Like most travelers on the gringo trail in Peru/South America, my bucket list included the trek to Machu Picchu (OMG another blog post about Machu Picchu… but wait, before you swear and escape from the monotony of how great the same old Inca trail is….) There are a few path options including the infamous Inca trail (which requires a permit and a 5 day commitment) as well as a few others that have varying time commitments and no need for permits: one being the Salkantay Trail.
The Salkantay trek (sometimes referred to as the Salcantay trail) is the most popular alternative trek to Machu Picchu. It requires no permits, often is not booked out months in advance, and has some of the most beautiful views of the cloud forest, Mt. Salkantay, lush jungle and Humantay mountain and lake.
The Salkantay Trail
I’ve never seen such gorgeous snow-covered peaks and turquoise waters. The Humantay mountain loomed in the distance, growing ever closer. This was my first 5-day trek ever, and I remember feeling extremely nervous. Would I be too sore after the first day? Would I hold up the rest of our small group? How hard really would this be? Did I choose the right trek?
It’s safe to say that I was thoroughly shook. And, like usual, none of my fears were valid…. Was this trek challenging? Yes, at times. Was it overwhelming? No. I had enough energy at the end of our long days to read, relax, and socialize.
This was by far the most beautiful hike I’ve ever been on- each day led to new experiences. We trekked through stunning valleys, summited snow-capped peaks, crossed turquoise rivers, and relaxed in bubbling hot springs.
The most physically challenging area was called “The 7 Snakes”, a series of switchbacks at almost top altitude. Had they not been as high, I don’t think everyone would have struggled quite so hard.
Brandon, on the other hand, was literally a half mile ahead of the rest of our group, at the heels of Andres, our guide, who was in a particularly sour mood that day. I’m 105% confident that Brandon would have kept a normal pace, but was determined to be a brat back to Andres since he treated our camp like insolent children… so he followed him as closely as he could. Just enough to be annoying, not enough to say anything.
Boys will be boys, I suppose.
My personal favorite part of the hike was Humantay Alpine lake. About 7k into the first day, we shed our packs at the glass-topped “igloo” domes, and continue heading uphill towards Mt. Humantay. About 45min to 1 hour more, and the path gives way to a gorgeous azure lake amidst the snow peaks and grassy hills. Pure Bliss.
Cost and Time Commitment
The Salkantay Trail is about twice as long as the traditional Inca trail, and is at minimum a 4 day hike. I chose a 5 day package (see below for my review of Salkantay trekking). My total hike came in at 90kms over 5 days, including the actual hike up the mountain to reach the lost city.
No matter where you choose to book, you will probably spend at least $250USD for a guided trek. Some are a little more expensive than others. I chose my company based on their vegan offerings, quality of accommodations, and sustainable offerings back to the community.
Salkantay Trekking company just completed a clean-up hike of the trail, actually!
Benefits of choosing Salkantay over the traditional Inca Trail
- Cheaper (A guided tour can be purchased for ~$250 US)
- Traversing through more ecological zones including
- cloud forests
- mountain peaks
- alpine lakes
- waterfalls and rivers
- Less Crowded
- Requires no Permits
- More Flexibility & options for hikes
Cons of Salkantay Trail
- Most companies set up their own toilet facilities along the trail, there are no showers for the bulk of the hike
- Quite a bit more difficult
- Does not enter through the sun-gate. You enter through Aguas Calientes, and then hike up the mountain to the gate.
Choosing the Right Company
Because there are no permits to purchase, you can literally go business to business and price-check the companies in Cusco. Unless you are dead-set on one in particular, rocking up and paying in person will usually lead to a better price.
I was set on the company listed below because of certain accommodation features they had, group size, and because they for-sure offered vegan options! They come in at $400 for a 5-day hike, but I’ve seen similar companies charge around ~$250.
I still booked in person and recieved a $40 discount compared to their online prices because we were a bit flexible on the days we could hike.
Other Eco-Tour Companies
Here are a few family or locally owned eco tour companies that offer Salkantay Treks. I tried to find the most socially conscious or family-owned and operated companies in the area:
My Review of Salkantay Trekking Company
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with my tour company, Salkantay Trekking. My guide was a bit of an asshole, and I made mention of that in my company review, but he was the only one out of about 15 employees I interacted with from Salkantay Trekking company.
I highly doubt he will be there that long, as he generally didn’t seem to enjoy his job and it showed in his attitude. Other than his sour behavior, I was pleasantly surprised by the wealth of knowledge that all other guides and staff had. The food was seriously the best part of this guided hike, and I had no issue requesting vegan meals.
I specifically chose this company because they offered these gorgeous eco domes with views of Mt. Salkantay & Humantay.
If I had a chance to re-do this hike, I would choose the same company. The staff were kind, the food was AMAZING, the amenities were worth the price, and my group was extremely small (6 friendly people). I had a wonderful time with everyone else…and to be frank, the lone guide with his piss-poor attitude caused a certain camaraderie among the rest of our group.
Theres a silver lining to everything, right?
After a great 5 full days of hiking- I felt ridiculously proud of myself when finally catching sight of Machu Picchu. Seriously. There’s something special about putting sweat and tears and working for a view.
Seeing the sights, sure, that was still cool, but with the chance to do it again, I would absolutely do this hike over again.