Everyone arrives in Cusco to hike the famous Inca Trail. We heard upon arrival that if you want to see ruins than you should hike the Inca Trail, but if you want to see unbelievable mind-blowing scenery the Salkantay Trek is the way to go.
The Salkantay Trek takes you through the Salkantay Pass reaching 4,600m (15,200 ft) at its highest point. You will start the trek hiking through glaciers and finish the hike down in the jungle. It is usually a 5 day/4 night trek and you can book it through numerous tour agencies once you arrive in Cusco.
The prices range from $180 pp – $700 pp. You get what you pay for so be careful to ensure you have good equipment provided and will have a cook to keep you fed throughout the hike.
Day 1 – Mollepata to Soraypampa
You begin the hike in Mollepata, about a 3 hour trip by car from Cusco. The first day is rather easy but it allows you to get used to hiking in a higher altitude. Also, an hour into the hike you get your first glimpse a snow capped mountain! If you are struggling on day 1 make sure to tell your guide because it will only get tougher from here. Most treks will have a horse available for people who are having difficulty.
Day 2 – Salkantay Pass to Chaullay
Today you start the morning with the big hike up, so make sure to eat extra breakfast in the morning. This is the steepest part of the hike as you reach 15,200 feet within 3+ hours. Keep your own pace going up, if you feel any symptoms of altitude sickness, slow down and tell your guide.
The glaciers at the peak are incredible. The scenery along this hike is some of the best I have ever encountered. The pass at 15,200 feet is very cold. Make sure to dress in layers because by the end of the day you’ll be in a much warmer area, but also bring a hat, gloves and proper jacket for the pass.
Day 3 – Sahuayaco and Santa Theresa
Today’s morning hike is shorter than yesterday’s 9 hour hike, but it is still tough depending on the weather. You walk through the upper jungle area through streams, past waterfalls and across beautiful valleys. We were there during the beginning of the wet season (November) and we ran into some pretty muddy parts.
The second part of the day you have the option to visit the hot springs in Santa Theresa. We arrived early and had the pools all to ourselves. After three days of hiking the warm water felt fabulous on our muscles. Hopefully you’ve taken care of yourself with your bug spray so far, because at the hot springs you’ll see how bad others have been bitten!
Day 4 – Aguas Calientes
Today plan on hiking for around 6 hours to Aguas Calientes, the launching city to visit Machu Picchu. The hike is much flatter today with the first 3 hours being mainly on the road and the second half of the day being along the train tracks. You get your first sighting of Machu Picchu as you circle the mountain following the train tracks. You also have the option of taking a bus all the way in, but you’ve come this far already, why not finish it?
While the previous nights have been spent sleeping on the floor of a tent, tonight will most likely be spent in a hotel/hostel in Aguas Calientes, the comfort of which is likely dependent on how much you paid for your tour. We were overjoyed to finally get a proper hot shower and sit and eat in a restaurant without being eaten by mosquitoes outside.
Day 5 – Machu Picchu
Finally you’ve arrived and get to visit Machu Picchu today! You will be given the option to either climb “1 hour of stairs” or take the bus up to Machu Picchu. Our group decided we had walked this far, we might as well finish the hike up. It was TOUGH. We woke up at 4 am and started our hike up the mountain of stairs at 5 am from Aguas Caliente. These stairs are no joke, our hearts were pounding and sweat was definitely dripping. Not to mention that the first bus will likely beat you to the top and you may or may not resent those people who decided pay for the ride.
Looking back, it might have been nice to save our legs for walking around Machu Picchu and climbing Wayna Picchu because our legs were tired after the morning hour hike. Your tour guide will take you on a tour of the ruins and then will give you time to explore yourself, including climbing Wayna Picchu (not an easy task), visiting the sun gate, the Inca ridge or just getting more photos of the Machu Picchu ruins.
After getting your fill of Machu Picchu, take the bus back to Aguas Calientes and enjoy a big lunch and a cold cerveza. You’ve earned it!
Couples Travel Tips:
- Bring mosquito repellent – Even with repellent you will probably still get bit by the sand flies. The bites look like bee stings and itch like crazy!
- Wear loose fitting pants – The pants will help you avoid getting bit by the flies. We saw other groups who wore shorts and their legs were covered in painful bites.
- Save a clean outfit for the day you visit Machu Picchu – Your clothes will smell bad after 5 days of trekking and not showering. On your last day in Aguas Calientes when you take a hot shower you will feel refreshed putting on a clean outfit. Also if you decide to hike up the stairs from Aguas Calientes, bring an extra t-shirt in your bag to Machu Picchu as you’ll be sweating by the time you reach it.