When you first think “I want to see Machu Picchu”, you’ll think of booking the Inca Trail in Peru ASAP. Like most, I thought so too. However, I was pleasantly surprised to come across this 5 day, 4 night alternative Machu Picchu trek which was more geared to what I was looking for...

Why choose the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu?

If you’re looking for Inca trail alternatives and a challenge but also want privacy and authenticity, this is the trek for you! You get to travel in a small group of around 20 people and I can honestly say that I didn’t see any other groups whilst trekking!

I’d been warned that making this trek in Peru was extremely difficult, but in reality, anybody with a reasonable level of fitness can do it. The overall trail distance is around 40 miles from start to finish, which allows you the opportunity to see more of this fantastic region than you can on the Inca Trail.

Hike the Salkantay Trek in Peru | Travel Nation

I would recommend spending 3-4 nights in Cusco before to acclimatize to the high altitudes of Apacheta Pass which stands at 4,650 metres! The best months to make the journey are between May and October.

Day 1: Starting out from Cusco (6 miles)

Setting off from Cusco early in the morning, you’ll take a scenic bus ride to the village of Mollepata for the first day. This will be the first chance to get to know the people you’ll be spending the next 5 days with. Once you arrive, you’ll have a hearty breakfast and set off along the trail which starts at around 2,900m.

From the very beginning, you’ll have fantastic panoramic views of Salkantay Mountain and the numerous other snow-capped peaks. The first day is relatively easy and the distance covered and the gradient is quite small. Right from the off you’ll find out that people can trek at their own pace with a guide at the front and one at the rear. Having stopped at a viewpoint for a traditional Peruvian lunch we arrived into camp early evening for dinner. After a long day, getting your head down early is advisable as day 2 is by far the most challenging of them all!

Day 2: Apacheta Pass and the famous Salkantay Peak (14 miles)

Today will be a challenge! You depart early in the morning to start the hardest day, which is around a 12-hour trek. You’ll immediately see a drastic change in scenery from dry, barren lands to tropical areas and finally, you’ll be amongst the snowy peaks of the Cusco region.

Your guides will allow plenty of breaks and opportunities for photos along the way today. During the day you can start to see a real ‘team bond’ being created with everyone encouraging everyone else to get to that peak! Around lunchtime, you arrive at the foot of Salkantay Mountain (6,271m). This is a great opportunity for those postcard pictures and to look at how far you have come. It is also a time for celebration as everything from now on is downhill!

Salkantay Peak, Peru
Altitude sign, Salkantay Trek, Peru

Day 3: Traditional Incan villages and thermal hot springs (10 miles)  

When you awake in the morning, you’ll really realise how high up you are as it is a chilly start! The guides will be up hours before you organising the third day and that also means you can wake up to a hot cocoa tea, which is much needed!

You continue the trek down through the huge valley where you come across typical Incan settlements. Today is a great opportunity to get a chance to immerse yourself in their culture. Your guides will give you a detailed explanation of the history of the people and you will get the chance to pick up handmade souvenirs as well as being able to have a chat over a hot cocoa tea (Spanish speaking required!)

In the evening you can visit the hot springs - a great opportunity to nurse those aching legs back to health, accompanied with by a couple of local pisco drinks.

Traditional Inca hut, Salkantay Trek, Peru

Day 4: Trekking to Aguas Calientes (6 miles)

Today is an easier day and you’ll be able to reflect on how far you’ve come. Back amongst the tropical forests, you’ll be amongst white-water rivers and the warm 20-degree heat again. See local coffee, banana, passion fruit plantations while intersecting Santa Teresa Valley.

Arriving into the town of Aguas Calientes will be the first piece of civilisation you have seen since you left Cusco so long ago! You will spend the night in a hotel, and prepare for a nighttime trek to Machu Picchu!

Day 5: Machu Picchu

Starting early around 4.30am, you are equipped with torches as you head out on this 90-minute walk to the sun gate of Machu Picchu.

When you arrive, the crowds will still be very small as the day-trippers have not yet arrived for their tours. You’ll have an amazing opportunity to watch the sunrise over the mountains that overlook the lost city of the Incas! After sunrise, take a detailed, guided tour of the ruins, and your guide will offer you the option to climb up the Huaynapicchu Mountain for a higher vantage view.

The tour finishes early afternoon so you can depart and make your way back to Cusco by train or bus. That evening, your group will meet up for a celebratory meal, usually ending up in Mama Africa’s the place to be in Cusco!

Machu Picchu, Peru

Interested in Inca Trail alternatives?

If like me, you're looking for something an alternative to what everyone else does, I can help you book this trip and design a trip of a lifetime for you – just get in touch.

Small group tours like this Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu tour offer guaranteed departures for all treks. Having made this trek has made me really think about making other treks all over the world - so next stop are some of the best northern hemisphere treks or southern hemisphere treks!


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Chris West

Senior Travel Consultant
at Travel Nation

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