Humantay Lake an impressive lake on the Salkantay trek
HIKING Peru

Salkantay Trek, Peru – our detailed guide & itinerary

The Salkantay trek is a high altitude 74km/46 miles hike in the Cusco region, Peru. The route starts at Mollepata, a small town 100km from Cusco. It takes you through some incredible nature areas of the Andes with breathtaking scenery and amazing wildlife. Trekking includes a visit to two Inca sites; Llactapata and Machu Picchu both history and nature lovers will enjoy the Salkantay trek.  It is considered to be a cheaper alternative to the famous Inca trail though it goes through the completely different areas and unlike the Inca trail Salkantay finishes in Aguas Calientes (from where you walk to MP) not at Machu Picchu itself. Nowadays Salkantay is one of the most popular treks in Peru.

Please, note! As of March 2020 the route from Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes is closed due to massive landslides that happened in the area in February. The train route between Cusco and Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes) operates according to its schedule.

Salkantay trek overview

  • Total distance – 74km/46 miles
  • Required number of days – 5 days
  • Starting point – Mollepata
  • Finishing point – Aguas Calientes
  • Average altitude – 3000m
  • Highest point – Apacheta or Salkantay Pass, 4580m
  • Permits – no special permits are needed, the trek can be done independently or with a guide.

If you’d like to do more treks around Cusco check our posts on the other two incredible trekking routes the Ausangate trek and the Choquequirao trek

If you’re thinking about exploring more of Peru there are several great small group tour options to join;

Best time for trekking 

There are two seasons in the Cusco region; the dry season and the rainy season. The dry season is from April to October, the driest months June to August – very little rain, lower temperatures, especially at night time. July – August is the peak tourist season expect prices to be higher and sights are busier. The rainy season is from November to March, with the most rain falling between December and February. During this period temperatures are higher, it’s very humid, rains a lot, not many tourists. December – February is the worst time for hiking in Cusco.

Average high and low temperature over a year in Cusco, Peru
Average temperatures in Cusco throughout the year
Average night and day temperatures in Cusco in Fahrenheit
Average yearly temperatures in Cusco in Fahrenheit
Average monthly precipitations in Cusco
Average rainfalls by months in Cusco, Peru

Practical information for the trek

The Salkantay trek is a high altitude route, good acclimatization is essential.

Drink enough water – hydration is very important for this hike.

There are many streams and rivers on the way but we’d recommend using water purification tablets or a life-straw bottle due to many alpacas walking around local water is not safe for drinking.  

On the first and second day of the trek you gain altitude quite fast don’t push yourself too hard if you feel tired; stop, rest, drink water.

There are a couple of steep descends on the trek hiking poles will be quite handy they will take away some pressure from your knees.

From the third day on there will be villages on the way where you can get cooked meals or buy some food e.g. pasta, tuna, instant soup, snacks, cool drinks, etc.

How we rank Salkantay

  • Difficulty level – 4 out of 5; the first two days are quite demanding; high altitude and steep ascents, other days are easier.
  • Scenery – 5 out of 5; Humantay and Salkantay lake and glacier were the highlights.
  • Touristy – 3,5 out of 5; quite busy compare to Choquequirao or Ausangate treks but not as busy as the Inca Trail.

For those who like the outdoors South America is a real paradise there are many adventurous things to do here and hiking is one of them. The region offers a great variety of hiking trails such as the O Circuit in Torres del Paine, hikes in El Chalten, or a trek to Mount Roraima.

Travel insurance for the trek

Like any outdoor activities trekking involves risks of getting injured, losing or breaking gear, cancellation of the trip due to unpredictable weather conditions (e.g. landslides after the rainy season, etc.). Salkantay is a high altitude trek through remote areas of the Peruvian Andes it’s highly recommended to have travel insurance that will cover you for the period of the hike.

Choosing an insurance company that you can rely on in case of emergency is very important that’s why we recommend World Nomads. They focus on covering outdoor activities including high altitude hiking. Peru is one of their top hiking destinations which means they have experience in working with local companies. Another great thing about World Nomads is that you can buy insurance online while traveling, it takes only 2 minutes. Their insurance policy is very flexible you can purchase one that covers the whole trip or only the hiking part of it, even if it’s one or two days. Get a quote right now! 

Note! Always read carefully terms and conditions.

Packing list for the trek

If you decide to hike without a guide you’ll need camping gear; tent, mattress, camping stove, gas, pots, etc. If Salkantay is the only trek you’re going to do rather rent camping gear than bring your own from home if you’re planning to do a couple of hikes – having your own stuff is better.

Backpack with rain cover – even if you hike in dry season use a rain cover to protect your backpack and the stuff inside from dust and humidity. If you hike independently you’ll need a good and comfortable  60L backpack to be able to fit all the gear and attach a tent. If you do it with a company you’ll need only a day pack your stuff will be carried by horses or driven by car in big dry bags.

Tent – you camp 3 nights on the trek. It’s important to have a good reliable tent that won’t fail in case of rain, strong wind or snow. We became big fans of MSR tents, they’re not the cheapest but one of the best especially for hiking and long term traveling; light, strong, pack small, easy to pitch – perfectly designed for adventure in the mountains.

Sleeping bag – make sure your bag can go down to 0°C/30°F for summer and to -5°C/20°F for winter. It gets very cold up in the mountains at night. Down bag vs synthetic bag – both have their advantages and disadvantages; for the dry cold season a down sleeping bag will work great; it packs small, light and warm the main problem is if it gets wet but in dry season chances of rain are quite small. For wet season synthetic bag will be better; it dries quick, some modern bags are quite small and light as well.

Mattress – we have inflatable camping mats; light and small – fit in a backpack, soft, comfortable, good isolation. After we tried them once we decided not to use foam mattresses again.

More details on what to pack for trekking you can find in our Peru packing list post.

Download our free Salkantay trek packing list.

Salkantay trek cost

Independent trek, per person

Transport – 30 Sol/US$10 bus Cusco – Mollepata, bus Hidroelectrica – Cusco – 60 Sol/US$18; train Aguas Calientes – Hidroeléctrica (optional, you can walk) –  60 Sol/US$19 one way.

Shopping (food, gas)  – 100 Sol/US$30.

Entrance fee – Machu Picchu 152 Sol/US$45, if you want to go up to Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu mountain – 200 Sol/US$59. Make sure to buy your entrance tickets beforehand, especially if you travel in peak season and want to go up one of the mountains. It’s impossible to pay the entrance at the ruins, you can book tickets through the official website it takes time and involves several steps. Another option is to do instant booking through GetYourGuide (the easiest and fastest but more expensive way); Machu Picchu, MP + Machu Picchu Mountain, MP + Huayna Picchu Mountain.

Accommodation – 3 nights camping – between 10-30 Sol/US$3-10 (there are free campsites with limited facilities and private campsites/locals’ houses where you pay about 10 Sol/US$3 per tent). One night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes – from 26 Sol/US$8 pp in a hostel.

Gear rental (optional) – depending on what you rent prepare to pay between 160 Sol/US$50 and 260 Sol/US$80.

Total; 400 Sol/US$120 (420 Sol/US$125 with Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu mountain) + gear rental and train tickets.

With a tour, per person

It’s easier to go with a tour and more expensive as well. Tours start from US$400 per person and usually include; accommodation (camping and one night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes), transportation (except train tickets), entrance fee, food, water, tents and mattresses, porters, chef, and a guide. Tours and prices vary from company to company some are more luxurious with better food, nicer accommodation, some are more basic where you pay extra for everything.

More details on how much to budget for traveling around Peru you can find in our South America travel cost post.

A peaceful scenery on the Salkantay trek in Peru
Scenery at the beginning of the Salkantay trek on the way from Mollepata to Soraypampa

Guided tour vs independent trek

Independent trek

Pros

  • As you can see in the cost section it’s much cheaper, especially if you’re two or more people – you’ll save a lot of money.
  • You’re free to choose when to stop and where to stay if you don’t like a place you always can go to a different one; if you feel tired you can stop earlier etc.
  • It’s always an adventure to plan and prepare for a hike.

Cons

  • It’s more challenging; you carry all your stuff, you pitch a tent, cook, basically do everything on your own.
  • There is no pack up if you forget or lose something you’ll have to handle it all by yourself.
  • If you’re alone it might be lonely to wander around the mountains.

Guided tour

Our advice when you book a tour make sure what is included and what is extra and double check that your Machu Picchu tickets are for the right day and time and include Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu mountain if you’re planning to go up one of them. We met some disappointed travelers whose tickets, booked through an agency, were no right.

Pros

  • It’s easy all you have to do is to find a good reliable company and they’ll arrange everything for you, no planning, last minute shopping, finding a bus etc.
  • You don’t carry your stuff, you don’t cook or set a campsite – all you do is walking.
  • It might be fun is you get a fun group of people and a nice guide.

Cons

  • It’s much more expensive.
  • It takes away some part of the adventure.

Salkantay trek distances

  • Cusco – Mollepata – 100km/62mi., bus
  • Mollepata – Soraypampa – 22km/13,6mi., long ascend, +1000m
  • Soraypampa – Chaullay – 21km/13mi., first long ascend to Apacheta pass, +750m; then long descend to the campsite, -1500m
  • Chaullay – Lucmabamba – 18km/11mi., descend, – 800m
  • Lucmabamba – Llactapata – 7km/4,3mi., steep ascend to the ruins, +900m
  • Llactapata – Aguas Calientes – 13km/8mi., long descend, – 1000m.

Stops on the route

Mollepata (2900m)

A small town where you can get by bus, the beginning of Salkantay trek.

  • Campsite – no
  • Hotel – yes
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes

Soraypampa (3900m)

A first night stop, not a town just an established camping area.

  • Campsite – yes, one free and two private sites for 10 So/US$3 per tent.
  • Hotel – yes, before the campsites.
  • Shop – yes, at the first campsite on the way.
  • Cooked meal – yes, at the hotel
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes, at paid campsites
  • Shower – yes, at paid campsites.

Huayracmachay (3750m)

  • Campsite – yes, one free, one for 10 Sol/US$3 per tent
  • Hotel – no
  • Shop – no
  • Cooked meal – no
  • Tap with running water – yes, at a paid campsite
  • Toilet – yes, at a paid campsite
  • Shower – yes, at a paid campsite

Chaullay or Chayway (2900m)

  • Campsite – yes, 10 Sol/US$3 per tent
  • Hotel – yes
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes
Chaullay village a popular stop on Salkantay
Chaullay village where we stopped on our second night on the trek

Collpapampa or Colpapampa (2800m)

  • Campsite – yes, 10 Sol/US$3 per tent
  • Hotel – no
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes

La Playa (2000m)

  • Campsite – yes, 10 Sol/US$3 per tent
  • Hotel – no
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes

Lucmabamba (2100m)

A small village with coffee plantations and beautiful views.

  • Campsite – yes, 5-10 Sol/US$3 per tent
  • Hotel – yes
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes

Santa Teresa (1800m)

Quite q touristy place, many people come here to visit nearby hot springs.

  • Campsite – yes, 10 Sol/US$3 per tent
  • Hotel – yes
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes

Hidroeléctrica (2000m)

Nobody usually stays here, it’s only 2 hours walk to Aguas Calientes.

  • Campsite – no
  • Hotel – yes
  • Shop – yes
  • Cooked meal – yes
  • Tap with running water – yes
  • Toilet – yes
  • Shower – yes

Accommodation in Cusco

Getting from Cusco to Salkantay (Mollepata)

The trek starts at Mollepata, a small town 100km from Cusco. 

The first morning bus to Mollepata leaves at 4 am (there are several buses during the day) from the Arcopata bus terminal, a small terminal at Arcopata street, the journey takes 3 hours. We’d recommend going to the terminal the day before to make sure where it is and what time the bus leaves. Price 30 Sol/US$10.

Once in Mollepata you can start walking (as we did) or take a local truck that will get you to Sayapata from where you can start walking to Soraypampa, the first-night campsite, about 2-3 hours walk. Price about 100 Sol/US$30 per car.

Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, Peru.
Salkantay trekking map. Note! Chaullay (2nd campsite) altitude is 2900m not 4000m like it’s indicated on the map.

Salkantay trek – a 5-day itinerary

Day 1. Bus Cusco – Mollepata, 100km. Mollepata – Soraypampa, 22km

Cusco (3400m) – bus to Mollepata (2900m) – Soraypampa (3900m), 22km/13,6 miles

If you want to walk all the way to Soraypampa we’d recommend to start the day early and take a morning bus from Cusco. The journey to Mollepata takes between 2,5-3 hours.

From Mollepata many people take a taxi/truck to Soraypampa or a couple of kilometers before; it makes the first day shorter, you get to the campsite in a couple of hours instead of walking for 6-7 hours. We walked this part and unlike some people say the walk wasn’t unpleasant or along the road, in fact, the walking trek and the road split. It’s a bit difficult to find the trail in Mollepata, ask around or follow a group if there is one. The main reason we decided to walk is to give our bodies more time to acclimatize (it was our first hike in Cusco), the altitude difference between Mollepata and Soraypampa is 1000m if you get by car you gain it very fast, walking gives you more time to adjust.   

Highlights

  • Humantay lake and glacier (4200m) – quite a steep uphill walk from Soraypampa campsite, +300m. It was one of the most beautiful lakes we’ve ever seen, the colors are just incredible!

Challenges

  • Finding the trail in Mollepata
  • A steep ascent from Mollepata to Soraypampa, 1000m up
  • Sleeping at high altitude, 3900m
Stingy Nomads at the Humantay Lake on the first day of the trek
Campbell & Alya at the Humantay Lake on the Salkantay trek

Day 2. Soraypampa – Chaullay, 21km

Soraypampa (2900m) – Apacheta/Salkantay Pass (4580m) – Huayracmachay (3750m) – Chaullay (2900m), 21km/13 miles.

This is the toughest day of the hike; high altitude, going up to 1500m to Apacheta Pass (4580m) –  the highest point of Salkantay trek plus steep uphill to the campsite. On the way up, don’t go too fast you’ll have enough time to make it to the campsite.

Views from the Pass were stunning; Salkantay mountain and glacier if you walk towards the mountain you’ll see beautiful Salkantay lake down there. If you feel sick; nausea, headache, etc. don’t spend much time at the top rather start going down slowly. You can stop for lunch at Huayracmachay. As an option, you can camp there as well but it’s still quite high 3750m compare to Chaullay, 2900m it’s always better to sleep at lower altitudes.

Highlights

  • Salkantay mountain and glacier
  • Salkantay lake – a small turquoise blue color glacier lake

Challenges  

  • A steep ascent from Soraypampa to the Apacheta Pass, 1500m up
  • A steep descent from the Apacheta Pass to Chaullay, 1500m down
A hiking trail on the trek on the way to the pass
Scenery on the way to the pass, the beginning of the second day of the trek

Day 3. Chaullay – Lucmabamba, 18km

Chaullay (2900m) – Colpapampa (2870m) – Lucmabamba (2100m), 18km/11mi.

A relaxed walking day past coffee and fruit plantations we saw many hummingbirds and butterflies on the way.

Highlights

  • Lush green forest with hummingbirds, colorful butterflies, orchids and fruit trees.
  • Coffee plantations at Lucmabamba.
  • Hot Springs – about 30min. drive from the village, you can catch a minibus, it is quite touristy but we enjoyed soaking in the hot pools after several days of walking without a hot shower.
A mountainous scenery on the Salkantay trek
Fantastic scenery on the Salkantay trek. Different every day

Day 4. Lucmabamba – Aguas Calientes, 20km

Lucmabamba (2100m) – Puncuyoc Pass (2900m) – Llactapata ruins (3000m) – Hydroelectric station (2000m) – Aguas Calientes (2040m), 20km/12,4mi.

Here you have to options to go to Llactapata ruins first and then to Hidroelectrica or to go straight to Hidroelectrica past Santa Teresa. The first option is longer and involves a steep 900m ascent to the ruins with subsequent 1000m descent to Hidroelectrica. The ruins are quite interesting and not overcrowded but if you feel tired of walking rather skip it and save energy for Machu Picchu.

Highlights

  • Llactapata ruins – recently discovered Inca ruins with a great view on Machu Picchu.

Challenges

  • A long ascent from Lucmabamba to Puncuyoc Pass, 900m up.
  • A long descent from Llactapata ruins to Hydroelectric station, 1000m down.
  • Walking along the railway from Hydroelectric to Aguas Calientes (about 10km), taking a train might be a better option.
A stunning view of the canyon and the river at the bottom of it
A beautiful scenery at the beginning of the day on the way to Aguas Calientes, the first half of the walk to Aguas Calientes was worth it

Day 5. Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Aguas Calientes, 15km

Very early wake up, 4.30-5am you should leave your hostel to start up to Machu Picchu. You have two options; to take a bus all the way up or to walk. The walk from the town to the ruins takes about 1,5 hours, with steep 400m ascend. If you decide to walk, like us, take enough water. Don’t forget your torch, passport, and tickets. Entrance to MP opens at 6.00 if you are fast enough you’ll be there right in time. 

Taking a bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu is another option, you can buy a ticket in the town. The ticket office is opened from 5 am to 9 pm, one-way ticket – US$12 (adults), return US$24. The journey to the top takes 40 minutes. Buses leave every 10 minutes; to MP from 5.30am till 3.30pm.; from MP from 6.00am till 6.00pm. You can walk up and take a bus down (there is a ticket office at the ruins) or other way around.

Map of Machu Picchu ruins
Map of Machu Picchu ruins

Need to know about visiting Machu Picchu

Don’t forget to buy a ticket to Machu Picchu beforehand you can’t buy it at the entrance. Only 2500 people in the morning, from 6 am to 12 pm and 3000 people in the afternoon, from 12 am to 5.30pm a day are allowed at the ruins. In high season make sure to book it at least a couple of days in advance.

Take your tickets and passport/ID with you have to show both at the entrance.

Huayna Picchu mountain visitors restrictions; entrance from 7 am to 8 am – 200 people; from 10 am to 11 am – 200 people.

Machu Picchu mountain; entrance from 7am to 8am – 400 people; from 9am to 10am – 400 people. It’s important to buy your Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu/Machu Picchu ticket beforehand, especially in the peak season.

Make sure to enter the ruins and mountains at the time indicated in your tickets if you miss it you won’t be allowed to enter any other time.

New Machu Picchu rules were implemented in 2017 according to them all visitors supposed to have a guide to enter the ruins, in fact, nobody at the entrance enforces this rule there are people with and without guides. If you want to join a group you can do it; price US$20 per person or US$60 for a private guide per group.

Visitors are not supposed to bring food and water with which is quite strange as there are very few places where you can buy both. We’ve been to the ruins twice both times carrying day packs with water, sandwiches, snacks, and nobody has ever searched our bags or tried to stop us. This rule is mainly to protect the ruins from pollution as some people just damp plastic bottles and wraps. A reusable water bottle will be a better option and nobody will object to it.

Walking sticks are not allowed at the ruins we did hear about people being stopped and asked to leave them at the entrance so if your sticks are any value for you rather don’t take them. If your knees are a problem – take a bus down to Aguas Calientes.

Machu Picchu ruins with Huayna Picchu mountain on the background
Machu Picchu ruins the highlight of the Salkantay trek for many travelers

Accommodation in Aguas Calientes

Getting from Machu Picchu to Cusco 

There are four options;

To catch a train all the way from Aguas Calientes to Cusco – the easiest and the most expensive option; train ticket 277 Sol/US$85 price of the cheapest train ride Expedition 34. You have to buy tickets for this train a couple of weeks beforehand they are often sold out.

To go by train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo and from there take a bus to Cusco – it’s a bit cheaper than the first option but more complicated; train ticket – from 180 Sol/US$55 (the cheapest train leaves Aguas Calientes at 5.35am), bus ticket 15 Sol/US$4. A good thing about this option if you have time you can stay in Ollantaytambo and visit the ruins.

To get on a train from Aguas Calientes to Hidroeléctrica and from there take a minibus to Cusco – more complicated but cheaper; train ticket – 60 Sol/US$19, minibus ticket – 60 Sol/US$18.

To walk from Aguas Calientes to Hidroeléctrica, about 10km and from there take a bus to Cusco – the cheapest but the longest option; bus ticket 60 Sol/US$18.

A breathtaking view of the ruins and the area from the Machu Picchu Mountain
View over Machu Picchu ruins and Huayna Picchu Mountain from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain

Recommended books and guidebooks

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