5 Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in Peru

The 5 day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu was the number one highlight from my time backpacking Peru. It was super challenging, but totally worth it—especially when we were one of the very first people to enter Machu Picchu on the morning of the last day.

If you’re looking to do a Salkantay trek while you’re in Peru, I recommend a company called Salkantay Trekking in Cusco.  I would like to share my experience with you, and my hope is that my Salkantay trek review will give you the information that you’re looking for.

This Salkantay trek blog post is my attempt to answer all the questions I had about this five day hike before you set off on your journey. Give it a read, and if you still have questions when you’re done, don’t hesitate to drop a comment below.

Salkantay trek in Peru

5 Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Total Duration: 5 days / 4 nights
Salkantay Trek Distance: approximately 50 miles
Destination: Machu Picchu
Difficulty Level: Moderate to challenging
Maximum Altitude: 15,255 feet

Salkantay trek map

The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is a 5 day hike through mountains and jungles. This hike isn’t your average walk in the park— the difficulty level of the Salkantay trek is moderate to challenging.  Expect frequent elevation changes with a maximum elevation of 15,225 feet. It is recommended to arrive in Cusco a few days prior to your hike in order to get acclimated to the high elevation.

Below is a walkthrough of what to expect on this challenging, yet rewarding 5 day hike in Peru with Salkantay Trekking.

Day 1: Humantay Lake and Sky Domes

Humantay Lake in Peru during the Salkantay trek

Walking Distance: 7.45 miles
Start Elevation: 10,990 feet
End Elevation: 12,861 feet
Lodging: Glass-topped sky camp

One of the shortest hiking days, the first day, has you seeing turquoise lakes and the Salkantay Mountain in the distance. After a 5 AM hotel pickup in Cusco, a van will drive you and your fellow backpackers 4 hours to Challacancha with a quick stop for breakfast.

A 3 hour hike from Challancha will take you to the sky domes.  After lunch, you’ll set out on a 3 hour round trip hike and head up the mountain to  Humantay Lake.  The iconic lake of the Salkantay trek is Humantay Lake at an elevation of 13,779 feet.  Its blue-green water reflects the glaciers of Apu Humantay mountain.

Keep your fingers crossed for a clear night and you’ll be amazed by the unbelievable stargazing that’s possible from the sky domes.

Day 2: Salkantay Mountain and Andean Huts

Salkantay trek highest point

Walking Distance: 13.7 miles
Start Elevation: 12,467 feet
End Elevation: 9,022 feet
Lodging: Wooden camping chozas (Andean huts)

Another early wake up and quick breakfast before setting off 4.34 miles for the highest point of the Salkantay trail at an elevation of 15,255 feet. This section of the trail is called the gringo killer for good reason.

After taking in the breathtaking views of Salkantay, you’ll head 3.1 miles downhill this time to lunch.  You’ll continue downhill another 6.2 miles as the Andes mountains turns into the Amazon jungle.  It’s truly a fascinating experience seeing and feeling the climate change from cold and barren to hot and lush.

Finally you’ll arrive at the Andean huts where the cooking staff will prepare yet another delicious meal.

Day 3: Peru Coffee Tour and Jungle Domes

Jungle domes in Peru during the Salkantay trek

Walking Distance: 11.2 miles
Start Elevation: 9,022 feet
End Elevation: 7,874 feet
Lodging:  Jungle domes

The third day of hiking is all about food and drink. In addition to seeing rivers and waterfalls, you’ll see plenty of banana, avocado, and passion fruit trees.

If you’re a coffee drinker, you’re in luck. I’m definitely not, but I still appreciated the coffee tour on this day which showed us the process of taking a coffee bean from the tree, removing its shells, roasting, grinding, and finally brewing.

After a total of 11.2 miles of hiking, you’ll arrive at the jungle domes. You’ll have the option to pay $15 to go to nearby hot springs, or if you’re exhausted at this point (I certainly was) you can simply rest and relax at the campground.

Day 4: Inca Trail and First Glimpse of Machu Picchu

Rest break during Salkantay trek in Peru

Walking Distance: 11.2 miles
Start Elevation: 8,038 feet
End Elevation: 6,561 feet
Lodging: Hotel in Aguas Calientes

You will continue down the mountain on the fourth day, but not before hiking up to the archeological site of Llactapata. From Llactapata, you can see right across the valley to Machu Picchu. If the clouds are in full force this day, don’t worry, there will be plenty more opportunities to see Machu Picchu during the walk along the railroad tracks to Aguas Calientes.

The fourth day breakfast is the last day that the cooks will prepare a meal for you. I should mention at this point that these prepared meals were massive and delicious. Nobody’s going hungry during the Salkantay trek.

Lunch this day is at a local restaurant at the foot of the mountain in the jungle and dinner is at a restaurant in Aguas Calientes.

Day 5: Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu at sunrise

Walking Distance: 6.2 miles
Start Elevation: 6,561 feet
Machu Picchu Elevation: 7,972 feet

On day five, you finally get to see Machu Picchu! One last early wakeup will ensure that you are one of the first to enter the ruins.  You have the option of paying for a bus to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, but you already walked this far, so what’s another 3 miles or so to get to the top?

You’ll need at least three hours in Machu Picchu to take in all the beauty, learn about the history from your tour guide, and snap a llama selfie. If you think you’ll still have some gas left in your tank, you can purchase a Machu Picchu Mountain entrance ticket or a Huayna Picchu Mountain entrance ticket for $25 each which will allow you to climb to the top of either of these two peaks.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Machu Picchu, but it’s certainly packed with loads of tourists from all around the world. Getting there early, wether you do the Salkantay trek or not, is a must.

One other thing that bugged me is that there are not bathrooms within Machu Picchu. There is a bathroom outside of the gate, but once you leave you are not permitted back in. This is, of course, unless you purchased a  Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu Mountain ticket which gives you one reentry.

Salkantay Trek Cost

The price for a 5 day, 4 night guided hiking tour on the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu costs $420 through a company called Salkantay Trekking.

Call me cheap, but I wasn’t too eager to sign up for this guided hike in Peru because of the price.  As a budget backpacker, I knew I could do the trail on my own for much cheaper.  However, after experiencing one of the best hikes of my life, I now recommend the guided Salkantay trek to everyone.

Salkantay Trek Cost Breakdown

As I mentioned before, I thought this price was expensive at first, but when I broke down the cost, I found it to be quite a deal.
AmenityEstimated Cost
Total$370
Train ticket$80
Machu Picchu ticket$45
Sky Dome lodging 1 night$25
Andean Hut lodging 1 night$25
Jungle Dome lodging 1 night$25
Hotel lodging 1 night$25
4 breakfasts$20
4 lunches$40
4 dinners$50
Daily snacks$10
Transportation from Cusco$15
Transportation back to Cusco$10

All tangible costs of the trek total just $50 less than what you pay.  This difference is essentially compensation for your tour guide and the cooks. Tips are optional.

There are a few costs that aren’t included in the Salkantay trek price.

  • Entrance fee to Salkantay Trail – $3
  • Sleeping bag – rentable for $25
  • Walking sticks – rentable for $20
  • First day breakfast
  • Last day lunch and dinner

It kind of bugs me that some of these costs aren’t included in the Salkantay trek cost.  Since some people travel with sleeping bags and walking sticks, I can understand why those items are excluded. But the entrance fee to the trail and all meals should be included in my opinion.

What is the Best Salkantay Trek Company?

I’d be bias if I said the best company for a Salkantay trek was Salkantay Trekking in Cusco, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it anyway 🙂

I don’t have experience hiking in Peru with another company; however, the experience I had with Salkantay Trekking was unmatched and totally worth every penny.

Our tour guide, Roy, was fantastic. He told me that he never has to go to work.  In other words, he loves what he does every day, and his passion was quite evident and contagious on the trail.

Additionally, the knowledge that Roy shared throughout the trek was on point. He taught us about Inca history, Peruvian coffee, and wildlife among other things. He was very proud of his heritage and super happy to share it with us.

My overall review of Salkantay Trekking is most definitely a positive one, and I highly recommend this trekking company to anyone wanting to follow in my footsteps.

How Long is the Salkantay Trek?

The Salkantay Trek from Challacancha to Machu Picchu is approximately 45 miles, but since most people stay the night in Aguas Calientes, you’ll end up walking close to 50 miles total.

Can You Do The Salkantay Trek Without a Guide?

Yes. I met plenty of couples and small groups hiking the Salkantay trail without a guide. The difference for them is that they must carry all their gear and prepare their own meals. A trekking company, such as Salkantay Trekking, has horses which will carry most of your belongings and cooks that will prepare all of your meals.

What is the Salkantay Trek Weather Like?

The weather during your Salkantay trek will vary from very cold up in the mountains to very hot and humid down in the jungle.  The temperature will probably drop below freezing at night in the mountains while the high during the day in the jungle can be above 80ºF.

Rainy season is from December to March in Peru.  It rained twice during my December Salkantay hike.

The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu was one of my favorite hikes ever, and certainly a highlight from my adventures backpacking Peru. If you’re considering hiking in Peru and you’re in decent shape, I definitely recommend a Salkantay trek. You won’t go home disappointed.

About The Author

With a strong software engineering background, Tony is determined to leverage the technology of today to have a positive impact on as many people as possible. Discover why Tony bravely gave up his dream job to pursue this mission. You can send Tony a message here.

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