Hiking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu

Some time passed already since I have done the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu but it still feels like it has been yesterday. Like for many other backpackers in Latinamerica I did set the goal that I wouldn’t go back home before seeing Machu Picchu.

Booking Machu Picchu

So before going to Peru I did already some research online and everything I found was just crazy expensive. But the closer I came to Peru and Cusco the more I met people, who have actually already been there. What they told me was I shouldn’t worry about the booking and just look for it when I am there. Well, that’s what I did. In Cusco are many travel agenicies and hostels that offer many different kind of trips which vary in the amount of days and the route.

Most people want to do the famous Inka Trail. But for this one you have to book months in advance and still it is very expensive. So I checked the other options: There are many Jungle-Fun-Hikes with Ziplining and so on for 2-3 days but also the Salkantay Trek, which I decided for as it lasts 5 days and goes up to 4600 meters on the way. What is the price for the 5 day hike to Machu Picchu including basically everything? Around 180$! What in my opinion is really cheap compared to everything else I found. Very important: To get this price ask around in hostels and different agencies as I am sure it depends also on the season! Also make sure everything is included (e.g. sleeping bags…). So don’t worry of booking in advance – I booked the day right before we started!

Hiking the Salkantay Trail

No, I didn’t do the famous Inka-Trail. However the Inkas had so many trails and also the Salkantay Trail is one of them. And that said at the beginning: I can totally recommend it! The people that have been on the tour with me were amazing! You could talk with them about everything and that is actually most important – as you spend 5 days hiking next to each other.

Salkantak Trail
Salkantay Trail Friends

Also the guide knew his culture very well and how to explain it to us. So all together the Salkantay Trail was the second best adventure I have done on my trip (besides the Volcano Acatenango).

Itinerary Salkantay Trail

Obviously the first day starts very early and they drive you a bit outside of the city to start the adventure. The first half of the day it is like a little bit of jungle surroundings as it changes after lunch to more mountain and stone like. The first day is not really a hard hike as it is not that steep. However, in the evening when you are at the campbase they give you the option to walk up a small mountain to see a beautiful lake with glacier water. This one is actually way more exhausting than the rest of the day – still its definitely worth a visit (and if you are brave enough you can also take a small dip).

Salkantay Trail Lake
Lake 1st day

The second day is the hardest one as you start really early again. Already at the beginning it gets steeper and steeper. And it doesnt change for a long long time… until guess what: it gets even steeper! Finally in the early afternoon you will reach the top of the Salkantay Pass which is around 4600 meters high and with that the highest point on the way to Machu Picchu.

Salkantay Trail Mountain
4600 meters altitude at Salkantay Mountain

Once that point is reached the day only gets better. Even though there is still a long way to hike, it is just going downwards. The region changes again from stones and mountains to grassland and later to jungle again.

Salkantay Trail Grassland
Salkantay Trail day 2

The third day starts pretty easy but obviously you can feel your legs from the days before. The whole day is basically hiking more or less straight through the quite hot jungle. There are rivers and waterfalls on the way and all together it is a pretty relaxed day compared to the others.

Salkantay Trail Jungle
Salkantay Trail Jungle

At the end of the trail they pick you up with a shuttle to the camp side (as the end of the route is not really beautiful to hike). Close to the camp side there are some beauftiful hot springs where you can go! Actually thats the best thing to do after 3 days of hiking… just to relax. At the end of this day there is a little party at the camp side with the other travel groups what was really fun.
On the fourtht day there are 3 different options in the morning to start the day:

  1. A shuttle brings you to a ziplining park where you also will be picked up from and brought to the lunch station.
  2. You hike all the way to the lunch station.
  3. A shuttle brings you directly to the lunch station where you can relax and have food already.

Actually they make you decide the day before what you want to do. As I was motivated and not yet with a huge hangover I signed up for the hike. In the morning I wanted to kill myself for this decision. However there were just 3 (out of 20) other people doing this option with the guide as most went for the ziplining. At this point it was really exhausting already. Maybe because of the days before or the hangover… who knows. Actually the hike in the morning that day is not the most beautiful. So I can just recommend it if you want to challenge yourself and still have energy left. The second part of the day is hiking next to the rails all the way to Aguascalientes (which is the city next to Machu Picchu). 

Salkantay Trail Rails
hiking the rails to Aguascalientes

This is really hard because it is the fourth day of hiking in a row. Finally arriving in Aguascalientes there is a hostelroom for everyone which means there is time to rest.
However on the fifth day– the morning to Machu Picchu starts at around 4 am as the guide told us we should not miss the first sunlights on Machu Picchu. Actually we all underestimated the hike upstairs as it is one hour of literally walking up stairs. Don’t worry there was the option that a bus takes you up there for those who couldn’t hike anymore. 

Machu Picchu Sungate
Machu Picchu from the Sungate

Up there that early it was really beautiful: There was nearly noone at the ruins and we nearly had Machu Picchu for ourselfs. Even though it was cloudy and the sun didn’t shine on the city it was just beautiful. Definitely one of the best views we ever had. Finally at the fifth day of really exhausting hiking we reached our goal and found the city of Machu Picchu – an unbelievable feeling. But to feel it by yourself you should just go there and see what happens. Later on the ruins filled very fast with people but actually that didn’t bother me as there is a lot of space up there!

Machu Picchu View
Machu Picchu

However after enjoying the city for as long as we could there were 2 options for going back (which you had to choose with the booking before the hike started):

  1. Going back with the train from Aguascalientes to the shuttle (which coscts 50$ more!)
  2. Hiking back the rails to the shuttle

Obviously I chose the cheaper one so I hiked all the way back. There you should not be that slow as the shuttle might not wait forever. But finally back in the hostel in Cusco I slept like for two days straight.

I know people say Machu Picchu is already too crowded and it is not worth it to go there anymore and so on. But actually for me that was not true. It is not only about the ruin city itself – it is about the way. To see the nature and understand the culture of Peru. Machu Picchu is “just” an amazing end for this trip.

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