So… my out-of-shape self impulsively decided that it would be a good idea to go on the five-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. And despite the struggles, it was beyond amazing. The Salkantay Trek is the top alternative for travelers who couldn’t be bothered to book the Inca Trail several months in advance but still want to suffer miserably on their way to Machu Picchu. The trek takes you through some of Peru’s highest mountains and most beautiful valleys, through musky jungles and along roaring rivers, battling the elements and hordes of mosquitoes day in and day out.
In other words, it is one of the most beautiful and painfully rewarding treks you can do in all of South America. It is an experience that I will truly never forget. From the breathtaking views you encounter all throughout the trek to the unbreakable bonds you form with your trek mates through your mutual suffering, every step of the journey is an adventure. If you are currently desperate for an alternative for the Inca Trail and stumbled upon this article through your frantic Google searches, all you need to know is to go for it.
Salkantay Trek: Choosing the Right Company/Guide/etc.
In Peru, I’ve come to find that most treks are arranged by different tour groups, but then they lump everyone to the same guides. Basically, it doesn’t really matter what group or agency you book with. The Salkantay trek should cost about $250 no matter which agency you book it with. Make sure you’re not paying an obscene amount more than that without any explanation why. Also, go into the trek with relatively low expectations. If the agency tells you you’re getting warm, fluffy pillows and blankets, just know that it’s probably a lie. We got suckered in by an agency, Rasgos del Peru, who said a number of things would be provided that were just not. Our Salkantay Trek guide looked over the list of things that we were told would be provided and just shook his head at half of the things. There’s really not much you can do about it.
If you are willing to shell out more money, I’m sure it’s possible to get a more personalized tour or a private guide for your group. Going it alone? You’re insane, but I applaud you for it. I can’t help you here. Bring a tent and warm clothes, and enjoy lugging enough food for five days around. My homie Tom managed to do it solo, but he’s Australian and Australians are hardcore.
How to Prepare For The Salkantay Trek
I was as out of shape as I’d ever been in my life when I decided I was going to go through with the trek. I decided to do it about two weeks in advance, spending several hours in the gym each day, and even going to my sister’s house just to walk up and down her stairs with a 50-pound pack on. I’m not sure how much that prepared me, but every little bit helps I guess.
Basically, you should be in relatively good fitness level to do this trek. However, training months in advance is absolutely not necessary. I don’t recommend diving into it right away, as you will need time to adjust to the altitude and there are plenty of incredible day hikes to do in Cusco to help gauge your fitness levels. I was probably the most out of shape out of my group of fifteen people or so, but did not have any problem doing the trek physically. Slow and steady should get you to the finish line just fine. There were a few people that had problems but most of those were likely due to the altitude.
With that being said, you should definitely take several days to acclimatize to the altitude. I made the mistake of doing Rainbow Mountain after less than two days in Cusco to acclimatize to the altitude. I suffered miserably in the days preceding my trek. Rainbow Mountain reaches over 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level, and to go that high after lounging around at sea-level in Chicago just three days earlier was ridiculously irresponsible of me.
Take the altitude seriously. Altitude sickness is definitely real, and even if it does not affect you too bad, it will still make things much more difficult if you are not accustomed to being that high with air that thin. I spent the day before my trek preparing for my battle with altitude, from medically proven to those with less science behind them (coca leaves, coca candy, coca freakin’ everything).
I also caught a cough, cold, and sore throat from my trials and tribulations at Rainbow Mountain, so I bought medication for all of those as well. During the Salkantay Trek, you will be going from freezing cold to uncomfortably humid, and will be sleeping outside for a few nights. A few people on my trek got sick, so it won’t hurt to plan ahead just in case.
What to Bring On The Salkantay Trek
If you book the trek with a guide or tour, you’ll definitely have a list of what to bring. Regardless, here’s my thoughts on what I should have done in hindsight. I overpacked in some aspects, and severely under-packed in some other aspects.
My biggest advice would be to pack as lightly as possible. It will get cold, but you will be constantly moving so you won’t actually be wearing too much during the day. A light jacket or a windbreaker should suffice during the daylight hours. Packing too much cold-weather clothing in your day pack can just bog you down. I packed my stupidly bulky Patagonia synchilla sweater and I literally never wore it. A raincoat is a must. Bring something to cover your day pack in case it rains. There is nothing more miserable than being soggy throughout your trek. Make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots or shoes that you’ve broken in. Also, even if your boots are supposedly waterproof, do not walk into a lake with them on just to show everyone they’re waterproof. They will not dry overnight. There was nothing worse than taking on the grueling second day with frozen feet in my wet boots. I am aware I was an idiot.
I brought a pack of weird Peruvian trail mix, and hardly ate any of it throughout the trek. You will be well-fed by the trek’s chefs, but everyone eats differently. If you tend to snack a lot, bring a lot of snacks. I over-packed in terms of water also. Maybe I was too busy suffering miserably to eat and drink, but for some reason, my stash of snacks and water were barely touched. Stay hydrated as much as you can. There’s also no need to bring enough water for all five days. You can purchase water from the villages you stop at every night or throughout the day.
Dude, bug spray. Bring a lot of it. Sunscreen is also important for you gringos that get sunburns through your clothing on rainy days. Walking poles also make you feel significantly more official, and help exponentially. Don’t be ashamed to use them. Also, bring your passport because you might need it to get into Machu Picchu. It would suck to go through that trek and not even get to see the final destination.
A positive attitude!!!
One of the most underrated things is being energetic and optimistic. The day before the trek was the least confident I’d ever been about doing the trek. I was battling altitude sickness and actual sickness. That severe lack of confidence was a terrible attitude to have. Thankfully, I get over funky moods pretty quickly. I was significantly more mentally prepared the next day, and even had a pep in my step after I found myself doing fine with the altitude. Who knows if the mental preparation and positive attitude actually helped. Even if it was some weird placebo effect, I feel like it definitely helped me with the trek. Hey, it could help as much as the legendary, non-scientifically proven, effects of chewing coca leaves to deal with altitude.
The Actual Trek Itself
It is good to be prepared, but the Salkantay Trek itself is something that you should go into with almost no idea what you are going to see. Even though this is a Salkantay Trek guide, I’m not going to tell you anything about what you’ll see on the actual trek. It’s like finding out Darth Vader was Luke’s father before you got to see it yourself. Prepare your sense of wonder for some of the most incredible five days of your life. I know I posted some pictures, but they don’t do justice to what you are going to see. The experience is indescribable.
But honestly, if you’re curious, click here to watch the Youtube video I made of the Salkantay Trek. It’s pretty epic and I just want people to see it. Like and subscribe!
If this post helped you out, show some love and support for the blog and help keep my adventures going by buying me a beer! My adventures are entirely self-funded, so any show of support is greatly appreciated, and allows me to keep writing helpful travel guides and creating travel content to help you all travel the world on a budget.
More on Peru:
The Backpacker’s Guide to…
The Best Things To Do In…
Attraction and Destination Guides
- Cordillera Huayhuash
- Salkantay Trek
- Vinicunca Rainbow Mountain
- Palccoyo Rainbow Mountain
- Laguna 69
- Colca Canyon
- The Floating Islands of Puno
- Pisac Archaeological Site
- The Backpacker’s Crash Course Guide to Peru
- 20 Must-Visit Destinations in Peru
- The 8 Best Party Cities in Peru
- 14 of the Most Epic Day Hikes in Peru
- The Top 10 Dopest Things I Did in Peru
30 thoughts on “The Crash Course Guide to the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu”
[…] For more information about the Salkantay Trek, read about Eli’s experience on The Partying Traveler […]
This looks like an awesome experience! You give great tips too, about not worrying about water, and bringing snacks and the right clothing. Would love to see Peru one day!
This is intense! Good on you for challenging yourself! I’d probably join the lazy crew and skip the hike portion 😛
This is such a great experience and your tips are useful for planning a trip over there 💚 well done
What a lovely informative post! That tip of a positive attitude is such a good thing to have added. People underestimate that on such a physically demanding activity!
Happy music the entire way up might have been the only reason I survived
I have never done this kind of activity even if I would love to 🙂 Thanks for all your advices, I hope to start someday.
Oh thanks for this blog, it helped me to decide for the walk of salkantay , that has very good pictures.
The Salkantay trek is one of the most impressive treks when you can not make the Inca trail because you do not have availability. The landscapes are very impressive as it also gives you the chance to know the wonder of Peru “Machu Picchu”.
Machu Picchu is my ultimate travel must do and reading this makes me want to go there so much! The altitude is probably the biggest issue for me I’d say. Amazing pictures too!
Yeah altitude plays a huge factor! I thought I was chugging along fine until around the 14,000+ foot mark when I had to catch my breath after every five steps haha
Omg I couldn’t imagine doing this trek! The altitude is so real there. I went to Machu Picchu last year and the guide had me run to print out our tickets and thought I was going to pass out and i was currently training for a half marathon back home. Great story and tips on what to bring!
That’s crazy! I was relatively out of shape at the time but shocked my body into acclimatizing by catching really bad altitude sickness earlier in the week. Altitude is definitely a huge factor but if you get lucky, I think it’s doable and 100% worth it!
I love your writing style, this was an exciting read that I’ve now passed on to my husband. We’re currently in Costa Rica, and he has not booked Machu Picchu yet, so this could be a great alternative. Could make for an eventful visa run!
Thanks so much! The Salkantay Trek is definitely a more than acceptable alternative to the Inca Trail.
I am heading to Peru this year and so excited to do some amazing hiking while there. This trek looks incredible.
Definitely one you need to do when you’re in Peru!
What a great alternative to the inca trail. To see Machu Picchu as been on my list for ages. This trek is something i would deffo look into doing. You have provided some fab advice here.
Wow, It looks amazing! I need to try to go there and trek!
Your description made me laugh this am. This sounds like something I would never put myself through (I’m kinda wimpy and enjoy the Ritz). But, it looks amazing and beautiful. And I’m a gringa who get sunburnt through my shirt when it’s raining:). Great stuff and followed your blog.
Thanks! Really appreciate it. I gotta get these crazy adventures out of the way before I become a wimp myself, ya know? haha
I’m really not fit enough for this one. I wish I was! Maybe I’ll work on it!!! Looks amazing
That’s a wicked post on the Salkantay Trek. We are always looking for places to hike and that pic you shared of the promise land make it a place I need to add to my list! You are funny! Thanks or making me laugh and sharing this great info 🙂
Appreciate it, Steve! Humor is how I cope with not being able to feel my legs
Salkantay Trek sounds and looks amazing. Its great that you decided to do the trek and kept up your spirits even though you were out of shape. Every time I go for a trek, the first day is always difficult for me. Things look brighter from the second day! Loved your post.
Thanks! I had a warm-up of sorts by hiking Rainbow Mountain two days before so the first day was not too bad. The second day was brutal but hey, I still made it somehow!
Our are just returned from South America and did the five day hike along the Salkantay Trek. I said it was a beautiful hike and something everyone should experience at least eleven in their lifetime. Thanks for the great information and photos on how to and where to Machu Picchu.
I never visit Salkantay Trek..Your trekking guide was really amazing…Thanks for sharing…
This is such a great experience and your tips are useful for planning a trip over there 💚 well done
Wow useful and excellente info.
hello very good information about salkantay 🙂