The Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu is an alternative hiking trail to the classic Inca Trail and is one of the most exquisite regions in the Andean jungle, on this route you will see the snow covered Salkantay (6372 m) Mountain surrounded by an abundance of vegetation. You will have the opportunity to see stunning land with various types of flora and fauna, and you will stop by the Inca ruins of Llactapata, an enclosure built on the mountain in front of Machu Picchu. Most people that arrive to Cusco have their eye on the Inca Trail, but if you want to see amazing surroundings then you should definitely do the Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu.
The Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu starts a three hour drive west of Cusco, we stop at Mollepata for breakfast and begin trekking at Sayllapata, then we go around the west side of the mountain over the Salcantay Pass at 4,600m (15,200 ft) at its highest place (Salkantay Mountain), continue to the village of La Playa and then to Santa Teresa. From her hikers walk to the Hidroelectrica and then can take train or walk to Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu.
The Salkantay Trek Peru (also sometimes called the Salcantay Trek), was named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine. The part around Mount Salkantay has some breathtaking views and the descent on the way down from 1,000 m above sea level is rather beautiful and not too steep.
You will begin hiking through glaciers and finish the hike down in the jungle.
If you look around you will find the prices vary greatly. You get what you pay for, so be cautious and make sure you are provided with competent equipment and there is a cook to feed you along the way.
The dry season is the best time for this trek. In Cuzco, the dry season lasts from April to November, and the wet season is from December to March. June to September are the most popular months to do the trek, due to summer vacations in Europe and the US. It is generally thought that May and October offer the best weather conditions.
The trek usually starts in the town of Mollepata or Soraypampa in the Apurimac Valley to the northwest of Cuzco, about a 3 hour drive by car from Cusco. Tierras Vivas transports you there from your hotel to begin your Salkantay Trek.
The first day of your trek is not difficult it includes gentle ascending and is on the road for the most part (with a couple of shops to buy drinks and snacks along the way). The first day lets you acclimatize to the high altitude. An hour into the trek you get your first look at the frost capped mountain! If you are finding the first day tough, let your guide know because it will only get harder. Tierras Vivas includes horses on the hike for anyone having problems hiking.
The first night on this trek is cold, it is vital that you are prepared for that. The camp is beside the snow-covered peak of Salkantay. On a clear night you will see a sky full of stars. Having a good quality sleeping bag is essential if you want a good nights sleep. Tierras Vivas includes a down feather sleeping bag for you.
Day two starts with a large trek uphill, so be sure to eat more breakfast for extra fuel in the morning! This day alone is more challenging than the regular trail, it is the steepest section of the trek as you arrive at 15,200 feet inside about 3 hours, but do not let that deter you, try to keep a steady pace, many people in their 60s and older have successfully completed this hike to Machu Picchu. Remember to take it easy on the pass, particularly if you haven't had much time to acclimatize. If you start to feel unwell at any point, reduce your speed and tell your guide. There are some small shops in Chaullay and Collpampa.
The glaciers at the summit are beyond belief. The surroundings on this trek are the most excellent that you will find on any hike. The pass at 15,200 feet is bitterly cold. Be sure to dress in layers, at the end of the day you will find yourself in a much warmer area. Remember your hat, gloves and suitable jacket for the pass.
The next days trek is less than the day before but is still difficult, dependant on the weather. You go through the upper jungle region through streams, past waterfalls and across gorgeous valleys. From this point you can choose from two options (with your group).
The first option available is to hike for 2 hours from La Playa to Aobamba where you will stay the night. Next day, you wake up early and you will continue the trek to Llactapata mountain, you climb up 4 hrs to the high point and after you will have a guided tour in the Llactapata ruins and you will appreciate the Machu Picchu Mountain and beatifull landspaces. Then you walk down to Hidroelectrica (lunch) after the lunch, you walk up 45 to the railway and then you will continue trek to Machu Picchu town 3 hrs more, spend a night.
From La Playa you can take the bus to Santa Teresa where the thermal baths are located. After 3 days of trekking the hot water feels lovely and soothing on your muscles. On day four the sencond option is trekking for around 6 hours to Aguas Calientes, the town of Machu Picchu. The trek is on a level path, thr first 3 hours are mostly on the road and the second half is along the train tracks. You get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu as you enclose on the mountain following the train tracks.
The second option includes zip-lining in the morning in Santa Teresa, the company will take you there and afterwards drops you off at Hidroelectrica. You then walk 3 hours to Aguas Calientes or take the train if you want.
The final night you get to stay in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, instead of camping. At Tierras Vivas the hotel on the final night is very comfortable with a nice hot shower, which feels great after all that trekking, you can even enjoy a nice meal in a restaurant.
On the last day you finally get to visit Machu Picchu! You have the option of walking up the stairs for the final part of the hike to Machu Picchu or you can take the bus. Most people find it more authentic to hike to the very end, though it is rather arduous. You need to wake up at 4am to get ready and then walk from the town to the steps, so you can start climbing at around 5 am. The steps can get quite tiring after a while, it is quite a workout, depending also on your physical condition. You will probably see the bus pass you by as it ascends to Machu Picchu, which could make you feel slightly envious..
Once there your tour guide gives you a tour of the ruins, then you get time to investigate by yourself. You can vist the Sun Gate, the Incan ridge and get a plethora of pictures of the Machu Picchu ruins.
When you're finished you can take the bus back to Aguas Calientes, have a nice lunch and some well deserved chill out time!
There are a number of variations of tours that include the Salkantay Trek, the classic is five days. There is a shorter 4 day version available too, or even a longer 7 day adventure. Some will end in the town of Santa Teresa, a short walk from the train station at the hydroelectric plant. It's a one-hour ride from there to Aguas Calientes.