If you’re looking for the best experience through the Andean highlands, what are you waiting to book the famous Salkantay Trek? This trail is the best alternative to the Inca Trail. Besides, this is one of the most in-demand activities in the Cusco region that takes you on a journey through Peru’s most iconic ecosystems.
This trek is definitely not for the fainthearted since it takes you through altitudes above the 4,600 meters of elevation. However, if you’re up to this adventure, all that hard work will be paid off day by day.
The exuberant nature of the region will leave you breathless. You’ll pass by the most sublime mountainous landscapes of the region to later venture out to the cloud forest, the rainforest, and then immerse yourself in the dense jungle before arriving at the dream-like scenery of the Machu Picchu town for a well-deserved rest.
Most of the treks start from the town of Soraypampa, the last place that can be reached by vehicles. From this point, the journey starts on foot, all the way up to the imposing Humantay Lake, located at 4,200 meters above sea level.
Usually, the trek can last from 4 to 5 days, being the 4-day trek the most sought after option for this adventure activity. However, the trek is highly challenging on the first 2-3 days since it’s mostly uphill. The highest point of the trail is at 4,630 meters above sea level, which allows you to appreciate the majesty of the Salkantay Mountain, one of Peru’s highest peaks, located at 6,264 meters of altitude.
Afterwards, you’ll be deep diving into the Peruvian jungle, surrounded by the authentic flora and fauna of the region, this is definitely a trail that keeps on giving. Once you’ve made your way through the thick forest, the soothing and warm waters of the Cocalmayo Hot Springs await to ease your exhaustion away.
Now that you’ve renovated your energy, the trail continues through Hidroelectrica following the rail tracks flanked by the Vilcanota river until arriving at the so-called Aguas Calientes town. On the way you’ll glance at the imposing mountains of the Peruvian high jungle, surrounded by the beautiful flora of the region.
Once in Aguas Calientes, have some rest and enjoy this famous touristy town before heading up to the special attraction of this trip, Machu Picchu. To learn more about the famous Inca citadel, check this informative guide →
The Salkantay trail passes through the imposing Peruvian Andes and the high jungle, meaning that this region has a characteristic weather marked by two season:
- Rainy Season: It starts in December and finishes around April, these are considered the rainiest months of the year. Heavy downpours of rain is expected throughout the region and temperatures range between the 15°C and 5°C.
- Dry Season: It is considered the coldest time of the year and it takes place between May and October. Temperatures can drop below 0°C during the night but very warm in high altitudes during the day, reaching up to 18°C in direct sunlight.
Whether you take the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu during the rainy or dry season, you will have an authentic experience. Keep in mind that during the rainy season, the trail gets muddy and wetter.
However, the weather in the high jungle tends to change drastically, and occasional rainfall may occur throughout the year. Temperatures are significantly warmer while descending to Aguas Calientes. To learn more about the weather in Peru, read our informative guide.
What to See?
1. Humantay Lagoon
The water bodies in the Peruvian highlands are certainly beautiful, but the Humantay Lake stands out from the rest due to its authentic turquoise coloration produced by the microalgae and the concentration of minerals in its waters.
The Humantay Lagoon is located at 4,200 meters above sea level, flanked by the beautiful Humantay snow-capped mountain. This dream-like scenery is situated 120 kilometers away from the city of Cusco in the Soraypampa town.
It takes about 2 hours to get to this lagoon from this small town, the trek is considered to be quite challenging but totally worth it. For those going on the Salkantay trek, this is the first natural wonder they visit.
2. Salkantay Mountain
This famous snow-capped mountain is located within the Vilcabamba mountain range in the Peruvian Andean region at 6,264 meters above sea level, making it one of Peru’s highest peaks.
According to historians, the name Salkantay means “Wild Mountain” in Quechua, it was a sacred mount for the Incas since they granted recognition as one of their Apus, which were spiritual protectors of their people and nature.
Only a few have reached its summit, being the Swiss Bronimann and Marx the first documented persons who climbed this imposing snow-capped mountain. However, later in 1978, the Italian mountaineer Consuelo Bonadiel was the first woman to climb all the way up to the Salkantay’s summit.
3. Cocalmayo Thermal Baths
Right in the heart of the Peruvian high jungle, lies the most soothing thermal springs of the area, a resting point for those who come from the extraneous Salkantay trail. These hot springs are located in the Santa Teresa district, a few kilometers away from the Machu Picchu Town.
It comprises three pools with temperatures that range between 30°C and 44°C. They are believed to have curative properties due to its rich-mineral waters. The Cocalmayo Thermal Baths are visited by many local and foreign travelers, and many of them use these pools to treat arthritis, osteoporosis, broken bones, sore muscles, and other conditions.
4. Aguas Calientes
Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, this small town is the starting point for most guided tours to Machu Picchu and the drop-off location for those who take the train route from Cusco or the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Aguas Calientes is located in the Urubamba province, right at the foothills of the Machu Picchu citadel. This town is mainly touristic and comprehends luxury and standard hotels, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and more.
It is recognized for its exuberant nature and authentic scenery since it’s surrounded by imposing mountains, and divided by the Aguas Calientes river. In addition to Machu Picchu, there are many other activities to do in Machu Picchu Pueblo, such as:
- Jardines de Mandor
This Ecological Reserve is located 3,5 km away from Aguas Calientes at the foot of the Huayna Picchu Mountain. It’s been open since the 1960s and has an exhibition of the unique nature of the region, where different orchid species steal the highlight of the show.
- Machu Picchu Museum
Also known as Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon, it is located a few minutes away from the Machu Picchu Town. This museum offers an insight of what life was like in Machu Picchu, as well as information of the structure of the Inca Citadel.
Altitude Sickness: How to Prevent and Deal with It
Due to the high elevation of this trail, some travelers may experience dizziness, headaches, shortness of breath, and tiredness, these are the effects of the so-called Altitude Sickness, a condition that affects most people at altitudes above 2,500 meters of elevation.
Regardless you’ve lived on the Mount Everest peak or at sea level through your whole life, this can strike you at any time, so don’t take it for granted. Therefore, you must be aware of your physical condition before committing to this trek.
All these excursions start from the city of Cusco, which sits at an altitude of 3,399 meters above sea level. Most travelers start feeling sick upon arrival, especially if flying from low-altitude destinations. However, we’re not here to scare you off but to make things clear and easy for you. Make sure to follow these recommendations that will surely help you avoid and deal with altitude sickness:
- Keep yourself hydrated: Water is the best ally to fight and prevent this condition.
- Avoid alcohol and smoking at all costs: Alcohol is dehydrating, and smoking can worsen or cause shortness of breath.
- Eat a light but high-calorie diet: High altitude increases the need for fuel since you get dehydrated and burn carbs faster.
- Drink Coca tea or chew Coca leaves: This is a medicinal plant of the Andes, known for helping to ease any altitude sickness symptoms and improving acclimatization.
- Take it easy: Don’t commit to a physically demanding activity on the first 2-3 days upon arrival.
For those taking this famous trail to Machu Picchu, there are some medicines that can help with any altitude sickness symptoms. You can find Diamox or Soroche Pills in almost any drugstore in Peru, nonetheless, we highly recommend you consult with your doctor before taking any of these.
Where to Book the Salkantay Trek?
If you’re up to this adventure travel experience, there are some things to keep in mind before venturing out to the Peruvian wilderness. Therefore, here we are to help you organize your trip.
While looking for the best tour operator to take you through the Salkantay pass, you’ll come across different companies, many of them with cheap and affordable prices and some other with price ranges that may raise some eyebrows.
However, we want to be entirely honest with you, going cheaper isn’t always the best choice. Remember that you’ll get the service you’ve paid for, no more, no less. Likewise, having a sense of safety is the main goal here, keep in mind that you’re going on a trek that supasses the 4,600 meters of altitude through the most remote locations.
Regarding that, we recommend you do proper research, find a company that offers reliability and comfort. Yes, we know, among the sea of tour operators this may turn somewhat tedious, but you don’t have to go through this alone since by hiring a local travel agency, you’ll take that stress away.
Besides, a travel agency will be there for any inquiry you may have, and especially, to assist you 24 hours a day. For more information, please contact us.
What to Pack for the Salkantay Trek?
Although most tour operators include camping and kitchen equipment, there are some things that you must take with you on your adventure. Here we have listed a few of the essentials for your Salkantay trekking experience:
- Protect Your Skin From the Sun: Make sure to bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and a sunhat to your trip. The sun hits strongly on high altitudes, you surely don’t want to be walking around for 5 days with an intense sunburn.
- Trekking clothes: Avoid bringing cotton shirts since these absorb moisture, consider bringing a base layer, trekking shorts, trousers and shirts.
- Insulated Jacket: This will be used on the highest peaks of the Salkantay trail, remember that temperatures can drop below 0°C during the evening.
- Raincoat or Rain Poncho: On the way you may encounter rain, especially during the rainy season.
- Hiking Shoes: This is a must on every trekker packing list, remember that your feet are what get you through this extraneous walk.
- Hiking and Thermal Socks: Bring at least two pairs of each, temperatures get really cold in the evenings and early mornings.
- Beanies and Neck Gaiter: The main thing here is to protect yourself from the freezing temperatures, especially if traveling during the dry season.
- Trekking Poles: Bring a pair of light walking sticks, preferably adjustable since they are easy to store.
- Water Bottle or Hydration Bladder: Remember that high altitudes cause dehydration. Drinking water is the best way to avoid feeling sick throughout the trek.
- Camera: You surely don’t want to leave these outstanding scenery immortalized. Don’t forget to bring your camera or smartphone!
- Passport: There’s a checkpoint on the beginning of the trek, they will ask for your personal identification, as well as in Machu Picchu.
These are a few of the many things you must carry with you at all costs while taking the Salkantay Trek. However, you can find many of these things in trekking stores in Cusco and you can even rent them so you don’t have to carry the extra weight on your way back home.
Would you like to know more about Peru? Here you’ll find all the information you need for your trip. Our local expert team has prepared the most complete informative guides for you!