The Salkantay Trek is a great alternative trek to our 5 Day Inca Trail Trek to Machu Picchu. Both treks take 5 days to complete; four days trekking through the beautiful Andean mountains and one day touring the world-famous Machu Picchu.
Here are seven reasons to hike the Salkantay trek:
- Trek the mountain passes and get close to glaciers
There is something extremely humbling about the sheer magnitude of mountainous glaciers, and Salkantay and its sister glacier, Humantay Glacier, are no different. As you trek through the pass you will be humbled by the utter greatness of the mountains on either side of you. It’s impossible to truly describe the size, or the feeling, that encapsulates you here.
- Descend mountains and pass through indescribable scenery and eco-systems
Many rave about the variety of ecosystems on the Inca Trail. The Salkantay Trek offers even more.
Starting on the relatively dry side of the mountains, you visit the glacial lakes of Humantay, camp beneath the gleaming snows of Salkantay, before climbing over glacial moraine to the high pass at 4600m/ 15000ft (higher than any point in the Inca Trail). Then you descend through beautiful high mountain scenery to reach warmer, greener climes and the hot, humid “Ceja de selva”, or high jungle. Here you walk through plantations of coffee, granadilla, bananas, and avocados eventually reaching the lowest point of the trek at Hidroelectrica, 1870m/6135ft
Laguna Humantay is (rightly) one of the most visited attractions in Cusco. Its incredible bluey-green colors and the towering glacier above it are an incredible starting point for the trek- and merely a taste of what is to come. A perfect amuse-bouche for the following days! You can also unwind in natural hot springs on your third day.
- Far fewer people than the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is both famous and beautiful. However, it has a major flaw. The crowds. With so many people wanting to take on the famous trek the Inca Trail can, and does, get extremely busy. (Although there are ways to avoid it, like taking a 5 Day Inca Trail Trek instead of a 4-day route). The Salkantay Trek is widely considered to be the most beautiful alternative to the Inca Trail, and it has a fraction of the fame- and so a fraction of the trekkers.
In short, the Salkantay Trek is a fantastic choice for those who want to experience the stark wilderness of the Andes, and want to do it with a few fewer people around.
- More back-up available than the Inca Trail
We use horses to carry gear and always take at least one emergency horse. So if you are struggling to get over the pass you could jump on the horse and get up and over very quickly.
Should the need arise, we can also get a vehicle in to evacuate along almost all of the route (bar D2), and with the help of the horse, we can get you to an accessible place quickly.
Underfoot the going is a lot easier than the Inca Trail because there are no steps, it is also less steep. So people should be better able to cope in the first place.
- You get a unique view of Machu Picchu
On Day 4 you climb to the Inca ruins of Llactapata. While it is certainly more popular than before, relatively few groups have ever seen the ruins of Llactapata. Perched atop a small hill they were only rediscovered by British explorer Hugh Thomson and the American archaeologist Gary Ziegler in 2003.
Hiram Bingham (the man who ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu) was actually the first to discover the ruins in 1912. Unfortunately, his map was so bad it took over 90 years for them to be found again. Hugh Thomson actually wrote a book about it, “ The White Rock” which is a great read.
The INC ( Instituto Nacional de Cultura) as per usual has rebuilt some of these “ ruins”. But if you look around the back you will see plenty more hidden amongst the thick vegetation in a still unrestored state. It adds to the romance if you can still see ruins lost to the jungle, rather than perfectly reconstructed buildings everywhere.
- Experience the Andes the way they should be experienced
Salkantay mountain is all that a mountain should be, a fierce towering pyramid. The night sky is stunning: you can watch shooting stars fall to earth, and pick out Andean constellations such as the llama, the frog, the southern cross, as well as more traditional western ones. Condors soar above your head up to the pass, then a day later the air is filled with the screech of parakeets. And you get to meet some fantastic local people such as Fredy at whose coffee plantation we camp at on Day 3. His hilarious coffee demonstration and the warm welcome are worth the journey alone.
The Salkantay Trek is an excellent choice for your route to Machu Picchu, and it offers some of the most spectacular and varied views you will ever see in your life. Of all the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that Peru has to offer, this is one of the best.
We also offer a nine-day Ultimate Salkantay trek, which provides you with some wonderful acclimatization hikes as well as transfers in and out and hotels for the extra nights in Cusco.