Backpack the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trek, Anta, Peru

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    44.5 Miles


Explore Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu and experience Quechuan culture.

Day 1: Cusco to Soraypampa to Wayracpunku (9 miles)

The trail starts at 12477 ft and proceeds towards Salkantay Pass at 15090 ft. It's a gradual climb and incredibly beautiful. From the pass, it's a short downhill to the campground in Huayracmachay at 12477 ft. Even if the weather is sunny and clear for a few miles, it can turn cloudy and cold on the backside of the pass. Like most mountains at high elevation, things can change in a heartbeat. One of the major highlights was getting to hear the thunder boom of an avalanche not far off from where we were on Salkantay Pass.

Day 2: Wayracpunku to La Playa (14 miles)

The first night on the trek can be a cold one, as temperatures got down to single digits on my trek (F). The sunrise is gorgeous, and reveals the two snow capped peaks nestled just behind the campsite. Day 2 is the longest of this trek at 14 miles, most of which is downhill. One of the more interesting aspects of the Salkantay Trek is the number of micro climates. On this day, you'll start in a high altitude mountain range and descend through a canopy of trees into a humid jungle.

Day 3: La Playa to Llactapata (7.5 miles)

Day 3 is easily my favorite day of the entire trek. It starts with a brutal climb up from La Playa to an Inca ruin. It seems that every mile contained a different micro climate. You'll go from hot and dry to swampy and humid at every turn of the trail. After reaching the Inca ruin, the trail descends to Llactapata, a beautiful area that offers up a view of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) from a distance.

Day 4: Llactapata to Aguas Calientes (9 miles)

The descent from Llactapata down to the hydroelectric plant and Aguas Calientes is very steep and a bit muddy in places. There is a long suspension bridge at the bottom, and from that point on it is more or less level. The final six miles of the hike follow a set of train tracks that lead in and out of Aguas Calientes, the lone support town to Machu Picchu. It’s a point of conflict that the rail is owned by British and Chilean interests, and not Peruvian. It is really nice to arrive in Aguas Calientes, where you can enjoy your first shower after 4 days of trekking!

Day 5: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (5 miles)

There's not much I can say about Machu Picchu that hasn't already been said, so I'll put it this way: This place is everything they say it is. The history, the culture, the magic, it all comes to life. Make sure to purchase your tickets to hike Huayna Picchu ahead of time, as they can be hard to come by.

Pack List

  • Backpacking Essentials
  • Trekking Poles
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunglasses
  • Good Trail Shoes
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Overall rating: 

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For those who don't have the capability of planning months in advanced, this is an awesome alternative to the Inca Trail. Definitely give it a rip, it's a beautiful, worthwhile trek.

4 months ago
4 months ago

This trek is seriously awesome. With the Inca trail seeing over 80,000 visitors per year, I found myself at home in this more remote, challenging trek. Do not miss Humantay Lake towards the beginning of the trek it was one of the most beautiful places I saw in Peru despite multiple treks and tours in the South and North. If you would like to do this trek on your own without a guide there are definitely lots of percs besides the obvious one of being cheaper! I did it and wrote a story on how to do it on your own here: Enjoy!

5 months ago
5 months ago

This trek was incredible! My friend and I went through, but it is absolutely doable (and much cheaper!) without a guide. Noted, the proper equipment and experience is required. It can be extremely cold, high altitude, and I've heard the routes can sometimes be difficult to follow. The trek starts in the snowy mountains, reaches the pass next to Salkantay mountain, and drops down into the jungle with avocado and banana trees. Finally, you end in Aguas Calientes where you hike up to Machu Picchu. Absolutely fantastic!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

This trek is the counterpart to the traditional Inca Trail to Machu Picchu – it is more remote, challenging and rugged but also less crowded and therefore more authentic than the Inca Trail! You will travel with Coca Tours.

almost 2 years ago
almost 2 years ago

This is a great trek! Really loved hiking past the massive Salkantay, seeing and hearing the distant ice falling! Be sure to take the side trails to check out the glacial lake up on the pass!

about 2 years ago
about 2 years ago

Great information, i did Salkantay 2 months ago, it was great. I would like to recommend this hike is amazing and i had a great experience. I used Salkantay Trekking Company, small and local tour operator Website:

almost 3 years ago
almost 3 years ago

Salkantay trek

almost 3 years ago
almost 3 years ago

Drew Robinson // Instagram: @trailtopeak

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