HOW HARD IS THE SALKANTAY TREK? THE TRUTH FROM AN UNFIT HIKER

HOW HARD IS THE SALKANTAY TREK? THE TRUTH FROM AN UNFIT HIKER

So, how hard is the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu?

Well, it’s over two months later, and I’m pretty sure I’m still recovering!

Like every single South American tourist on the planet that hits Peru, we planned to go and check out the incredible archaeological site of Machu Picchu. But because we wanted to keep things open and easy for the rest of the trip there was no way we could do the Inca trail – you’ve gotta book that stuff months – literally months – in advance and that just wasn’t gonna work.

Luckily there are a few alternative options available, including:

  • The Salkantay Trek

  • The Lares Trek

  • The Jungle Trek

It’s important to note that these treks don’t actually drop you into Machu Picchu via the Sun Gate, like the Inca trail does. Rather, you will end up in Aguas Calientes (sometimes called Machu Picchu town) and then usually head up to the ruins the next day, either by bus or foot, depending on how obliterated you are by the preceding hike.

We actually preferred this, as it meant you don’t have to explore the ruins as a stinky, sweaty post-hiker, which suited us just fine. BUT it also meant an insane wake-up call. More on that later.

After lots of deliberation, and Jack telling me I wouldn’t make it, and then me getting stubborn and wanting to do the opposite of what he said, we decided – we would take on…

THE SALKANTAY TREK!

If you’re thinking of doing the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and you want to know how hard it really is, well I’m here to give to you the brutal, un-sugarcoated truth!

We freewheeled it into Cusco from La Paz, with vague plans to spend a day hitting the trekking companies to work out which outfit to go with. After checking out lots (and stopping at the Choco Museo…twice…) we laboriously settled on Salkantay Trekking.

Have I mentioned that both of us hate making decisions? It’s painful.

Salkantay Trekking is probably the biggest trekking company that specializes in the Salkantay trek. We were won over by their professional set-up, great reviews online, and the fact that they were the cheapest company that we got a quote from!

Sky domes on Salkantay Trek
Amazing accommodation on our first night – feat. stars and mountains!

Their 5-day trek included amazing accommodation, all meals, trekking poles, sleeping bag, entry to Machu Picchu and of course our guide, for only $460 USD/617 AUD. This was incredibly cheap considering entrance to Machu Picchu alone sets you back around $140 USD/187 AUD!

There were a few added extras that needed to be paid in cash during the tour, but those probably only added up to around $50 USD/$67 AUD, and a lot of these were optional.

Salkantay trek with guide
Me, probably struggling to breathe and hold a conversation at the same time with our guide

At this point, we’d coughed up our hard-earned cash, put our names on the register – we were locked in and ready to go. Sort of.

Before this hike, I’d made weak attempts to ‘get fit’ and ‘exercise more’, but I just find regular exercise so boring I hadn’t really followed through at all. Give me a good book for some brain exercise, yes please, but body exercise, ew. So how was I going to complete this 5-day trek, graded as moderate to difficult, probably by people that go running for fun?

Well, I made it – but I am not going to lie. It was probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done! 

Of course I had madly googled “how hard is the Salkantay trek” in the days and weeks before we set off, but nothing can really prepare you for the difficulty until you are slogging it out over the Salkantay Mountain, through snow, feeling like the wind is about to push you off a perilous ledge, save for your trusty dorky walking poles.

I would definitely say for unfit hikers like me this is a CHALLENGING hike.

But – if I can do it, you probably can too, and the rewards are mindblowing.

This is one of the most amazing hikes we have ever been on. The scenery, the amazing amount of micro-climates you cross through, the sheer majesty of Peru and eventually Machu Picchu – it is without a doubt worth feeling like you could possibly drop dead at any moment.

Snow capped peaks in PeruLaguna Huamantay, Peru Salkantay Mountain Hiking Salkantay Moutain

River on Salkantay Trek Mountains in Sacred Valley, Peru

Here’s a brief rundown of what to expect on the Salkantay trek:

Day 1: CUSCO | MOLLEPATA – CHALLACANCHA – SORAYPAMPA (HUMANTAY LAKE)

Walking Distance – 12km / 7.45 miles
Starting Elevation – 3350 meters ASL / 10990 feet ASL
Highest Elevation – 4600 meters ASL / 15091 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 3920 meters ASL / 12861 feet ASL
Difficulty: Moderate

Day 2: SORAYPAMPA | SALKANTAY PASS – WAYRACPUNKU – CHAULLAY

Walking Distance – 22 km / 13.7 miles
Starting Elevation – 3800 meters ASL / 12467 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 2750 meters ASL / 9022 feet ASL
Maximum Altitude: 4650 meters ASL / 15255 feet ASL

Day 3: CHAULLAY | COLLPAPAMPA – LA PLAYA – LUCMABAMBA

Walking Distance – 18km / 11.2 miles
Starting Elevation – 2750 meters ASL / 9022 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 2400 meters ASL / 7874 feet ASL
Difficulty: Easy

Day 4: LUCMABAMBA | LLACTAPATA – HIDROELECTRICA – AGUAS CALIENTES

Walking Distance – 18 km / 11.2 miles
Starting Elevation – 2450 meters ASL / 8038 feet ASL
Campsite Elevation – 2000 meters ASL / 6561 feet ASL (Aguas Calientes hotel)
Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging

Day 5: AGUAS CALIENTES – MACHU PICCHU!

Wake up at a ming-boggling 3:00am (yes you read that right) and hike up or take the bus to Machu Picchu! Return to Cusco at around 7-8pm that night. Enjoy a pisco sour, because you literally earned it!

So if you’re wondering, how hard is the Salkantay trek? Well, challenging, for sure.

Is it worth it? An unequivocal, resounding, YES!

If you are thinking about going to Machu Picchu, and you are a bit of a nature nut, I highly recommend considering doing the Salkantay trek.

 

I’m Stephanie and this year I’m taking a break from life in Australia. I’m traveling South, Central and North America, learning Spanish, eating tacos and seeking out amazing swimming spots. When I’m taking time out from that hectic schedule I like to write, read and relax – and pat cute street animals that I really shouldn’t. I probably wrote most of what you’re reading from my hammock and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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