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The Salkantay trek owes its name to one of the highest peaks in Southern Peru: the Salkantay Mountain. The main difference between the Salkantay trek and the Inca trail is that the Salkantay swaps out Inca ruins for a jaw-droppingly diverse set of landscapes. It offers a more physically demanding challenge, that pays off with less crowds and surprise lagoons and rivers, as well as an unforgettable mountain trail. There is no need to get a permit or reserve your spot way in advance (as in the case of the Inca trail). Salkantay trek is perfect for travelers looking to really connect with nature and maybe even reconnect with themselves as they pass through magical and untouched landscapes and mountain passes. The trek is a popular alternative trek to the world-famous Inca Trail. It is actually one of Peru’s most beautiful and rewarding hikes. Read on, and you will find an all-you-need-to-know guide for embarking on this spectacular trekking adventure!
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It takes a 4-hour ride from Cusco’s downtown to get to Sayllapata. This is the starting point of the trek and is located at 3,600 meters above sea level. Here, you will meet your horsemen- the people who will be looking after your main bag, so that you can carry only your day sack.
The usual route heads north to Soraypampa, a campsite at the base of the Salkantay pass. Most tours will stop here to camp for the evening, climbing up to see Humantay Lake before sleeping at the foot of the glacier. Trekkers will reach the highest point, at Salkantay Mountain pass the next morning, and spend the rest of the day walking in descent. Your group will camp in Chaullay in the mountains after enjoying a day of descent in beautiful mountain conditions. Day three brings the least challenging portion of the trek, taking you to La Playa village where you can enjoy the natural hot springs before a night camping in the hostel and enjoying an evening by the fire. The trek then proceeds to the Hidroeléctrica. From here you will either walk, or take a train to Aguas Calientes- also known as Machu Picchu town. You will spend the night in this town, and early in the morning you will make one last hike up the mountain, or take a shuttle bus to reach the lost city: Machu Picchu.
This hike is considered to be challenging. The difficulty comes from, not the distance, but the continuous altitude you will be trekking at during some portions of the hike. It is highly recommended that trekkers spend a couple of days in Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude.
As mentioned before, permits are not required to do the Salkantay trek. Thus, it is possible to do this trek on your own. Check out a sample itinerary below to see how it works:
The day begins at 6am with a 4-hour ride on a private bus to Mollepata. The bus passes through mountain ranges, such as Izcuchaca and Limatambo, where you will then stop for breakfast before reaching the trailhead. Enjoy your breakfast, you can get panoramic views of the Salkantay Mountain. On the way to the trailhead you will get astonishing views of other snow capped peaks, which are part of the Vilcabamba mountain range and the colorful village of Mollepata and the Apurimac river valley.
Eventually you will reach the trailhead at Mollepata, where horsemen and other trekking staff will be waiting for you. The trek begins with a gradual climb for about two and a half hours to Soraypampa. After a lunch stop in the middle of this beautiful nature, you will climb up a relatively short but steep hill to visit the Humantay Lake, which is famous for its unforgettable color and majestic glacier.
Day 2 is the most challenging day of the trek. After an early breakfast, the trek resumes to take on a challenging climb towards Apacheta pass (4,590 meters above sea level). At these heights, you will get breathtaking views of the surrounding snow capped mountains; Humantay and Huayanay. For the more enthusiastic trekkers, there is also the option to take a short forty-minute walk to see lake Soraycocha, another astonishingly beautiful mountain lake. Your group will continue downhill for 2 hours, before having lunch at Huayracmachay. Once the group finishes lunch, you will continue on to camp through a jungle-like mountain walk.
From Chaullay, it is a brief uphill trek before reaching a region called Ceja de Selva: a jungle region in the middle of the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. There are lots of different crops of fruits to see along the way, as well as flowers and plenty of birds. If the birds are not feeling shy that day, you might even spot a cock of the rock (Gallito de las Rocas) which is the national bird of Peru. As the temperature rises through the day, the waterfalls will be a temptation you cannot resist and your group will undoubtedly stop to paddle in one of them. Later, a lunch stop will give you some free time to rest before finishing the day with a 3-hour trek to the last campsite in La Playa village. Any free time in the afternoon can be spent enjoying the natural hot springs here.
The day begins with a trek towards Lucmabamba village where you will see remains of the highly-acclaimed Inca trail. As the uphill trek continues, you will get spectacular views of the Santa Teresa Valley. Continuing on for a few hours, you will see your first glimpse of Machu Picchu, but from very far away. Your trek will continue downhill to a Hydroelectric Plant, where you will have one last lunch with your trekking staff. Depending on the trek you booked, you will then either walk to or catch a train to Aguas Calientes (the town beside Machu Picchu). Here, you will have some more free time and will check-in at the accommodation which has been booked for you by your trekking company.
The day you have been waiting for has finally arrived! Your Salkantay trek is all but over, and Machu Picchu is within touching distance. It is highly advisable to wake up early (at 4am) in the morning, so that you can reach Machu Picchu by 6am; the time at which the gates open. It is necessary to enter with a guide, and the tour will last for a couple of hours. It will walk you through Machu Picchu Temple of the Sun, the Three Windowed Temple, the Caretakers Hut and the Solar Clock. When the tour finishes, you will have free time to explore the site on your own and, of course, take all the pictures that you want. The travelers who have booked an optional climb to either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain will have time to do this as well. Finally, you will need to return to Aguas Calientes to take a train back to Cusco, depending on what time your train is booked for, make sure you check your tickets!
When hiking through Salkantay, you’ll go up and down different altitudes at different points of the trek. Each of these different points offer different views and scenery making all of them (even the most difficult points) gratifying.
The weather tends to change depending on the season and time of day. During the day, the average temperature on a sunny day is around 20ºC (70ºF), while at night time it can reach below freezing levels.
Aspects such as terrain and weather need to be taken into account when deciding what to wear. The terrain is mostly made of stone pathways and wide dirt tracks. The trek has many high altitude passes that require trekkers to go uphill and downhill. Thus, it is best to wear light weight boots with ankle support. Open toe shoes are definitely not recommended.
Regarding the weather, the trek takes you through regions with different climatic conditions: temperatures can range from freezing cold, to hot and humid. It is recommended to bring layers of clothes that you can easily put on or take off. Additionally, even during the dry season (Mid-October to Mid-April), there might be a chance of rain, so bringing a plastic poncho, just in case.
A 5 day Salkantay trek should cost about the same as the classic 4 day Inca Trail trek. Reputable operators will provide good camping equipment, cooks, dining tent, horses to carry the camping equipment, qualified guides who are trained in first aid and your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. It is always important to ask the tour company what is not included in the price they give to you before choosing your operator. With more than a hundred companies offering this trek, it might seem a bit daunting to choose a good operator, but stay calm and know what you want before asking.