The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, it is one of the best alternative trekking options to the Inca Trail. Its highly recommended for those who wish to see and experience different ecosystems, enjoy the trail with less trekkers than the Inca Trail and immerse themselves in the local culture of small remote villages that are rarely seen or visited by foreigners.

With this in mind my wife and I headed to South America over the summer for 7 weeks and had placed the Salkantay Trek high onto the to do list while in Peru.



With alarms set for 4am we left Cusco at 5am for the 3 + hour drive to the small village of Challacancha. After repacking our bags, meeting our guides and the rest of our group we departed Challacancha for a 8km relatively leisurely walk to Soraypampa. An afternoon visit to the Humantay Lake which at 4600m helped us acclimatise to the altitude and warm up our legs for what was expected to be a long day tomorrow.



Another early wake up at daylight and after enjoying a quick breakfast of pancakes we began hiking up to the Salkantay Pass which at 4650m is the highest point of the trail. After a solid 3 hours ascending the 7km we where happy to make it to the pass and enjoy the amazing views of Salkantay Mountain. Salkantay Mountain (6200m) which in Quechuan roughly translates to “Savage Mountain” is the second highest mountain in the Cusco region and one of the Inca Gods called “Apu”.

After reaching the top of the pass we continued down the rocky serpent shaped trail for 5km (2 hours) to our lunch spot at Huayracmachay. We sheltered from the rain and the wind while digging into soup, rice, chicken, chips, fresh vegetables, fruit and mugs of coca tea.

After lunch we descended into the upper part of the Amazon jungle, which is also called the “cloud forest”. It was amazing that over the 3hour/10km hike we moved from a cold and windy alpine environment into cloud forests that are for most of the year a warm temperate temperature. A long 12 hour day’s hiking the 22km’s to our camp at Chaullay Village (2900m) was rewarded by another amazing feast which was washed down by a couple of Cusqueña Cerveza’s as a bonus.



With breakfast at dawn and getting on to the trail early we were given the unfortunate news that due to some recent heavy rain sections of the walking trail had been washed away meaning we simply had to follow the road 17km down to our lunch location at the village of La playa.

The mornings 5 hour hike done and the hiking for the day completed we had the chance to relax drinking cerveza in hammocks over looking the Santa Teresa valley and enjoy an afternoon of relaxing in some nearby hot springs.



Day four was one of the highlights of the trek. We said goodbye to our chefs and got another early departure from Lucmabamba. We hiked along a part of an original Incan trail and after a climb of 2 hours with amazing views of the Santa Teresa valley we arrived at the Llactapata Inca site right in front of Machu Picchu. This was the first Incan archaeological site we explored on the trek which was made more enjoyable by the fact that there was only 3 of us and the guide there to enjoy. From this vantage point we had a great view of Machu Picchu from across the valley with Huayna Picchu and the Machu Picchu Mountain also in sight.

After the Llactapata ruins, we continued our trek with a 2 hours downhill hike. During this section of the hike we were able to have more views across the valley to Machu Picchu until we arrived at the Hydroelectrica train station which was our lunch place.

Following lunch we had a 3 hours walk following the railway track to Aguas Calientes, which is located at the foot of Machu Picchu. Our first shower in 4 days was enjoyed at the hotel and early dinner/night was decided on to rest our legs as over the last 4 days we had hiked close to 80km, ascended 3,140m and descended 4,010m and Machu Picchu was calling us in the next morning.



An early morning sun rise arrival at Machu Picchu gave us a chance to enjoy our 2 hour guided tour before the Inca Trail trekkers had arrived. Once our tour was complete we had plenty of time to explore one of the Wonders of the World for over 7 hours including hiking to the summit of Huayna Picchu, Llama’s and the Incan Bridge.

The afternoon rain timed its self perfectly as we needed to be back in Aguas Calientes for our train to Ollantaytambo at 6pm. Arriving back in Cusco at 10:30 at night we crashed into bed already reminiscing about our amazing 5 days of trekking through mountains, forests, making new friends and exploring one of our big bucket list items Machu Picchu!!

Total Duration: 5 days / 4 nights

Total Distance: 86km

Max. Altitude: 4,650 m at Salkantay Pass

Total Ascent: 3,140m

Total Descent: 4,010m

About The Author

Dave Casey

Dave has worked as an International Expedition Leader and in Outdoor Education for over 15 years. He has extensive travel and guiding experience in Australia, NZ, Asia, South/North America and Europe. In his spare time Dave is a keen bushwalker, mountain biker and climber while also dabbling in some mountaineering and sea kayaking.

5 Responses

  1. JennaLee

    Which company did you use? I am having such a hard time deciding – which tour company, and Lares or Salkantay. Recommendations?? Thanks for any advice!!

    • Paddy

      Hi JennaLee

      After a heap of research we decided on We booked via emails from Australia and arguably paid a small premium (compared to bartering for a better price once in Peru) however we had piece of mind that the trek was organised before we arrived in Cusco and we could leave when we wanted to.

      They were great (English speaking guides, amazing food, quality tents & equipment, the over all experience and all inclusive apart from tips, the odd beers and soft drinks) and we had no issues at all.

      World Expeditions also run a Salkantay trip if you prefer to have the piece of mind of an Australian based operator who you can pick up the phone and call.

      I trekked in the Lares Valley about 5 years ago and it was really nice but the Salkantay was next level!!


  2. James

    The Salkantay Trail is the less traveled route into Machu Picchu. It’s a longer, more strenuous hike than the classic Inca Trail, but it is well worth it. It has fewer tourists on it plus it goes over a 15,262′ pass between two glaciers. The scenery is simply breathtaking.
    We were on the trail for 4 days until finally arriving at the ancient site of Machu Picchu and we saw everything from glacier peaks to boulder fields to tropical jungle ecosystems. We went in December after main tourist season so we did not encounter the huge rush of hikers and tourists that can often be found on the trail. We absolutely loved this 31 mile, 4 day trek through the Peruvian back country! Highly recommended


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