A 5-DAY HIKE TO MACHU PICCHU
During my stay in Cusco, I absolutely didn’t want to miss seeing Machu Picchu, one of the 7 wonders of the modern world! But how to get there? There are many options! You can go there for the day, or do multi-day hikes before arriving at Machu Picchu town, Aguas Calientes. The two most popular hikes are the Inca trek and the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. The Incas one is necessarily with a guide, more expensive, and it’s mainly a path which passes by numerous ruins (and a lot of stairs from what I heard). The Salkantay one can be done with or without guides, and it’s more interesting in terms of views and landscapes. It all depends on your desires. The two trails arrive at Machu Picchu on the last day. Personally, I chose to do the Salkantay trek in collaboration with the Peru Adventure Trek agency. Here again you’ve different options on the number of days. I preferred to take the 5 days to have the view of Machu Picchu and pass by the Salkantay Mountain. Stay with until the end of the article to obtain a discount on this excursion.
WHAT EQUIPMENT TO TAKE FOR THE SALKANTAY TREK?
If you go with Peru Adventure Trek, you’re allowed to have a bag of maximum 6 kg that a mule will carry between each accommodation for the first 3 days. But keep in mind that you’ll have to carry those for the last 2 days, so don’t pack too much. If you exceed 6 kg, it’s PEN 5* / kg for the 3 days.
Here’s a list to help you know what equipment to bring:
- Underwear for 5 days
- Hiking pants
- Pants for the evening and night
- T-shirts for 5 days (if you have merino wool t-shirts, you don’t have to take 5 t-shirts)
- A t-shirt for the evening and night
- A warm sweater for cool evenings
- Warm leggings to wear under hiking pants
- A waterproof jacket for rain and wind
- A pair of hiking shoes
- A pair of shoes for the evening
- A backpack big enough to fit everything in
- A small bag that you can leave for the mules (a light bag that you can put in your bag later)
- Solar cream
- A pair of gloves
- A beanie
- A choker
- Hiking poles if you use them
- A sleeping bag for cold temperatures
- Your toiletries
- A towel if you plan to pay for a shower before arriving in Aguas Calientes
- Cleaning wipes if you don’t want to pay for showers
- A filter bottle
- Your emergency first aid kit / medication
- A roll of toilet paper
- Mosquito repellent
- Your passport
- The entrance ticket to Machu Picchu
- Cables to charge your devices
- A portable battery
With all this material, you’ve the basic equipment you need. Obviously to be adjusted according to your needs and desires. But don’t overload yourself with unnecessary things, you’ll feel the weight during the Salkantay trek.
WHAT'S THE PROGRAM OF THE 5-DAY SALKANTAY TREK?
Before embarking on the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, it’s recommended to do 2 – 3 days of acclimatization in Cusco. Indeed, if you aren’t used to altitude, your body will need to acclimatize. The day before, the agency will ask you to come to explain the program, and of course to pay. Then we go for 5 days of Salkantay trek, one of the most beautiful hikes in Peru!
DAY 1 - 11.2 km - 800 m elevation gain
Departure from Challacancha to Soraypampa with a stop at Laguna Humantay
The agency picks us up directly from the hostel with our belongings early in the morning, around 4:45 a.m. We leave Cusco in a mini-van with around fifteen people. We’re several travelers from different agencies, grouped together. After 2 hours, we stop at Mollepata for people who need to buy their entry to Laguna Humantay. This entry’s included with Peru Adventure Trek. It’s also in this village that the mini-van drops us off for 40 minutes to have breakfast. It isn’t included in the excursion. The restaurant has a small shop where you can also buy 2/3 things to eat if you don’t want to eat their breakfast.
We hit the road again for a good 2 hours to arrive at the start of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, Challacancha. At this point, we take all our bags and distribute our belongings for the mules. We leave around 9:30 a.m. towards our first accommodation in Soraypampa, located at 3,900 m altitude, 7.2 km distance and 400 m elevation gain. Click here for more details on this part of the hike -. This one’s quite simple, it rises a little at the beginning, but everything else is almost flat. We pass water pipes almost all the way. The path’s quite pretty, and the views of the snow-capped mountain become more and more beautiful as you get closer! We see this immensity of nature in front of us, it’s just incredible! During the hike, we stop from time to time to take breaks, and for the guides to explain to us the fauna and flora, as well as the region and the customs. It’s quite interesting, we discover a lot of things. We arrive at the camp around 1 p.m. for lunch. Then, we put our things in the tents already installed. These are 2-person tent modules with a floor, 2 single beds, mattresses, and a transparent roof so you can admire the stars at night. Good accommodation.
After a break, we walk to Laguna Humantay, located at an altitude of 4,250 m, with 400 m of elevation gain in 4 km. Click here to preview the hike. This part of the Salkantay trek goes up a lot! And with the altitude, we feel that we’ve more difficulty than usual. The climb’s still quite quick, around 1h15 to reach the lake. The colors of Lake Humantay are incredible, turquoise blue and green, it’s impressive! Especially with this mountain overlooking the lake! At the end of the day, the mountain’s in shadow, there isn’t really a beautiful color for the sunset but the view remains very beautiful. Don’t forget to go back down before sunset, because there’s still a good thirty minutes waiting for you to get back to your accommodation. If you go past the accommodation tents and go to the end of the driveway, you can sit and admire the sunset over the snow-capped mountain opposite. Some colors appear at the end of the day on the summits, it’s very pretty. We have a snack with hot drinks and popcorn around 5:30 p.m. and dinner that follows around 6:30 p.m. Then off to bed to be in good shape the next day!
DAY 2 - 22 km - 730 m elevation gain
Soraypampa - Collpapampa passing by the highest peak of the Salkantay trek
Wake up at 5:15 a.m. to have breakfast, get ready, pack our bags and leave around 6:15 a.m. A little stretch before departure, because 3 hours of climbing await us, at a high altitude. Click here to preview the map. Note that this map stops at Chaullay, but with the agency we continue to Collpapampa which is right next door. We take few breaks because we only have one goal, to finally get to the top! The views from this part of the Salkantay trek are pretty, but when you finally arrive at the top, facing Salkantay Mountain, at 4,620 m above sea level, the view’s incredible! A row of mountains in front of you! We stay there for around thirty minutes to admire the view, take photos and get explanations from the guide about Pachamama. For me, this is the most beautiful view of the Salkantay trek!
Then, we go back 3 hours to Wayracmachay to have lunch prepared by our guides. During this descent, we go at our own pace, the guide gives us the meeting point and is behind us if necessary. Don’t hesitate to look back on this part of the hike because the views of the mountain are also very beautiful! This part of the Salkantay trek is a bit long and we’re happy to arrive to eat around 12:30 p.m.
We leave with a full stomach and in good shape on a path with completely different views. We leave the snowy peaks to enter the jungle part. A long descent all afternoon into the jungle with views from time to time of green peaks and the valley. It’s a very pretty hike, I really liked it. It’s quite calm and we go at the pace we want. I won’t lie to you that at the end, the legs feel tired because of the length of the journey. Once you arrive at the Collpapampa accommodation, 2,770 m above sea level, it’s a pleasure to be able to relax! The accommodation’s quite simple, we’re in domes with beds and mattresses, like the first accommodation. All the domes form an arc around the back of the house where we eat upstairs outside, protected in case of rain. There’s a charge for using showers and electricity. If like me, you want to save on small expenses, consider charging an external battery and taking wipes to clean certain parts of your body. Small warning, it’s from here that the mosquitoes will follow you until the end.
DAY 3 - 12 km - little elevation gain
Collpapampa - Playa with a coffee tasting
Wake up at 6 a.m. for a 7 a.m. departure. This is the easiest day of the Salkantay trek! We do a face painting stop with a plant. The guides draw a few patterns on our faces before returning to the path which leads into a canyon and along the river. I wasn’t expecting this type of landscape, it’s super beautiful! Very different from what we have seen over the last two days in the Salkantay trek. During the morning, we stop at a football field where there’s a small shop to buy food and drinks. The most motivated play a football match while others relax in the hammocks. After about thirty minutes, we head back to the mini-van. They drop us off at a local coffee factory. The guides explain the whole process to us. It ends with a coffee tasting. Not liking coffee, I can’t tell you more about the quality of it. But I preferred the visit I made to Panama which was more complete. Then we take the car again to arrive at our third accommodation in Playa.
After a good lunch, the group separates. Those who have a 4-day excursion drive to Hidroeléctrica and sleep in Aguas Calientes, while our 5-day group stays at the accommodation and will walk the next day to Hidroeléctrica. This third day of the Salkantay trek is the easiest, because we have the choice between going to the hot springs (not included in the excursion), or staying at the accommodation and rest. With some people, we decided to stay quietly enjoying the calm of the place until dinner. There’s a small store where they sell food and drinks if you want.
DAY 4 - 22 km - 1,275 m elevation gain
Playa - Aguas Calientes, passing the ruins of Llactapata
After a noisy night in the tents because of the chickens and dogs who made noise all night, waking up around 4 a.m. to have breakfast and prepare our bags, because from that day on, we carry all our things. We start the hike with the cool temperatures of the early morning, and with the headlamp. We have a 3 hour climb! The path offers us super beautiful views of the green valley and the river that crosses it. I really liked this part of the Salkantay trek. We arrive at the highest point of the day, 2,700 m above sea level, at the Llactapata ruins. The guide explains the history of this place. They think it was a checkpoint for travelers passing through. The highlight of the show is that from this place, it’s possible to see Machu Picchu at the top of its summit. Without binoculars, it’s difficult to see it, but we descend a little further along the Salkantay trek, and we arrive at another viewpoint at the Llactapata campsite. There, we can see the site a little more. The light isn’t ideal, we only see a little, but we can’t wait until the next day to finally discover this wonder of the modern world.
We continue the descent to reach Hidroeléctrica, a place where a train track begins with several restaurants around. The zig zag descent gives beautiful views of the green peaks. After our lunch in Hidroeléctrica, we follow the railway to Aguas Calientes. The trail of around ten km is flat and among stones, and it’s feeling like the trail is endless. The views are so beautiful! We even see Machu Picchu from below. So excited to get there! Click here to preview the map. We arrive in Aguas Calientes around 3 p.m. to check into the hotel. Depending on your agency, you’ll share your room or have a private one. The town feels like it was built for tourism, lots of accommodation, restaurants, souvenir shops. There are a few places that are a little more authentic, but not necessarily in the city center. I don’t recommend more than 2/3 nights, because there aren’t many activities other than seeing Machu Picchu and going to the hot springs. We all have dinner together in a restaurant before going to bed early, because waking up will still be very early.
DAY 5 - 8 km - 475 m elevation gain
Discovering one of the seven wonders of the modern world, Macchu Picchu
Departure at 4:30 a.m. with belongings left at reception. In exchange for the keys, they give us a bag for breakfast. We leave without the guide because he has to do something first. As a group, we agreed together that we would meet in the hotel lobby and meet the guide at the entrance to Machu Picchu. If you want to preview the map, click here. We leave with headlamps along the side of the road to the bridge before climbing the Machu Picchu valley, where they check our passports and tickets. Then it’s the hardest part of this day, 1,826 steps to climb (according to our guide) to the official entrance to the archaeological site. This part of the path isn’t very much interesting, it’s just that you avoid paying PEN 35* for a bus, which has fixed times. We arrive at the top around 6:15 a.m., without the guide. Luckily, we have his phone number, so we ask him to go home without him so we can watch the sunrise at Machu Picchu, which is why we got up so early. We enter the site without him, he gives us a meeting point. And there, wow! The magic happens. Seeing this immense archaeological site in front of us, surrounded by green peaks, with the rays of the sun arriving progressively… I’ve no words, the photos speak for themselves. It’s incredibly beautiful! The ruins are magnificent and well preserved, with this rocky peak in front! A joy to have finally arrived in front of one of the seven wonders of the modern world! If you go without a guide and without an agency, be aware that for several months now, you’ve to reserve the entrance to Machu Picchu well in advance, and choose the circuit you want to do. According to the guides, the most beautiful views are at circuit 1 & 2. And I must admit that I was more than happy with this circuit. We see the site at its best, and we even get to walk through the ruins to learn about its history. The guide joined us just after sunrise and explained a version of the history of Machu Picchu to us for 2.5 hours while walking around the circuit. It’s incredible!
After the highlight of the Salkantay trek, we go back down the stairs, because yes we had climbed them, we might as well go back down the same place, right? At the end of the stairs, the group separates because some are going to take the train to Aguas Calientes, others are returning to Hidroeléctrica to take a bus. With one person from the group, we return to Aguas Calientes for lunch (not included in the excursion). My train leaves around 2:30 p.m. from the city center. I’ve never been on a train with a panoramic roof, it’s really cool! The journey is magnificent! We stop at Ollantaytambo where lots of drivers are waiting with a sign in their hands for the people they need to meet. We return to the center of Cusco after a 2-hour drive. This is where these 5 beautiful days of the Salkantay trek end.
CONCLUSION OF THE 5-DAY SALKANTAY TREK WITH AN AGENCY
I enjoyed my experience with Peru Adventure Trek. They explain well what is and is not included. When there’s a problem, they answer the phone quickly and find a solution. Regarding the guides, they were knowledgeable about the history, fauna and flora. They spoke Spanish and English. The accommodations were beautiful and comfortable. The food was good and varied. Then the Salkantay trek was a very beautiful hike. I’m glad I took the 5 days. There were people on the first 2 days, but on the other days it was quieter. Even at Machu Picchu, arriving for sunrise, there weren’t that many people. The difficulty of the Salkantay trek’s medium. You need good physical condition and good acclimatization for the altitude. It remains less difficult than the Ausangate trek, but the distances are much longer. The only negative part of the tour is that they don’t provide drinking water (or boiled water), so bring a filter bottle or money to buy water, as there are kiosks everywhere. Otherwise, nothing to say about the rest.
I did the Salkantay trek with a guide rather than solo, because having experienced altitude sickness during a trek in Bolivia, and traveling alone, I didn’t want to take a risk and have someone if it happened again. Luckily, I didn’t have altitude sickness during the 5 days. In addition, everything’s organized for us, we just have to enjoy, not carry the food, look for accommodation each evening and carry all our equipment. It still has its advantages and it allows you to leave with peace of mind.
Entrance fee to Laguna Humantay if not included in your excursion: PEN 20*.
Price to go to the hot springs with transport: PEN 50*.
Price of the Salkantay trek with the Peru Adventure Trek agency including transport, panoramic train, food, entrance to Machu Picchu, accommodation: US$ 450*. But if you contact me on Instagram about this tour, you can book it for US$ 400.
WHERE TO SLEEP? ACCOMMODATION IN CUSCO
PIRWA BACKPACKERS COLONIAL
Plaza San Francisco, 360, Cusco City Center,
Cusc 01 Cusco, Peru
Price: PEN 50* / night / person in a mixed dormitory with around ten beds.
Click here to book a night.
A good hostel in the city center. A very good value for money. A quiet hostel, perfect if you want to spend some time alone. The kitchen’s small, but there are restaurants and a market not far away.
THE PRACTICAL MAP OF THE SALKANTAY TREK
HOW MANY DAYS DOES IT TAKE TO DO THE SALKANTAY TREK?
There are many agencies and the number of days to do the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu varies between 3 and 5 days. It all depends on your schedule and what you want to see. Personally, I’ll recommend the 5 day trek if you can. This allows you to go to the ruins of Llactapata and see Machu Picchu on an opposite peak. It’s a beautiful hike to do. Allow two or three days before to prepare for the hike and acclimatize to the altitude, and one day after to rest afterwards.
WHEN TO DO THE SALKANTAY TREK? THE BEST MONTHS TO VISIT MACHU PICCHU
The best time to do the Salkantay trek is between May and October, with the exception of August if you want to avoid the crowds of tourists.
|JANUARY||In the heart of the rainy season, temperatures are pleasant, but the trails can be muddy and slippery.|
|FEBRUARY||Just like January, there are a lot of rainy days. This can sometimes lead to closure of Machu Picchu.|
|MARCH||Still a humid month with moderate temperatures.|
|APRIL||The rainy season ends and temperatures gradually increase.|
|MAY||The good time to visit Machu Picchu is coming. A few days of rain and mild temperatures.|
|JUNE||It’s the start of the dry season. The mornings are cool, but the days are often sunny.|
|JULY||Few rainy days and pleasant temperatures.|
|AUGUST||Similar to July, but there are a lot more people on the site due to the summer holidays.|
|SEPTEMBER||There are a few more rainy days, but temperatures remain pleasant.|
|OCTOBER||The dry season ends.|
|NOVEMBER||Temperatures are mild, but rainy days are increasing.|
|DECEMBER||This is the start of the rainy season with many rainy days.|
WHAT'S THE BUDGET TO DO THE SALKANTAY TREK?
If you’re doing the Salkantay trek with an agency, make sure what’s included and what’s not. Sometimes agency prices vary because you’ll have to add entries or other expenses not included.
- Accommodation: plan one night before and one night after the excursion in a hostel. On average plan around PEN 50* per night.
- Food: the first breakfast and the last lunch aren’t included. Restaurant prices in Aguas Calientes are more expensive than in Cusco. Allow around PEN 70* for both meals. During the trek, there are small convenience stores at every place you sleep. Take around PEN 50* with you to grab something if you want.
- Transport: there’s no transport required.
- Activities: The tour costs approximately US$ 450* including entrance to Machu Picchu, as explained in the article above. If you want to have a US$ 50 discount, contact me on Instagram.
- Others: There are many souvenir shops in Aguas Calientes. Plan accordingly.
To do the 5-day Salkantay trek, plan a budget of around PEN 2,100*, with some souvenir or other expenses.
MY TRAVEL TIPS TO DO THE SALKANTAY TREK
- Check carefully what’s included or not in the agency offers. Ask for details on an invoice if it isn’t written on a brochure.
- Take cash with you to pay for your extras during the hike, as well as for showers or to have access to electricity.
- Plan wide in terms of your schedule, or book the excursion in advance. They don’t necessarily leave every day, especially in low season, and tickets for entry to Machu Picchu must be purchased several days in advance.
*Prices displayed in this article are as of July 2023.