Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu: Top Tips for an Unforgettable Journey

salkantay trek

The Salkantay Trek is a breathtaking and less-traveled route to Machu Picchu, offering stunning scenery and a challenging adventure. For those looking to embark on this journey, here are top tips to ensure an unforgettable experience.

1. Understand the Trek

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu  is a 5-day, 46-mile (74 km) hike that takes you through diverse landscapes, from snow-capped mountains to lush rainforests. Unlike the more popular Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek does not require a permit, making it a great alternative for last-minute adventurers. However, the trek’s difficulty should not be underestimated, as it involves significant altitude changes and challenging terrain.

2. Acclimate to the Altitude

One of the most critical aspects of preparing for the Salkantay Trek is acclimating to the high altitude. The trek’s highest point, Salkantay Pass, reaches an elevation of 15,213 feet (4,638 meters). Spending a few days in Cusco (11,152 feet / 3,399 meters) before your trek can help your body adjust to the altitude. Symptoms of altitude sickness include headaches, nausea, and dizziness. To mitigate these, stay hydrated, eat light meals, and avoid alcohol.

3. Choose the Right Gear

Packing the right gear is essential for a successful trek. Here’s a list of must-have items:

  • Hiking Boots: Invest in a good pair of waterproof hiking boots with ankle support. Make sure they are broken in before the trek to avoid blisters.
  • Clothing Layers: The weather can change rapidly, so layering is crucial. Pack moisture-wicking base layers, insulating mid-layers, and a waterproof outer layer.
  • Sleeping Bag: A high-quality, lightweight sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures is necessary for the chilly nights.
  • Backpack: A comfortable, durable backpack with a capacity of 30-40 liters should suffice. Ensure it has a rain cover.
  • Trekking Poles: These can help with balance and reduce strain on your knees during steep descents.
  • Other Essentials: Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, a refillable water bottle, a headlamp, and personal hygiene items.

4. Hire a Reputable Guide or Tour Company

While it is possible to hike the Salkantay Trek independently, hiring a reputable guide or tour company can significantly enhance your experience. Guides provide valuable insights into the region’s history, culture, and ecology. Additionally, organized tours often include amenities like transportation, meals, and camping equipment, making the trek more manageable and enjoyable.

5. Train in Advance

The Salkantay Trek is physically demanding, so it’s essential to be in good shape. Start training several months before your trip with a focus on cardiovascular fitness, strength training, and hiking practice. Incorporate long walks, stair climbing, and exercises that strengthen your legs and core. Building your endurance will help you handle the long days of trekking and the challenging terrain.

6. Stay Hydrated and Nourished

Proper hydration and nutrition are vital for maintaining energy levels and preventing altitude sickness. Drink plenty of water throughout the day and consider using hydration salts to replace lost electrolytes. Pack high-energy snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and energy bars. If you’re on a guided tour, meals are usually provided, but bringing extra snacks can be beneficial.

7. Respect the Environment and Local Communities

The Salkantay Trek passes through beautiful but fragile ecosystems and indigenous communities. Practice Leave No Trace principles by packing out all trash, staying on designated trails, and avoiding disturbing wildlife. Be respectful of local customs and traditions, and support the local economy by purchasing goods and services from community members.

8. Be Prepared for Weather Changes

The weather on the Salkantay Trek can be unpredictable. Mornings might start cold and foggy, transitioning to sunny and warm afternoons, and then back to freezing temperatures at night. Rain is also common, especially in the cloud forest sections. Being prepared for these changes by packing appropriately and layering your clothing will help keep you comfortable throughout the trek.

9. Know the Route and Key Highlights

Familiarize yourself with the route and key highlights of the Salkantay Trek:

  • Day 1: Starting from Mollepata or Soraypampa, the trek begins with a gradual ascent to the first campsite.
  • Day 2: The most challenging day, you’ll climb to Salkantay Pass and then descend into the cloud forest.
  • Day 3: The landscape transitions from high mountains to lush forests, with stunning views and diverse flora and fauna.
  • Day 4: Continue through the cloud forest to the town of Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu.
  • Day 5: Early morning ascent to Machu Picchu for a guided tour of the ancient Inca city.

10. Stay Positive and Enjoy the Journey

The Salkantay Trek is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. Staying positive, even when faced with difficulties, can make a significant difference. Take time to enjoy the incredible scenery, connect with fellow trekkers, and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

11. Capture the Moments

The Salkantay Trek offers countless photo opportunities. Bring a good camera or smartphone to capture the stunning landscapes, unique wildlife, and memorable moments with your trekking companions. However, remember to be present and enjoy the experience firsthand, rather than just through a lens.

12. Prepare for Machu Picchu

Reaching Machu Picchu is the grand finale of the Salkantay Trek. To make the most of your visit:

  • Get Tickets in Advance: Machu Picchu has limited daily visitors, so book your entrance tickets well in advance.
  • Hire a Guide: A knowledgeable guide can enhance your visit by explaining the history and significance of the site.
  • Plan for Crowds: Arrive early to beat the crowds and enjoy a quieter experience.
  • Explore Beyond the Basics: Consider hiking Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for panoramic views, or explore the Sun Gate and the Inca Bridge.

13. Post-Trek Recovery

After completing the trek, take time to recover and reflect on your journey. Soak in the hot springs at Aguas Calientes, enjoy a hearty meal, and get a good night’s sleep. Consider extending your stay in Peru to explore more of its rich culture and natural beauty.


The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an unforgettable adventure that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, physical challenge, and cultural immersion. By preparing adequately, respecting the environment and local communities, and maintaining a positive mindset, you can ensure a rewarding and memorable experience. Whether you’re drawn to the majestic mountains, the rich history, or the thrill of the trek itself, the Salkantay Peru is sure to leave a lasting impression.