The 5 Day Salkantay Trek

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The Salkantay Trek is the second most popular option for trekking to Machu Picchu after the Inca Trail and was named among the 25 best treks in the world by National Geographic. Crossing nine different biozones you come across a wide range of flora and fauna and see varying scenery from the high peaks of Salkantay and Humantay all the way to the low-land cloud forest that surrounds Machu Picchu. With fewer people trekking the route you really get a sense of solitude and can enjoy the natural environment and the scenery around you free from distraction.
The 5 day version of the trek is the most popular; there are various starting points in the Mollepata area all of which converge on Soraypampa and then continue following the same route until Machu Picchu. Along the way there are some optional side trips such as to Lake Humantay (left) and to the archeological site of Llactapata where you can enjoy unrivalled views of Machu Picchu.
The Salkantay trek is considered to be a more challenging trek than the Inca Trail as you spend longer periods trekking at high altitude and trek a greater distance overall. This shouldn't put you off though as the beauty and variety of experiences you have on this trek easily outweigh any discomfort you may experience.
Below you will find a guide we have put together to help answer many of the questions tourists have regarding the Salkantay Trek. If you are unable to find the information you're looking for or need help to clarify a point then please feel free to contact us and we'll be happy to help.
General Trek Information
5 Day Salkantay Trek Prices
Starting Altitude: Depends on Starting Point
2860m - 3355m / 9385ft - 11000ft
Highest Altitude Reached: 4640 m / 15215ft
Total Distance: 82.5km / 51 miles
Difficulty: Very Challenging
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Changeable - hot and humid through to wet and cold
During the dry season there may be snow at the pass.
Day temperature 17 to 25°C / 63 to 77°F
Night temperature -1 to 10°C / 30 to 50°F
Salkantay Map
Day By Day Breakdown
Day 1
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Today you have an early start so that you can reach the trailhead in good time. There are various starting points for the trek; Mollepata is the most common place to start the trek but some companies begin at either Marcocasa or Sayllapata, both of which are just a short drive from Mollepata.
The first day of the does not have any steep climbs to contend with but is the longest walking day distance wise (if you start from Mollepata). There are 2 main routes to follow, the route from Mollepata and the route from Marcocasa both of which converge at the small community of Soraypampa. Soraypampa is the first possible campsite on the route and the walking time to here depends on the route you have taken. There are two other possible campsites for today, Salkantaypampa (one and a half hours walk from Soraypampa) and Soyrococha (three hours walk from Soraypampa).
Along the way today you can see a variety of birdlife including hummingbirds, Cara Caras and a variety of other hawks and falcons. If you're really lucky you may even have the chance to see a Condor. You'll also see a variety of plant life including some species of orchids and Peru's highland forests. Throughout the day you have fantastic views of the lush Rio Blanco valley spread out below you and towards the end of the day you see the soaring peaks of Humantay (5920m / 19420ft) and Salkantay (6270m / 20575ft).
Walking Distances
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Mollepata to Soraypampa - 24km / 15 miles
Marcocasa to Soraypampa - 8km / 5 miles
Sayllapata to Soraypampa - 3km / 2 miles
Soraypampa to Salkantaypampa - 3km / 2 miles
Soraypampa to Soyrococha - 6km / 4 miles
Day 2
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Today is considered to be the hardest day of the trek, starting early from Soraypampa the first few hours of the day are quite easy going with the trail gently making their way up the valley leading to Salkantay. As you continue up the valley from Soraypampa the trail becomes more and more barren as the vegetation and the birdlife are unable to contend with the altitude, however the views of Humantay and Salkantay looming above you easily make up for this.
It's about a one and a half hour walk to Salkantaypampa after which the trail begins to ascend more steeply as it climbs towards the base of Salkantay. There is one particularly tough ascent about an hour before the pass called the seven snakes, a switchback which goes straight up the mountainside for about 400 vertical meters / 1310ft. Once you've made it up the switchback the trail levels out again until you reach the small lake at Soyrococha where it's common to stop for a break before the final climb up to the pass. From here it's just another 40 a minutes up to the pass after which it's all downhill until you reach Machu Picchu.
On this side of the pass the environment changes considerably, the wildlife becomes more abundant and you may spot deer and a small rabbit like chinchilla called Viscacha. There is also a wide variety of birdlife to be seen including Ibis, Lapwings and Andean Geese and gulls.
There are various campsites you can use today, Wayracmachay is the first which is about three hours after the pass; the other campsites are Chaullay or Collpapampa which are found on opposite sides of the river to each other, both are about a four hour trek from Wayracmachay.
Walking Distances
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Soraypampa to Salkantay Pass - 7km / 4.5 miles
Salkantaypampa to Salkantay Pass - 4km / 2.5 miles
Soyrococha to Salkantay Pass - 1km / 0.6 miles
Salkantay Pass to Wayracmachay - 7km / 4.5 miles
Salkantay Pass to Chaullay/Colpapampa - 16km / 10 miles
Day 3
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Today the scenery completely changes, gone are the high mountains and in their place comes the low-land jungle. As soon as you leave Wayracmachay you find the path quickly dropping down in to a warm, lush and green valley in which you can find many varieties of flowers and species of birds including toucans, cock of the rock and many species of hummingbirds. Arriving to this valley really gives you a new lease of life, the sudden change from the stark beauty of the mountains to the warmth and richness of the jungle is something to behold.
The path slowly descends in to the valley making its way towards the village of Chaullay, after about three hours walk you arrive to the village where it is common to stop for a rest and to buy some snacks to give you an energy boost. Make sure you put on a liberal quantity of bug spray before you arrive to the village as the mosquitoes from there onwards have a particularly nasty bite.
From Chaullay you follow the road for a short distance snaking your way down towards the main valley. Once you reach the valley floor you cross a small bridge and follow a small pathway along the banks of the river all the way to your final campsite in the village of La Playa. From La Playa some companies choose to transfer their tourists to the village of Santa Teresa to spend the night; this is a 40 minute journey by bus.
Walking Distances
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Wayracmachay to La Playa - 22km / 14 miles
Chaullay/Colpapampa to La Playa - 13km / 8 miles
Day 4
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Starting from La Playa
This is the final stretch of the route to Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of Machu Picchu). After 3 hard days trekking it's a gentle descent towards Hidroelectrica which is where many people to choose to finish their trek. It's about a 4 hour walk during which you can enjoy the rich variety of life and see the many plantations dotted throughout the area. From Hidroelectrica if you want to you can jump on the mid-day train to Aguas Calientes, however if you still have some energy then you can continue following the train tracks for another 3 hours until you arrive at the town.
If the first three days of the trek weren't challenging enough then there is a side trip which some agencies offer their tourists. About one hours walk out of La Playa you pass by the start of one of the Inca Trails which leads up to a small archeological site called Llactapata. From Llactapata you get fantastic views overlooking Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountain range but it is a fairly challenging option. You have to climb about 800 meters and then descend the same amount; however it is well worth the time and energy. In total this excursion adds about 2-3 hours on to the total walking time for the day.
Starting from Santa Teresa
Today you take a local bus for about 40 minutes to Hidroelectrica from where you begin the final leg of your trek. The path follows the trainline all the way to Aguas Calientes, along the way there is a wide variety of birdlife and tropical plants to be seen. In total it's about a 3 hour walk to Aguas Calientes.
Once you arrive in Aguas Calientes it's time to relax, you will be taken to your hotel where you can have a shower and collapse in to bed. If you brought your swimming costume then you also have the option of visiting the thermal springs in the village, a definite must to ease out all the aches and pains you suffered over the last 4 days.
Walking Distances
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La Playa to Hidroelectrica - 13.5km / 8 miles
Hidroelectrica to Aguas Calientes - 10km / 6 miles
Day 5
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It's an early start today so you can get up to Machu Picchu before the crowds arrive. You have breakfast at your hotel and then take one of the first buses (the first bus leaves at 5:20am) to be able to enter Machu Picchu as it opens at 6am. On arrival you are taken on a guided tour of the site which typically lasts about 2 hours. During your tour the guide will explain to you the history and importance of the site and answer any outstanding questions you may have. Afterwards you will have free time to explore the city by yourselves; your return train is normally scheduled for a mid afternoon departure giving you time to look around at your leisure before you head back to Cusco.
If you have also bought permits to climb Wayna Picchu then you can make your way there after your tour to begin your climb. Click here for more information about Wayna Picchu.