The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

The highlight of the 4-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is the opportunity to walk in the shadow of the snow-capped Salkantay Mountain (6,264 meters).

Unlike the classic 3-day Inca Trail trek, which requires you book a spot at least 5-6 weeks in advance (in the low season), the Salkantay Trek can be booked in Cusco upon arrival.

And it can be done for less than half the cost. I’ll be writing more about how to book the trek, and what to pack, in future posts.

But first, I want to take you through the journey day by day, as it was a true outdoor adventure that tested both my mental and physical resolve.

Trail at the start of the Salkantay Trek
Trail at the start of the Salkantay Trek

Day 1 – Cusco to Soraypampa

Begin: Mollepata 2,900 meters / 9,514 feet; End: Soraypampa 3,900 meters / 12,795 feet
Change in Elevation: 1,000 meters /  3,281 feet
Time walking: 5 hours 15 minutes

Awake at 4 AM, I wiped the sleep from my eyes, rolled out of bed, and moved my bags to the hostel reception. As expected, it wasn’t until about 4:30 – 4:40 AM that the minivan actually pulled up.

Under cover of darkness, we drove around picking up additional trekkers. Our group for the next 5 days was slowly forming.

Abhishek, a young British doctor. A young German doctor. 2 Dutch girls. Nicole (Canada). 2 Malaysian women in their 40’s. A young Japanese guy. And Kathy, an older Australian woman who had just completed the Inca Trail the day before (she did the two treks back to back).

In other words, a lot of estrogen.

The sky began to brighten as we drove from Cusco to Mollepata, a small pueblo, where we had a simple breakfast of bread and eggs with mate de coca (coca tea).

Afterward, we were led to a large truck, in which we hitched a ride for several kilometers up a steep, muddy road. Our guide would say it saved us a few hours of walking. Nobody protested.

Once the truck dropped us off, we began our walk….straight up the mountainside.

Camp #1 is at the base of Umantay (5,459 meters)
Camp #1 is at the base of Umantay (5,459 meters). You can see it in the lower right of this photo.

I had given myself 5 nights to acclimatize in Cusco, which sits at 3,300 meters above sea level, but I’d failed to do any kind of exercise during that time.

My heart was pounding within the first few minutes.

One of the Malaysian women, both of whom had been to Everest Base Camp and successfully climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro two years earlier, complained of a headache.

I knew if she was feeling bad at 3,100 meters, before we’d even started, it wasn’t going to bode well for her that night, or on Day 2, the most difficult day of the trek.

The sun was beating down; it was hotter than I’d expected. Covered in a familiar layer of suntan spray and mosquito repellent, I tried to settle into a comfortable walking rhythm.

Over 3 years had passed since my last high-altitude trek to Indrahar Pass in northern India. I hadn’t realized it’d been so long since I gave myself a proper physical challenge.

Doubts began creeping into my head. They were familiar ones about the my health at high altitudes, and physical stamina.

I recognized them from my Annapurna Sanctuary trek in Nepal; the one where I didn’t reach Base Camp, an experience on the whole that took me months to get over.

After 2.5 hours of walking, we stopped for lunch. Soup, and a rustic version of lomo saltado (beef, vegetables and rice).

I barely finished half my plate, despite knowing food is energy, and I needed as much as possible. I relied on chocolate and copious amounts of water instead.

Throughout the trek, I probably drank 2-3 times more water, and pissed 2-3 times more often than anyone else in our group.

Sitting there at the table, mind filled with doubts about whether I was really fit for this trek, one of the Dutch girls said something that snapped me back into reality.

Paraphrasing, she said any of us can do this trek if we really want it.

I wanted it. Badly.

And from that point forward, I walked with renewed vigor. As if I’d been asleep at the wheel those first few hours, and I was suddenly awake.

Instead of allowing my thoughts to run wild with fear, I took control of my mind, and thus my body followed suit.

Camp #1 at Soraypampa
Our tents were pitched within a rustic encampment to protect us from the cold night

After lunch we were looked up the valley to see the glacier-covered Umantay. Unlike some trekkers, I gain energy by seeing the next camp — the next destination.

1.75 hours later, I walked into our campsite for the night.

We helped the cook and horseman pitch the tents in an area protected by a sheet metal roof and plastic tarp walls. It wasn’t much, but it’d help keep the wind out, and keep us dry if it rained.

It was my first time sleeping at an altitude as high as 3,900 meters (12,795 feet).

Salkantay Mountain (6,264 meters) at sunset
Salkantay Mountain (6,264 meters) at sunset

We all scarfed down the popcorn served as an appetizer. I forgot the main course, but it was much better than lunch, as was the case with the meals on the remainder of the trek, thankfully.

By 10 PM we were all in our sleeping bags. Day 2 was going to be the longest, most challenging day of the trek, and we’d be getting an early start.

I woke up once in the middle of the night to pee. On the walk back to the tented area, I took a moment to stop and turn off my headlamp.

Total darkness.

I craned my neck up and looked at star-filled sky. The kind of bright stars you only see when you take the time to physically remove yourself from the modern world.

Day 2 – Soraypampa to Chaullay

Begin: 3,900 meters / 12,795 feet; High Point:  4,650 m / 15,256 ft;  End:  2,900 m / 9,514 ft
Change in Elevation:  +750 m / +2,461 ft uphill; followed by: -1,750 m / 5,741 ft downhill
Time walking: 8 hours 15 minutes

Daniel, our guide, briefs the group before we begin trekking on Day 2
Daniel, our guide, briefs the group before we begin trekking on Day 2

Day 2 began with a 5 AM wake up call and a cup of coca tea. By the time we’d eaten breakfast, the sun was already reflecting brightly off the glaciers around us.

Our guide, Daniel, took a few minutes to introduce the support crew, which included a cook, assistant cook, and horseman who managed the horses that carried our camping equipment, food, gas, and supplies.

I had a relatively good night’s sleep. It wasn’t the most comfortable, as the sleeping mat provided was paper-thin, but my rented sleeping bag was sufficiently warm, which was what mattered most.

I bought some extra chocolate and water. I think I walked out of camp with 3.25 liters of water in my bag, if not a little more.

Salkantay Mountain
The trail winds along the left side of the valley, keeping Salkantay Mountain to the right

We began making our way up the valley toward Salkantay Mountain, which would remain partly shrouded in clouds the whole morning.

The day before we got a glimpse of the peak both on the drive to Mollepata, as well as from Camp 1, which was enough to satisfy me given we were there in the off-season.

Kathy, the Australian woman, shared some coca leaves with us, along with a natural “accelerator” which when combined with the leaves, speeds up the effects.

Within a minute or two of chewing on the leaves, the right side of my tongue went numb.

Spitting out the juices, as if I were chewing on tobacco, was less than appealing, so eventually I spit out the whole wad of masticated leaves.

Horses carry the food, gas and camping gear
Horses carry the food, gas and camping gear

Refocusing on the trail, the views continued to get prettier and prettier as our hearts beat harder and harder.

But I was loving every minute. It was as if I was running on pure adrenaline that morning. I’ve never felt so strong and vital. I attributed this feeling to drinking tons of water, and snarfing Snickers bars.

The Japanese guy outpaced us all to the point where we’d long lost sight of him.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian woman with the headache from the day before had rented a horse to ride up the mountain pass that morning.

She’d only spent 2 nights in Cusco before starting the trek, and hadn’t given her body enough time to acclimatize.

I don’t blame her for renting the horse. I would’ve done the same if I felt it in the best interest of my health. It annoyed me to hear at least one other person in the group make some disparaging remarks.

Approaching the high point of 4,600 meters
Approaching the high point of 4,600 meters

The closer we got to the 4,650 meter mountain pass, the more energized I felt. I was surprising myself in the best possible way.

The landscape had changed dramatically in the 750 meters we’d climbed in elevation.

Gone were the green grasses, replaced by the rocky, moon like landscapes often seen above 4,000 meters.

On Day 1 we practically had the trail to ourselves aside from a couple trekking with a guide. On Day 2, we shared the trail with that couple, as well as another  small group of trekkers.

The lack of other people was an unexpected surprise, and clear benefit to trekking in the low season.

Salkantay pass
The Salkantay mountain pass at 4,600 meters. The 3.5 hours it took to get up was the easy part. The 5 hours of going down killed my knees.

Euphoria struck us all as we posed by the sign marking the high point of the trail.

It was a new personal high for me in terms of trekking at high altitudes, though I’d previously been as high as 5,000 meters during the visit to Pastoruri Glacier.

Maybe it was the thin air, but I felt I had the energy to go even higher. After 3.5 hours of walking up to the pass, I knew I could’ve gone even higher that day.

But the hardest part of the day wasn’t going up, it was the following 5 hours it took to descend 1,750 meters in elevation.

After about 20 minutes of rest and picture-taking at the pass, we began our descent.

Driven by a desire to get to a lower elevation to negate the ill effects of the altitude, I walked as quickly as my body would take me.

My knees didn’t appreciate that approach, and within a few hours, I was starting to feel sharp pangs of pain.

Lunch on Day 2 was in Huayracpampa, small encampment in this beautiful valley
Lunch on Day 2 was in Huayracpampa, small encampment in this beautiful valley

At an elevation of 4,000 meters, in a verdant green valley, we stopped for a spaghetti lunch at the small village of Huayracpampa.

It was here that we found the Japanese guy sleeping on our bags, which had been unloaded from the horses upon arrival (ahead of us).

The last 3 hours of walking were the killer. Physically, the most difficult part of the trek for me. I slowed my pace, and adjusted the way I walked on the steeper bits.

The whole trail was scree and loose rock, like a dry riverbed. I wanted nothing more than to get to Camp 2 so I could lay down and rest.

I began repeating a mantra, “you can walk slowly, but you must keep walking.”

When we finally arrived in Chaullay, and removed my shoes and socks, I was greeted by 4-5 painful blisters on each foot.

Normally I carry a sewing needle so I can drain them, but I’d forgotten. Luckily, the German girl had one to spare.

Dinner was a relaxed affair, and I went straight to sleep after it was over.

Day 3 – Chaullay to Santa Teresa

Begin:  2,900 m / 9,514 ft; End: 1,900 m / 6,234 ft
Change in Elevation: –1,000 m / 3,281 ft
Time walking: 4 hours 15 minutes

Breakfast on Day 3:  vegetable omelet, bread and jam, hot porridge, and coca tea
Breakfast on Day 3: vegetable omelet, bread and jam, hot porridge, and coca tea

It rained at some point during our second night, as we awoke to wet tents, however I slept like a log.

Even though we 1,000 meters lower than the first night, the temperatures were far warmer than we’d experienced at Camp 1.

Rising around 6 AM to coca tea delivered to our tents, we had a filling breakfast, said goodbye to our horseman and horses, and began walking along a dirt road that follows the Lluskamayu River.

A recent landslide had taken out a section of the normal hiking trail, which runs on the opposite side of the river, so we were taking a detour for safety reasons.

We walked on the road vs the trail to bypass this landslide
We walked on the road vs the trail to bypass this landslide
Mid-morning break on Day 3
Mid-morning break on Day 3

Reinvigorated after a full night’s rest, I lead the pack. Compared to the first two days of walking, Day 3 was a breeze.

We followed the river for the entire day’s walk. As we continued to descend in elevation, and the sun rose higher in the sky, it began to get very hot and humid.

I found myself walking at a quick pace simply because I wanted to reach our camp for the night. I wanted to escape the heat.

It didn’t take long for my knees to reject this strategy. Once again, I was feeling sharp, at times crippling, pains in my knees.

The Dutch girls approach a section of trail recently wiped away by a landslide
The Dutch girls approach a section of trail recently wiped away by a landslide

We were able to detour around one large landslide that affected the trail, but there were still others that required we pass them.

It helps if you don’t look down.

A little over four hours after we got started, we reached the end of the trail.

A minivan was waiting to take us the short distance to the village of Sahuayacu (elev: 2,520 meters), where we had a gigantic lunch of soup, fried rice and vegetables.

We then hopped back into the van for the drive to nearby Santa Teresa where we would be spending our third night.

The hot springs near Santa Teresa
The hot springs near Santa Teresa

The reward for getting this far was a dip in the hot springs outside Santa Teresa.

They’re situated in a scenic spot alongside the river, and we arrived before the other groups that were doing the Inca Trail and Inca Jungle treks.

For 10-15 minutes, aside from a few locals, we had the pools to ourselves.

That night we were to have a campfire, however heavy rain washed those plans away. Instead, we drank beer and played a few rounds of asshole after dinner.

Day 4 – Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes

Begin: 1,900 m / 6,562 ft End:  2,000 m / ft
Change in Elevation:  -100 m / 328 ft
Time walking: 3 hours

Our map for Day 4, from the hydroelectric plant to Aguas Calientes
Our map for Day 4, from the hydroelectric plant to Aguas Calientes

On the fourth morning, the group split up.

I wanted to head straight for Aguas Calientes, as did Nicole (Canada), while the rest of the group wanted to pay about $30 to ride what’s billed as South America’s biggest zipline.

Daniel drew Nicole and I a map from the Hydroelectric plant to Aguas Calientes. It was as if we were in Stand by Me.

Walking along the railroad tracks
Walking along the railroad tracks, I felt like I was in Stand By Me

Nicole and I took a 30-minute taxi, along with an Argentinian trekker, to the start of the railway that runs from the Hydroelectric plant through Aguas Calientes and Ollantaytambo all the way to Cusco.

There were still sections where we had to walk on the loose rock of the railroad tracks, however it was a very flat walk through the valley that runs up behind Machu Picchu.

Along the way, a dog began to follow guide us. Daniel informed us that the trains pass every hour or two, and sure enough, we had to step aside for one during the 3-hour walk.

Aguas Calientes, Peru
Aguas Calientes

When we reached the entrance to Machu Picchu, near the train tracks, Nicole and I posed for pics since we’d be getting up before dawn the next day for the hike up.

It was with a mix of excitement and relief that we finally walked up the road that runs from Machu Picchu’s main entrance to the town of Aguas Calientes.

Situated along the river, with the train tracks running straight through the center, it’s a tourist town in the truest sense of the term.

Peru Rail train pulls through Aguas Calientes
Peru Rail train pulls through Aguas Calientes

Upon finding our hostel for the night, I showered and treated myself to a one hour massage, followed by coffee and a piece of rich chocolate cake.

Dear civilization, I missed you!

That night, we had a group dinner at one of the restaurants. We all ordered the trucha (trout), a dish I’ve come to relish when up in the Andes.

After dinner, a few of us went for a cocktail. 5 for 1 caipirinhas, which drew us in the door.

Unfortunately, they were the tiniest cocktails I’d ever been served. And oh yea, we forgot about the inevitable tax and service charge they’d tack on.

Small drinks aside, it was nice to spend a little time bonding before we set off for our final destination, Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu, before dawn the next morning.

To Be Continued….  


Lima Travel GuideDave’s 160-page, all-original Lima Travel Guide is now available for Kindle and PDF.


  1. says

    Very enjoyable post. I was going to do this trek a few months ago before a sciatica issue forced me to cancel last minute. Thanks for the ride.

      • says

        I did get to climb Huayna Picchu which was awesome and unbelieveably I have yet to blog it. Well, good excuse to return and a lot of Peru I still want to experience. Just read about your eating “dares” on your rtw trip. I dare say, our dinner was better!

  2. says

    This is amazing! looking forward tp part 2!!

    “you can walk slowly, but just must keep walking.” I’ve bee saying this to myself on the 33 days long Camino de Santiago…this brought up so many memories :D

    I’ll do this &/or the incra trail someday!!

    • says

      Interesting. I wasn’t trying to make a case either way, just relaying my experience, however I would recommend it and think the trek can be done by the average person.

      It doesn’t require you to be super fit, though I do recommend at least 5 days acclimatizing in Cusco before you get started, especially if you haven’t trekked at such high altitudes before.

  3. says

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for the interesting post. Pix look great too.
    Would you recommend this trek for beginners?

    Thanks and can’t wait for part2

    • says

      The short answer is yes. In fact, it was the first trek that the British doctor had ever done, and he did just fine.

      The longer answer is that it depends more on your attitude than your level of physical fitness or prior experience. Also, the more nights you can spend acclimatizing in Cusco, the better your chances of not feeling the ill effects of the altitude.

      In the end, I found the trek easier than I’d built it up to be in my mind.

      That’s not to say it didn’t challenge me, but I realized by Day 2 that it was well within my capabilities. And I hadn’t done anything special to prepare (aside from not drinking alcohol while I was acclimatizing in Cusco).

      I’ve met first time trekkers who completed the Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Circuit treks in Nepal, and those go up to 5,500 meters in altitude.

      I published Part 2 today!

    • says

      A slower pace, because as one of the Dutch girls mentioned, the faster you walk, the more pressure/weight you’re putting on your knees and feet. Because gravity is on your side, it’s easier to think you can go faster on the downhill sections, especially if you just labored to climb up a mountain.

      Walking sticks are helpful too. I rented one for the trek. It helps relieve a little of the pressure, and I find it helps me keep a regular pace.

      If you’ve had injuries or surgery before, you probably already have a knee brace you can/should use.

  4. Michelle Roagerson says

    great post!!! Thanks. ‘ll be in cusco in 1 week. what trek company did you use? would you recommend them or any others? Any recommendations on packing?

    • says

      Thanks Michelle. I can’t remember the exact name of the budget office I used, but it faced the main Plaza de Armas in Cusco. It doesn’t really matter which you use because they pool customers together so they can get more frequent departures. Every other store front is a shop offering these treks.

      If you decide to go with the more expensive operators, the same trek can run about $500, and will leave less frequently.

  5. Mario King says


    I would like a quote for Salkantay to Machu Picchu in December.

    For 2 people, anytime after 17th December 2012.

    Thank you

    • says

      Hi Mario, I’m not a travel agent. I can tell you I paid $180 (for one person) for the Salkantay Trek in October 2011, and it probably won’t cost much more than that a year later. You’ll probably pay more, possibly a lot more, if you try and book ahead so far in advance.

  6. says

    Nice post Dave! Those hot springs near Santa Teresa are mighty fine based on location alone. My wife and I actually camped in the zipline dude’s yard. Good guy. We also hiked (in pouring rain) from the hydroelectric plant to Aguas Calientes.

  7. Karen says

    Hi Dave – sorry to disturb you, but I have two quick questions! Off to Cusco in a few weeks, and was going to do Salkantey.

    1. Do I need to book in advance?
    2. Do you know why there is such a huge variation in price? (i saw one online for $550, whereas you mention yours cost $180!!)

    Thank you! :)


    • says

      Hi Karen,

      1. No, you don’t need to book the Salkantay trek in advance, though if your time is limited, that’s a good way to assure a departure date. Also, as it’s the high season, there will be more people visiting Cusco, so once you arrive, you may need to wait a few days to get a trip, which you should be doing anyways to help with acclimatization.

      2. Yes, the price variation has to do with things like the food, quality of gear, and guide’s proficiency with English. If you pay one of the high end companies (recommended by Lonely Planet, and such), then you’ll probably get a bit better food, and a guide who speaks better English.

      That said, I was totally satisfied with the budget company I used. The tent and sleeping mat was fine. There was plenty of food, and I can be a picky eater sometimes, but it was fine. I thought our guide spoke good English, and understood everything he said (including the tour at Machu Picchu).

      Remember to book Wayna Picchu from Cusco, as it has to be done in advance of arriving at MP.

      Good luck!

  8. Luke says

    Hi Dave

    This info all seems pretty sweet, and you seem to have covered most stuff, I was just wondering though, even in the high season this year (August 2012), would it still be easy enough, and affordable enough, to hook up with a reputable agency for the trek.

    I dont want to book in advance because, let’s be honest, the prices are mental, but also, I don’t want to arrive there and be told to piss off.

    Also, did you 180 dollars include the entrance to machu picchu and the train trip back?

    Cool, thanks dude

    • says

      Thanks Luke. Yea, the $180 includes the entrance fee to Machu Picchu, which I think is like $60 by itself, and the train ride back.

      If it were me, and I wasn’t pressed for time, I’d still arrive in Cusco first and book the trip the first day or two I was there (gives you enough time to get some recommendations from other travelers, if you want). While you might be able to leave the next day, chances are you’ll wait a few days, which you need to do anyways for acclimatizing.

      Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek doesn’t have a cap on how many people can be on the trail per day, so I suspect the tour companies have more guides and porters working this time of year to meet the demand.

  9. Sumit says

    Dave, this was a phenomenal blog. I truly enjoyed reading it.

    My girlfriend and I are doing this trek August 23rd, and we both are first time hikers. While we are both in our mid to upper 20’s and healthy, we have never done a hike before. Any words of wisdom?

    • says

      Thanks! Give yourself at least 3 nights to acclimatize in Cusco before you start the trek. The more the better. During that time, take it easy, drink coca tea and lots of water, and avoid alcohol and caffeine.

      Make sure you have or rent a warm sleeping bag, as the first night is the coldest.

      And walk at a pace that’s comfortable for you. It’s not a race. Don’t worry about whether you’re in the front or the back. Have fun!

        • says

          The guides know everyone’s fitness level will vary, so no, it’s not expected you have to keep pace with the guide or the fastest person in the group.

          Normally, everyone starts out together, but over the first hour or two the faster people will lead the pack, and everyone will be spread out.

          In my group, the difference in time between the first person and the last was never more than 30 minutes over the course of the 4 days leading to Aguas Calientes.

  10. Khush says

    Hi Dave,

    I recently climbed Mount Sinai overnight from 12am to reach the top at around 5am, now the height of Mount Sinai is around 7500ft high and I struggled with that climb.

    Have you climbed Sinai, and if so, am I crazy to want to do this trek if I struggled with Sinai?

    • says

      Hi Khush, I haven’t climbed Sinai, however Machu Picchu doesn’t have to be climbed. You can take a train to the town of Aguas Calientes, and a bus from town up the mountain to Machu Picchu.

      If you want to walk from Aguas Calientes, it’s still not that bad. Just 20 minutes to the main entrance, and about an hour to climb up the stairs leading to the ruins.

      • Khush says

        Thanks for the reply.

        I was referring to the Salkantay Trek as a whole.

        My thought process was that although this is higher, it is spread over 5 days and it’s not a constant uphill trek like Sinai was. Am I wrong about that?

        • says

          No, only the first day and a half are trekking uphill (about 7-8 hours total). The second half of the second day is all downhill, which I found much harder (on my knees).

          The rest is pretty easy — the fifth day is going up Machu Picchu, which takes one hour, or 20 minutes by bus.

          • Khush says

            Ok thanks.

            Do we need to book the Salkantay Trek well in advance (like the Classic Inca Trail), or is there a bit of leeway?

          • says

            No, you don’t need to book the Salkantay trek in advance. You can wait until you get to Cuzco to do it. They have daily departures all year.

  11. Hannah says

    Hi Dave,
    So I am planning on doing this trek this October with three other friends and I was wondering what you would suggest to pack. I tend to be an over packer and would love some guidance. Loving your blogs so thanks for posting them.

    • says

      Hi Hannah, thanks for reading. I had meant to do a packing list for this trip but never wrote it up.

      Short version: This photopacking list

      Longer version: Warm sleeping bag (can be rented). Clothing you can layer — the first night is the coldest, after that it gets warmer, but you can’t predict the weather during the whole trek. Walking pole (helps with the downhill the second day). The horses carried my main bag, which was dropped at camp each afternoon, I only carried my daypack with water, snacks, and camera.

  12. Mark says

    Thanks for the post. I really enjoyed your pictures as a lot of them are shots I didn’t get myself! I hiked the same 5 day trek in early May of 2012. I had been traveling and only spent one night in Cusco before the Trek so my headaches were awful for day 1 and 2, which as you know are the hardest. Coco leaves and coco tea in the AM helped a great deal and I toughed it out on foot. I’m not sure if that was the best decision, though, because I was struggling to enjoy myself when the headaches and nausea came on hard. The Andean landscape is truly astonishing, though, and made up for all of that struggle in my memory. The other hard part was that the day we made the pass was completely cloudy and snowy so we couldn’t see much beyond a few feet. All that went away during the hike through the valley on the back side of the pass.

    The most exhilarating part of the trek for me was Llactapata. After the disappointment of no visibility at the pass, even though my legs and feet were torn up, I did the “extra” hike and saw the view of Machu Piccu from the west. It was a foggy morning with framed views of the valley, and just as we crossed over the ridge to the east side it completely cleared up and the view was breathtaking. Anyone who is considering this Trek, I highly recommend doing this part. Also, wake up early and hike the steps to Machu Piccu rather than the bus. There will be a line starting at 4am, but you can bribe the guards at the bottom to let you in with time to catch the sunrise at the top.

    I used Great cooks, but be prepared to take care of yourself out there when on the path. Our guides were often out of sight as they cruised along and chatted with each other. Food is more important, though!

    Dave, again, thanks for the post. I’m inspired to post my own pictures and write it up before the memory fades too much more. Cheers!

  13. Raphael says

    Hi Dave,

    We are trying to decide whether to take the classic Lares trek or the Salkantay to Machu Picchu. Any recommendation? What are the advantages or disadvantages of each when compared? Thanks.

    • says

      Hi Lee, the most important thing you can do is acclimatize in Cuzco. I spent 5 nights there, I believe, before doing the trek, and I’m confident it made a big difference. Meanwhile, one of the 40-something Malaysian women, who’d been to much higher altitudes, suffered altitude sickness because she only spent 2 nights in Cuzco.

      It helps if you have previous experience trekking at altitudes above 3,000 meters since you have some experience to draw on, but overall, I think it’s a very doable trek, regardless of age.

  14. Ayla says

    Thanks for the post!
    I will be doing the trek in a couple days. Your blog answered some my questions/concerns. I feel that I now know more of what to expect.

  15. Denine Ellis says

    Hi Dave,

    I’m looking to do the Salkantay Trek in mid-August, and certainly like the sounds of your cost better than what I’ve been seeing online!! ($500-600USD). If possible could you please provide me with more information on how you booked? I read that you were going to go into that further in another blog post, but did not see it in the Peru list. Please let me know!


    • says

      Hi Denise, I don’t believe I wrote the packing/planning post, but it’s simple. I just showed up in Cuzco, and booked a last minute trek through one of the many cheaper tour shops located around the main plaza.

      The treks are so popular, you can usually get one leaving as early as the next day or two throughout the year (minus January).

      During the low season, they pool customers together. During the high season, they hire more guides/porters, and trips may be with the customers who all booked through the same shop. Either way, the experiences are very similar.

      These companies cut costs by paying guides/porters/cooks less, making them all the more dependent on tips. Unfortunately, the same people looking to save money on the trek are often unlikely to tip generously.

      Ethically, I recommend tipping generously based on your experience, not whatever math is used to determine how much food they can buy based on the local currency.

  16. abby says

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for all your info here. My partner and I are heading to Peru in June and want to do the Salkantay Trek. We are wondering if we need to book it ahead of time. I see that you have commented that it isn’t necessary, but we just want to make sure! We are looking for an affordable option. Any insiders on companies and the chance we would have showing up unbooked in June would be great!



    • says

      Hi Abby, I think you’ll be fine booking last minute, as long as you have a few days to play with regarding departure time.

      Based on my experience, all the little tour offices pool their trekking clients during the low season, so it doesn’t matter much where you sign up. In the busier seasons, they hire extra guides and porters and such and are probably a little different, but I doubt by much.

      If you’re going to pay for one of the higher-end companies, which can charge $400 to $500 for the same trek, then it pays to spend your time shopping around. Otherwise, you can start asking other travelers you meet when you arrive for their feedback.

      There are lots of tour company offices around the main plaza, and radiating side streets.

  17. Pleunie says

    Hi Dave,

    Me and two of my friends are heading off to Peru at the 24th of July. We’ll be arriving in Cuzco right after our stop in Lima. So we’ll be there the 25th of july. We’re wondering if it would be able to book the Salkantay trail the day of arrival in Cuzco and go for the hike a few days later. Or would it be too risky ? We don’t want to miss out on Machu Picchu because we didn’t book online in advance.
    Besides this, we would like to know if we can rent sleepingbags there? Or would it be better to bring our own?


    Greetings from Holland :)

    • says

      Hi Pleunie, I’m confident you could book your tour the day you arrive in Cuzco, but it’s hard to say when the trip will depart. I think June/July is probably quite busy there since it’s Summer vacation time for North Americans and Europeans. But the agencies hire extra guides and porters, etc to meet demand.

      Renting a sleeping bag is very easy. Just make sure you go to a place that rents quality bags. Mine was sufficiently warm for the first night, which is at the highest attitude of the trek. You can rent whatever gear you might need, including trekking poles too. It’s quite cheap, and saves you from having to carry the gear from Holland.

    • says

      As far as I know, a guide is *not* required. The trail is fairly easy to follow. I think a hiker with some experience would be fine on his/her own.

  18. Melissa says

    Any suggestions on age limit (lower)? My son wants to go with me when he’s 11 (next year). He’s hearty and very athletic, and we’re a very active family that hikes a lot. I’d like for him to go with me if that’s not totally crazy…

    • says

      I don’t have any kids, nor have I hiked with any, but it’s not technical, and it’s not particularly steep or dangerous either. The altitude the first two days is the hardest part.

      • Melissa says

        Thanks! He’s got the makings of a great trail buddy…he’s got astounding stamina (ah, youth…LOL), a great curiosity for “what’s around the bend”, no health issues (asthma, etc), so I think he may be able to handle it by then. I’m hiking Mt Brandon in Ireland this summer (an easy stroll compared to this) and he’s nagged incessantly to go with me. This will be a great adventure for us!

  19. Merel says

    Hello Dave!

    With which company did you do the trail? And do you know anything about cusco peru viajes? They offer the trail in total (with all the extra´s) for 300$. Seems a bit cheap but i can´t find any negative reviews. Is there a possibility to do ziplining with the company you went with during the trail? (probably the 4th day)

    Greetings, Merel

    P.S. I´m arriving the 25th in Cusco and didn´t book any trail yet. I want to start a trail the 31th. If i book a trail on the 26th, is that sufficient in advance?

    • says

      Hi Merel,

      I booked my trip through one of the countless and carbon copy tour offices around the Main Plaza. At the $200 price point, they’re more or less the same quality of service, and they pool tourists together anyways.

      The ziplining was an option on my trek, if I remember correctly (which I may not) but I declined to do it.

      Usually you need to book at least a few days in advance, but it depends on demand at the time. It’s good to be a little flexible with regard to a departure date.

  20. Ashley Wong says

    Hi Dave, how would you rate the agency you went with? I’m currently contemplating whether or not I want to pay for those more expensive agencies as my friend and I (who love to hike) have never done a long trek before. I’m currently looking at BioAndean Tours for $420 for the Salkantay Trek – the only thing I’m willing to splurge on during our trip as we want to guarantee a great time. What would you recommend, booking in advance with a higher priced agency, or doing as you did and keeping it flexible and looking for a cheaper agency while in Cusco?

  21. Ashley Wong says

    Also we’re hoping to do the trip on Sept 25, heading straight to Cusco after arrival 1 night stay in Lima (from where we arrive by plane) – staying in Cusco for 4 days. Is that enough time to acclimatize and is it necessary to stay in Ollantaytambo?

  22. Ramon says


    Great info. I will be in Cusco from September 6/7 – 16, 2014 and am planning to do the 5D/4N Salkantay trail.

    I have been sending emails to at least 3 or 4 of the salkantay trek companies (all of which promise to respond back within 24 hours as per their websites). So far no response!!!

    I will heed your advice on simply booking in Cusco. I will have at least 4-5 days to kill in Cusco before I embark on the Salkantay trek. So I guess I will have plenty of time to to shop around.

    I am considering on staying in Agua Calientes for another night for the following reasons: to increase chances of seeing MP on a clear day as MP weather is kinda unpredictable and also give me the opportunity to stay later in the day and enjoy a less crowded MP and its sunset. I read that this can be arranged with the organizers.

    What do you think?

    BTW, I will be in Cusco from September 9-16, 2014.



    • says

      As I wrote in the post (I think), I’m still a believer in booking last minute once you arrive in Cusco. You’ve clearly had your time wasted trying to contact some of the local organizations. If you’re booking in advance, then do it through an international tour company like Intrepid Travel or G Adventures (which will also be much more expensive).

      Sure, it can’t hurt to spend an extra night in Aguas Calientes.

    • says

      I sent some enquiries and receiced 5 replies. I decided to go with Bioandean as they had very good reviews on tripadvisor and I was really satisfied, also they “reply time” was short.
      But, as Dave says in his answer you can book when you get to Cusco, there are very many agencies.

      • Ramon says

        Thanks Dave and Monika for your quick response!

        I am all set then. The plan is get to Cusco and wing it from there!

  23. Apoorva says

    Congrats on a wonderful blog! Can you tell me the places u liked in Cuzco? E.g eating places, shops etc (if u remember)? I’m heading over there in a few days..Just travelling with a buddy. Hope to meet some nice fellow travellers.

    • says

      Thanks. It’s been three years since my visit, and unfortunately I can’t recall restaurant names. I typically use TripAdvisor as a guide, in addition to walking around on my own and recommendations from others I meet in person.

      There’s a lot of bars and nightlife within the main plaza, but I didn’t check any of it out. I was more focused on resting up for my trek.

  24. Rohan says

    Hi Dave,

    This is a really good post so thank you…Im flying to peru tomorrow and will be in cusco on the 16th. I had 2 quick questions i was really hoping to get your inputs on

    a)if you have luggage, how do you mange on the trek? is there someone to assist or can we leave it at one of the hotels?

    b) what are the restrooms/toilets like on the salkantay trek?

    thanks very much for your time and i look forward to hearing from you

    • says

      The hostels and hotels can store your luggage while you’re on the trek.

      The toilet question is a test of my memory. I want to say that there were sit-down toilets available at every place we spent the night. On the actual trail, you’d be left to Mother Nature.

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