Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. Alternative to Inca trail

Incredible beauty of Humantay lake. Salkantay trek
Incredible beauty of Humantay lake. Salkantay trek

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, amazing scenery and good alternative to Inca trail, we could easily do it again but without an agency. Everybody knows about Inca trail, people try to book it and arrange everything beforehand, pay a lot of money and afterwards not everyone is happy about the trek. But not many people know there is an alternative way to get to Machu Picchu (not even one). After reading many reviews and blogs about Inca trail I got an impression the highlight of it is food that people get on the trek. Nothing about the scenery mostly how delicious the food was and what a great job their cooks did. We can’t really judge Inca trail, we’ve never done it but we’ve done Salkantay it it was great, beautiful and worth of time, effort and money.

Salkantay mountain and glacier on the way to Machu Picchu. Salkantay trek
Salkantay mountain and glacier on the way to Machu Picchu. Salkantay trek

Price of Salkantay trek

  • We paid 195$ for 5 day trek, it included.
  • Transport to the starting point of the trek.
  • Gear rental (tent, sleeping bag, mat).
  • Guide, porter (10kg per person), cook.
  • All food during the trek (3 breakfast, 4 lunches, 4 dinners).
  • Two nights accommodation in a double room in a nice hotel in Aguas Calientes.
  • Entrance fee to Machu Picchu and Machu Picchu mountain (35$+5$).
  • Some snack breakfast on Machu Picchu day.
  • Bus back from Hidro Electrica to Cusco.

Not that much for what we got. It’s still cheaper to do on your own, we calculated we’d have saved about 40$. Unlike other hikes we’ve done around Cusco (Choquequirao, Ausangate) that cost us 5 times less to do on our own, Salkantay involves expensive entrance fee and accommodation.

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu our itinerary

Map of Salkantay trek.
Map of Salkantay trek.

1st day. Cusco – Soraypampa, 3 hours drive and 5-6 hours walk

Early wake up, a van came to our hostel to pick us up at 6am, we were first. 30 min. later all our group was complete and ready to depart. We were quite lucky, our team was great, 10 fun and easy going people.

Our Salkantay team at Humantay lake. Salkantay trek
Our Salkantay team at Humantay lake. Salkantay trek

We got a chance to sleep a bit while driving to the starting point of our hike. After 3 hours we arrived to Mollepata, where had breakfast in a local restaurant (not included).

After breakfast we started our ascend, from Mollepata (2830m) to Soraypampa (4000m). Due to high altitude don’t walk too fast, rest from time to time and drink enough water. When we arrived at our first camping everything was ready, we just had to choose a tent.

Our walk for the day wasn’t finished. After lunch we went to see Humantay lake, about an hour up from the camp. It was the most beautiful lake we’ve ever seen, absolutely stunning.  Humantay was the epic end of the first day and the most beautiful view on the hike.

The same lake from a different angle
The same lake from a different angle

2nd day. Soraypampa – Chaullay, 8 hours

Next day again started early. After breakfast we continued our ascend to the highest point of the hike, the pass at 4600m. It took about 2,5-3 hours to get there, due to high altitude walking up becomes challenging. One there don’t forget to check one more glacier lake, walk from the pass sign towards Salkantay glacier. The lake is beautiful, bright turquoise color, surrounded by ice and rocks.

Impressive Salkantay glacier
Impressive Salkantay glacier

After the pass starts down, 2 more hours to Huayracmachay (3500m) where we had some rest and lunch. On the way down you can see how the landscape changes from bare rocks and ice peaks to lush green forest with butterflies and hummingbirds flying around.

Three more hours down to the second camping at Challway (2800m), nice small village at the river.

Total ups and downs, 600m up in the beginning and 1800m down.

Campbell at Salkantay lake. Beautiful color and stunning view!
Campbell at Salkantay lake. Beautiful color and stunning view!

3rd day. Challway –  Santa Teresa, 6 hours half walking, half driving

Our guide team every morning woke us up bringing everybody a cup of coca tea, it was very nice! This day we walked about 3 hours, from Sahuayaco we continued in our van, stopped for lunch at Lucambamba and drove to Santa Teresa.

In the afternoon we went to hot springs, it was the first time in 3 days we had “hot shower”. The springs were nice, main dislikes too many people and terrible tiny flies once you out of water they eat you alive!

We didn’t like much our camping in Santa Teresa, all groups stop there, it was like a party place with loud music and drinking. Next morning toilets looked disgusting.

4th day. Santa Teresa – Aguas Calientes, 5 hours

Last day we could choose to walk all the way to Aguas Calientes or to go by car to Hidro Electrica and walk from there. We decided to walk, it was enough driving the day. Car costs 15 pesos and takes about 30 min. We walked for about 2 hours. At Hidro Electrica we had lunch and continued along the railway to Aguas Calientes. This part of our hike was the least interesting, would be quite boring if it wasn’t for many butterflies with transparent wings flying around.

Beautiful butterflies are in abundancy on the way to Aguas Calientes
Beautiful butterflies are in abundancy on the way to Aguas Calientes

Three more hours and we reached Aguas. At about 4pm we were settled in our rooms and later had restaurant dinner (was included). Here we got our tickets to Machu Picchu, bus/train tickets. Next day was a big day, finally Machu Picchu! PS. Not for me, decided not to go, I’d been there two years before.

5th day. Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes

Very early wake up, 4.30-5am you should leave your hostel to start up to Machu Picchu. You have an option to take a bus all the way up. If you decide to walk like us take enough water with, the up is steep and long. Don’t forget your torch, passport and tickets. Entrance to MP opens at 6.00 if you are fast enough you’ll be there before and start queuing. Once you are inside you can stay there till it closes at 5pm.

Map of Machu Picchu ruins
Map of Machu Picchu ruins

If you have tickets to MP or Huayna Picchu mountain check your time to go up, don’t miss it.

Absolutely stunning Muchu Picchu!
Absolutely stunning Muchu Picchu!
Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins

The up to Machu Picchu mountain is quite long and steep, you ascend 500m but the view from the top os definitely worth of the effort.

View over the ruins from the top of Machu Picchu mountain
View over the ruins from the top of Machu Picchu mountain

To get back to Aguas Calientes you can the same way walk down or take a bus.

After whole day at MP Campbell was really happy we had an extra night in Aguas Calientes, to rest a bit before start heading back.

6th day. Aguas Calientes – Hidro Electrica (walk) – Cusco (bus), 5-6 hours

We had to walk back to Hidro Electrica to catch our bus back to Cusco. There was nothing more about hiking in it, just going back home.

Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu, which mountain to choose?

We chose MP for a very simple reason, you don’t need to book it weeks beforehand, one or two days is enough. The entrance fee is almost the same, 5$ to MP and 7$ to Wuayna Picchu. For me the view from both looks quite the same, the ruins from far up.  Machu Picchu (3050m) mountain is 300m higher than Wuayna Picchu (2700m), the climb will be longer. If for some reasons you won’t be able to go to either of them, the view from the Sun Gate is quite good as well and the way up is shorter. Just don’t forget to take enough water it’ll very hot on the way up!!

Tips for Salkantay

  • Bring purifying pills for water, there are many natural water sources on the hike, it will save you some money.
  • Check with the agency everything twice, that they book you right tickets for right days. Some our travel buddies didn’t get train tickets or tickets to MP mountain.
  • Bring snacks with you everything gets more expensive on the hike.
  • If you want to go up Machu Picchu mountain, you need to book a separate ticket, entrance ticket to MP itself isn’t valid.
  • In Aguas Calientes you can eat for cheap at the market on the second floor, restaurants are expensive.
  • Take food and water to Machu Picchu, there is one restaurant at the entrance with crazy prices.
  • If you plan to do Salkantay trek though an agency, don’t book it over the Internet, you’ll pay at least double. It’s easy to arrange everything once you are in Cusco, there are plenty of agencies.
  • Cusco is a very good place for for buying or renting trekking gear. Here you can find some prices for gear and clothing.
  • If you buy an entrance ticket to MP online it’ll be more expensive.
  • If you are a student bring your ISIC card, you’ll get a good discount for all the ruins in Peru.

Can you do Salkantay on your own?

Definitely Yes! Unlike Inca trail you are allowed to walk Salkantay independently and we in a way regret about doing it with the agency. It isn’t the most difficult trek, the path is clear and easy to follow, you can find food and water to buy everywhere, there are even hostels.

Machu Picchu is not the only one ruin around Cusco thou the most famous. If you have time you can explore other ruins and do more hikes, there are plenty of places to visit in the region.

Campbell running out from ice cold water of Humantay lake
Campbell running out from ice cold water of Humantay lake
Perfect and elaborated walls of Machu Picchu ruins
Perfect and elaborated walls of Machu Picchu ruins




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  • Hey guys! I’m heading to Peru at the end of June and planning on doing this trek. I know that you said that you only booked your trek when you got there, but since June is peak season I am worried that MP entrance tickets will sell out (as there are only 2500 per day!). I understand that Huayna picchu tickets are hard to come by last minute (not concerned about this) but do you think MP entrance tickets will be okay booking a few days in advance???

    • Hi, Sophie! As I know July and August are the peak season but you can expect to see many people all year around. I’ve been there twice and never booked my ticket to MP beforehand and always could get it. If you do Salkantay trek to MP it’ll take you 4 days to get there which means you’ll book your ticket beforehand anyway, if you do it with a tour company they might have some tickets reserved. There are online booking services for MP you can check there if there are any tickets available for the nearest days it might help to make up your mind.
      Good luck and enjoy Peru!

  • Hi there,
    thanks for this great blog! We are going to Machu Picchu in July this year and would like to know if the Salkantay trail is not too heavy for our youngest daughter of 10 years. We have done a hike of 3 days last year in the Alps but that’s of course not quite comparable to the Salkantay Trail. We have 2 other daughters (age 15 and 17). All are in good shape and very exited to do the trail, but we are in doubt. What would you advise?
    Thanks in advance, Edith

    • Hello, Edith! Thank you for the comment!
      The main challenge on Salkantay is the altitude you must be good acclimatized, to stay in Cusco or in any other place above 3000, for two or three days, just resting, not doing too much walking or exercising. The first night on the hike you sleep at 4000m and the next day walk over 4600m pass after that you start walking down. You know better if your daughter will be able to walk 10-15km a day for 4 or 5 days. We’d suggest to do a tour in this case you walk only with your day packs and everything (accommodation, food) will be arranged for you. We did it in November and it was quite cold up there especially at night as you’re going to do it in July it will be even colder which adds difficulty. Maybe it’s better you don’t book the hike beforehand and once in Cusco decide depending on how you and your daughter feel. July is not a peak season you must be able to find a company to do it with. We shopped around for the better price and booked it just a day before. As an easier alternative to Salkantay check Lares trek on this route you see more ruins and local villages.
      Good luck!

      • Thanks so much for your advice, we will probably do it the way you suggest: decide when we are there. This way we can also take the weather into account.
        Will let you know what we did!

  • Great Post and experience!
    The Salkantay trail is the less traveled route into Machu Picchu. It´s longer more strenuous hike than the classic inca trai, but it is well worth it. It has fewer tourists on it plus it goes over a 15,252 pass between 2 glaciers. The scenery is simply breathtaking.

  • Hey there – this a great post!! 🙂 I’m hoping to do the Salkantay trip next year, and was wondering if you could remember which agency you booked through in Cusco as that price is pretty amazing!


    • Hello, Katie! Thank you! We used Qorianka Tours and bought our tour from a small shop close to Plaza de Armas on Triunfo street, they were the cheapest we could find. The best you can do is to arrive at Cusco a couple of days before the hike and shop around trying to find the best and the cheapest tour as we did.
      Good luck!

  • Hi guys, We are doing the Salkantay trek alone in April, and I was hoping for some advice. I have read a few blogs about aggressive dogs and people getting bitten on the walk along the train tracks from the Hidro electrica to AC. Did you see many dogs? Or have any problems? Or know anyone that did have problems?

    Hope to hear from you soon,


    • Hi, Abbe! Thank you for reading! We saw many dogs hiking in Peru sometimes they were quite aggressive but on the way from Hidro electrica to Aguas Calientes and back we didn’t see any dogs. Maybe one or two next to the train station when we stopped for lunch but not further. Nobody we met complained about it. Good luck and enjoy the hike!

  • Hi guys
    Excellent trip report. My sister and I are planning on doing the 5 day Salkantay in late May (hopefully including zip lining). I know it is a lot cheaper to book when we arrive, which is what we plan to do, but I was still surprised at how little you paid for your trek. I was especially surprised at the cost for entry to MP ($35) and climbing MP mountain ($5). I guess late May is classified as peak season – do you think booking 2 or 3 days in advance is sufficient?

    • Hello, Carol!
      Thank you for the comment! Sorry for the late reply we were a bit busy with our wedding:) We did the trek in October which is considered to be a peak season as well and had no problem with booking our trek just one day before. There are many travel agencies in Cusco if you walk around for a day you’ll be able to find a good deal for your dates. Most tourists do Inca trail this one you have to book in advance but with Salkantay it’s easy. The entrance fee to the ruins is different if you book online or buy at the office in Cusco, online is more expensive. When you book with an agency make sure they book MP mountain as sometimes they forget. If you have more questions don’t hesitate in asking!
      Good luck!

      • Wow – congratulations to you both Campbell and Alya!! I hope you have a long and happy life together, with lots of adventure along the way.

        It is really a surprise that the entrance tickets to MP would differ considering it is such a world icon. I read online somewhere that you can even bargain for the entry ticket to Colca Canyon, but not really sure about this. I believe bus tickets (long distance) are also dearer on line, and that you are better off going to the bus station to purchase your tickets.

        Thanks also for the tips you list at the end of your blog – these are very helpful.
        Cheers from Australia

        • Thank you a lot!!!
          For your MP ticket if you’re a student don’t forget to bring your card or ID you get a discount for all the sites in Peru and this you definitely can’t get if you purchase online. What about buses you can buy tickets online only for the expensive bus companies if you go to any bus terminal you’ll find different price range depending on how fancy buses are etc. to all main destinations buses leave every hour or so you always will be able to get a ticket.
          Good luck in your travel!

          • We would love to have student ID cards – unfortunately, we are nearing the other end of the scale – by May our average will be 60!!! However, we are both pretty fit and are sure we will have a fantastic time.

  • Hi there,

    thank you very much for so much useful advance.

    We are family with 2 Adult + 2 children (11, 6) and we had bought our ticket flying to cusco on 09.aug.2017. Now, we are looking for one Salkantay Trek from Cusco to Machu Picchu 5D/4N during 13.Aug.2017 – 17.Aug.2017 or 21.Aug.2017 – 25.aug.2017.

    But, we don’t know it is necessary to booking this trek jet or can we buy it when we arriving there in person ? Because the peak season on Aug.

    And, do you have any suggestion about trekking with two 2 childrens ? I have a big worry about it indeed.

    Your kindly advise would be much appreciate !

    • Hello! Thank you!
      We were there in late October and it was quite busy but it was very easy for us to book a tour just one day beforehand. You can book it online as well but in this case you’ll pay a lot more for the same tour. We had a couple in our group and they booked their tour from home online and the price they paid was double of what we paid for exactly the same tour. In peak season it can be difficult to book Inca trail it’s usually fully booked but for Salkantay we think it’ll be possible to book once you in Cusco.
      Don’t know how old your children are? If you do a tour then porters carry all your luggage you walk only with day pack so it won’t be a problem. But the hike itself was quite demanding especially the first two days mostly because of the altitude (4000m). We didn’t see any children walking Salkantay. If you have more questions we’ll be glad to answer them.
      Good luck!

  • Hi guys, thanks so much for replying to my question about the Bolivian visa on your other post :).

    Just 2 more questions on this post :). When did you do salkantay and can you by any chance of remember the name of the agency you used? We are actually on our way to cusco now and would be awesome to get the same kind of deal.

    Thanks a mill.

    • Hi Kate, thanks for reading! Our Salkantay trek was from 30 Oct to 3 Nov.
      We used Qorianka Tours and bought our tour from a small shop close to Plaza de Armas on Triunfo street, they were the cheapest we could find. On the trek we found out everyone on our tour bought the same package from different agencies and there was a big difference in price. One of the couples bought their package online and paid double! There are many agencies and we bought our tour one day before departure.
      Please let us know if you have any more questions.
      Enjoy and Safe Travels!

  • Thanks heaps for your reply. Your blog has been very useful. Congrats on getting engaged! We are flying into Rio and were thinking of heading towards Uruguay/Argentina – Patagonia to start with but now wondering if we should head to Bolivia/Peru first to avoid being in Bolivia/Peru in the wet months. Do you have any advice? What months did you travel in Bolivia and Peru? Thanks again 🙂

    • Hi, Gemma! Thank you very much!
      When are you flying? We were in Peru and Bolivia from mid October to mid December, in November had some heavy rains in Cusco but not during hikes. If you are planning to do hikes around Cusco it’s better to avoid rainy months, the best time is October but it’s the busiest time as well, many tourists come for Machu Picchu. For Bolivia if you want to visit Uyuni salt flats the best time is January when it rains and the desert looks like a big mirror, we were to early for that. Regarding Patagonia, the season if from December to March, the best weather. Jan-Feb are very busy months for Patagonia, holiday time in Chile and Argentina many locals travelling and hiking in the area. Can be difficult to find accommodation but if you have a tent it won’t be a problem, there are campings everywhere. If you have any more questions we’ll be happy to help you.
      Best regards,

  • Hi there, I have just found your blog and loving reading it thanks! My partner and I are travelling to South America from New Zealand in September. Could you please tell us what agency you did use for the Salkantay trek? Thank you

    • Hi Gemma, thank you for reading! We used Qorianka Tours and bought our tour from a small shop close to Plaza de Armas on Triunfo street, they were the cheapest we could find. On the trek we found out everyone on our tour bought the same package from different agencies and there was a big difference in price. One of the couples bought their package online and paid double! There are many agencies and we bought our tour one day before departure.
      Please let us know if you have any more questions.
      Enjoy and Safe Travels!

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