The Salkantay Trek To Machu Picchu: An Alternative To The Inca Trail
There are lots of different ways to make your way to this iconic Wonder Of the World (like the famed Inca Trail Trek) but we chose The Salkantay Trek instead.
After doing our research and reading through lots and lots of good feedback, we decided that it would be a good way to get our feet wet with multi-day treks. We had originally wanted to do this trek independently but considering the cost just for entry to Machu Picchu, the all-inclusiveness of the tour price made more sense. After going around to about 15 different agencies in Cusco, we found the best price at Peru Travel Company. They seemed trustworthy, comparatively had the better reviews on TripAdvisor and were extremely helpful with information prior to us actually booking a trek with them. We had a great experience with this company and trek.
Keep in mind that you’ll likely be part of a group of roughly 16 people and unfortunately, your group could make or break your experience. Luckily, we had an amazing group so it made the 5 days of hiking a blast!
Price: $160 USD/person
Time: 5 Days/4 Nights
Distance: ~50 Miles
Included: food (except first breakfast and last lunch), lodging (tent + sleeping mat), a bag for anything you don’t want to trek with to put on a horse (there may be a deposit for it), a hostel in Aguas Calientes for one night, entrance ticket to Machu Picchu and a bus back to Cusco from Hydroelectrica
Not Included: sleeping bag (you can rent one from the tour company), water, 10 Soles/person for a bus ride to Santa Teresa Hot Springs, 10 Soles/person entrance ticket to Santa Teresa Hot Springs, a bus to Machu Picchu (if you choose not to hike up the 2,000 stairs before sunrise)
Things You Should Probably Bring:
- Water Purification Tablets
- Mosquito Repellent
- Sleeping Bag
- Extra cash to tip the horseman/cooks/servers (5-10 Soles for the horseman, 10-15 Soles for the cooks/servers)*
*We mention the extra cash for tips because these guys work really hard and if you appreciate what they do, show it! Some people in our group genuinely didn’t think to allocate money for this part. Hey, it happens but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, right?
Despite knowing that we weren’t exactly going out into the deep wilderness, the trail was a lot less wild than we had hoped. The plus side of that is that there are plenty of places to buy water, snacks, meals or anything else you need along the way.
Day 1: The company arranged for a minibus to pick us up at around 4:10 AM to take us to the tour bus, which left at around 5:30 AM to take us up to Mollapata. Once we got there (around 7AM), we had the option of having breakfast in a restaurant but we packed our own breakfasts. If you forget a poncho or anything else, there are little shops next to the restaurant. After breakfast, we got back on the bus for another 45 minute ride to the start of the trail. We took turns introducing ourselves and shortly after, we started on a gradual uphill slope to begin the trek. Along the way, our guides stopped to tell us about the surrounding landscape and plant life. The first day’s worth of trekking ends at the first campsite just before lunch time. We were directed to our tents, set up our sleeping mats, dropped our stuff off and headed into the dining hall for lunch. After lunch, we had the option of hiking up to Humantay Lake, which took us roughly 2 hours up and back. You will want to be sure to pack more than one pair of socks and good layers because this was a very cold night of sleep.
Day 2: This will be the longest day of the whole trek and supposedly the most difficult but, of course, that will vary depending on your level of experience. The day started with mate de cocoa brought to your tent, a wake up call at around 5:00 AM, a pancake breakfast at 5:30 AM with a start time of 6:00AM. The views were absolutely amazing on this day as we made our way through Andean plains and up over the mountain pass. After stopping for group photos, we made our way down the pass and back into beautiful, green rolling plains with snow capped mountains jutting out on all sides. The trail eventually took us to the place where we’d all be having lunch before continuing on. After hiking through the plains for a while and getting nice and frozen, we started to thaw out as we started reaching the high jungle. This is where our next sleeping spot for the night was.
Day 3: Another early wake up call with a cup of piping hot cocoa tea brought to our tent followed by breakfast and packing up to continue trekking. On this day, you’ll hike through high jungle, learn about some ways the Incas used the native plants in every day life and have a chance to buy some local fruit (bananas, granadillas, avocados) at a kiosk along the way. We really loved walking the hilly trail through lush plant life and taking in the sunshine and warmth. We ended up making it to the checkpoint (where minibuses are usually waiting) just in time to catch a bus to our lunch spot. Otherwise, we would have continued hiking. I’m not quite sure why there was a bus at this point instead of hiking all the way but it didn’t cost extra so…oh well. There was a really lovely local coffee stand next to where we ate lunch. We didn’t actually drink any but it smelled amazing and our fellow hikers raved about it. After lunch, we got on another bus which would take us to our lodging in Santa Teresa before spending the afternoon at the hot springs nearby. Soaking in the hot springs felt amazing for our sore feet and the views around the springs were beautiful. After dinner, our guides built us a bonfire, cranked up the music, poured us some shots of “Inca Tequila” and encouraged us to take advantage of our “party night.”
Day 4: After overdoing it a bit the night before, we were glad to be able to sleep in a bit. We had our usual group breakfast before starting our walk to Aguas Calientes. Some people had arranged for zip-lining during the morning and if you opt for this activity, you only hike part of the way to Aguas Calientes. We walked out of Santa Teresa, along a well-traveled dirt road until we reached the Hydroelectric Dam for lunch at a restaurant. (If you chose to put extra things on a horse, you’ll be able to leave that bag there to avoid having to lug it all up to Machu Picchu with you the next day). After lunch, we walked along the railroad tracks all the way to Aguas Calientes where we stayed in a hostel for a night and enjoyed a much-needed hot shower and nap. The walk along the tracks wasn't the most exciting or pretty, but we saw so many different varieties of wild orchids and other plant life (if you're into that sort of thing). During dinner that evening, our guide briefed us on the events of the next day and took our passports to gather the necessary information for our tickets to Machu Picchu. They returned our passports to us, along with our tickets and breakfast for the next morning and sent us off to bed since we’d be meeting the whole group in the lobby at 4:45 AM the next morning.
Day 5: We sleepwalked in the dark from Aguas Clientes to the bridge checkpoint where an enormous line had already formed. We were told that the normal-sized backpack we had was not allowed and were advised to leave it with the guard at the check point for 5 Soles. At first we didn’t quite understand this but later, we were really glad we listened to him. So, while we were in line, we transferred all of the essentials to a small day pack that we had. Once you get your ticket checked by the guard, you’ll walk over the bridge and begin climbing the 2,000 steps up to Machu Picchu in the dark. By the time we got to the entrance of the ruins, the two of us had sweat quite a bit considering how chilly it was at that time of day. That being said, it’d be a good idea to bring another shirt to change into so that you weren’t wet and freezing like we were until the sun came up.
From here, all that’s left to do is show your passport and ticket to the guards at the entrance of Machu Picchu and you’re free to either stick with the guided tour or go off on your own route through the ruins. Our guide took us on a brief guided tour through circuit 2 and then we were on our own until we had to make our way down at 11:45 to hike back to the Hydroelectric Dam to catch the bus back to Cusco.
(The ticket to Machu Picchu allows you to enter twice and both of the circuits through the ruins are one way only).
Watching the sunrise over the surrounding mountains and light up the ruins was something we’ll never forget. It made the early wake up call and stairs 100% worth it. If we could do it again, we would have opted to skip the guided tour and make our way up to the top of the ruins to watch the sunrise.
Once we took in the breathtaking views, we descended the stairs and started making our way back to the restaurant at the Hydroelectric Dam to pick up the rest of our things, have lunch and catch the 6 hour bus back to Cusco. (You have the faster option of taking the train back to Cusco but it’s more expensive)
What We Liked:
The group of people we hiked with were fun and awesome and the food went above and beyond what we expected. There was always a delicious soup to start, a carafe of cocoa tea, and the main course was buffet/family style. Some people in our group had dietary restrictions and they adjusted the menu according to their needs. Our guide asked about dietary restrictions on the very first day before we began the hike.
What We Didn’t Like:
We’re not sure what sort of system was used to get hikers on a bus and back to Cusco, but we think that most likely, there wasn’t a system at all. We walked up to a dirt lot with buses making their way in and out while people with lists on pieces of paper were calling out random names. Luckily, we were on someone’s list, which meant we had a spot on a bus somewhere. One of our group members ended up not having a seat on a bus at all despite having paid and confirmed a seat with his tour company. Another member had the unfortunate experience of his bus leaving without him and having to circle back and pick him up. There were lots of other very frustrated and confused hikers who had similar issues.
Our group consisted of people who had all booked with different tour companies, so keep that in mind. The two people in our group who had issues with their bus had booked with two different companies- NOT the one that we booked with.
Therefore, we’d highly recommend clarifying all of the details for everything. Most likely, the tour company will have a list of what you need to bring with you. Additionally, have them write on the receipt exactly what’s included in the price for the trek. For example, one person in our group had paid for the zip lining excursion but wasn’t noted on the list. She was smart enough to have had everything noted on her receipt, was able to prove that she had paid and it was all settled.