Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu - 5-Day Itinerary

The Salkantay trek is one of Peru’s best alternatives to the Inca Trail. Trek over a beautiful mountain pass at the foot of Mt. Salkantay before stopping in at a local organic coffee plantation, followed by a visit to the Llactapata ruins. Finally, get up early the last day to catch sunrise at the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

Highlights

  • Dip your feet in the beautiful glacial lake of Humantay
  • Enjoy the comfort of cabins and lodges along the way, built and run by locals
  • Cross over the 4660m Salkantay pass before descending into the cloud forest
  • Harvest, roast and enjoy your own coffee from a local coffee farm
  • Visit the lesser-known picturesque ruins of Llactapata
  • Explore the fabled sanctuary of Machu Picchu
  • Relax and enjoy the views on the train ride back from Machu Picchu

Overview

Fast facts
Min. duration 5 days
Max. elevation 4660m
Start/finish Cusco/Cusco
Difficulty Moderate
Trek style Cabins
Best season May-October
Map of the 5-day Salkantay trek
Map of the 5-day Salkantay trek

Salkantay, a 6272 m. peak in the heart of the Cusco region, is one of the most beautiful mountains in the Andes and one of Peru’s best and well-known treks. Over the course of five days, you’ll pass by a beautiful glacial lake, up and over the Salkantay pass (4660m), and descend down into the dense vegetation of the Peruvian cloud forest.

From there, you’ll trek to a local coffee farm where you can pick, harvest, roast and grind your own coffee, before joining paths with the famous Inca trail to Llactapata for views of Machu Picchu that few tourists get to see.

Finally, celebrate with a local meal at one of the best restaurants in Aguas Calientes before waking early for the final day where you get to tour the famous Inca citadel of Machu Picchu!

Brief itinerary

Day Activity Altitude Duration
Day 1 Glacial Lake Hike 3851m 3-4 hours
Day 2 Over the Salkantay Pass 2900m 9 hours
Day 3 Organic Coffee Fields 1950m 5 hours
Day 4 Llactapata Inca Trail 2100m 4-5 hours
Day 5 Tour of Machu Picchu 3340m / 2847m 4-5 hours

Detailed itinerary

Day 1: Glacial Lake Humantay

We leave your lodging early on, and a short three hours later we arrive in Mollepata where we disembark for a warm breakfast. When ready, we hop in the back of the truck, Peruvian-style, or take a car depending on what is available that day. The road is carved along a steep hill with scenic views en route to Soray Pampa.

Soray Pampa is located at the foot of two large mountains and is where we’ll spend the night in a newly-built wood cabin. After a short rest, we grab our day packs and go on an amazing hike up to a glacier lake that will test your lungs, warm you up, and pay off with amazing views. We’ll return to camp tired yet satisfied, ready for a great dinner and a good night’s rest. Tomorrow is a big day!

Mules out to pasture
Mules used for carrying gear
Trail around Salkantay
Trail around Salkantay
Bridge over a creek
Bridge along the Salkantay trail
Lucmabamba coffee farm
Lucmabamba coffee farm

Day 2: Salkantay Pass (15,000 ft. above sea level)

Waking up early at the foot of Salkantay mountain is breathtaking. A hot breakfast awaits, which you’ll enjoy while the horses are being loaded up with your gear. The trek starts early and climbs gradually toward the pass. We’ll take breaks, when needed, and provide plenty of water and snacks. The views are dramatic, and it's a great feeling and a privilege to be so close to such beauty.

After a few hours, we arrive at the pass (4660m). The air is thin and the weather unpredictable, so we won’t linger too long. We may have the chance to witness small avalanches in the surrounding mountains, and you’ll be able to capture some great photos before beginning the descent.

The downhill is long and steady, and the views are just as stunning. It's a beautiful hike through the high Andes and the variety of vegetation, birds, and views makes it one of the best in the world.

After around 9 hours (including breaks), we’ll arrive at a camp called Chaullay. It's located at the end of the Salkantay Valley and connects us to La Playa, Santa Teresa, and our goal—Machu Picchu. Dinner is served, and the remainder of the evening is yours to relax!

Day 3: Cloud Forest to Coffee Plantations

After an early morning breakfast, we’ll head on our way. Today we hike along the Salkantay river to La Playa. The hike is through a high cloud forest, and the views, the warmth, the birds, and the plants are varied and brilliant.

The hike is between four and five hours and lunch is waiting for you at the end. After lunch, we’ll get a rest as we go by car to our lodging. Some of the best coffee in the world is grown in Peru, and you’ll have a night on a coffee plantation where you can harvest, roast and taste your own coffee. Careful: you may not sleep! After dropping off our bags we rest up and enjoy the day. Machu Picchu gets closer and closer.

Optional:

Make an evening visit to Cocalmayo hot springs (in Santa Teresa). Private transport will pick you up from your lodge and take you there and back (waiting while you're in the hot spring).

Cocalmayo hot springs
Cocalmayo hot springs
Humantay Lake
Humantay Lake
Llactapata ruins
View of Machu Picchu from Llactapata ruins
Machu Picchu ruins
Machu Picchu ruins

Day 4: Llactapata Inca Trail

Start your day with a fresh cup of coffee and enjoy a breakfast sourced from local foods in the area, such as plantains, yuca or avocados (depending on the season). Today, we hike towards Machu Picchu via a section of the ancient Inca trail.

The trail leads you up and over a pass from where you’ll have spectacular views of the ruins and the peaks of Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu. The ruins of Llactapata are less visited and you will see few people here while you gaze at Machu Picchu from a distance. Enjoy the solitude, as tomorrow there may be around 2000 people with you in Machu Picchu.

After the ruins, hike twenty minutes to a small lodge where we’ll have a freshly cooked lunch. After a great meal, descend towards the river and arrive in time for the 3 pm or 4:35 train. Time to sit back and enjoy the view.

Once in Aguas Calientes, your guide will take you to your hotel before providing a quick briefing for the day ahead and your tour of Machu Picchu. Tonight, you will dine in style in one of the best local restaurants in Aguas Calientes. A full 3-course meal with an appetizer, main dish, and a dessert. Be sure to go to bed early tonight, so we can get an early start tomorrow.

Day 5: Machu Picchu

If you’re up bright and early, you’ll get to see the sun lighten up Machu Picchu. Follow a hiking trail up to the sanctuary for an early view and to avoid the crowds. You’ll have a fully guided tour, and for those who have requested it, Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu mountain is on the list.

Enjoy your time here. Explore the ruins, have a snack, take some photos, or take a nap on the terraces. At the end of your time exploring, you can take the bus back down to Aguas Calientes and wait for your return train to either Cusco or Ollantaytambo. If you return to Cusco, transport will be waiting for you to take you to your hotel. If you arrive in Ollantaytambo, you can easily walk to your hotel from the train station.

Salkantay pass
Ascending the Salkantay Pass
Salkantay trek
Hiking down from the pass into the cloud forest
Humantay Lake
A day hike to beautiful Humantay Lake
Llactapata
Llactapata ruins, an important rest stop for the Incas on they way to Machu Picchu

Best season

The best time to trek the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is May through October. Both May and October may have a bit of rain, but in between is considered the dry (and clearest) season in Peru. However, when hiking down into the high cloud forest after the Salkantay pass there is always the chance of some rain.

You can still hike from November to December and March to April, but be prepared for rain. Since you’ll have a nice dry bed each night, it’s not a bad choice to come during the rainy season as there are far fewer tourists. It’s not advised to trek this route during January and February.

Recommended gear 

  • Headlamp
  • Water bottle or two for refilling or camelback bladder in your day pack/ hiking pack
  • Rain gear*
  • Waterproof boots, sandals/flip flops or sneakers for camp
  • Hiking poles (optional)
  • Warm weather gear for first night, down jacket or vest, hat, gloves, scarves
  • Hiking clothes: quick dry layers, long underwear, hiking socks, etc
  • Swimming clothes for optional hot springs
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Sun hat
  • Bug spray
  • Any medicines you may need, epi pens, inhalers etc. **
  • Cameras
  • Charging devices for phones and camera
  • Original Passport for entrance to Machu Picchu
  • Day pack or hiking pack***

*Raingear: You need to have a rain jacket or shell anytime of the year. From Oct-May, it's also good to have rain pants, as well, as a poncho will not suffice. From June-Oct, you may take your chances with the rain pants. Just keep in mind that it can rain anytime of the year in the cloud forest. 

**Medicines: We recommend you bring, ibuprofen, aspirin or something of the likes for headaches or muscle pain, blister kit, possibly something for bug bites, and doctor recommend meds for both parasites and bacterial infections should they occur after the hike begins such as Ciprofloxacin for bacteria and Metronidazole and Tinidazole or something of the likes. If you think you will want high altitude medications, it is commonly called Diamox. (Diamox and Ciprofloxacin should not be taken together.) Please talk with your doctor about dosing and usage.

***Day Pack: If there are horses to carry your gear, you will need a large pack to put on the horse with your extra gear and a small pack for the day. Each day you will need to carry your water, snacks, camera, rain gear, and layers, sunscreen and bug spray, meds.
If there are no horses to carry your gear bring only one pack large enough to carry everything you need.

You do not need to bring:
Sleeping bags, cooking gear, water purification system, tents

Thanks to local Peru experts, Nicole and William Koch, for providing their insights for this article.

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Salkantay trek to machu picchu - 5 days, Peru - May 21 - May 25, 2017

Traveler: Kimberlee C. - Local specialist: William and Nicole Koch

Nicole was excellent at organizing our trip. It was great to talk to a real person on the ground in Peru when I was booking from Australia. At first, our trip seemed expensive but now in hind sight considering everything it included and in comparison to other travelers we met along the way our trip was excellent value for money. Every aspect of our trip was organized we didn't have to worry about a thing. Our guide Josias was absolutely fantastic and really made the trip special. He spoke... read more

Nicole was excellent at organizing our trip. It was great to talk to a real person on the ground in Peru when I was booking from Australia. At first, our trip seemed expensive but now in hind sight considering everything it included and in comparison to other travelers we met along the way our trip was excellent value for money. Every aspect of our trip was organized we didn't have to worry about a thing. Our guide Josias was absolutely fantastic and really made the trip special. He spoke fluent English and helped us translate along the way and told us fantastic history and facts about the region. The food and accommodation were excellent. After a hard day walking it was great to come home to a real warm bed. I am a coeliac and catering along the way was fantastic! We couldn't have had a better trip. We are so happy we chose to book with KimKim.

Nicole looked after all of our needs. She was very patient and always helpful. She helped us booked our salkantay trek and gave me information about other trips and options available.

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Traveler: Rachel R. - Local specialist: William and Nicole Koch

Everything was well organized and explained in the itinerary

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