Salkantay Survival Guide: Tips, Tricks, and Making the Most of Your Trek
Salkantay Survival Guide: Tips, Tricks, and Making the Most of Your Trek
The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is an alternative route to the traditional Inca Trail. Though not as well known as the Inca Trail, Salkantay is gaining its hold in the trekking community as more and more travelers are discovering that the Salkantay Trek is home to some of the best-kept secrets that Peru has to offer (Laguna Humantay, Salkantay Pass and Laguna Salkantay, the Cocalmayo hot springs, Llactapata, and Machu Picchu, just to name a few!)
So you want to do Salkantay?
The Salkantay Trek is renowned for its astounding natural beauty and diversity. In just four short days (and 60 km/ 37 mi) you will go from bundling up in the snowy Andes to peeling off layers in the Peruvian Amazon basin, from hearing avalanches roar down Salkantay Mountain to relaxing in natural hot springs in Santa Teresa, and from crossing boulder fields at the Salkantay Pass to crossing the Urubamba River at the foot of Machu Picchu Mountain. With so much to offer, it’s no wonder its considered one of the 25 Best Treks in the World by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine!
With 17 years of experience and counting, we wanted to compile a Salkantay Survival Guide for newcomers on this remarkable tour. Salkantay is challenging, but with the right preparation, we know you’ll find this trek to be incredibly rewarding too.
Before your trek:
On the Salkantay Trek you will be traveling with 1 daypack (we recommend a backpack of 30 to 50 liters) and 1 extra duffle of 7 kilos/15 pounds. The backpack will be with you during the day and the duffle will be sent ahead with the horses to the next campsite. Therefore, we recommend storing only items that you will need immediate access to in your daypack (see list below) and packing your sleeping bag and extra clothes in the duffle. We also recommend visiting our Salkantay FAQ page to make sure all of your questions are answered before your departure.
You will also want to thoroughly acclimatize yourself to the high altitude before your trek. The elevation in Cusco is approximately 3,400 meters/ 11,000 feet, and you will be hiking to nearly 4,500 meters/ 15,300 feet on the second day of your trek. To properly adjust to the altitude, we recommend spending two to three days in Cusco walking the streets of San Blas, taking a small hike up to the panoramic views at Cristo Blanco, and drinking lots of coca tea.
During your trek:
In your daypack you will want access to the following:
✓Passport (note: REQUIRED for access to Machu Picchu. Also, there is a special Machu Picchu passport stamp at the exit of the park, don’t miss it!)
✓Extra soles, primarily for water, snacks, bathrooms (1 sol along the route and free at the campsites), a shower in Chaullay (10 soles), the Cocalmayo hot springs or zip line option in Santa Teresa, tips for the staff, lunch on the last day in Aguas Calientes, and for any other personal expenses along the way
✓Toilet paper/ tissue (not often available in bathrooms along the trek, so you’ll want to be prepared!)
✓Pain medication for potential headaches/ sore muscles
✓Scarf/neck gator for the chilly winds at the Salkantay Pass
✓Rain poncho (always! Weather on the Salkantay trek is wildly unpredictable)
✓Hat with a brim to protect from sun or rain
✓Walking sticks (available for rent in our office, 15 USD)
✓Knee wraps (for those who have experienced knee issues before; the descent on day two is nearly six hours long and may cause fatigue to any weaker areas of your body)
In your duffle (and in general) come prepared with the following:
✓Sleeping bag (available for rent in our office, 15 USD)
✓Sweatpants/warm coat for chilly nights
✓Leggings/ trekking pants and shorts
✓Comfortable hiking shirts for both warm and cold temperatures
✓Change of socks
✓Slip-on sandals to rest your feet at the campsites
✓Bathing suit for Cocalmayo hot springs
✓Portable charger/ spare batteries
Day 4 of the Salkantay 5D/4N Trek offers a bit of flexibility, so as you are relaxing in the hot springs of Santa Teresa, think about how you would like to spend your fourth morning before arriving at the town of Hidroeléctrica for lunch. For an adrenaline boost, one option is to do the zip line tour in the valley of Santa Teresa (~30 USD). For those in favor of a more leisurely morning, there is the option to walk or take the bus to Hidroeléctrica. And for fans of famous ruins, there is the third option to hike to Llactapata, an ancient Inca archeological site along the original Inca Trail.
Llactapata in Quechua means “High City” and reaching this renowned Inca site is no easy feat; you will first climb uphill for two hours to the viewpoint, followed by a steep descent for approximately three hours to the town of Hidroeléctrica. Though a challenging climb, this site is of great historical importance and offers incredible panoramic views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding Andean mountain peaks.
Again, the choice is yours as to how you want to spend your fourth morning. Consult your guide beforehand so he/she can organize the groups accordingly and make sure your choice is compatible with the weather too.
After lunch in Hidroeléctrica you will walk approximately 3 hours to the town of Aguas Calientes. When you arrive at Aguas Calientes, shop the supermarkets for extra snacks to have on hand if you plan to hike Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu Mountain during your visit to Machu Picchu. If you have selected either of those hikes and wish to further save your energy, there is also the option to take the bus that runs between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu (12 USD one way and 24 USD there and back). This bus ticket can be purchased in Aguas Calientes; ask your guide for further assistance when you arrive.
Due to increased popularity and concern for preservation, park regulations have changed and visitors are now given a 3-hour limit in Machu Picchu (and this is true regardless of what tour company you book through). Your morning will begin with a 1 hour guided tour of the ruins, and after your tour you have 2 hours of free time to continue exploring Machu Picchu on your own or to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain or Machu Picchu Mountain if you have previously selected to do so. Keep in mind too that the route through Machu Picchu is all a one-way path. That is, you cannot backtrack and revisit sites once you have passed them. In addition, once you exit the park you cannot re-enter. Therefore, after your tour, complete the route leisurely and pack sufficient water and snacks to do so.
After the trek
Congratulations, you survived Salkantay! Your legs will be shaky but your hearts and camera rolls full, so take time to take it all in (and do some laundry too…). Please share your photos with us on Instagram (tag @kbtoursperu) or Facebook (KB Tours Travel) and leave us a comment on Trip Advisor (KB Tours Travel). Your feedback is crucial to our growth and development as a tour operator here in Cusco; we are eager to know what we did right and in what ways we can improve. We love sharing this beautiful country of ours with the rest of the world, and we want to do so in the best way possible.
As always thank you for adventuring with KB Tours and see you soon on Salkantay!
The KB Team