There are many routes to Machu Picchu, but none quite like the Salkantay Trek – considered the most famous trekking path in the Americas. After arriving in Cusco from Lima, you’ll embark on a five-day journey through forests and thick fog, with breathtaking views at every turn.
The Salkantay Trek is an ancient alternative to the Inca Trail, offering stunning ecological diversity of flora and fauna. It’s a perfect choice for adventure-loving travelers seeking a thrilling experience en route to the Machu Picchu citadel.
Recently named one of the best 25 treks in the world by National Geographic Adventure Travel magazine, the Salkantay Trek takes its name from the magnificent Salkantay Snowy – one of the highest mountains in the Cusco region.
Concerned about the difficulty of the trek or altitude sickness? Fear not – with over 10 recommendations to help you survive the Salkantay Trek in Peru, you’ll be fully prepared to tackle the journey and enjoy the spectacular views.
Salkantay Trek Options
- Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, 5 Days / 4 Nights
- Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, 4 Days / 3 Nights
- Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, 3 Days / 2 Nights
- Salkantay Hike + Humantay Lake, 2 Days / 1 Night
- Llactapata Trek to Machu Picchu – 3 Days / 2 Nights
As previously mentioned, the Salkantay Trek is a challenging trek that requires adequate preparation. To ensure a successful trek, here are 10 recommendations for the Salkantay Trek
Always keep your drink close at hand.
Although it may sound like a joke, many people often need to take a break, remove their backpack and hydrate themselves during a mountain hike. To ensure proper hydration, never leave without a minimum of one and a half liters of water. Water or isotonic drinks are the best options for hydration, not carbonated soft drinks. Choose a container wisely so you can transport it within reach of your hand at all times and take small drinks from time to time. You can use a camel bag or a simple canteen in an accessible backpack pocket. We recommend carrying a half-filled water tank on hand and keeping the rest of the bag inside.
Maintain a constant rhythm while climbing.
There is an old proverb that says, “Walk like an old man to come as a young man.” This does not mean that you have to be slow, but it is important to maintain a consistent pace, especially when climbing. If you do not know the exact distance of the ascent, it is possible that you may exhaust yourself too early.
Use walking sticks.
They help reduce the weight on your joints, provide extra stability, and allow you to remove any obstacles along the way. Shorten them when climbing and lengthen them when descending. Walking sticks are cheap, light, and extremely helpful in the mountains.
Wear proper trekking shoes.
It is much safer to walk with hiking boots than with any other type of footwear. Choose a comfortable boot with a waterproof membrane, such as goretex, to prevent twisting, humidity, and loose stones from hitting your ankles. Although boots may restrict your mobility, proper lacing can solve this issue. Tie the boot firmly while descending to prevent the foot from slipping forward and crushing your toes. Release the pressure of the loop while ascending to restore mobility in the ankle.
Change the position of your feet while climbing.
After a long ascent, your muscles may start to feel fatigued. Slightly tilting your feet can help relieve the overloaded muscles and distribute the load of the effort, working different muscle groups.
Dress in layers.
Just like an onion, it is best to wear clothes as thin as possible to avoid excessive bulk. Avoid cotton fabrics and always choose technical fabrics that dry quickly in case of sweat or rain. Do not wear loose clothes that may get caught in branches and protrusions along the path.
Use a backpack with lumbar support.
Your backpack should not only have shoulder straps but also support your lower back and hips. Properly distribute the load inside the backpack and tighten it correctly to reduce strain on your shoulders.
Protect yourself from the sun and cold.
Your body generates a great amount of heat when it is active, releasing calories. In the mountains, we lose most of our body heat through our feet and head. Wear suitable socks and boots to keep your feet warm and protect your head from the elements by wearing a hat or cap with an ultraviolet filter.
Salkantay Trek When To Go
The sub-tropical Peruvian Andes experience a dry season from late April to early October and a wet season from mid to late October until April. While the Salkantay Trek is feasible throughout the year, the optimal trekking season coincides with the dry season, which is also the busiest period for Machu Picchu, between May and September. Therefore, the best trekking months for the Salkantay Trek fall between the shoulder wet months of March and April and the shoulder dry months of October and November.
For those planning to visit in June, we suggest booking the Inti Raymi 2023 Tour, which occurs on June 24th, and embarking on the Palcoyo Mountain Tour. This tour takes you through the breathtaking Rainbow Mountain, nestled in the Andes.
Best Time to do Salkantay Trek:
We recommend doing the Salkantay Trek between May and October. Although the trek is possible all year round, the rainy months from December to March make it challenging.
Salkantay Trek Weather:
The weather on the Salkantay Trek is diverse due to the varying terrain and altitude. The only section where weather is a significant concern is the Salkantay Pass and Soraypampa camp, where temperatures can drop below freezing. The other camps are relatively warm, thanks to their proximity to the cloud forest.
Salkantay Trek Weather Month by Month: October to March: These months constitute the rainy season, with sunny days (19°C) and warmer nights (4°C), but the frequency of rainfall is considerably high.
April to September:
This period is the dry season, with stable temperatures during the day (18°C), but the coldest nights (-10°C) of the year.
Changes in the Salkantay Trek Weather:
The ‘Abra Salkantay’ section experiences the most intense cold at night, with temperatures as low as -10°C. The rest of the trek features a tropical climate, with temperatures reaching 26°C during the day and 12°C at night, particularly on the section leading to Aguas Calientes.
How Cold is the Salkantay Trek?
Temperatures follow a consistent pattern throughout the year, with warm days in the high twenties Celsius and cold mornings and nights in single digits and sometimes below zero degrees Celsius. Layering is the key to staying comfortable throughout the trek, particularly given the temperature fluctuations due to micro-climates at different altitudes. For details on ideal clothing requirements, see our equipment packing list section below.
Salkantay Trek Difficulty and Length
When it comes to Salkantay Trek Difficulty, it varies depending on one’s physical condition, prior experience with similar routes, and overall health. Generally, the trek is considered a high degree of effort, especially given the altitude, which is why it is important to properly acclimatize before tackling the more complex sections of the route.
The most challenging day is typically the second, which involves reaching the maximum point of the trek at Salkantay Pass, located at an altitude of 4,600 meters. However, with proper acclimatization, this day can be manageable.
As for the Salkantay Trek Distance, the route covers a total of approximately 74 km (45.98 miles) over a period of 5 days, leading visitors to the Inca City of Machu Picchu.
If you have concerns about Salkantay Trek Difficulty, it’s recommended to follow our Training for Salkantay Trek recommendations to ensure that you’re physically prepared for the journey.
Salkantay Trek Altitude
The Salkantay Trek Altitude ranges from a minimum height of 2,200 meters above sea level (m.a.s.l.) at the last camp in Sahuayaco, to just over 4,600 meters (4,900 meters if you do the Salkantay and Inca Trail Trek) at the highest point of the trek. This could be the highest altitude you have ever experienced outside of an airplane.
At this altitude, the available oxygen per breath is nearly 45% less than what is available at sea level, which can result in various physiological impacts.
Cusco, where the Salkantay Trek starts, is situated at an altitude of 3,400 meters above sea level, which can be challenging for some individuals. To prepare for the trek, it is recommended to spend at least 48 hours in Cusco before starting the tour, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, and get some rest.
The Salkantay Trek Elevation profile shows that the first two days are challenging, but the trek gets easier after that.