Named after the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range, the Salkantay Trek takes you high in the Andes outside Cusco, providing specular views of snow-capped mountains, glacial lakes, and lush cloud forest. It’s an easy to moderate hike, with some sections of challenging terrain. The six-day trek involves comfortable stays at luxurious lodges in remote locations so that you can enjoy the gorgeous Andean scenery without having to give up your comforts.

Highlights

  • Enjoy pachamanca, a traditional Peruvian meal cooked under hot stones
  • Explore the 550-year old Inca citadel of Machu Picchu
  • Hike to Lake Humantay, a spectacular turquoise-colored lake below a glacier
  • Climb boulders and photograph the stunning mountainscape at Salkantay Pass (15,187 ft)

Overview

Treks depart from Cusco, where you can stock up on hiking gear and snacks for the short drive to the trailhead near Marcoccasa. The trek is not all hard work; downtime and relaxation are factored in on most afternoons, with time to sit back and unwind at the luxurious lodges you’ll be staying at. For those wanting more action, the trek offers plenty of extra activities too, from horse riding to mountain biking.

The first couple of days you will pass through spectacular mountain scenery. As the trek progresses, you will notice a substantial change in climate, with warm air rising from the fringes of the jungle as you descend into the cloud forest. Expect to walk about 4-6 hours a day, with the exception of the third day when you will cross the Salkantay Pass. This is the most strenuous section of the trek and will involve about 6-8 hours of hiking.

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Cusco to Soraypampa Salkantay Lodge
Day 2 Trek up to Lake Humantay Salkantay Lodge
Day 3 Cross Salkantay Pass Wayra Lodge
Day 4 Descend into the Cloud Forest Colpa Lodge
Day 5 Trek Through the Santa Teresa River Valley Lucma Lodge
Day 6 Explore the ruins of Llactapata Inkaterra Pueblo Hotel 
Day 7 Visit the famed ruins of Machu Picchu  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Cusco to Soraypampa

Mt. Salkantay is the highest peak in the Vilcabamba mountain range.

Your Andean adventure starts in Cusco, the former capital of the Incas. From here you will travel by car to the Inca ruins of Tarawasi near the town of Limatambo. You will stop off at the mountain village of Mollepata for a short break, before snaking up a winding mountain road to Marcoccasa, from where you will begin your hike.

The route follows the “Camino Real” (Royal Path), a picturesque path to Soraypampa, where you will slowly acclimatize to the high altitude. As you come round the path’s final corner, you will spot Salkantay Lodge, where you will spend your first night. Rising imposingly behind the building is the highest peak in the region, Mt. Salkantay (20,570 ft / 6270 m), considered to be among the most sacred mountains in Inca mythology.

  • Level: Moderate to Challenging
  • Time: 6 hours

Day 2: Trek up to Lake Humantay

Today you’ll further acclimatize to the altitude with a half-day hike to Lake Humantay. You’ll trek up the slopes that border the plateau behind the lodge and will be rewarded about an hour and a half later as you approach the spectacular turquoise waters of the lake, with Humantay glacier looming behind. You’ll spend some time soaking in the incredible views and enjoying the tranquility of this magical spot. Once you have trekked back down to the lodge, the staff will greet you with a hot lunch. You’ll spend the second half of the day at leisure; you can sit back and relax in the whirlpool tub, enjoy a relaxing massage or have a long nap to allow your legs to recover.

  • Level: Moderate
  • Time: 4 hours

Side Activities:

  • Keen riders may want to opt for the Chakana Excursion that combines horseback riding and trekking to a nearby viewpoint with a large Inca cross (chakana). With a duration of about 5-6 hours, it replaces the hike to Lake Humantay.
  • After your hike to the lake, you can embark on a two-hour horse ride around Soraypampa.

Day 3: Cross Salkantay Pass

Wayra Lodge looks out towards Mt. Humantay

This is the longest and toughest day of trekking, and arguably the most scenic. Hiking up the Rio Blanco Valley you’ll come across vast and impressive plateaus. You’ll be put to the test as you trek up to Salkantay Pass, the highest point you will pass today  (15,213 ft / 4636 m). You’ll be rewarded for your efforts as you descend through impressive scenery, with large boulders often seen enveloped in mist. After refueling with a hot picnic lunch, you will continue your descent through plateaus and verdant hills before reaching Wayra Lodge at Wayraccmachay. It’s located in a wonderfully remote spot, on a promontory looking out towards Mt. Humantay. 

  • Level: Challenging, crossing a 15,213 ft (4638m) mountain pass
  • Time: 6–8 hours

Side Activities:

  • You may choose to horseback ride up to Salkantay pass for all or part of the journey.

Day 4: Descend into the Cloud Forest

Andean children wearing traditional dress.

The trek continues through lush verdant scenery along the banks of the Salkantay River. As you descend into the cloud forest, you will notice a substantial change in climate. Warm air rises from the fringes of the jungle, with colorful butterflies fluttering around native orchids. You’ll pass a number of simple houses where you’ll catch a glimpse into the lives of the local Andean people.

After an active morning of trekking, you will arrive at Colpa Lodge, where a Pachamanca lunch awaits: a traditional Peruvian dish of meat and vegetables cooked under hot stones. You’ll enjoy a leisurely afternoon; you can spend time basking in the sun or unwinding in the open-air whirlpool tub while you soak in the gorgeous panoramic views.

  • Level: Easy to moderate.
  • Time: 3–4 hours.

Side Activities:

  • In the afternoon you can hop on a mountain bike and descend from Manchayhuaycco to Collpapampa, zooming through a beautiful valley where you will be able to observe the cloud forest’s diverse vegetation.

Day 5: Trek Through the Santa Teresa River Valley

The lush Santa Teresa River Valley is sprinkled with small streams.

A fun day of hiking awaits through the Santa Teresa Valley. You’ll cross a series of pretty fruit orchards and leap over small streams fed by glaciers. You’ll enjoy a hot picnic lunch on the banks of the river, and, following a one-hour post-prandial walk, you’ll take a short drive to the Llactapata Inca Trail to reach Lucma Lodge. As you trek up to the lodge, you will have the chance to stop off at an organic coffee plantation. You will notice another slight change in climate, as the hot air and humidity increase, signaling that you are approaching the Amazon Jungle.

  • Level: Moderate to Challenging (because of distance, not terrain)
  • Time: 5–6 hours

Side Activities:

  • You can opt to replace the trek with a full day of ziplining in Santa Teresa.
  • Keen bikers can opt to: a) Cycle from the Yanama pass to Hornopampa, and on to Lluskamayo. It involves an 8000 ft descent on a dirt track through breathtaking scenery. Duration: 5 hours. or b) Descend from Hornopampa to Lluskamayo. Duration: 3.5 hours.

Day 6: Explore the ruins of Llactapata

The ruins of Llactapata.

The trek takes you along a path with original Inca steps surrounded by lush vegetation. You will spend a little time exploring the ruins of Llactapata at the Llactapata Pass (8974 ft / 2736 m), from where you will have the rare opportunity to enjoy a southeast view of the “back” of the Machu Picchu ruins. As you descend towards the gushing Aobamba River you’ll pass through bamboo forests, coffee plantations, and fruit orchards, before reaching the Hidroelectrica train station. From here you’ll hop on the train for one hour to the town of Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point for the famed ruins of Machu Picchu. 

  • Level: Moderate to Challenging
  • Time: 4–6 hours

Day 7: Visit the famed ruins of Machu Picchu

The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu.

Your journey to Machu Picchu begins at dawn with a short uphill bus ride along winding roads. You’ll reach the ruins in time to watch the sun rise over the iconic Sun Gate, bathing the site in gentle hues. As you wander around the Sanctuary you’ll learn about its intriguing history and imposing architecture. You’ll have the chance to hike up Huayna Picchu, a towering mountain offering dramatic views of the ruins and surrounding cloud forest.

In the afternoon you’ll head back to Cusco by train, traveling through the Sacred Valley, once the heart of the Inca Empire.

Map

Map of Salkantay Lodge-to-Lodge Trek to Machu Picchu
Map of Salkantay Lodge-to-Lodge Trek to Machu Picchu