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Inca Trail Booked? Try the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

With Machu Picchu at the top of nearly every traveller’s bucket list, it’s easy to see why the permits for the world-renowned Inca Trail get booked so quickly. The Inca Trail is certainly an incredible way to reach Machu Picchu, but it’s not the only way, and it’s not necessarily even the best way. For all its notoriety, the Inca Trail gets booked solid almost as soon as it goes on sale, making it a crowded, coveted, and pricey option.

However, there are many alternative treks to Machu Picchu that are just as beautiful, less crowded, and even a bit easier on the wallet. Today we’re highlighting the beautiful and challenging Salkantay Trek.

Salkantay vs. Inca Trail — What’s the difference?

Unlike booking the Inca Trail, which is an iffy business requiring booking months in advance, hurry-up-and-waiting, and Peruvian bureaucracy, the Salkantay has guaranteed departures. Book with ease and start planning your once-and-a-lifetime Machu Picchu experience.

In terms of popularity, Salkantay is second only to the Inca Trail. They’re both great routes that provide an unforgettable and iconic Machu Picchu experience. Part of what makes the Inca Trail so desired, however, is that it ends with a majestic entrance into Machu Picchu though the Sun Gate. While Salkantay doesn’t offer this experience, you can still visit the Sun Gate after entering the park. 

Furthermore, if you are an avid trekker and adventure lover, look no further — Salkantay is the trek for you. More challenging than the Inca Trail, Salkantay will both push you to your limit and reward you with breathtaking views of the Andes. This scenic trek takes you right up against the towering Salkantay and Humantay peaks that give the trail its name, allowing you to enjoy a more scenic and high-altitude adventure than on the Inca Trail.

How long does it take?

There are two versions of this trek, a 4-day and a 5-day route. Both include all of the essential highlights of the Salkantay trail, but the 4-day includes more time in buses and cars and longer days on the trail to allow a more efficient journey. Depending on whether you opt for the 4 or 5 day tour, you will be trekking 6-10 hours each day.

How’s the scenery?

No matter how you choose to get to Machu Picchu, you have to trek through the Andes. So no matter which trail you choose, you will be rewarded with stunning mountain passes, snow-capped peaks, and panoramic vistas. On the Salkantay trek though, the mountain views are just a bit more dramatic, with higher peaks, higher passes, and even more breathtaking vistas.

Is it crowded?

The Salkantay Trek does have fewer trekkers than the Inca Trail, but this once-quiet route has gained a lot of popularity in the past few years. It’s now second only to the original Inca Trail. So no, you won’t have the path to yourself.

Do I need to train?

In order to trek any trail at this altitude, you need to have a good level of physical fitness. To trek the Salkantay, which is a more challenging route, we recommend that you have a high level of fitness, don’t push yourself too hard, and take some days in Cuzco to acclimatize before beginning the trek. You can also expect some dramatic temperature changes as you change altitude (from around 2000-4000 meters).

Let’s talk food!

Full board is provided while on the trek, with hearty and healthy Peruvian meals provided by a chef who will be with you every stop of the way. These cooks pride themselves on their delicious speciality menus with the freshest local ingredients available. Every meal is prepared fresh with plenty of variety and an abundant quantity of food including a vegetarian option for every meal.

Gimme the details!

For the 4-day Salkantay trek, the itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: Bus/Car Cuzco to Challacancha, Trek to Soraypampa Camp (3,920m) (14km, 6hrs)
Day 2: Trek to Challhuay or Colcapampa Camp via High Pass (4,650m) (22km, 9-10hrs)
Day 3: Trek to La Playa, Transfer to Hydroelectric Station, Trek to Aguas Calientes (24km, 9hrs)
Day 4: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cuzco by Bus/Train

5-day Salkantay Trek:

Day 1: Bus/Car Cuzco to Challacancha, Trek to Soraypampa Camp (3,920m) (14km, 6hrs)
Day 2: Trek to Challhuay or Colcapampa Camp via High Pass (4,650m) (22km, 9-10hrs)
Day 3: Trek to La Playa & Transfer to Santa Teresa Town (1,700m) (15km, 5.5hrs)
Day 4: Trek to Hydroelectric Station & Aguas Calientes (2,010m) (18km, 6hrs)
Day 5: Explore Machu Picchu & Return to Cuzco by Bus/Train

What should I pack?

You can bring these things with you from home or you can easily rent most of this equipment in Cuzco:

  • Hiking poles
  • Rain pants & poncho
  • Trekking boots
  • Sandals
  • Warm socks (wool)
  • Sweater & thermals
  • Hat & gloves
  • Sun hat, sun block, & sunglasses
  • Flashlight/torch
  • Camera with extra batteries & memory card
  • Waterproof bags
  • Hand sanitizer & first aid kit
  • Water bottle
  • Extra cash for snacks

We know that it can be a huge bummer to find out that the Inca Trail, a bucket list item for many, is fully booked. But we think you’ll find that alternative treks like Salkantay are just as rewarding, less crowded, and will provide an equally majestic and unforgettable experience in this incredible place.

Have you trekked the Inca Trail or an alternative route to Machu Picchu? Tell us about your experience in the comments!