The Salkantay 5 Day Trek is extremely special and one of the most stunning ways to arrive at Machu Picchu. The 4 day trek with the 5th and final day at Machu Picchu involves stunning mountain views, stumbling across Inca ruins and enjoying nature.
How long is the Salkantay 5 Day Trek?
The Total length is 64km:
- Day 1: 13.2km walking, 880m ascent
- Day 2: 18.2km walking, 600m ascent
- Day3: 16km walking, 860m ascent
- Day 4: 16km walking, 580m ascent
- Day 5: Machu Picchu, optional walk down to Aguas Calientes
What is the Height of the Salkantay Trek?
The maximum altitude reached during the Salkantay 5 day Trek is 4600m.
What Company did I use?
I completed the Salkantay 5 Day Trek with the company Trexperience. This blog is not sponsored by them and I do not have any affiliation with Trexperience. My opinions throughout this article are just my honest opinion!
Do you need a guide for the Salkantay Trek?
To not use a company and a guide clearly saves money, but is it worth it? Apart from money, does it reduce the fun factor? Let’s discuss…
The route is simple and very clear. Although there are not many signposts, there are not many options to get lost. If you choose to do the trip alone, you must carry your own tent, mattress, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, food and some water for 4 days. This is a lot to carry and also means you need to have it for the rest of your time in Peru in which you may not be camping. There are some lodges that you can stay at if you do not want to carry camping equipment but these are often booked up far in advance by solo travellers or tour companies.
The safety net that you have by having a guide that has a bottle of oxygen on them is significant at the altitudes that you reach in Salkantay. There are lots of tourists groups around but the guides are not obliged to help if you get altitude sickness. The guides must prioritise the group they are supporting.
Having a guide also means that they have up to date knowledge on whether or not the paths are closed or have maintenance issues.
What is the Salkantay Trek Price?
I paid $590 with Trexperience. The cost is the main negative of doing the trek with a company. So, let’s have a think about how much it costs.
- Entry for Machu Picchu: 60 USD
- Train from Aguas Calientes- Ollantaytambo: 70 USD
- Bus to Machu Picchu: 24 USD
- Hotel in Aguas Calientes: 70USD
- Bus transfer before and after hike: approx. 30 USD
- Food incl 1 restaurant: approx. 75 USD
When you include all of these costs it adds up to about $329 of fixed costs, the trip suddenly becomes a lot more cost effective. I paid $590 for the Salktantay trek. I then paid an extra supplement to rent sleeping bags and a mattress. The rest of the money covers accommodation at campsites, salaries of staff and the cost of all equipment. I think in total this is a very reasonable price.
Salkantay 5 Day Trek Itinerary
Day 0: TreXperience office Cusco
I say day 0 because we hadn’t started the hike yet but we had our initial briefing at the Trexperience office. We met our guide Adolfo, the rest of our group (we were just 5 people) and also got a briefing about what awaited us. We were also given duffel bags in which we would keep our belongings for the duration of the trip. This was the moment that it got real for me and I got both nervous and excited at the same time!
Day 1: Cusco to Salkantaypampa
Day 1 was an early morning with a 4am alarm. The bus arrived to collect us at 4.30am at our accommodation in Cusco for a 3 hour drive. The drive itself brings you up into the mountains and the views are stunning.
We got out the bus and started the hike at Challacancha. It began with a small ascent to take us to an inca canal. We walked parallel to this canal for 5km until we stopped at Humantay Lake Start point for breakfast. Breakfast at the farm was lovely and an insight into the quality of food we were about to receive – delicious!
After breakfast, the hard work began.
There was a small hint of many tourist busses that told me that we were onto something good! Because the first big section was an up and back to Humantay Lake. Humantay lake is crystal clear and absolutely stunning! Humantay lake has risen to fame because of the amount of Instagram photos there and is now a standard day trip offered from Cusco by many tourist companies. I can understand why, after hiking up the hill, you turn a corner and the lake almost appears from nowhere and is breath-taking.
At this point our bags and all of the camping equipment were attached to horses and the van went back to Cusco.
After we walked back down, we came back to Soraypampa for lunch. We had lunch under a shelter which was lucky because this was the only time on my hike that it rained! So make sure you pack a water proof, you can never predict mountain weather.
First night camping in Salkantaypampa
After a delicious lunch, the hike was short up to the first night of camping at Salkantaypampa. The walk up to the campsite was uphill but significantly less steep compared to the walk up to Humantay Lake.
The campsite was simply stunning. With a perfect view of Salkantay mountain, a trickling stream and horses grazing, it was one of the prettiest camp spots I have ever seen. This was the coldest night of the trip we had. I had woollen thermals, a down jacket and a hat and was very greatful for it. To balance out the cold, the stars put on a great show! There were no toilets at the campsite so it was a nature situation.
Day 2: Salkantaypampa to Collpapampa
Day 2 was the big one. With a wakeup call of a coffee delivery to my tent at 5.15am, I knew it was going to be a good day.
The morning of day 2 is the most physically challenging section up to the Salkantay Pass. It is a steep ascent to the maximum altitude of 4600m. This is when you notice the lack of oxygen going up for sure. If you are feeling sick, try chewing some coca leaves to help with it. There are local horse owners that offer rides up to Salkantay Pass if you need it.
The view of Salkantay pass is wowowowow. We were one of the first groups up so had the top spot to ourselves which made it even more special. The altitude cools you down pretty quickly after the effort of the hike up so I was grateful I had an extra layer.
You will notice at the top of the pass there are lots of towers of rocks. This is because of a tradition that the local people do that our guide did with us. You take 3 coca leaves representing the past present and future and make a wish. You then place the rocks on top of it to keep it safe and make it clear that’s the purpose of the rock.
Afternoon Descent to Collpapampa
From the highest point, the long descent began. I could almost feel with every step the more oxygen and how much easier it was to breathe, a nice feeling! We had lunch at a farm with dogs, pigs and chickens wandering around in Wairaqmachai. This was a great spot for a bit of relaxing and sunbathing after the morning of hard work.
The afternoon walk was a descent through the valley with some lovely views. We arrived in our camping spot of Collpapampa. This felt like the most like ‘civilisation’ we had seen in a few days. The campsite even had hot showers and wifi (for 10 soles each). The night sleep was a lot warmer but with this came annoying mosquitoes.
Day 3: Collpapampa to Llactapata
Theres no lie in during Salkantay so up again at 5.15am. This morning was brightened up by fresh hot chocolate and pancakes at breakfast! This morning we said goodbye to the horses as from here on in the equipment was carried by van or the porters.
The hike began and continued down a dirt track road down the valley. Pre 2020, this walk would be on a small winding path. However, due a enormous flood in 2020 the paths have been washed away by landslides. The paths were in the process of being repaired so make sure you check with the local population before starting a walk. (this is another advantage of having a guide, we saw some unguided people across the valley about to find a dead end).
Because the dirt road was not particularly interesting, a van picked us up to bring us to our lunch spot at Llucmabamba after about 2 hours walk. This spot was a lovely location on a farm that had coffee, avocados, bananas and many more. We were given a tour and explanation how the coffee was grown, dried, roasted and given a cup of the best coffee I had Peru.
This lunch was also the most special meal of the whole trek. The team from Trexperience prepared a traditional Incan Lunch using hot stones called Pachamanca. The stones were heated on a fire for 2 hours and then the fire was put out. They were then put into a hole with all of the food to be cooked: vegetables, meat and even a full pineapple! Then the stones and food was covered using soil, banana leaves and finally plastic sacs. This was then left for an hour. The food was absolutely delicious!!!
We had a nice rest at the lunch spot and also emptied our bags so that we took minimal amount of stuff with us for the evening. As this was the only day that the team were carrying the bags, the aim was to make them as light as possible.
Afternoon ascent to Llaqtpata
The afternoon for day 3 was a strong ascent actually on ancient Inca trails! I found this afternoon quite hard as I was really tired by this point. The views across the made it all worth it! Just before our camping spot we found some ancient Inca Ruins Llaqtapata. From the ruins it was a quick 10 minute walk to the camping spot.
This was the final night of camping and the spot at Llaqtapata was very special! The view from the campsite was across the valley from Machu Picchu so I got my first glimpse of this wonder of the world! I saw both sunrise and sunset over Machu Picchu from this campsite.
Day 4: Llactapata to Aguas Calientes
Day 4 was the easiest day of hiking although my legs were definitely tired by this point. After watching the sunrise over the Valley of Machu Picchu, the walk began with a strong descent. The walk down the valley was steep and took about 1.5 hours. We stopped off halfway for a quick view of a lovely waterfall.
Walk along the train tracks
At the bottom of the valley, we arrived at Hidroelectrica. All up and down was now done – joy!! Although we said goodbye to the rest of our team (apart from the guide) here – sad!! Hidroelectrica is the closest point to Aguas Calientes (town next to Machu Picchu) that is accessible by road. The walk from here was alongside the train tracks so nice and flat. Our group was very happy at this point and got the music going and started dancing along the way, the best way to end a hike.
The last part of the Salkantay 5 Day Trek is along a road to the hotel. I was so happy to get to a bed and a warm shower.
Side note: it’s a bit illogical, there are no roads to access Aguas Calientes but there are roads within the town! This is because the bussed up to Machu Picchu use these roads and the busses are brought in using trains.
I spent the afternoon relaxing in Aguas Calientes in the hot springs. We truly celebrated completing the hike by ordering Pisco Sours to the poolside – the dream.
Day 5: Aguas Calientes to Cusco
Day 5 – the trek is over but this is the big day, Machu Picchu Day!! Do you think we slept in? Never. We left our hotel at 5am to take a bus up to Machu Picchu. The bus was about 30 minutes up the valley to the entrance gate. There are not toilets inside the Machu Picchu complex so make sure to use them before you enter.
You must show your passport and ticket to enter Machu Picchu. It is then a small walk up hill to the view point. The true ‘money shot’. I was extremely unlucky with the weather the day that I visited. The whole site was in the cloud and rain for my whole visit. As there is a one way system, you need to wait at the view point before seeing the ruins up close. We waited for 2 hours but the clouds didn’t clear, my guide (who has been doing this for 15 years) said it was the worst weather he had ever seen….
After waiting, we investigated the ruins up close and personal. It was really impressive even in the cloud. There are no information panels explaining what the ruins once were so having a guide really came into its own here. I learnt so much about what the ruins were that I wouldn’t have realised otherwise.
You have the option here to walk back down to Aguas Calientes. I was cold and wet because of the weather so got a bus and went straight to get a hot chocolate to warm up.
Free time in Aguas Calientes
We had a free afternoon in Aguas Calientes so used it to explore and visit the butterfly house. I really enjoyed it there and saw such an incredible range of butterflies.
Train to Ollantaytambo
Time flew by and it was time to jump on the PeruRail train to Ollantaytambo. The train was so special and had viewing windows in the ceiling to be able to appreciate the stunning scenery.
Cheeky tip: we bought a bottle of wine and some plastic cups before getting on the train. This wasn’t technically allowed so we hid it from the train staff, but it made the ride more fun! If you are british you will understand this culture of drinking on trains….
The train stopped at Ollantaytambo (in the Sacred Valley actually where I am writing this right now) and we then got a bus back to Cusco. And that was the end of my Salkantay 5 Day Trek 🙁
General details about being with Trexperience
The Salkantay 5 Day Trek with Trexperience meant we had a full team of people supporting us on the hike. We had a guide Adolfo, Chef Amilkar, Sous-Chef, waiter and horsemen helping us out. Bearing in mind we were 5 of us in the group this was quite the staff to group ratio! The team carried our belongings but also helped setting up the tents and putting them down each day. I rented a sleeping bag and mattress from them and the equipment was really high quality.
The highlight of my time with Trexperience has to be the food. We had chef Amilkar and a sous-chef prepping the most incredible meals. We had a hot meal breakfast lunch and dinner with snacks in-between. The lunches and dinners were 3 or 4 course! As well as this, we were woken up each morning by a hot drink brought to our tent. On the first night of camping when it was particularly cold, we had a delivery of a hot water bottle – it made me so happy!!
What to Pack for a Salkantay 5 Day Trek
To carry in your day backpack:
- Passport! (Not a copy, it is a must for entry to Machu Picchu).
- Bug spray
- Extra warm layer for the cold
- Headtorch (for those early mornings)
For your Duffle Bag
With Trexperience you are given a duffle bag that must have enough space to have sleeping bag in and must weigh maximum of 7kg. Here is what to pack in the duffle:
- Warm clothes for the night
- Warm hat
- 5 days worth of clothes
- Comfy shoes for the evenings
- Wet wipes! The wet wipe shower was a brilliant substitute for a proper one
Now you know everything for a Salkantay 5 Day Trek!
Have the best time on your Salkantay Trek. I had an amazing time and let me know how it went.