Salkantay Trek: Independent Hiker’s Guide

When most people think of hiking to Machu Picchu, the first name that comes to mind is the Inca Trail. And justifiably so. For decades that classic trek was the sole focal point for anyone looking to arrive at the fabled ‘lost city’ on foot. However, as Machu Picchu’s fame increased, so did the quantity of people wanting to experience the Inca Trail. In the early 2000’s authorities installed a much needed quota on hiking numbers, a decision which led to the emergence of the Salkantay Trek on the world’s backpacking radar.

I hiked the Salkantay Trek in August, 2017. The information contained below is mostly geared towards hikers who choose to do the walk independently rather than with a guided group (Note: Since 2001 it is prohibited to hike the Inca Trail without a guide).

Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva descending from Salkantay Pass (4630m/15,190ft).

Distance:  57.2 miles ( 92 km)

Avg. Time:  5 days.

  • That is the standard amount of time taken by guided groups . If you are fit, acclimatised and carrying a light pack, there are no real issues in doing the hike in three or four days if you feel like it.

Start:  Mollepata

  • As of 2017, virtually all organized groups start at Soraypampa, which cuts off some 12 miles/20 km from the overall distance mentioned above. We decided to begin our hike at the traditional trailhead of Mollepata, and hike from there to Soraypampa.  From Mollepata you can either follow the dirt road or take a well marked trail (the signed junction is just a few minutes out of town) all the way to Soraypampa.

Finish: The summit of Machu Picchu mountain.

  • The traditional end of the Salkantay Trek is the Machu Picchu archeological site. We decided to extend it a little by making the summit of Machu Picchu Peak (3061m / 10,042ft) our finishing point.

Yours truly and Ryan “Dirtmonger” Sylva on top of Machu Picchu Peak – finishing point of our Salkantay Trek.

Highest Point: Salkantay Pass 4630 m (15,190 ft)

Lowest Point: Hydroelectric Plant 1800 m (5906 ft)

Difficulty:  Easy to moderate.

Transport:

    • Mollepata – Three hours by regular buses from Cusco. Cost 15 Peruvian Soles (about US$5). As of 2017, you can catch daily minibuses from near the junction of Arcopata and Avenida Apurimac. They usually leave around 7 to 8 am.
    • Machu Picchu – Returning to Cusco from the finish of the hike is either expensive or time consuming. The priciest, easiest and most comfortable way is to take the train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco (4 hrs). Alternatively you can catch the train to Ollantaytambo, then take a Collectivo minibus or taxi from there to Cusco (between 3 hrs and 4 hrs total). Finally, the cheapest and most time consuming way to return to Cusco from Machu Picchu is as follows: 1. Walk the 11 km back to the Hydroelectric dam along the railroad tracks; 2. From there take a minibus or collective taxi to the village of Santa Teresa; 3. Catch another bus back to Cusco. This three step journey can take the best part of an entire day depending on connections, and you may well find yourself overnighting in Santa Teresa; not such a bad thing as it does sport some soothing hot springs (Note: If you plan on taking the train, you should book well in advance).

The world’s most futile hitching attempt on the way to Aguas Calientes (photo from Ryan Sylva).

SeasonPossible all year, though the dry season between May and October is ideal. During this period nights can be chilly (0°C is common), but days are generally clear.

Guidebook / Maps / Online Information:

  • Guidebook: Alexander Stewart’s The Inca Trail (2013) contains trekking notes and basic maps for the Salkantay Trek (as well as other hikes in the area).

Permits & Fees: No permits are needed to hike the Salkantay Trek. However, you will need to purchase an entrance ticket to the Machu Picchu archeological site and Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu peaks. Independent hikers can organise these in advance through the official Peruvian Ministry of Culture website. Alternatively, if you are going with an organised group, the tour company may do it for you. It’s worth noting that as of 2017, you can also pick up entry tickets to Machu Picchu (but not the peaks) once you arrive in Aguas Calientes. 

For a thorough overview of the ins and outs of purchasing Machu Picchu tickets, see Thrifty Nomads.

The view from Machu Picchu Peak overlooking the citadel and Huayna Picchu (Photo courtesy of Ryan Sylva)

FoodYou have a few options: 1. Bring all your supplies from Cusco; 2. Purchase provisions and organise meals along the way at Soraypampa, Colpapampa and La Playa, or; 3. Do a combination of both. We went with the final option, and enjoyed a few wonderful home cooked meals during our journey. For those interested in taking the same approach, I’d recommend starting the trek with no more than two days food.

Water: Plenty of water available throughout the trek (we never carried more than 1.5 lt at a time), however, due the prevalence of livestock and human settlement it is recommended that all water should be treated.

Guided Vs Independent: More than 95% of hikers tackle the Salkantay Trek as part of a guided group. However, if you have the necessary gear (it’s also possible to rent equipment in Cusco) and a reasonable amount of backpacking experience, there are no issues with doing the hike independently. The trail is easy to follow throughout its course and as mentioned above, you can purchase food along the way (i.e. which translates to a lighter load). 

DM descending the Quebrada Humantay.

How does the Salkantay differ from the Inca Trail? The primary differences are as follows: it’s longer, slightly more challenging, less crowded, boasts a greater variation of ecozones, but doesn’t have the multiple archeological sites that you can visit on the Inca Trail. It’s also cheaper, irrespective of whether you go with an organized group or independently; significantly so if you choose the later option. In short, they are different treks that both happen to end at the same spectacular destination.

Overview map of different trails to Machu Picchu (Terraquechuaperu.com)

Trekking Notes:

    • Overall Character: The Salkantay is perhaps most notable for its ecological diversity. It traverses picturesque valleys, alpine meadows, goes up and over a dramatic mountain pass and meanders its way through a lush subtropical rainforest.
    • The Pass: The high point both geographically as well as scenically is the 4630 m (15,190ft) Abra Salkantay. Upon reaching this spectacular pass, hikers are afforded jaw-dropping vistas of Mount Salkantay (6271 m), a peak that has long been considered sacred by the inhabitants of the Peruvian Andes.

Views from Salkantay Pass.

    • Transformation: From the pass, the trail descends more than 2000 meters (6562 ft) into cloud forest. The change in flora, as well as temperature is dramatic. Along the way there are various accommodation/camping options where it is possible to break up the descent (i.e. Huayracmachay, Collpapampa and Challway).

    • Ascend to Llactapata: Not long after leaving the friendly village of La Playa, the pathway ascends again via banana and coffee plantations (be sure to stop for a cup or two) to the recently rediscovered ruins of Llactapata. There is a campsite close to the archeological site with impressive views towards Machu Picchu.
       
    • Along the Tracks: From Llactapata the trail goes steeply downhill to the hydroelectric plant. Soon after you pass the railway station where provisions can be purchased. From this point it is a flat and easy 11 km to the town of Aguas Calientes following the railway tracks.
    • Stairway to Inca Heaven: The final stage of the Salkantay is steep, short and includes hundreds of steps. Give yourself anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour and a half to hike from Aguas Calientes up to the entrance to the archeological site. From there it is another 30 minutes to an hour to reach the summit of Machu Picchu mountain.
      • DM walking through a coffee plantation on the way to Llactapata.

      • Stages: The Salkantay Trek is commonly broken down into the following five stages:
        • Day 1Mollepata to Soraypampa: 20 Km (12.4 miles);
        • Day 2:  Soraypampa to Collpapampa: 22 Km (13.7 miles);
        • Day 3Collpapampa to La Playa: 16 Km (9.9 miles) (**Update – March 13, 2018: According to report, trail between Collpapampa and La Playa is closed due to landslides. No information as to when it will be cleared; in the meantime take road instead. See comments below – Calvin Benson – for details).
        • Day 4La Playa to Aguas Calientes: 25 Km (15.5 miles) – via Llactapata;
        • Day 5Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu Peak: 9 Km (5.6 miles).

          Ascending the steps to Machu Picchu Peak (photo courtesy of Ryan Sylva).

Final Thoughts:

    • Route Choices: There are a few different route options for the Salkantay Trek. I would suggest the following: 1. Start at Molletapa, rather than Sorayapampa; 2. Take the trail rather than the dirt road on the section between Colpapampa and La Playa; 3. Opt for the trail to Llactapata, rather than the dirt road to Santa Teresa. Yes, it is harder, but the payoff is a beautiful walk through coffee plantations and great views of Machu Picchu in the distance.
    • Go Independent: By any criteria, the Salkantay is not a difficult trek. If you have the gear, are reasonably fit, well acclimatized and know how to follow a trail, I’d highly recommend going independently. It’s a lot cheaper, a bigger sense of accomplishment, more opportunities to interact with locals, and you gift yourself the element of freedom; the freedom to choose where you camp, what you eat, whom you hike with (if anyone), when you take a break, how fast or slow you walk, etc.  

Yours truly at the end of the Inca Trail in 1996, and 21 years later at the end of the Salkantay Trek.


Comments

Salkantay Trek: Independent Hiker’s Guide — 105 Comments

  1. My husband and I hiked the Salkantay Trek in February of this year. In many years of backpacking, we had never opted to go on a guided hike, but the complexity of transportation logistics and the lack of readily available topo maps led us to book a guided trek last-minute. On our hike we saw a few intrepid, independent hikers — my hats off to you and to them!

    Though I was skeptical about going with a guide, I ultimately enjoyed it tremendously. We had local guides who opened the door for us to interact with other locals beyond what I believe I would have been able to do, even as a Spanish speaker; the food provided was unbelievably good; we got to sleep in a glass igloo the first night; and traveling for five days with others in our group had the benefit of letting us become more connected with fellow hikers than the more casual connections I’m used to making on the trail.

    That said, there are plenty of trekking companies ready to take travelers’ money — and not all are reputable. We did our research and were ultimately happy with Salkantay Trekking Company (http://www.salkantaytrekking.com). We were able to reduce the trek price because we had already bought train tickets and permits for Machu Picchu, which brought the cost for 5 days including all food, transportation and lodging about $180.

    Travelogue, including GPS track, at http://dearantler.com/askantler/hooves-on-the-ground-peru.

    • Hi Edith,

      Thanks for the detailed message. It’s always good to have folks that have enjoyed different experiences chime in. I remember seeing those glass igloos you mentioned!

      Saludos,

      Cam

    • hi guys, i just read your blog after this comment…. how did you manage to get this amazing prize??? i wrote to Salkantay Trekking, and they didn’t allow me to do the same, and offered me a pack of $420, very far from your prize…. can you help me with this? thanks in advance!

  2. Great post,

    Did the Inca trail twenty years ago with a guided group. Although I’ve enjoyed the guided tour it was the beginning of many years of independent hikes all over the world. Great to see this alternative track, maybe I will go back one day.

    Greets from Belgium, Bart

  3. Must have been a great feeling getting back to Machu Picchu after all those years, particularly getting there under your own steam.

  4. Thanks for sharing an independent approach to Machu Picchu and opening the door for me. I have put this on the list and look forward to some hiking in Peru.

  5. Hi Cam, I’ve recently did the Salkantay Trek with a guide and you’re right. Going independently would be better because it’s not a difficult trek at all. And since I visited during the rainy season, we had to walk on the road instead of the original trail quite a lot. I wrote about the experience on the blog and also included your guide for people wanting to go independently.
    Happy travels!

  6. Thanks for all the helpful information, thinking of making this trek without a guide next September. What about campsites along the trail? Do these need to be booked in advance? Thanks again.

    Jason

    • Plenty of camping options along the way. No need to book in advance if you are hiking independently. All the best on your trip!

      Cheers,

      Cam

  7. Hey Cam, thanks for the info. I read that the ticketing guidelines at Machu Picchu may have changed last July and you now have to enter with a guide, among other limitations. Was that your experience in August? Any issues there? Thanks again.

    Jason

    • Hey Jason,

      It wasn’t obligatory to have a guide at Machu Picchu last August. That said, you do need to organise your permits for the peaks and site beforehand. Be sure to bring a paper copy of your reservation/s to the site if you are going independently.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  8. Hey Cam,

    I’m just wondering how this trek stacks up against the Inca trail in your opinion? Did you find one more enjoyable then the other? Did one have better views then the other? Was one more challenging? Thanks in advance!

    Regards,
    Vaughn

    • Hey Vaughan,

      They are different treks that both end up at the same spectacular destination. I can’t say that one is better than the other. I did the Inca Trail back in 1996. At that time it could still be done independently; these days it is obligatory to go with a guide/group and is quite expensive. The Salkantay can still be done without an agency if you so choose.

      In regards to other differences, Inca Trail has some great archeological sites along the way, whereas the standout feature of the Salkantay (at least from my perspective) is the ecological diversity encountered during its course. Perhaps the Salkantay is slightly more challenging from a physical standpoint. The views are amazing on both hikes.

      Cheers,

      Cam

      • Thank you for such a quick reply! Your article has convinced me to hike the Salkantay trail sometime in the near future. I hope to follow a similar itnerary to you starting at Molletapa and finishing at one of the peaks. I’m unsure whether I would rather finish at the Machu Picchu peak or hike up to the busier Huayna Picchu peak. What made you guys choose the Machu Picchu peak over the Huayna Picchu?

        Regards,
        Vaughn

        • Hey Vaughan,

          No worries. I had been up Huayna Picchu in 1996, so I thought it would be good to check out the view from the other peak this last time around.

          Cheers,

          Cam

  9. Cam

    Thank you for the great advice. I’m doing this trek independently with my son (26) in August. Can you tell me whether there are lodges/teahouses on the route as we do not want to carry food or camping equipment. Thank you.

    • Hi Andrew,

      There are some lodges along the way, which depending on availability, you might be able to book in advance. I suspect they are mostly filled up with trekking agency groups.

      In regards to food, as I mentioned in the article, you can purchase meals and/or pick up supplies at Soraypampa, Colpapampa and La Playa.

      Regards,

      Cam

  10. Hi! Thank you for the great information. I will be doing the trek in March. You noted permits are not required, but I read in Alexander Stewart’s book that a permit needs to be purchased for the section from Soray Pampa to Lucmabamba. Did you have to by a permit for this checkpoint or bypass it?
    Thanks!!

    • Hi Emily,

      To the best of my knowledge you do not need a permit to hike any part of the Salkantay Trek, with the exception of the finish at Machu Picchu. Best of luck on your hike!

      Cheers,

      Cam

    • Hi Emily. Are you camping or planning to stay in lodges en route? I’ve been trying to work out accom other than carrying my own and would be grateful for post trip advice/tips.

      Thanks

      • Hi Andrew,
        I will be camping the whole time with three other people. I’ve read there can be lodging options along the route. I found a company that you can book through Airbnb that organizes accommodations for you along the trek. It seemed to have good lodging options and to be reliable, but more money than we wanted to spend.

  11. Hey all,

    This report and comment section is great, since I am also planning my trip (together with two others) in April! We actually plan on doing the hike ourselves and we were just not sure about water and food supply. But seems that there is plenty of chances to by things along the way, right?

    I heard from someone who is currently there, that it is not allowed to go without a guide anymore??She apparently talked to different companies and they told her so. Has anyone information on this? I can’t seem to find anything about this in the web.

    Best wishes, Barbara

    • Hi Barbara,

      I’d take that information about not being able to do the Salkantay independently with a large grain of salt. As of the end of last year, it was definitely possible.

      Regards,

      Cam

  12. Hello!

    I know you’ve said that Salkantay Trek requires no permits. The book you suggest though, “The Inca Trail Cusco & Machu Picchu”, states that you need a INC permit in order to pass through Soraypampa. I was curious on your take on this, and if you guys went through without needing one?

    Thanks! And your site is amazing!
    Derrick

    • Hey Derrick,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      We did the Salkantay with basic GPS info we found on Gaia. I haven’t personally seen the guidebook, and I list it because it seems to be the most recent text on hiking in the region. That said, from the information we obtained in Cusco prior to departure, there didn’t seem to be any permit requirements for Soraypampa. Indeed, we overnighted there and no one we spoke to asked us for anything, nor did we see any permit checking booth upon arrival or departure.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  13. Hi there! Thank you for the information. My partner and I will be hiking Salkantay without a guide during the last week of April. For the areas that we overnight in (Soraypampa or Salkantaypampa, Colpapampa, La Playa), do you have to book your campsite in advance? Or can you just show up and pitch a tent? Is there a cost?

    Thanks!

    ~Elizabeth

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      To the best of my knowledge, independent hikers don’t have to book campsites in advance. Yes, there will be a cost at the places you mention. All the best on your hike!

      Cheers,

      Cam

      • Hi again! When you say there will be a cost in the places mentioned above, what do you mean? I assumed all dispersed camping on the trail was free. Do you mean if you pay to sleep in a hotel of some kind in those locations?

        Thank you!

  14. Hey there, me my boyfriend and my mom are planning to do this trek independently in August 2018. The thing that my mom is most worried about is the weather. Did you bring a heavy duty sleeping bag and if not, we’re you cold during the night? She only has a 0 degree Celcius sleeping bag so we’re wondering if she will be fine.
    Thanks a lot!!

    • Chances are for a couple of the higher altitude campsites on either side of the pass, your mom may need a slightly warmer bag. Something around -5 to -10°C should do the trick.

      All the best on your hike!

    • My daughter and I plan to do this trek in August as well. I am in excellent shape but have not done a lot of backpacking. My daughter however has and thinks I should have no problem.
      Once I get there, are there tours we can purchase if I don’t feel I can do the trail over 5 days without a guide?

  15. Hi! Can you provide more info on where you camped/lodged each night? Is camping in augas calientes easy and safe? Did you stay at any unique hotels/hostels on the trail or did you just disperse camp each night?

    We are trying to coordinate our camping and lodging for our trek!

    Thank you so much!

    • Hi Kaley,

      I generally list an “average time” on these guides, rather than the time I actually took, as I tend to hike a bit quicker than most folks. In regards to our Salkantay itinerary: Day 1 – My friend and I started from Mollepata after lunch, and camped that night at Soraypampa in a designated camping area. We arranged to eat dinner that night with the family who ran the campsite; Day 2 – We hiked from Soraypampa to La Playa where we stayed with some locals; Day 3 – We reached Aguas Calientes at lunch time, and stayed the night at a hotel in town. Hope this helps. Best of luck with your hike.

      Cheers,

      Cam

      • Thanks, Cam! Did you just find a place the same day you arrived in aguas calientes or did you have it booked ahead of time?

        Also, on day 1 and day 2 did you just find those designated spots as you went along or did you already know where you needed to get to those nights?

        Trying to gauge how much planning I need to do ahead of time for camping.

        Thank you!

        • No worries. We didn’t book anything in advance and had no problems finding places. There are so few independent hikers, I don’t think it’s much of an issue. On day 2, we actually slept on a big open terrace over a shop. The family who ran the place were very nice, and they offered us a place to sleep, in addition to a dinner/breakfast combo.

      • Hi Cam, I’m organizing this trek for september. You say “Day 2 – We hiked from Soraypampa to La Playa” – Really? Is it doable?
        Soraypampa (3.880 m) to Salkantay Pass (4.630 m) should be around 3h30m-4h00m, uphill for 7 km.
        Salkantay Pass (4.630 m) to La Playa 82.060 m) should be around 6h-7h, downhill for 30 km.

        • Hi Alex,

          Those times are general estimates. For hikers that are very fit, acclimatised and experienced, it is obviously possible to cover more ground if you choose to do so. That doesn’t mean I am recommending such a schedule to others; I only mentioned it because Kayley asked specifically where I camped. As I said in the post, the average time to do the trek is five days, and everyone should walk at their own pace.

          All the best for your September hike!

          Cheers,

          Cam

          • I still didn’t thank you for your post and comments!

            I normally can hike that long in the Alps, but never tried over 3.300 meters. My only doubt is about the acclimatisation. Before the Salkantay trek, I’m doing 3 days in Arequipa and the Colca Valley (trekking 1.5 days), 2 days in Puno and the Titicaca Lake, 2 days in Cusco. Do you think it’s enough to get acclimatised, according to your experience? I’m 36, in excellent health conditions and quite fit, I normally train 3-4 times a week (both cardio and strength) and can run for 10-20 km (10 km 45 mins).

            Bye

            • Hi Alex,

              There is often a big discrepancy between the way different people react to hiking at high altitude, so it is difficult for me to give you the definitive answer you are looking for. That said, it sounds like you will be well acclimatised by the time you start the Salkantay. Here is an article I wrote on the subject some years ago which may be of help: https://www.thehikinglife.com/2015/08/tips-for-high-altitude-hiking-2/

              The only way to find out what is the right pace for you is your own experiences. The one thing I would suggest is to err on the side of caution at first, and don’t try to do too much too soon. Listen to your body, and don’t be too wedded to a preset schedule.

              Cheers,

              Cam

  16. Thanks for the great information. I plan to hike the Salkantay independently in May. I would like to climb both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu (over two days). Does it make sense to find lodging in Aguas Calientes or are there campsites closer to these two climbs?

    • You will need to obtain permits for both peaks. Huayna Picchu usually needs to be booked well in advance. The climbs are actually just steep hikes, and both can be done in less than an hour. Aguas Calientes is very close to Machu Picchu; you can walk there from town via a dirt road and a steep staircase.

      • Hi Cam, at the end of the Salkantay, do you have both options of ascending Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu?

        Are the best views at the top of those peaks?

        Is this entire hike worth doing if I cannot obtain permits in time for either peak?

        • Both peaks require permits. Huayna Picchu is the more popular of the two, so you would usually need to book that one further in advance. If you can’t get permits, I still think the hike is worth doing. The diversity of natural scenery is amazing, and it should still be possible to visit Machu Picchu at the end.

  17. Hi again, Cam.

    Just a couple more questions.

    How did you get from MP to Cusco? Train or bus? Where did you book your tickets?
    Also, did you make it to the Rainbow mountains? If so, how did you go about getting there? It sounds like you did it on the cheap, which I love and would like to follow suit.

    Thank you!

  18. Cam, Thanks for the excellent post. Plan to independent hike the trail in May. Question for you. I noticed on the Peru Rail site there are luggage restrictions on the Cusco – Aguas Calenties line; it says that you can take nothing more than a backpack. If that is true, then how to you get your all your gear back to Cusco. Any thoughts or pointers would be appreciated. Thank You, Chuck

    • Hey Chuck,

      Thanks for the kind words. My friend and I took the train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo, and then after grabbing an ice cream in town (there’s a really good place just up the street from the station), caught a collectivo taxi the rest of the way back to Cusco. Not too sure about the luggage restrictions; we just had our backpacks from the hike and there seemed to be no issues in regards to size. I should note that we did leave some of our extra gear for upcoming hikes at our hotel in Cusco during the Salkantay. Most of the hotels/hostels there offer luggage storage facilities. Hope this helps.

      Best of luck on your hike!

      Cheers,

      Cam

  19. hey Cam, amazing post, lot of useful info!
    well, i’m thinking about doing this trail first week of may, free & solo and no previous bookings… do you think is crazy? afordable?
    two more questions:
    1. i woudn’t like to take with me a tent to camp, so, is there enough “hostels” on the way to sleep in?
    2. you say there is lot of places to take water, but maybe is not really safe to drink it directly without any treatment… what do you reccomend to take?
    thanks in advance, and congrats again for a great post!

    • In answer to your questions: 1. The villages have places where you can sleep inside, but I don’t think some of the campsites do (not 100% sure about this point). I would recommend taking a tent if you are hiking independently; 2. Yes, you should take along some sort of water treatment, whether it be filter or chemical. Best of luck on your trip.

      Cheers,

      Cam

        • Thank you very much for your tips, Cam & Kaley!!
          I have one more question: I’m looking for maps, looks like there is not detailed ones… (do you know where to get in internet an accurate one?)
          My question is: where do the two tracks, Inca and Salkantay, join? I mean: if you choose the Salkantay, you go finally to Aguas Calientes and then you “climb” up to Machu Picchu, but if you come from Inca trail you cross IntiPunku (Sun Gate). The final section of Salkantay arrives to Sun Gate too, where you “join” Inca trail? thanks again!

          • I used the Gaia map I reference in the article. Both trails finish at Machu Picchu, however, the Salkantay Trek doesn’t go to the Sun Gate. Best of luck on your hike!

    • Sorry, I see you already provided this information. Thanks! I’ll probably be taking a bus from Lima so will look into bus options from there to Mollepata.

  20. I’d like to mention that as of March 13th 2018, the trail to the left of the river after Chaulley/Collpapampa is not passable and one must take the road if they wish to get to La Playa.

    I found out the hard way by hiking about 2 hours in and finding a massive, impassable landslide that had destroyed the path. I backtracked and took the road to La Playa (right side of the river) to find that there were even more landslides further up the trail that destroyed the path (left of the river). I spoke with some locals and they said that during December of 2017, landslides destroyed the path. The bridge to La Playa had also been destroyed.

    Just thought I’d mention it. To be clear, to hike the Salkantray Trek, you must take the road that is right of the river once you pass Chaulley and Collpapampa. You may want to update your post to inform future readers, as I used your post as a guide.

    • Calvin, Thank you for the update on the trail. We are going to hike the Santa Teresa in May. Do you have any maps or description of the road to from Collpapampa to La Playa? Any info would be appreciated. Thanks, Chuck

    • Calvin, Thanks for the update on the trail. Do you have additional details on the road from Ccolpapampa to La Playa. Any info would be appreciated. Thank You, Chuck

      • The road is actually very straightforward and easy to follow. As you leave Collpapampa, you are technically on the road already. It is wide and flat and follows the right side of the river. The original trail, which I mentioned has been washed away, was actually a little tricky to find. So you should easily be able to follow the road. It will take you all the way to La Playa and further on.

        • Hi Calvin,

          How was the stretch from La Playa to Aguas Calientes? Was Collpapampa > LP the only section of the trail that had landslides?

    • UPDATE: here Danilovic, live from Salkantay trek, alone-free&wild! this trail Chaullay to La Playa is just REOPENED, i just crossed it. They told me, they opened it only 10 days ago. Still is easy to see those landslides: I must say that, in some places, they made only few footprints to walk across the landslides, so it is a bit dangerous… but is possible to cross. In few days i will write my personal experience in this amazing trek! 🙂

  21. What a great feed thank you!! If only i had this kind of info before my hike to Collpapampa, I was lost for over two hours! I regress it was still a pleasurable time and i wouldn’t be hiking if it were not a challenge. I must use this information for future hikes with family and friends.As part of our trip to the U.S we were thinking of exploring new trails, any ideas?

    Thanks for the helpful feed!

    Jack Djondric-Powell

  22. Hola!
    Great write-up on your trek. Thank you for sharing. I am set on doing the salkant ay trek solo, but haven’t been able to find any info on hammock camping. From your pictures, there appears to be plenty of trees to hang minus the extreme elevation of the pass (Which I would not be camping on).
    Any thoughts on hammock camping on this trail?

    Thanks, Kevin

    • Hey Kevin,

      Using a hammock would be fine during the latter stages of the hike, but it could be a bit tricky between Soraypampa and Colpapampa.

      If you could do that stretch in a day, you might be able to make it work.

      Cheers,

      Cam

      p.s. Thinking back, I’m not too sure there would be anywhere to hang at Soraypampa either. Perhaps you could strike a deal with one of the locals that offers accommodation there.

  23. Hi again Cam,

    Okay I’m going to be really high maintenance. If my group is going to start it’s trek on a Tuesday morning and arrive in Aguas Calientes by Friday evening (before dark), where should we plan to get to/camp each night? We all have tickets to enter MP on Saturday.

    Thank you so much! You’ve been amazing!

    • Hi Kaley,

      Due to the large quantity of messages I receive from folks essentially wanting me to help plan their hiking vacations, I began a trip consulting service a couple of years ago (https://www.thehikinglife.com/trip-consulting/). Detailed enquiries such as yours take a fair amount of time to put together, and I’d like to think my knowledge and experience are valuable. If you’re interested, by all means drop me a line at thehikinglife@gmail.com.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  24. Hi Cam,

    Thanks for all the info, super helpful. When you say “carrying a light pack” how light are we taking? What would you recommend to take and/or leave behind to lighten the load. I’m gearing up to do the Salkantay in the next couple weeks and would like to make sure I can do it on 3/4 days.

    Cheers,
    C

    • For the Salkantay Trek, where you don’t need to carry more than a day or two’s food, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4 to 7 kg total weight.

  25. Hi Cam,

    Are there lakes to view along the Salktantay? If we started at Soraypampa rather than Mollepata would we miss anything spectacular?

    Thank you!

    • Humantay lake is beautiful. There are some nice valley views on the path between Mollepata and Soraypampa, but that section isn’t as impressive as the following stages.

  26. Thanks for all the great info! Just completed our salkantay trek without a guide. Well, this post was our guide. I think the thing most people should be aware of is that this hike is totally accessible. If you show up for the combi for Mollepata with a backpack, the driver knows where you’re going. The towns along the way know what you’re doing. Everyone is making changes to accommodate the tourist industry. There is really no need to worry. Also, they are charging 7-10 sols for campsites and, I guess what would be an entrance fee. We paid as soon as we arrived in Mollepata. And, have no fear, if you’re overwhelmed there are plenty of combis along the road from collpapampa to santa teresa where you can bail out. Thanks again for the info!

    • Hi. Thanks. Really useful. My Son and I are doing it in August. We really don’t want to take tents but we also want to go independently. Is there anyway that we could stay at hostels or tea houses along the route for the three or four nights?

  27. Thanks for the amazing post! I’m going with a few friends in a week and this article has been one of the main sources of info we’ve used to plan the hike (we are doing it independently). One question though…I’ve read several articles that state the train back to Cusco has a very small luggage allowance. Do trekkers usually take their bags on? If not, what is the best way to get back to Cusco? Also, I would love suggestions on where to store our packs the day of exploring Machu Picchu.

    Oh, and last question: for those who’ve done the trail independently, how heavy were your packs? I’m worried about it being too much on the day we hike over the pass. That being said, I’m also from Colorado and have done quite a few 14,000ft peaks with heavy packs, so I probably can handle slightly more than the average person.

    Thanks again!

    • Hi Ana,

      We took out packs on the train and had no issues. That said both our packs were quite small. I can’t speak for other trekkers.

      On the day we headed up to Machu Picchu, we stored our bags at the hotel we stayed at in Aguas Calientes. We then picked them up again in the early afternoon before catching the train.

      Here’s a gear list for a trek I did in Bolivia soon after the Salkantay. My gear was quite similar for both hikes (the weight was slightly less for the Salkantay): https://www.thehikinglife.com/2017/11/gear-list-cordillera-real-traverse/

      All the best on your hike.

      Cheers,

      Cam

  28. We are in Cusco. Question for you, day 1 did you go through Marqocasa? The guy at speedy Gonzalez said that you hike through Cruzpata? Thanks

    • No, Cruzpata no. Look in and use app “maps.me”, there is right map of the trek, according to which I went 😉

  29. Does anyone have a solid recommendation on vaccines? I’ve read conflicting recommendations. Some sites say if your hiking to Machu via the Inca, you don’t need Yellow Fever, etc., but then others say you need them. I know this trek spends some time in the jungle, so assuming its better to get them all?

    Thanks!

  30. Hi there
    I wonder if someone could help me? I am planning on doing Salkantay to Machu Picchu early August. I am very keen to go solo. Although the igloo accommodation looks exquisite, I am excited to “rough” and take the challenge of accomplishing this without a guide. I am not an experienced hiker and would like to know how easy the trails are to follow. Are they well marked? Can you see the paths? Would it be handy to travel with a Garmin (GPS tracker)? Also, does anyone know where the best place to rent equipment is? Many thanks
    Linds

    • Hi Linds,

      My boyfriend and I just did Salkantay solo at the end of April. Here’s some stuff that I learned:
      – gear rental: I rented a sleeping bag and backpack and bought rain pants from a place that I think was just called Salkantay Trekking (it had Salkantay in the name) on Calle Suecia in Cusco. The street’s kind of behind and to the NW of the Plaza Mayor. Their gear was great and way less expensive than any other place; you pay a ~100 soles deposit and the rest of the stuff was like 10 soles a day, may have even been cheaper.
      – Once you get on the trails, they’re very easy to follow. It’s pretty much one main route from the trailhead around Mollepata to Aguas Calientes. For detailed trail writeups, get the recommended book mentioned in this post by Alexander Stewart.
      – A note on that book: I discovered that those hiking time estimates are either optimistic or for people who get out and do trail hiking A LOT. I’m an average in-shape person — I exercise regularly but hadn’t done a ton of multi-day hiking before (like, one trip), and I particularly have trouble with my knees on descents which slows me down. But even the ascents (which I don’t have trouble with) were WAY faster estimates than we did. I recommend hitching a ride from Mollepata to like halfway to Soray Pampa… that will get you a good day. We camped at Salkantay Pampa and it was lovely, 10 soles. Day two is the roughest with a lot of descent. Note that on day 4, the hiking time from La Playa to Llactapata is around 3.5 hours, not 2 like the townspeople will tell you.

      I don’t think a GPS is necessary on the hike — what with all of the other groups going out and the straightforward nature of the trail, it’s pretty much impossible to get lost.

      • Hi Elizabeth
        Thank you for your in depth reply, much appreciated. Going on your experience and advice, I think I shall attempt this solo! 🙂
        I can Always change my mind I guess.
        Great, I will get the book and get planning! So exciting.
        Thank you!
        Linds

      • Hi. Your reply has been the most helpful to me as a novice independent traveller. Please could I ask more! The fitness side is ok for my son and I but not the logistics. We desperately want to do this trek independently but have only done treks where tea rooms/hostels were available en route previously. We have never camped, have no tent, never cooked our own food etc. Question is, if there are no hostels/tea rooms just how difficult would it be for us to carry a tent/food and do it ourselves. Our only alternative seems to be going on a guided four day trip which will be around $250-300 each and probs not as much fun. Thanks.

        • Hi Andrew!

          Glad some of my experience can be helpful. So, my first question is why do you want to do this trek solo? If the reasons are financial, and you currently have no gear, you will probably (most likely) spend more money getting all of your gear together than you would spend by going with a group. If you guys like trekking and you plan to do more of this in the future, it pays to buy your own gear, and to invest in good quality tents/sleeping bags/cookware — it’s possible to get this stuff on discount (REI garage sales and eBay all the way!) but even still I would be very impressed if you got *everything* for the cost of both of you going with a group.

          If you’re planning on renting all gear: based on our experience, I would be hesitant to again count on getting *everything* from local Cusco shops. Going Salkantay solo is comparatively uncommon and most of the gear shops do not cater to DIY hikers. So you can definitely get some good gear but it takes time. (Also one of you should be able to speak Spanish.) It took us the better part of a full day in Cusco just to get a good deal for my backpack and sleeping bag and then to arrange transportation to Mollepata, so if you don’t want to drive yourselves crazy I would arrange several days in Cusco to get your rental gear together. The shop that we eventually settled on was the only one that even had a backpack that was relatively large enough — most of them rent bags that are more like day packs. My boyfriend owns an enormous Osprey (I think it’s 100L?) pack and took around 65% of our gear in that — if we’d had to rent both of our packs, we wouldn’t have had enough space.

          On the experience side: if you guys want to do this solo I would definitely recommend doing another multi-day trek before you head down to Salkantay so that you have an idea of what it’s like to cook your own food, set up, break down, etc. My bf was an outdoor educator for 10 years and I speak Spanish so we made a good team — we would have survived if we lacked both of those things, but I think the trip would have been way more stressful. A way to counteract that would be to plan more time on the hike.

          There are definitely places to stop and camp along the way. Night one: Soraypampa is basically a little village that exists for hikers. You can camp there/possibly arrange food. Night two: Collepampa is the same setup. Night three: same with La Playa. Or you could hop on one of the busses with the tour groups and spend the night at Santa Theresa if you want to skip Llactapata on Day 4. If you’re going DIY though I would definitely bring your own food and tent/tarp as a backup.

          Another note on the trip: if we were to do this again, I would add another day at the end. (So trek for 5 days and do Macchu Pichu on the 6th.) I would keep Days 1-3 as recommended in the guide book. On day 3 (we did this), we kept pace with the trekking groups and hopped on a bus to go to the hot springs at Santa Theresa. Then we arranged a ride back in the evening to La Playa.

          Day 4 was actually pretty brutal for me because my arches had collapsed by midday, and the final trek from Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes — which is literally the easiest part of the trek (and super pretty) was absolute agony for me. Like, I was weeping from pain for the last 6 miles! (Should have taken the train.) What I would have done if we’d known:

          End of Day 3, get dropped off at the trailhead to Llactapata coming back from the hotsprings. This town is called Lucmabamba and it’s actually a collection of tiny coffee farms/hostels all the way up the mountain towards Llactapata. All of them look incredibly inviting and it doesn’t look like a lot of trekking outfits spend the night there so I think you’d be good arranging lodging the day or evening of.

          Day 4: hike to Llactapata, get there midday, and spend the rest of the day/night at another lodge that is kind of on the other side of the trail past Llactapata. (I forget the name.) There are clearings, beautiful wooden houses where it looked like you could stay, and seemed like you could buy food there too. Spend the rest of the day lazing.

          Day 5: Continue on down the mountain and make your way to Aguas Calientes.

          I think you can do this DIY, and the benefit of it is not a lot of guided tours take the above itinerary. Most do not go to Llactapata. You will run into/be walking alongside a *lot* of people until you get to this part of the trek. However, I would recommend buying some major gear before you head down (at least one pack, tent, clothes, cookware at least) and getting in another multi-day trek first.

          I hope this helps!

          • Thank you v v much for the time and effort you have put into your response. All the info will be really useful. I think that you have convinced me to go with a group but to try and keep it small and as authentic as possible.

            Thank you again.

  31. After Elizabeth’s response above I more unsure on what to do…
    My situation: No companion, no experience with overnight trekking; just guided 2-3 day tours in Thailand, Philippines with village homestays. I do not own a tent or sleeping bag and don’t intend to buy one (just too much gear for the rest of travel). Thus entirely solo trek might not be advisable.

    Considerations against guided tours: Cost, less interaction with local, too much talking.

    My guide book indicates that hiring a donkey plus driver is 80-100S/d. Would that be an alternative to a guided tour and would he be able to help me? Would I be able to sleep in hostels, homestays, … all along the way?

    Thanks in advance!

    Regards,
    Marcus

    • Hi Marcus,

      I don’t know anything about hiring a donkey and driver so can’t comment on that approach to Salkantay. I do want to say this about Salkantay: it is GORGEOUS! It was one of the most amazing things I’ve done in my life. It’s totally worth it. However, no one is going to be avoiding crowds on this route. You’re going to be running into them or keeping pace with them for most of the days of your trek. I also don’t know if there’s necessarily more or less interaction with “locals” based on whether you go with a group or DIY. Guides are also locals and can tell you a lot about the area and introduce you to people if you don’t speak Spanish. The level of your interaction with other people mostly depends on you and how many conversations you want to strike up. The homestay/donkey experience definitely sounds cool but more than likely you’re going to be keeping pace with dozens of other trekkers for most of the route regardless of your travel method. (The only place other trekkers really seemed to thin out was through Lucmabamba/Llactapata.)

      ~Elizabeth

      • Thanks a lot Elizabeth!

        Actually I was not sure if I go to Southern Peru at all due to all the crowds. Sometimes the second best sights are actually more worth it because they are far less crowded. Your description does sound good!

        Happy travels!

  32. Hi Cam,
    is it relatively easy to find food at every campsite or you can get something just at Soraypampa, Collpapampa and La Playa? I mean simple dishes such as boiled/scrambled eggs, some meat, bread, milk, beans, quinoa, veggies and fruits.

    Thanks, Alessandro

    • Hi Alessandro,

      We got meals at all the places you mentioned – Soraypampa (dinner day 1), Collpapampa (lunch Day 2) and La Playa (dinner day 2/breakfast day 3).

      Cheers,

      Cam

  33. My wife and I would like to do this trek in July/August preferably independently. Can you recommend somewhere to hire tent and or sleeping bag?
    We did Annapurna in April but sent our sleeping bags and other gear home after 🙁
    Much prefer to do these things independently to both save money and generally go at our own pace.
    Allan

  34. Hello!

    I’m going to do the Salkantay track independently in July. But I did not want to take a tent. Are there simple and cheap places to stay on the way (local houses, for example)?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *