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Salkantay Trek: Complete Hiker´s Guide

The massive and beautiful Salkantay Mountain (6,271 masl) is one of the highest peaks of the Peruvian Andes Mountain range and is known as “the savage mountain”. Hikers take a remote footpath through the rocky mountain and lush vegetation of the cloud forest on the way to Machu Picchu. Learn more about this epic adventure here.

Peru is a country of rich cultural history, beautiful landscapes and friendly people. If you’re an adventurer then your interest in visiting Peru likely stemmed from wanting to explore the Modern World Wonder of Machu Picchu. But exploring Machu Picchu is only a one day adventure and there is so much to do and see in Peru. Part of what makes visiting Machu Picchu so special is that you’re offered a glimpse into what life was like for the ancient Incas. The expedition is a great opportunity to get off the grid and experience what Peru is all about!. 

This peak is known as “the savage mountain” and it was chosen as one of the 25 best trekking routes in the world by National Geographic magazine. 

A first view from Salkantay Pampa

For a long time, the Salkantay route was known as an alternative trek to the famous Inca Trail which leads travelers from all around the world to the mysterious lost Inca’s city, Machu Picchu. But don’t be fooled. Salkantay Trail is no longer an overlooked brother of Inca Trail and definitely not only an alternative for those who can’t afford it or who cannot plan their holiday several months in advance to make a reservation for the more traditional hike.

Salkantay Trek is an option for hikers who want to experience the beautiful mountainous scenery of the Peruvian Andes, see an incredibly diverse nature and landscape that gradually reveals stunning views.

And at the end be blown away by one of the South American Highlights and a must-visit place which is on every traveler’s bucket list, Machu Picchu. Everyone who visits Peru wants to see this ancient Incan citadel, and we felt that hiking the Salkantay will be the best and the only right way that will take us to this incomparable world’s wonder.

WHERE DOES IT START

Salkantay Trek is 62 kilometers long, assuming you start walking from a small village Soraypampa to Aguas Calientes. The official length is 74 kilometers in case you want to start at Mollepata. Usually, Salkantay Trek takes three to four days to finish; the more common variant is the longer one.

Starting the hike

Salkantay Peak from the campsite

ALTITUDE AND ACCLIMATIZATION

Try to arrive in Cusco at least two or three days before the trek starts and focus on making some physical activity. For starters, Saqsaywaman Site is an awesome place to explore. You can take a plenty of day tours from Cusco and give your body some time to adjust to the elevation. There is a lot of things to do in the Sacred Valley of the Inca near Cusco – we can recommend an uphill hike to Pisaq Archaeological Site or visiting the Rainbow Mountain.

The proper acclimatization is very important (you’ve probably already noticed we never skip this part when hiking at the higher altitude) because you will spend the first night 3800 meters above sea level. Although no one can ever know how the altitude will affect you, it is always better to be prepared and know what to expect (you might experience a headache or breath shortage).

Don’t take the chance of altitude illness recklessly. You can ruin your entire expedition by not following a basic guidelines. Always stay safe when traveling.

Humantay Lake

BEST TIME TO HIKE SALKANTAY

With a bit of preparation, you can hike the Salkantay all year round (only think twice in case you plan on hiking in February). The official dry season starts in May and ends in October. During those six months, you have a high chance to see clear skies and enjoy the sunshine throughout the day. These months are winter, which means the weather is sunny and more stable, but temperatures are lower.

The rainy season starts in November and ends in April. Hiking in this season is always hit and miss. It can happen that you won’t see much because of low clouds, but as per our experience, the weather in the Andes changes quickly, and it is exciting to watch peaks around peek out of the clouds.

It rains the most in February when there is also a higher chance of landslides, mudslides, and some impassable sections. The rainy season is the summertime, which means temperatures are higher, although it still gets cold in the evening, especially in the high altitude.

Arriving the highest point. 4,630masl

HOW IS THE TRAIL

The terrain is not easy for people who are just starting to hike in the mountains. On the second day, the path is covered with small stones along the entire route. It can be dusty or muddy at some sections, depending on the season (dry or rainy season).

From the third day, the facilities on the trail become noticeable. The vegetation changes drastically and the natural beauty stands out among the valleys.

WHAT TO PACK

Below you will find a complete Salkantay Trek packing list guide. This list may seem lengthy, but remember you’ll be packing for several days in the mountains. The expedition duration and changing climates will require you to have a wide variety of clothing options available.

Also remember that effective layering is extremely important on this hike due to large temperature fluctuations on some days.

Hiking Gear

Clothing

  1. Hiking Day Pack

    A hiking pack with a plenty of room for what you need to carry. You could probably get by with something in the 30L range if you’re an efficient packer. Be sure your bag has waist and chest straps to help distribute weight. Also remember that effective layering is extremely important on this hike due to large temperature fluctuations on some days.

  2. Waterproof or goretex Hiking boots

    The downside to waterproof boots is they often lack breathability. Make sure your boots are worn in before committing to several days of hiking in the Andes with them!

  3. Waterproof Backpack cover

    If you purchased your hiking pack new it likely came with this cover included. This is an absolute necessity as it keeps the contents of your bag dry.

  4. Sleeping Bag

    Probably the most essential item you’ll need for your trek.

  5. Camping Mattress

    You can rent them at several stores in Cusco or buy a new one.

  6. Trekking Poles

    These are an absolute must. Either bring your favorite set or rent them from any store. There are some very lengthy and very steep descents you’ll encounter along the Salkantay Trek. Spare your knees.

  7. Light

    Headlamp or flashlight for your hike during the night, if needed.

  1. Moisture wicking t-shirts

    A great hiking t-shirts that keep you dry all day long that also perform well under multiple layers of clothing.

  2. Trekking Pants

    A light water proof pair will serve you well, you can wear leggings underneath on the colder portions of the trek.

  3. Leggings

    You’re going to need a warm base layer to go under your trekking pants when you go up to Salkantay Pass. They also make for great pajamas on the colder nights!

  4. Hiking Socks

    You’ll want a fresh pair for every day and probably an extra pair or two. Just in case.

  5. Fleece top Layer

    It’s essential for Salkantay Pass, but even at the lower elevations the nights and mornings can be cold.

  6. Warm Jacket and Waterproof rain Jacket

    This is an absolute must have if you’re hiking in the mountains.

  7. Wool hat

    Salkantay Pass can be frigid. Some of the mornings and nights will also be very cold so you’ll want a hat that keeps you warm.

Nice view of the cloud forest

Hiking within the clouds

IMPORTANT SUGGESTIONS

If you know you’re out of shape but cannot imagine visiting Peru without hiking to Machu Picchu, we recommend starting building up your level of fitness at least one month before the expedition. Although traveling is often about exceeding your limits, the bottom line is that you should enjoy it, not suffer all the time.

The highest point you will reach on the Salkantay is over 4,600 masl, the Salkantay Pass, so it is necessary to be well-acclimatized, but more about it later. In only two days, you’ll see an incredible diversity of Peruvian nature with your very own eyes when it came to flora.

We descended little by little to cloud forest, rainforest, and finally to the jungle from the inhospitable and harsh mountainous environment. In a single sentence – you won’t be disappointed by Salkantay Route when it comes to nature and spectacular views.

Saving moments at the highest point

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