1. The Challenge
Reaching heights of 4600m in elevation, walking 70km over 5 days and 5AM wake ups – these aren’t the things that make you jump with joy when signing up for any activity. But no one said this was going to be easy.
This will most likely be one of the toughest treks you do in your entire life — five days with an average of 20km per day and the last two days being close to 30km each.
By the end of it, you will be in pain no doubt. But that feeling of pain and exhaustion never drowned out the sense of accomplishment and contentment at the end of each day once we reached our camp. Once the boots are off and you’re showered, all that’s left to do is eat a hearty dinner, bond with your new hiking buddies and then get snug in your sleeping bag for a good night’s sleep.
Trust us, you will sleep like a baby every night.
Once on that bus back to Cusco, you will have the biggest grin on your face knowing you went way out of your comfort zone, conquered your inner bitch, and completed one of the toughest treks in South America.
Having a comfortable pair of hiking boots is essential for a successful Salkantay Trek. Head to the post below for some of our essential gear recommendations:
2. The Incredible Scenery
The Salkantay Trek will take you from Laguna Humantay across the Andes to Salkantay Mountain, and then through the jungle to Machu Picchu – all over 5 days. These are all single day trips that can be done from Cusco, but why not do them all together instead?
Each place is unique and memorable but it’s also the beautiful landscapes you experience in between these moments that make it such an unforgettable trip.
Watching from your tent as masses of clouds roll across to cover the valley. Seeing the peaks of snow-capped mountains in the distance as the weather clears. Sitting in the thermal baths on your third night watching the sun dip behind the mountains.
All these little moments, combined with the epic sights – such as the bright turquoise lake at Humantay and the towering size of Salkantay Mountain – all add up to a once in a lifetime experience that you just can’t get on a single day trip.
3. Making New Backpacker Friends
Your group will be a total of up to 15 people, including your guide. If like us you decide to go with Machu Picchu Reservations, then your guide will be one of the best.
Our guide ‘Su’ was an absolute legend, who clearly loved trekking, nature and educating others about the history of Peru. He kept our spirits high and made sure everyone was happy and safe.
The other 13 people we did the trek with were all great people who only had positive vibes to give which made the entire experience that much better.
Disclaimer – we can’t guarantee who you will end up on the trek with, and they may all be terrible people, and if so, we apologise. Obviously, we got lucky having such a great bunch on our team, but you would hope that only likeminded and positive people would decide to go on a 5-day trek in the Andes anyway.
Hopefully, by the end of the 5 days, you should have made some friends for life – we certainly did!
4. The Food
On the Salkantay Trek you will burn on average 5,000 calories each day.
But your guide at the start of the trip will jokingly mention that you won’t lose any weight on this trek, and no one ever does. You don’t believe him, that is until you get fed on the first night after reaching camp.
Three-course meals, continual plates of food, home-cooked Andean recipes and all made with fresh with ingredients from the surrounding area – you don’t get anywhere close to being hungry on this trek. There is a serious amount of energy required for this trek and make sure you are well fed the entire way.
Along the trek you pass through small villages, and you can always stock up on extra snacks and drinks. A snickers bar midway through the day was always a welcome treat!
5. It’s One The Best Ways To Get To Machu Picchu
There are multiple ways to reach Machu Picchu and there’s enough variety to suit every traveller.
However, we’re going to be completely biased here and say the Salkantay trek is one of the best options – especially for backpackers.
On the 4th day of the trek, you will walk into the town of Aguas Calientes and check in to a hostel for the night. Having trekked the entire way feels like a huge accomplishment and is a much more scenic way to go about it than taking the 8-hour bus from Cusco.
This walk into Aguas Calientes is what all backpackers must do regardless of the route they take. If you take a bus, it only takes you to Hidroelectrica. From here, it’s a 3 hour walk along the train tracks.
The only method that takes you straight in to town is the train but it’s the most expensive option and may not be suitable for budget backpackers.
6. Sunrise At Machu Picchu
When purchasing tickets for Machu Picchu, there are several different time slots to choose from starting from 6.00AM with the last one being at 14.00PM.
There can be a lot of competition for these early slots and you may not always get the time you want or the day you want. However, when you book on to the Salkantay Trek you are guaranteed a 6.00AM time slot through the company.
So if you want to see Machu Picchu at sunrise, then this is the best way to do it!
On the final day of the Salkantay Trek you will wake up be up before dawn. You will be out of the hostel by 4.30AM with the rest of your squad and be queuing for the gates by 5:00 AM.
It takes around 1 hour to reach the top of the stairs. Once you’ve climbed the stairs to the top, you’ll be one of the first there for what we hope will be clear blue skies and a beautiful sunrise.
The only thing we can’t guarantee is the weather!
7. Value For Money
The 5-day trek costs $210. This is an absolute bargain!
$210 for all your food, sleeping arrangements, transport, and entrance to Machu Pichu – this is great value for money, especially for budget backpackers.
That’s $40 spent a day total – perfect if you are looking to extend your trip in South America without spending lots of money. If you were to stay in Cusco for 5 days in a hostel and visit Machu Pichu on one of these then the total cost would be much way more than $200.
We went with Machu Picchu Reservations and would recommend them!
8. You Don't Have To Do 5 Days
If 5 days doesn’t fit into your schedule, then there are also options for 3- and 4-day treks.
The 4-day trek still includes the best sights – Humantay Lake and Salkantay Pass. You skip over Llactapata Mountain which is the mountain opposite Machu Picchu. This is a great day if it’s clear as you can see Machu Picchu from a different angle, however if its cloudy you won’t see a thing! It’s also an intense day of trekking.
The 3-day trek skips over Humantay Lake and Llactapata Mountain. However, it removes some of the long walks in between places which is ideal on the legs and those of you who aren’t super keen trekkers. It just costs a bit more as you take extra transport!
Returning to Cusco for a few days after the trek? If you haven’t planned Cusco yet then our city guide will help you get started.
And you’ll want to make sure you’re staying in a nice hostel when you get back for a day or two of rest and recovery!
For more on backpacking in South America, check out our expertly curated itineraries and travel routes: