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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

The Ultimate Guide to Exploring the Salkantay Trail

Picture of Brandon Dupre
Updated: 29 November 2017

You may have heard about the Inca Trail – if you’ve heard of Machu Picchu, then you most likely know about the famous hike that many people take to get there – but you may not have heard about Peru’s best hike, the Salkantay trek.

Unlike the Inca Trail, no advance booking is necessary, and you’ll pay more if you do book ahead. You don’t need to pay upwards of $600 to do this hike, and you can find a travel agent offering it on almost any corner in Cusco. The Salkantay costs only around $180 dollars for what will likely be the best five days that you’ll spend in Peru. Here is our guide to the Saltantay trek, a hike that’ll take you from the valley, through the mountains, into the jungle, and finally to Machu Picchu itself.

Day 1

You’ll begin bright and early at 4 a.m. in Cusco, where you’ll be picked up from your hotel by the guide and then walk to your bus. You’ll take the bus to a spot a couple of hours outside Cusco where you’ll have breakfast (not included in the price) and begin the trek. The first day is one of the easiest hikes, so enjoy it as much as possible, because day two will be the most difficult! You’ll arrive at your campsite for lunch and have the option to hike to a pristine, bright-blue lake called Lake Humantay; this is an option you should definitely take. It’s about an hour’s hike up and another hour back down. This night will be the coldest, but try to get as much rest as possible, because you’ll need it for the next day.

Cusco, Peru

Humantay Lake, Peru

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Day 2

You’ll begin the day with hot coca tea delivered to your tent to give you a much-needed boost to start the day. You’ll have breakfast and then take off no later than about 6 a.m. This day is an epic adventure, and you’ll most likely be snowed on as you ascend to one of the highest points in the area, at about 15,190 feet (4,630 meters) above sea level. Here, you’ll get a beautiful view of the sacred mountain Salkantay, which stands at a dizzying 20,574 feet (6,271 meters). You’ll then descend into a valley where you’ll have lunch, and continue into the jungle where you’ll stay for the night.

Mt Salkantay, Peru 

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

What to Wear

You’ll want to wear waterproof boots on this day, so that your feet don’t freeze in the snow and rain. You’ll be following a freezing stream all the way up and down the mountain, so your feet will get soaked unless you have proper boots. People do it in running shoes, but it isn’t encouraged.

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Day 3

Day number 3 is an easy one. You’ve now passed the snow and cold and will find yourself hiking through jungle terrain on your way to Santa Teresa. You’ll arrive in Santa Teresa after lunch and from there you’ll go on to some of the most spectacular hot springs in all of Peru. You’ll relax there for most of the day until dinner, enjoying warm waters and a beautiful view of the Peruvian mountains. The thermal baths make for the best way to recharge your body before heading on to Machu Picchu.

Santa Teresa, Peru

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

What to Wear

This day is an easy one, but do make sure to bring a bathing suit and a towel with you on the trek. You can rent towels at the thermals, but it’s better to bring your own.

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Day 4

Day 4 is a hot hike through the jungle to Aguas Calientes, where you’ll stay the night before you go on to Machu Picchu.

Aguas Calientes, Peru

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Ziplining

There is also the option of ziplining through a valley for 100 soles (US$31) on your way to the final destination. The company, Vertikal, will take you in their private van to their headquarters, along with all your belongings. There, you’ll get fitted for your gear and head to the ziplines, where you’ll get the chance to cross the valley hanging upside down. It’s more than worth the cost, as you’ll be flying like a condor over the valley and you’ll skip about half of the day’s hike. After you’re finished, the company will drop you off with the rest of the group at your lunch spot.

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Day 5

This is your last and final day and it is all about Machu Picchu. You’ll want to be in line for Machu Picchu no later than 5 a.m. when the first gate opens and allows you to begin hiking up the mountain. If you don’t want to hike any longer, you can take a bus, which costs about US$30 each way. Once at the top of Machu Picchu, you’ll wait (if you’re there early enough) in line until the gates open at 6 a.m. Your Salkantay guide will be there waiting and will show you the famous ruins for about an hour. After that, you’ll be free to explore them on your own for the rest of the afternoon; just make sure to leave in time to catch your bus that’ll be waiting for you at 3 p.m. to take you back to Cusco.

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

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The Salkantay Trail | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip