Salkantay Treks: Know Your Options

Many hopeful travelers have recently learned that Inca Trail permits are now sold out for the entire 2010 summer; so the most obvious alternative is the Salkantay Trek.  But once you start looking into all the Salkantay treks, it’s kind of tricky to suss out the differences between each option.  Our handy guide below will answer all your burning questions about the Salkantay trek.

Salkantay picture taking

SALKANTAY TREK (what the heck is it?)

This is the most popular alternative to the traditional Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu.  Of course, no trek other than the Inca Trail will let you hike directly into Machu Picchu.  This trek, however, gets you pretty darn close so it’s a good runner up.  Basically, you’re going to be hiking around, but not summiting, the Salkantay peak (a gorgeous, snow-topped behemoth that reaches 20,574 ft) and winding up in Aguas Calientes, the small town just outside Machu Picchu.  The Salkanty peak is located in the Cordillera Vilcanota, a prominent mountain range in the Andes; it is northwest of Cusco and south of Machu Picchu.  It’s considered a moderately difficult trek, especially because of the entire area’s formidable altitude, and some say it’s a bit more challenging than the Inca Trail.  There are some variations which make the trek as difficult or long as you like, which you can read about below.  No matter how long the trek, most trips start at or near the small town Mollepata.


4-Day Trek: This route skirts along the west side of the Salkantay peak for a few days and over the Salkanty pass (at 15,091 ft).   You hike to the small town of La Playa, where a bus takes you to Santa Teresa and you hike to Hidroelectrica.  From there, you either take a train or continue walking to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu.  This trek is often called the 5-day trip because of an extra day to get to and tour Machu Picchu.  You do not need an Inca Trail permit to do this trek.  Read about this version of the Salkantay Trek here: Apu Salkantay Trek (see “Even more options” below as well).

6-Day Trek: The 6-day trek is also a non-permitted trek, and splits from the classic Salkantay trek above at La Playa (before Hidroelectica and Santa Teresa at the end).   Instead, the 6-day trek includes an extra two days to trek over the Llactapata pass which feature Inca Ruins, before arriving directly in Aguas Calientes.  This lovely extension features hiking through Llucmabamba, visiting some Inca ruins and an awesome view of Machu Picchu from a vantage point few reach.  To find out more about the 6-day trek (7-day trip in total if you include Machu Picchu), please click on the following link: Machu Picchu Lodge-to-Lodge Trek.

7-Day Trek: This is usually called the “Salkantay and Inca Trail Trek” or the “Mollepata route of the Inca Trail.”  It is a combination between the  Salkantay and Inca Trail.  You’ll follow the Salkantay trail the first four days of the trek, then from days 5 through 7, you’ll be on the traditional Inca Trail.  Because you’re on the Inca Trail for part of the trek, you do need the Inca Trail permits.   To learn more about this trek, please visit the following link: Mt. Salkantay & Inca Trail Trek

Hiking from Llucmabamba to Hidroelectrica
Hiking from Llucmabamba to Hidroelectrica
Hiking from Llucmabamba to Hidroelectrica

Even More Options!

Of course, there are variations from those main routes as well.  For instance the Backcountry Trek does not begin the trek at Mollepata, but a bit further on, which allows travelers to take the hike from Llucmabamba over to Hidroelectrica and visit Machu Picchu (all within 5 days).  Another variation is the Salkantay – Chillca route, which splits from the main Salkantay route to cross over into the Sacred Valley and visit Machu Picchu (again, within 5 days).

Once you figure out how much time you have, and how remote you want your hike to be, the Salkantay trek options make more sense.  No matter which route you take, this is an exciting and accessible trek for anyone looking for an alternative to the traditional Inca Trail.