I have done Salkantay Trek two times, and if there were no more amazing treks to do in Peru I would do it a third time without hesitating!
Unlike the Inca Trail, Salkantay Trek can be done without a tour operator or even a guide. However, I would not recommend it if you are doing it for the first time, mainly for two reasons:
- Carrying your own things in very steep trails with altitudes going over 14,000 ft can get unbearable.
- Even though the route is well indicated you could get lost, and that is definitely not a good idea if you are in the middle of the Andes.
This trek can be done in 4 or 5 days, depending on the tour operator you are going with. I did the 5 days one with Mountain Lodges of Peru.
The adventure starts with a 3 hour drive from Cusco to Mollepata, the last village where you can buy water and other supplies. From there, it takes one more hour by car and 4 hours hiking to reach the first lodge or camping site. This first day is mainly for acclimatization, don’t worry if you feel very tired that night, as it is completely normal, it is always better after you get one night of sleep at high altitude.
The second day depends on the itinerary you have taken, if you go with the 4 days one, this day will be the hardest. However, if you have chosen the 5 days one, in this day you will head up to Humantay Lake, a 5 hour hike from the lodge. This lake is beautiful as it lays just below the Humantay Mountain (or Apu as the Incas used to call it). Some hikers have gone in the lake for a swim, I haven’t though as it is quite cold.
The third day was the hardest, so be prepared. You hike for about 9 hours and you go from 12,900 ft to 16,000 ft and then go back to 13,000 ft. The highest point is during the Salkantay Pass from where you will get the most stunning photos of the Andes. If you have a sunny day you will see the Salkantay Peak lying well above the 20,000 ft.
Once you go through the Salkantay Pass the rest of the trek would be mostly going down. And in my opinion, the best part of the experience, as you will go from the Andes to the start of the Amazon!
The following days you will see an increase in temperature and a change on the ecosystem that surrounds you. There will be much more vegetation, more wildlife and some coffee plantations.
The last days is where Mountain Lodges of Peru does a detour from most agencies, and in my experiences it is totally worth it! Most operators will guide you all the way to Santa Teresa town, where you sleep and take a van the next morning to Hidroeléctrica to take the train to Machu Picchu town. However, we hiked up from Lucmabamba valley to Llactapata Pass where you can see Machu Picchu ruins from behind! From there you descend to Hidroelectrica and take the train.
Once in Machu Picchu, besides visiting the ruins of the citadel I highly recommend hiking to Huayna Picchu (you have to book well in advance) and the Inca Bridge (free to enter).