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How To Hike The Classic Salkantay Trail To Machu Picchu: 5-Day Guide

How To Hike The Classic Salkantay Trail To Machu Picchu: 5-Day Guide

As quite possibly the most popular place to visit on a trip to Peru, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu deserves an equally impressive trek to reach it. And so, for a truly breathtaking and adventurous trail to the ancient Inca site, the classic 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru is a must.

You’ll likely have heard the Salkantay Trail labelled as the best alternative to the ever-popular Inca Trail. But, the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu really ought to be considered a worthy hike in its own right. The sublime mountain passes and snow-capped peaks are what hiking dreams are made of. The trails wind through cloud forests and pass coffee plantations, ripe for the sampling. It’s hiking that blends incredible nature with the exploration of Inca sights. And to cap it all off, the Salkantay Trek in Peru actually follows ancient Inca routes through the Sacred Valley. All this and more awaits on the outstanding hike along the Salkantay Trail.

Increasing in popularity year on year, the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru is easily becoming a must-do hike when visiting Cusco. Views of the Sacred Valley and Vilcabamba Mountain Range will easily take your breath away. Laguna Humantay is the outstanding highlight on day one and makes for the perfect balance to the bucket list visit of Machu Picchu on day five.

What Does This Salkantay Trail Guide Cover?

In this guide, we’ll give you a brief overview of the Salkantay Trail, discuss the main differences between the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, and provide some tips on being prepared for the hike. We’ll also give a short description of what to expect each day, and give a breakdown of the hiking stats. We know you guys want to know whether it’s worth taking a guided tour, or hiking independently, so we’ll go through those options too. We’ll also include other Salkantay Trail options, should a 5-day trek be a little too long for your Peru itineraries. Lastly, we’ll answer some common FAQs and throw in a few bonus tips at the end.

For more hiking around Cusco, be sure to read our guides on Choquequirao, Huayna Picchu Mountain, Machu Picchu Mountain, the Rainbow Mountain Trek and Huchuy Qosqo Trek.

About the Salkantay Trail

The classic Salkantay (Salcantay) Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru traditionally involves five days of picturesque hiking in the magical Andes. Like most trails around Cusco, Salkantay is an Inca trail and so it’s an added wonder to be walking in the footsteps of an ancient civilisation. The breathtaking sight of Humantay and Salkantay Mountains will leave you awestruck.

The name Salkantay comes from the Quechua language, meaning wild or savage. So, Salkantay Mountain is sometimes referred to as the ‘Savage Mountain’. The Humantay and Salkantay Mountains were considered Apus by the Inca civilisation – a sacred deity revered and worshipped. Apu Salkantay was thought by the Incas to control weather and fertility in the region and so it held great importance to the Inca people.

Nowadays, the Salkantay and Humantay Mountains strike wonderment in the hearts of every hiker who passes by, invoking a sense of admiration and respect for the sheer magnitude and beauty of nature.

Beck stands in front of Humantay Mountain along the Salkantay Pass

Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail

A common question, and one not so easily answered, to be honest with you, is Salkantay Trail vs Inca Trail, which to choose?

Both hikes are truly excellent options in trekking to Machu Picchu, but a good starting point might be to look at how organised you are and when you know you’ll be in Peru. For the average backpacker, planning tends to be done on the hoof. That means booking the oversubscribed Inca Trail weeks, if not months, in advance might be a little out of the question. Therefore, the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an easier option as you could book this simply just a few days before.

Arrival to Machu Picchu

The Classic Inca Trail arrives at the famed Sun Gate on the final morning of the Inca Trail trek. As Dan has hiked the Inca Trail before, he assures me that ending the hike at Machu Picchu itself is an unforgettable experience. The Salkantay Trail, however, ends in the town below Machu Picchu. From Aguas Calientes, you then either take the bus or walk up to the main entrance of Machu Picchu. Not quite as grand an entry, but still, once you’re inside the citadel and marvelling at your surroundings, will it really matter?

Archaeology vs The Andes

The Inca Trail passes through many ruins and archaeological sites, each and every day of the trek. The Salkantay Trail is more immersed in nature and focused on natural surroundings. It’s all about the landscape encompassing you. Grand snow-capped peaks, mountain passes and even cloud forests await on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. It’s a toss-up really as to what you’d prefer.


If altitude is of concern to you, then be aware that the Inca Trail reaches a maximum height of 4,200m whereas the 5-day Salkantay Trek in Peru hits 4,600m. I guess 400m is a fair difference to take into consideration, although you won’t be spending a great deal of time at either height, to be honest.

Sleeping Arrangements

Given the ever-increasing popularity of the Salkantay Trail, it’s possible to stay in accommodation along the entire route. From sky domes, hostels and cabañas, it’s no longer necessary to camp or lug an obscene amount of gear with you. The Inca Trail is camping only for the time being. But, it is fairly luxurious since porters and mules take care of the heavy stuff for you.

Independent Hikers

If you prefer to hike independently, and not with a tour, then the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is really the option you’ll have to go with. The Inca Trail not only requires a permit, but it’s also essential to hike with a guide. Whether you go private or with a group, you’ll have to splash the cash on a guided tour. The Salkantay Trail requires no permit and you are free to hike the trail solo.

So, there you have a few considerations to mull over. Truth be told, we chose the Salkantay Trail because, as mentioned, Dan had already hiked the Inca Trail a few years back. That being said, we had the most incredible experience hiking the 5-day Salkantay Trek in Peru. To that end, I’m left with zero FOMO having not hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.

Dan hiking up the Salkantay Pass on the 5-day trek to Machu Picchu

How To Prepare for the Salkantay Trek in Peru

  • Acclimatise: don’t underestimate the importance of being well acclimatised before embarking on the Salkantay Trail. Although the trail doesn’t remain at a high altitude for the entire 5-day trek, you will reach a maximum height of 4,600m. You’ll want to enjoy that rather than feel unwell. It’s therefore recommended to spend at least 2–3 days in Cusco beforehand. Dan and I even fit in a few higher altitude day hikes to help with acclimatising before the Salkantay Trail.
  • Water: sipping water regularly throughout the hike is a great way to help combat the effects of high altitude. Don’t worry, there are plenty of discreet places to ‘spend a penny’ when nature calls.
  • Slow and steady: the Salkantay Pass will feel hard going as you climb higher. But, it’s not a race. If you’re panting, you’re going too fast. Plus, there are plenty of incredible photo opportunities to be stopping for anyway. Slow and steady and you’ll make it, no problem.
  • Coca sweets: during high-altitude hikes, you’ll hear of people sipping coca tea and chewing coca leaves. Both are very good. But, Dan and I actually travelled with coca toffees. Not only do they contain the magic of coca, but also a huge sugar boost when out on the trail. Cannot recommend enough. You’ll find most tiendas in Cusco stocking them.

Salkantay Trek Map

Salkantay Trail Overview

The Salkantay trail will cover a distance of around 80km. Taking in mountain passes and cloud forest trails, it’s an adventurous journey to a pure bucket list destination. And, an experience you’ll never forget. It’s little wonder the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu was named among ‘The 25 Best Treks in the World’, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

Salkantay Trail 5-Day Preview

  • Type: One-Way
  • Distance: 79.7km
  • Time: 5 days
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 2,617m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Mollepata or Challacancha
  • Map: Wikiloc
Dan hiking on day 1 of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trail Description

Day 1: Challacancha to Soraypampa w/ Humantay Lake Out & Back

After leaving Cusco early in the morning and arriving at Mollepata, the fees are paid for access to Laguna Humantay. For nationals, the price is S/10 ($2.60) and for internationals, it’s S/20 ($5USD). Then, the Salkantay Trek can begin.

We actually drove onwards to Challacancha, where we began hiking the Salkantay Trail. After a brief and steady uphill climb, the trail we followed levels out and continues along the irrigation stream towards Soraypampa, where you’ll spend the first night of the 5-day Salkantay Trek.

Our morning trek consisted of low mist, offering glimpses of the mountain we’d be hiking to in the afternoon – Apu Humantay. It was enough to whet the appetite, of course. After arriving at Soraypampa and dropping your bags in your cabaña or tent for the night, you’ll have time to take a not-so-well-earned-rest, since the hike to Soraypampa is only about 7km. Then, it’s time to enjoy a hot lunch before heading to the hills again.

Luckily, by the afternoon, the clouds had started to clear significantly for us. As a bonus, all the Cusco day tour groups that visit Humantay Lake are also on their return. So, if you time it just right, you may have the glorious Humantay Lake all to yourselves for a short time. We started the hike there soon after 1pm and experienced just that.

Dan and Beck stand in glorious sunshine on the shores of Laguna Humantay
Laguna Humantay in the sun

Humantay Lake

The hike from Soraypampa to Laguna Humantay is a steady uphill trek. It can feel a little steep in parts, but the trail is easy to follow and well maintained. The lupins out in full bloom look beautiful as they line the path.

The lake sits at 4,200m above sea level. So, a steady pace is recommended.

Pictures can’t prepare you for the beauty that awaits you at Humantay Lake. An absolute highlight of the Salkantay Trail, that’s for sure. The pristine turquoise water is unbelievable. And, against the backdrop of Humantay Mountain, is truly mesmerizing.

Beck and Dan stand at a fantastic lookout over the Sacred Valley
Surrounding views of Vilcabamba

Upon our arrival, the sun was beginning to shine on the lake and the colour really began to pop. I would suggest taking the trail to the higher viewpoint first, taking some snaps of the lake from up above and marvelling at the surrounding Vilcabamba Mountain Range. Afterwards, head down to the edge of the lake for a different perspective.

Day 2: Soraypampa to Chaullay

  • Type: One-Way
  • Distance: 22.2km
  • Time: 9.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 804m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Soraypampa
  • Map: Wikiloc

Salkantay Pass

Day two of the Salkantay Trail is the longest and hardest of the entire 5-day trek. With an early start, the hike begins along the uber picturesque Salkantay Pass. A trail steadily winds up towards the highest point of the entire Salkantay Trail. It’s a devastatingly beautiful landscape. Dan and I had real Scotland vibes. The only difference was seeing Humantay and Salkantay Mountains popping up behind the jagged hillsides.

Dan and Beck hike towards Salkantay Mountain on the 5-day trek to Machu Picchu
Apu Salkantay

Salkantay Mountain

At 4,600m, the peak of the Salkantay Pass is, quite literally, breathtaking. To one side is Humantay Mountain and to the other, the mighty peak of Salkantay Mountain, the highest in the Vilcabamba Mountain Range. Dan and I spent some time exploring the surrounding rocky fields, in search of the lagoon that hides at the bottom of the mountain. Unfortunately, due to the dry season, it wasn’t very apparent. Still, exploring away from the main trail is a nice rest bite from the ever-increasing congregation of hikers who all make it to the peak at some point mid-morning. It’s a nice way to experience the incredible snow-capped mountain in solitude.

From the top of the pass, the Salkantay Trail begins a steady descent. In fact, the trail will continue to descend until the second half of day three. The mountainous landscape is exquisite. Lunch is at Wayrakmachai along the Salkantay Trail, and then it’s onwards Chaullay for night two. The afternoon of hiking on day two of the Salkantay Trek is very easy and straightforward. A constant downhill hike transforms an initial mountainous trail into that of a more jungle trek vibe. Tracing the same path as the river flowing from Salkantay Mountain, the deep-cut gorge and refreshing sound of the flowing water makes for a very relaxing afternoon of hiking.

Soon enough, you’ll arrive at your accommodation for the night. The Salkantay Hostal provided us with excellent hot meals, a private room for two and, incredibly, a decent hot shower.

Day 3: Chaullay to Llactapata

  • Type: One-Way
  • Distance: 25.35km
  • Time: 8 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 853m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Chaullay
  • Map: Wikiloc

As previously mentioned, the Salkantay Trail continues to descend on day three. However, dirt road replaces scenic mountain passes. But don’t worry, the hike still provides fantastic views of the surrounding Sacred Valley and Santa Teresa River. Hey, you may even find it’s a welcome break from the efforts of the day before. We hiked along the dirt road to the right of the river. However, it is possible to take a narrow trail cut into the mountainside on the left of the river. Although a much narrower and tricky trail to walk, by all accounts, it’s more scenic than the road. In many ways, we wished we’d taken this path.

By lunchtime, you should reach Lucmabamba. Here, we tucked into, quite possibly, our favourite lunch on the entire Salkantay Trail and enjoyed the typical coffee tour along this stretch of the hike. 

The coffee in this region is award-winning, so we definitely recommend indulging. The coffee samples are a great hit and definitely help fuel an afternoon of hiking. It’s a fantastic experience to try your hand at roasting your own coffee. 

Dan picks coffee beans during the coffe tour on day 3 of the Salkantay Trek in Peru
Dan picks the coffee beans

After lunch and the coffee tour, it’s a steady uphill climb to spend the night at Llactapata, where some truly special views await.

Staying at Llactapata Along the Salkantay Trail

Spending the night high up in the mountains at Llactapata is an experience not to take for granted. Dan and I stayed at Machu Picchu Eco Lodge and amazingly were the only guests. Our tiny cabaña had a scenic window wall that looked out over the surrounding Sacred Valley. Directly in front, is Machu Picchu itself.

The chance to see Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain from this angle and elevation is a view few visitors will experience. In fact, this section of the trail is a relative newcomer to the Salkantay Trek in Peru. The two sacred mountains of the Incas at Machu Picchu stand proudly in the foreground, surrounded, protectively, by the Vilcabamba Mountain Range and the Urubamba Valley.

The view will be sure to leave you awestruck. I know I certainly was. Especially as, with all the clouds we arrived in, I didn’t even realise what was in front of us. Lying in bed that night, watching the sunlight begin to fade over Machu Picchu, is an image I’ll never forget. Plus, if you’re beginning to feel a little tired at this midway point of the Salkantay Trek, it’s a great sight to spur you on to reach the main goal.

Dan stands at the doorway to the accommodation at Llactapata along the Salkantay Trek in Peru

Day 4: Llactapata to Aguas Calientes

  • Type: One-Way
  • Distance: 19.23km
  • Time: 6 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 324m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Llactapata
  • Map: Wikiloc

Waking up to the views of Machu Picchu from Llactapata is quite something. A nice reminder of where all your efforts are culminating. After another decent brekkie, it’s off to complete day four. Passing through the small Inca site of Llactapata, a location most certainly associated with Machu Picchu, it’s then a steep zig-zag trail down the mountainside to the Santa Teresa River. Here, you’ll take the bridge over the river and then follow a flat trail to Hidroeléctrica, passing through the Machu Picchu control station on the way. Your passport and personal details are logged at the control station. This is purely for security reasons. No fee is required.

It’s usual to stop for lunch at nearby Intihuatana. But, as we arrived by 9am, we opted to take a boxed lunch and continue on to Aguas Calientes. After all, we were so close it seemed silly to wait around.

The last section of the Salkantay Trail to Aguas Calientes famously follows the train line. Don’t fret, it isn’t a busy train line and indeed we saw no trains moving along it. It’s a flat but seemingly never-ending 9km of trail winding around the bottom of Machu Picchu. The lush green canopies of the trees provide some welcome shade from the midday sun. 

And then, at sometime around midday, you’ll hit the cute pueblo of Aguas Calientes, AKA Machu Picchu Town. Now, it’s time to check into your hotel for the night and chill before the culmination of the Salkantay Trail tomorrow. At last, Machu Picchu!

Day 5: To Machu Picchu

  • Type: Out & Back
  • Distance: 8km (excluding exploration of Machu Picchu)
  • Time: 2.5–3 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 650m
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead: Aguas Calientes
  • Map: Wikiloc

After a very comfortable night’s sleep, it’s finally time for the main attraction, Machu Picchu. There are two different options you can take to arrive at the famed complex.

Option 1: Bus

Buses leave Aguas Calientes from 5:30am. The bus takes around 30-40 minutes. You should give yourself enough time to arrive a little bit before the time slot on your ticket. They’ll likely be a queue to join anyway. The price of the bus is $12USD/one-way. You’ll also need to present your passport a number of times on this day (seriously, it verges on ridiculous), including to buy your bus ticket. So, make sure to take it on the Salkantay Trek with you.

The ticket office is located just off the main street of Avenida Hermanos Ayer. It’s easy to find as there’s a huge sign saying ‘BUS TICKET’. You’ll catch the bus to Machu Picchu from this part of the same street too. Just join the queue, which there most definitely will be. Buses are very frequent, so no worries at all about missing your time slot. As one bus leaves, literally, another pulls in. Buses run up until 3pm, with the ticket office opening at 5am. The last bus returning from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes leaves at 6pm.

Option 2: Hike

There’s a steep hike of 4km up the mountain to Machu Picchu. As it’s for free, it’s a much more appealing option than the slightly pricey bus. However, you should give yourself 1.5–2 hours to reach the top. If you have a 6:30am ticket to enter Machu Picchu, that’s certainly an early start.

Alternatively, you could always take the bus up and walk back down. That’s what we did in the end (hence the map above is only one way from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes).

Personally, Dan and I enjoyed two glorious days at Machu Picchu, rather than just the usual one-day tour. This gave us time to soak in the incredible archaeological site, without feeling rushed, and also enjoy its three hiking trails: Huayna Picchu, Huchuy Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain.

Note: We booked the three hikes in Machu Picchu a couple of months before our visit. This ensured we could do the hikes as there are limited places available each day. Huayna Picchu, in particular, sells out very quickly. Also, as of our visit in mid-2022, it is ONLY recommended to have a guide for the Machu Picchu complex, it is NOT mandatory.

Dan stands at Machu Picchu on day 5 of the Salkantay Trek in Peru

Recap of the Salkantay Trek in Peru

The Salkantay Trek in Peru is easily one of the country’s most outstanding multi-day trails. Blending jaw-dropping nature with Inca history, it’s a worthy way to experience the beauty of Peru, hike through the Andes and top it all off with a visit to one of the seven new wonders of the world. To trek Salkantay in Peru is a truly unforgettable experience. And, given the wealth of different options for hiking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu, there really is a trail to suit all itineraries (more on that below).

The Salkantay Trek in Peru isn’t just a great alternative to the Inca Trail. It’s a fantastic trail in its own right and one we’re so glad to have hiked.

Hiking the Salkantay Trail With a Tour

Dan and I chose to hike the Salkantay Trail with a tour. We took on the classic 5-Day Salkantay Trek in Peru with Apu Andino Travel Peru. We’d previously hiked Huchuy Qosqo and Choquequirao with them and had an incredible time.

The price of the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is $810USD/per person with Apu Andino Travel Peru. The Salkantay Trek cost includes transport to and from your accommodation in Cusco, mules to carry personal belongings, an emergency horse, all accommodation and meals, plus snacks. We also had water provided to refill our hydration bladders each day. Any fees, including entrance to Machu Picchu, are covered and the cost of the train back from Aguas Calientes too. Oh, and of course, our fantastic, English-speaking guide, Hugo. Our 5-Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu included one night at Llactapata, which we would highly recommend. As mentioned previously, those views from the mountainside of Machu Picchu just can’t be rivalled.

Of course, if you are happy to or would prefer to camp, cheaper tours can be found.

To book the 5-Day Salkantay Trail trek with Apu Andino Travel Peru, simply contact them on Whatsapp (+51 984 609 485 or +51 984 067 472). Otherwise, drop into their office in Cusco (Centro Commercial Imasumaq, Office #216) to find out more information. Also, feel free to check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu Trail Options

There are, of course, a few different Salkantay Trek tours you can choose from. This means if you’re short on time, or just don’t like the idea of too many nights on a multi-day trek, then you can still hike some elements of the Salkantay Trail. Let’s take a look at the different options:

Salkantay Trek in 3 Days

The 3-day Salkantay Trek in Peru is a more heavily condensed version of the classic Salkantay Trail. Humantay Lake is a casualty of this, which I think is a real shame since this lake is a must-see attraction along the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. Starting directly from Soraypampa, you’ll hike the Salkantay Pass before descending the valley to Chaulley. From here, you’ll hike to Hidroeléctrica on day two, before taking the train to Aguas Calientes. Here you’ll spend night two. On day three, you’ll take the bus up to Machu Picchu, and enjoy the utter delights of this UNESCO World Heritage site, before returning to Cusco in the evening. Still, if you’re incredibly short on time, this really is a great option for Salkantay trekking.

Salkantay Trek in 4 Days

The 4-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu begins from Soraypampa (the first camp spot on the 5-day trek). From here, you will hike to Laguna Humantay in the morning, before beginning the ascent towards Salkantay Mountain. Night one camp is at Soyroccocha, just below the final ascent of the Salkantay Pass. Day two is the hike to Salkantay Mountain and down the valley towards the campsite at Unuyuq. On day three, the trail continues to Sahuayaco before taking a minibus to Hidroeléctrica. From here, like the 3-day trek, you’ll take the train to Aguas Calientes, ready to hike up to Machu Picchu on day four. As you can see from this option, there is much less hiking involved than covering the Salkantay Trail in five days.

Salkantay Trek in 5 Days With Hot Springs at Santa Teresa

Another 5-day Salkantay Trek hiking option includes a visit to the hot springs at Santa Teresa. This is a very popular trail route and you’ll find many tour agencies and groups you see along the Salkantay Trail choose this option. On day three, there is a short hike in the morning which ends around a place called Granadilla, or, further along at Sahuayaco. From here, your tour mini bus will collect you and drive you the rest of the way to Santa Teresa, where you will enjoy a coffee tour and the hot springs in the afternoon. On day four, you will then make your way to Hidroeléctrica and continue the route towards Aguas Calientes. This option will miss out on the night up at Llactapata, but perhaps the hot springs interest you more anyway.

And for Something a Little More Challenging…

It’s also possible to hike to Machu Picchu from Choquequirao. This trek picks up the Salkantay Trail from Chaulley, and by all accounts is a wonderfully adventurous 7–10 day hike. There is also the option of a short Inca Trail too, completed in 2–3 days. See Apu Andino’s website for more information about the short Inca Trail.

Hiking Independently Without the Need To Sleep in a Tent

Admittedly, most hikers we saw on the Salkantay Trail were trekking with a tour. That being said, we did bump into the odd solo or independent hiker along the way. The good news for the Peru Salkantay Trek is that it’s now unnecessary to camp along the way. Especially good if the idea of lugging a heavy pack and sleeping in cold conditions isn’t so much your thing. It’s conveniently possible to book accommodation along the way, pay for warm meals and take hot showers. Pretty amazing on a multi-day trek, eh.

Dan stands at the cabin entrance on night 1 of the Salkantay Trail
Dan standing outside our cabana in Soraypampa

If you choose to take on the 5-day Salkantay Trek in Peru solo and don’t want to camp, the following are details of the hostels we stayed in along the way.

  • Night One – Refugio Laguna de Humantay: Contact: +51 974 588 410 or +51 944 876 371. We also saw a small group of independent hikers rock up and book a night here upon arrival too, should you decide to wing it.
  • Night Two – Salkantay Hostel: Contact: +51 984 001 114 or +51 950 855 401.
  • Night Three – Machu Picchu Eco Lodge: Contact +51 989 232 008. The views are incredible but be prepared for a cold shower during this stay. 
  • Night Four – El Tambo Machupicchu: Contact: +51 984 144 314. Breakfast is included and the rooms come with a private bathroom and hot showers. 

Getting to the Start of the Salkantay Trek

To get to the trailhead for the 5-day Salkantay Trek in Peru, you’ll need to head to Mollapata. From Cusco, buses start running from around 4am from the Arcopata bus terminal in Cusco. The price is around S/30 ($8USD) and the journey time is around 3 hours. The Salkantay Trail can startr from here, at Mollapata, or, you can take a local truck or taxi to Sayllapata or Challacancha and begin from there. Prices for the truck will likely be around S/100 ($27USD) between a group.

Returning From Aguas Calientes to Cusco

After your visit to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay hike is over, and it’s time to return to Cusco. The easiest and quickest route back from the Salkantay Trek to Cusco is to take the train from Aguas Calientes directly to Cusco. This is also the most expensive option. The train can cost starts from S/268 ($72USD).

A slightly cheaper rail option is to take the train as far as Ollantaytambo train station. Prices start from around S/190 ($51USD). From Ollantaytambo, you can simply jump in one of the many waiting colectivos and take the 1.5 hour journey back to Cusco. The price for the colectivo is generally S/10 ($2.50USD). This is the route we returned by. Occasionally, you might find the odd deal on the trains to Cusco or Ollantaytambo. Fingers crossed.

If the train prices feel a little steep, then you can take the bus from Hidroeléctrica. This involves walking the 9km trail back along the train tracks again. But don’t worry, you’ll be in plenty of company as this is a very popular option for the budget backpacker. From Hidroeléctrica, you can take the bus back to Cusco for around S/60 ($18USD). It’s a much longer journey at around 7-8 hours, but as you can see, the price is much more reasonable.

It’ll likely be a full day of exploration and travel on the final day of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, but, I have a feeling you’ll be more than content with the last five days of trekking Salkantay once you’re tucked up back at your Cusco accommodation.

Salkantay Trail FAQs

When Is the Best Time To Hike the Salkantay Trail?

The end of the rainy season (April) and the beginning of the dry season (May-June) are generally considered the best times to hike the Salkantay Trail. The surrounding landscape is still green and lush from months of downpour, but the chances of being caught out in the rain are significantly lower. We took on the Salkantay Trek in May and had wonderfully sunny weather every day. Bear in mind though, that the nights are cold, as the dry season also coincides with Peru’s winter. So remember your layers.

How Hard Is Salkantay Trail?

The 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is generally rated as a moderate trail. Sufficient acclimatisation is recommended and a general level of fitness is advantageous. That being said, once day two has passed, the majority of the trail descends into the valley. So, most of the really hard work is done within the first couple of days of the Salkantay Trek.

Is There Food and Accommodation on the Salkantay Trek?

Lodgings and meals can be found along the Salkantay Trail. They can either be booked in advance, or, if you’re super easy-going, be booked on the go. Alternatively, you can go totally self-sufficient and take everything with you. You can buy water along the trail too. So, unlike other multi-day hikes in Peru, like Huayhuash or Santa Cruz, you do not need to boil river water or use filtration tablets as you go.

Is the Salkantay Trek in Peru Free?

No permits are currently required to hike the Salkantay Trail. However, you will need a ticket to enter Machu Picchu at the end of the trek. Also, if you plan on hiking any of the three mountain trails within Machu Picchu, you will also need to buy these tickets in advance too. Again, be mindful, that tickets for Huayna Picchu sell out months in advance, as there is a limit of just 200 people per day. So, you may need to be a little more organised than usual if you plan to hike this trail. The prices are as follows:

  • Machu Picchu entrance: S/152 ($41USD) plus S/4.10 ($1USD) for the online card payment fee.
  • Huayna Picchu Mountain + Circuito 4: S/200 ($54USD) plus S/5.40 ($1.50USD) for the online card payment fee.
  • Huchuy Picchu Mountain + Circuito 4: S/152 ($41USD) plus S/4.10 ($1USD) for the online card payment fee.
  • Machu Picchu Mountain + Circuito 3: S/200 ($54USD) S/5.40 ($1.50USD) for the online card payment fee.

What Is the Salkantay Trek Altitude?

The Salkantay Trail altitude reaches a height of 4,600m above sea level. Before embarking on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, it is recommended to spend at least 2-3 days in Cusco, acclimatising. This should help prevent any severe altitude sickness.

What Is the Salkantay Trek Distance?

The Salkantay Trail covers a distance of 80km, give or take which route you choose to take and which bits you hike. It may sound a lot, but over five days, the Salkantay Trek is very doable. Mostly, it’s about being well acclimatised, rather than the distance and any elevation gain that will be the difficult part.

Travel Insurance

SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Beck and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.

For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.

SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future. Use the widget below to suss out a quote today.

Five Hiking Essentials

Five Camping Essentials

Make sure to also pack 2–3L of water each day, sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.

For a more comprehensive hiking gear list, check out our 66 Travel Accessories That You Must Travel With. Otherwise, for a general summary of everything you’d need for a trip, visit our Ultimate Packing Checklist.

Bonus Tips

  • See more of the Sacred Valley: to experience a quieter Sacred Valley, and equally as impressive Inca ruins, then the Choquequirao hike should be up there as a consideration during your stay in Cusco.
  • Help in acclimatising: as previously mentioned, Dan and I were quite diligent in making sure we were altitude ready for the Salkantay Trail. After a few days of rest in Cusco, we took a day trip to the Moray Ruins and Maras Salt Mines, as well as the day hike to Huchuy Qosqo.
  • Passport: you MUST remember to take your passport on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. You will need it at control points and to gain access to the archaeological site itself.
  • Hike more of South America: For more amazing hikes, check out our other guides in South America.
Salkantay Trail pinterest

Have you done the Salkantay Trek in Peru or even the one-day trip from Cusco to Laguna Humantay? If you have any tips or useful information for our readers, be sure to leave them in the comments below.

Beck Piggott

With an art and design based background, Beck uses photography and writing to help inspire readers to climb mountains, hike coastal trails and chase waterfalls around the globe.

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