece jacket, good for layering
  • A thicker wind/waterproof jacket
  • 2 long sleeve base layers
  • 2-3 lighter short sleeve shirts
  • 1-2 Trekking / comfortable walking pants
  • Warm socks (and extra everyday socks)
  • Hiking boots or sneakers
  • Headbands or beanies
  • Hat or cap
  • Headlamp
  • Sunglasses
  • Gloves
  • Sandals
  • Sports underwear
  • Snacks (you can buy on the way, or the tour provides them)
  • Water flask for hot and cold beverages (lifestraw is a great option)
  • Personal care items
    • wet wipes
    • moisturizer and sunblock
    • shampoo
    • toothbrush / paste
    • hair ties
  • Small or quick dry towel
  • Cash in soles or dollars (for drinks, tips and souvenirs.)
  • Toilet paper
  • Swimsuit and shorts for the hot springs.

It is helpful for all your clothing allowing moisture to pass through for better layering. As you ascend or descend to the mountains or valleys, weather can change really fast. Sports clothes are the best for this.

Itinerary

Day 1: Hike to first base camp: Soraypampa

04:30 – 05:00 Pick up of each passenger from their respective hotels around the historic center of Cusco.
05:00 – 07:30 Ride from Cusco to Mollepata by tourist bus.
07:30 – 08:00 Breakfast in Mollepata.
08:30 – 09:30 Bus from Mollepata to Cha’llacancha.
09:30 – 13:00 Start of the hike to Soraypampa (camp).
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch / rest or free time.
14:00 – 15:30 Hike to the Humantay Lagoon.
15:30 – 16:00 Free time.
16:30 – 17:30 Return to the base camp (Soraypampa).
17:30 – 18:30 Rest and free time.
18:30 – 19:30 Dinner time

Day 2: Salkantay Pass and second base camp: Chaullay

05:00 – 05:30 Wake up call with coca tea.
05:30 – 06:00 Breakfast.
06:00 – 13:00 Start the trek from Soraypampa to Huayra Pampa.
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch and rest in the huayra pampa.
14:00 – 17:00 The trekking starts from Huayra Pampa to Chaullay.
17:00 – 18:00 Free time and rest.
18:00 – 19:30 Dinner / rest for the next day.

Day 3: Chaullay - La Playa - Santa Teresa: The hot springs

06:00 – 06:30 Wake up.
06:30 – 07:00 Breakfast.
07:00 – 11:30 The trekking starts from Chaullay to La Playa.
11:30 – 13:00 Lunch / rest and free time.
13:00 – 15:00 Bus from La Playa to Santa Teresa.
15:00 – 17:30 Hot springs.
17:30 – 18:30 Return to Santa Teresa.
18:30 – 19:30 Dinner / rest for the next day.

Day 4: Santa Teresa - Hidroeléctrica - Aguas Calientes

06:30 – 07:00 Wake up.
07:00 – 07:30 Breakfast.
07:30 – 10:30 Zipline activity (optional).
10:30 – 11:30 Private transportation to Hidroeléctrica.
11:30 – 13:00 Lunch and rest in the hammocks or free time.
13:00 – 16:00 Start trekking to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Village).
18:00 Meeting with the guide in the square for an informative session for the next day.
18:00 – 19:30 Dinner / rest for the next day.

Day 5: Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu

04:00 – 04:20 Wake up.
04:20 – 06:00 Start walking to see the sunrise in Machu Picchu.
06:00 – 08:30 Private guided tour through the ruins.
08:30 – 12:00 Free time to enjoy Machu Picchu on your own (also passengers who booked for an additional, can go up to the Mountain or Huayna Picchu at 9 am with the second group).
12:00 – 12:30 The group will descend walking towards Aguas Calientes.
12:30 – 15:40 Free time in Aguas Calientes.
15:40 – 16:00 Walk to the train station for the departure time to Ollantaytambo.
16:00 – 17:40 Returning from Aguas Calientes by train to Ollantaytambo (depending on the departure of your train).
17:55 – 20:00 Transfer from the Ollantaytambo station by private bus to Plaza San Francisco in CUSCO, where it will be the last bus stop (arrival time will depend on traffic in Cusco).

Trekking solo or with a tour operator

If you’re planning to to the Salkantay Trek on your own, you’ll have to keep in mind many things. Organize your accommodations (campings and hostels) with more time in advance. Keep in mind that you will have to carry your bags with all your camping and cooking equipment. Be prepared for any medical issues and incidents; even altitude sickness may be hard on you. It is not impossible but you’ll need an extremely adventurous spirit to complete it.

Even if you have a tight budget, an organized tour with a travel agency can be extremely helpful. At least for us, as amateur hikers, we were very pleased throughout the trek for the tour we booked. As well as having certified guides and cooks which provide three hot meals a day plus snacks. Trust us, when you’re up in the mountain you’ll be grateful for a hot meal after a long day of hiking. Porters are also part of the team, they are really helpful since they carry most of your stuff and you’ll only need to carry a daypack.

Whichever way you decide to do it, it is an amazing and unforgettable experience with a rewarding feeling over in Machu Picchu.

Our experience

Overall it was a very challenging but rewarding experience, we made a lot of good memories for the short amount of time we spent there. It was not what we expected, but in a good way. It is a way of showing yourself what you can do and how far you can get. Being in a big group helped everybody, since it was a motivational environment. Everyone had their own weaknesses like the cold, altitude sickness, condition, fatigue, but in the end, we helped each other and everybody gave their biggest effort to keep going. Machu Picchu is not the only reason to do this trek, there are breathtaking views, good company and a good laugh guaranteed once in a while. If you’re lucky like us, you’ll get a well prepared, but most important, funny and friendly tour guide.

Tips & advice

  • Make sure to be prepared for what's not included in the tour: ticket fees, snacks, cold drinks or occasional wifi and hot shower that the owners of the campsites offer for a few soles. Also, bring cash in soles for the tips including tour guides, porters and cooks.
  • If you’re bringing your own sleeping bag, make sure it's suitable for the cold weather.
  • Some essentials you can't miss are toilet paper and tissues, hand sanitizer and a portable battery for the first two days since there will be no electricity.
  • If you’re into photography, or just want to capture memories, don’t forget an extra camera battery and your charger.
  • Bring bug repellent for the last days of the trek since you’re close to the jungle, and they’ll want to hunt you down.
  • Stay hydrated: if you plan to walk to Machu Picchu instead of taking the bus, you’ll need plenty of motivation and water. It can get pretty humid and hot.
  • Make sure to make the most out of your visit to Machu Picchu. Even if you get a guided tour, there is much more to see. Machu Picchu is divided by circuits, this means that once you go past one point, there's no turning back and officers will pressure you to keep walking, and without even knowing you'll end up in the exit.
  • On your way back to Cusco, make sure to get the train. Even if the bus sounds like a cheaper option, the 3 hour walk and 6 hour bus back to Cusco can be really tough after all those days of hardcore trekking.
  • Try to bring a small of inflatable neck pillow for the bus rides and can also double up as a pillow while camping.

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