Hiking the Salkantay Trek without a guide was one, if not the hardest achievements I’ve ever done physically and mentally. Needless to say it felt like an amazing accomplishment once completed but to say the journey was easy would be an understatement.
It is highly recommended that you trek the Salkantay Trail with a hired guide. I think that going on a guided tour is an excellent approach, but that’s not what this post is about.
In this post I want to explain exactly how to hike the classic Salkantay Trek independently, the pro’s and cons of hiring a guide or going at it on your own, what to expect, where to stay, the Salkantay trek cost and any tips that will help you on this adventure.
There’s not a lot of detailed information online on how to go about the Salkantay Trek independently so I want this to be the only post you’ll have to read.
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- Difficulty: Strenuous
- Duration: 4-5 Days
- Distance: 46 Miles
- Peak Elevation: 15,090 feet at Salkantay Pass
- Total Cost Per Person: $362 USD
The Salkantay Trek, often referred to as the alternative trek to Machu Picchu is considered to be one of the top 25 hikes in the world, let alone one of the best hikes in Peru. If you are looking to go hiking in South America, the Salkantay trail should be on the top of your list.
Unlike the classic Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trail doesn’t require a guide. The Salkantay trail is 46 miles in completion that takes you through rugged mountain terrain and connects Cusco to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. The maximum elevation of this strenuous trek is at 15,090 feet at the Salkantay Pass.
On this hike you will see some of the most beautiful landscapes in Peru. Think snow capped mountains, free roaming horses, alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls and lush subtropical rainforest.
This trek is a combination of culture and natural beauty that has be well preserved by the Peruvian people. If you’re looking for an extraordinary adventure intertwined with authentic experiences and natural beauty continue reading on.
Machu Picchu Salkantay Trek 5 Days without a Guide (or Tent)
When I first presented this idea of hiking the Salkantay trek to Machu Pichu without a guide, without a tent or without reservations to my partner Joe, he was a bit skeptical at first. Heck, all of my friends and family thought I had lost it a bit. But with a bit of planning, determination and a hunger for adventure, hiking the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu can easily be done on your own.
The Salkantay Trek can be done in 4 or 5 days. I recommend the Salkantay trek 5 days route as it breaks up the fourth and fifth days and the accommodations on each of those nights are worthy of a stay.
It is possible to camp on this trek, if you are a hard core backpacker and have all the necessary gear. There are designated campsites along the trail.
I love trekking but I prefer prefer to trek guesthouses like on the Colca Canyon Trek & Quitlotoa Loop which is what we did on this trek. Now, the Machu Picchu Salkantay trek 5 days without a guide, tent or reservations.
Day 1: Cusco to Soraypampa | Side hike to Humantay Lake
- Distance: 3.7 Miles (Challacancha to Soraypampa)
- Duration: 6 Hours including the side hike to Humantay Lake
- Peak Elevation: 13,845 feet at Lake Humantay
- Total Cost Per Person: 150 Soles = 40 USD
Our day started early with a 3:45am wake up call as we had to make our way to Soraypampa and did not have accommodation booked in advance. To get from Cusco to Soraypampa you must first catch a collectivo (shared mini-van) to Mollepata. They leave every hour when the van gets full. It took about two hours and cost 20 Soles.
There are several collectivo stations in Cusco that go to different towns and villages making it easy and cheap to go on day trips. If you download the Maps.Me app, the exact location of where the Mollepata collectivo station will pop up. The Maps.Me app has been one of the best apps and top tips to know before hiking the Salkantay trail.
From Mollepata you’ll then catch a cab to Challacancha where most trekkers begin the hike. From here it takes 3.7 miles (6.1 kilometers) to reach the town of Soraypampa. Soraypampa is located at the base of Lake Humantay where you will stay on your first night.
It is possible to catch a cab all the way to Soraypampa which is what we did. We did this for several reasons.
A – We did not train or prepare for this hike at all so we wanted to save our legs as much as we could.
B – We did not have a place to stay in advance so we wanted to get here as early as possible to reserve a room.
C – Once you’re here a side trip to Lake Humantay takes an exhausting 1.5-2 hours to complete, so you’ll still get some hiking in on the first day.
The cab ride should cost around 20 Soles but the cabbie ripped us off and we ended up paying 60 as he was arguing with us to pay more. At this point we had just started our travels and haven’t perfected our Spanish or haggling skills yet.
I’ll go over where we stayed in Soraypampa in the Salkantay accommodation section but know that there’s nothing available online to pre-book so you’ll have to figure that out the day of. We traveled here in shoulder season (April, May, September, and October ) which made finding accommodation the day of relatively easy and stress free.
Check out this post for a detailed guide on how to visit Humantay Lake independently. It’s one of the most popular places to visit in Peru.
Day 2: Soraypampa to Chawallay
- Distance: 12.44 Miles (20 Kilometers)
- Duration: 11 Hours
- Peak Elevation: 15,090 feet at Salkantay Pass
- Total Cost Per Person: 110 Soles = 29 USD
Day two requires another early start as today will be the toughest and longest day of the Salkantay trek. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – today was brutal. On day two of the Salkantay Trek we climb our highest elevation topping out at 15,090 feet through the Salkantay Pass.
Breakfast that came with our room was served at 5:30am and we were on the trail by 6:15am. Salkantay Mountain lit up the area and just staring at that beast of a mountain, we knew we were in for a long day.
Starting up the valley, the trail splits with the low path along the river on the left and the high road on the right. All of the tour groups and mules were taking the high road thus we choose the path to the left.
The first mile you are walking along the river until you gradually start to ascend up a series of switchbacks. These become very tiring, very quickly as there are parts of the trail that get painfully steep. It felt like we had to break every 3 steps. Elevation is no joke, especially for our sea level living assess.
After a grueling 5 hours we reached Salkantay Pass just before noon. The pass was impressive to say the least. Let me just say that, reaching Salkantay Pass shouldn’t take 5 hours but we were filming a vlog of the trek, had no training what so ever and unfortunately packed poorly as our bags were too heavy full of camera gear.
We thought the climb was painful, but the descent all the way to Chawallay was inhumane. The next 5 hours down the valley consisted of a steep, rocky and sometimes muddy trail.
This is where hiking poles are a blessing. I have never used hiking poles until this hike and I don’t think we would have made it without them. We each bought a pair of hiking poles in Cusco for 50 Soles a pair.
We finally arrived in Chawallay just after 5. Everything was hurting. Our backs, our shoulders, our feet and especially our knees. We stayed at the Salkantay Hostel which I was able to pre-book online. This was a game changer as there are only a few private rooms available and they get snagged up quick. Can we say hot shower and wifi?
Day 3: Chawallay to Lucmabamba
- Distance: 9 Miles (14.4 Kilometers)
- Duration: 6 Hours
- Peak Elevation: 9400 feet
- Total Cost Per Person: 121 Soles = 33 USD
Day 3, arguably just as hard as the previous day because you’re sore, tired and mentally exhausted as by now you probably have a good idea of what lies ahead of you. Today’s trek takes you through the valley to the beautiful town full of coffee plantations, Lucmabamba.
Once you make your way through town there are two options. To the right of the river along a dusty, dirt road or to the left of the river which takes you along mountainsides, past cascading waterfalls and through lush subtropical vegetation. Needless to say we choose the scenic route to the left.
It went up and down for a bit but the majority of the day was on the decline. There were a handful of shops selling water and snacks in small villages along the way. These are nice places to take a load off, eat a snack as there were benches and a comfortable place to sit. But honestly at this point we were so exhausted that sitting in the dirt wasn’t a rare sight if you saw us.
We crossed a rickety bridge and were finally almost to Lucmabamba. The man running the Salkantay Hostel that we stayed at the night before, booked us a night at Freddie and Lia’s Coffee Plantation. Being so tired, sore and border line hangry, heading to an exact location was relieving. For 15 Soles we even went on a tour of the coffee plantation where we hand roasted some coffee.
Day 4: Lucmabamba to Llactapata
- Distance: 3.7 Miles (6 Kilometers)
- Duration: 3 Hours
- Peak Elevation: 8800 feet in Llactapatata
- Total Cost Per Person: 110 Soles = 29 USD
This is the extra day that makes the Salkantay Trek 5 days. If you are short on time or are ambitious, you can make in a Salkantay Trek 4 days by trekking from Lucmabamba all the way to Aguas Calientes.
By day 4 you are exhausted – mentally and physically – so a short hike to Llactapata is something to look forward to. Plus choosing the beauty and views of Llactapata versus the touristy hot springs in Santa Teresa is the way to go.
From Lucmabamba to Llactapata it takes 3 hours on an upward climb for 3.7 miles to the only lodge in the area. The Llactapata Lodge is a beautiful property that overlooks the backside of Machu Picchu and offers some of the best views over the valley.
Nothing sounds better than a beer and lunch after hiking uphill in the humid jungle for hours. Most hikers chose to just pass through Llactapata but I think once they pass through Llactapata they feel otherwise.
Day 5: Llactapata to Aguas Calientes
- Distance: 13 Miles
- Duration: 9 Hours
- Peak Elevation: 8800 feet in Llactapatata
- Total Cost Per Person: 250 Soles = 67 USD (only because we had to buy 38 dollar train tickets so this expense can be avoided)
From Llactapata, it’s all downhill until you reach the hydroelectrica plant. This is a long day. Once you reach the railway station, there are a few restaurants and several shops where you can buy water and snacks. Get fueled up for the 7 miles along the railroad tracks to Aguas Calientes,
Spoiler alert…Joe messed up his knee on the 3 day and by the time we reached Hydroelectrica, Joe could barely walk. We figured we would buy a train ticket at the rail station and finish the journey on the train. Boy were we wrong. Turns out you can only buy a train ticket in person in Cusco or in Aguas Calientes at the Peru Rail station.
Woof. At this point, we had three options. Catch a collectivo back to Cusco and then get a train ticket to Aguas Calientes. Hobble our way to Aguas Calientes. Or beg someone to let us on the train.
Thank gosh Peruvian people are some of the nicest people we’ve encountered on all my years of travel. Thanks to an amazing soul (shoutout to Eduardo), we managed to get on the train and then purchased tickets for that ride once we arrived in Aguas Calientes.
Day 6: Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu
- Distance: 3 Miles not including wondering around Machu Picchu
- Duration: 3-4 Hours
- Peak Elevation: 8800 feet at the top of Huayna Picchu
- Total Cost Per Person: 570 Soles = 153 USD (Train tickets back to Cusco, Machu Picchu & Huayna Tickets)
The day has finally arrived to visit the great Inca Citadel, Machu Picchu. Tickets to Machu Picchu must be booked in advance and tickets for Huayna Picchu farther in advance. Huayna Picchu is the mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu and I highly recommend that you get tickets for this hike. The views are well worth the hour steep climb.
There are two ways to reach Machu Picchu once in Aguas Calientes – by bus or you can hike up. The hike up the mountain is very steep and with Joe’s knee being a bit busted we opted for the bus. It cost $12 one way per person and tickets can be purchased in town. Make sure you bring your passport as you need it to buy tickets.
We had tickets for the earliest entry at 6 am. We were waiting in line by 5:15am and caught the second bus going up the mountain. I’ve heard contradicting opinions on whether you should get Machu Picchu tickets for sunrise or sunset.
Some say that sunrise tends to be more cloudy at the mountain peaks so when you climb Huayna Picchu you won’t be able to see the ancient city below. Personally, we had the best weather and not a cloud in sight the morning that we climbed Huayna Picchu and it was so rewarding to be the first ones at the top of the mountain.
I won’t go into too much detail about Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu but if you’d like to learn more check out this post on Machu Picchu tips, tricks, routes, costs and more.
Where to Stay on the Salkantay Trek
Accommodations in Soraypampa
The small village of Soraypampa has the least amount of choices for walk up accommodations. Most of the places/dome huts are reserved for tour groups.
There was a small market where all the tour buses parked for day trippers to start the climb up to Humantay Lake. There was a lovely women inside the market that had 2 rooms available to stay the night for 60 Soles per person. No shower or heat and only an outside bathroom that you share with a duck. Yes, there was a duck inside the bathroom when I used it.
There was another option closer to the base of Lake Humantay called Backpacker Humantay. There was a dorm room and 4 small huts with 2 twin beds inside of each. This is where we stayed. We paid 80 Soles per person for a private hut and that included dinner and breakfast. This place also had no heat but each bed had 5 thick blankets and shared shower/bathroom.
Accommodations in Chawallay
There are lots more accommodation options in Chawallay, so walking up and finding a place shouldn’t be a problem. However, I absolutely recommend that you reserve a room at the Salkantay Hostel ahead of time.
After a long day of hiking its nice knowing you have a comfortable, warm room waiting for you. Plus it comes with a hot shower, wifi and breakfast. Salkantay Hostel is pictured above.
Accommodations in Lucmabamba
If you took my recommendation and booked at the Salkantay Hostel, the gentleman that runs the establishment can make you a reservation at an awesome avocado, banana and coffee plantation. Lucmabamba is full of coffee plantations and most of them have rooms on the farm.
We stayed at Freddie and Lia’s Coffee Plantation and it was wonderful. The rooms were spacious, breakfast was all grown on the farm, hot showers and a stunning property. For 15 Soles we got a tour of the beautiful coffee plantation where we roasted our own coffee and then consumed it. We then bought a bag for 25 Soles because they were the nicest people and the coffee was that good.
Accommodations in Llactapata
There is only one accommodation in Llactapata which thankfully you can reserve online. The Llactapata Lodge is a beautiful property that overlooks the backside of Machu Picchu. The only way to reach this lodge is by trekking 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) the alternative Inca trail to the Lodge.
Accommodations in Aguas Calientes
There are tons of places to stay in Aguas Calientes. You can get rent a bed if you are on a budget or splurge on a luxurious resort. After the long trek we wanted to treat ourselves a bit so we opted for a nicer stay at Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel. All the rooms were large with balconies, hot showers with great water pressure, good WiFi and even Netflix.
Guided Salkantay Trek Tour Versus Independently
About 95% of people who embark on this trek do in with on a guided tour. Now there’s nothing wrong with a guided tour. It supports the locals, you get to learn more about the history and surroundings and its less rugged. Below I’ll list the pro’s and con’s of going with a guided tour.
Pro’s on a Guided Tour:
- Guaranteed place to stay every night.
- Hot meals are prepared for you.
- Bags are carried for you.
- Learn about history and your surroundings.
- Not want to have to think or plan logistics.
- Like having everything planned out for you.
Cons of a Guided Tour:
- More expensive
- On a strict time schedule.
- Not able to go at your own pace.
- Hiking with a bigger group of people.
If you have a thirst for adventure, thrive off shocked looks when passing the other trekking groups, are on a budget and prefer to be on your own time with only the company of your group then I would absolutely embark on this adventure independently.
Salkantay Trek Prices
The average price of a guided tour of the Salkantay Trek is anywhere from $350 to $700 per person. This includes everything from transportation, food, accommodations (usually in a tent) and Machu Picchu entrance tickets. The total cost we spent $725 as a couple or $362 per person.
This could easily be done for 100-200 dollars cheaper as we splurged on a room in Aguas Calientes, had to buy train tickets from Hydroelectrica, took the bus to and from Machu Picchu, spent extra on tickets to Huayna Picchu, bought hiking poles in Cusco and drank several victory beers on a nightly basis.
We coulda saved $124 alone if we didn’t ride the train from Hydroelectrica or the bus to and from Machu Picchu. Plus we got ripped off by a cabbie and prefer our own rooms versus a dorm.
Breakdown of Salkantay Trek by Day per Couple
- Collectivo to Mollepata – 40 Soles
- Cab to Soraypampa – 60 Soles
- Entry ticket to Lake Humantay – 40 Soles
- First night accommodation, dinner and breakfast – 160 Soles
- Total = $80 USD or 300 Soles
- Salkantay Hostel – 160 Soles
- Dinner and victory beers – 60 Soles
- Total = $59 USD or 220 Soles
- Room at the coffee plantation – 188 Soles
- Coffee tour x 2 – 30 Soles
- Bag of coffee – 25 Soles
- Total = $65 USD or 243 Soles
- Room Llactapata Lodge – 180 Soles
- Dinner & a beer – 30 Soles
- Total = $56 USD or 210 Soles
- Nice hotel in Aguas Calientes – 200 Soles
- Train ticket from Hydroelectrica – 240 Soles
- Dinner – 60 Soles
- Total = $134 or 500 Soles
- Machu Picchu & Huayna Picchu Tickets – 560 Soles
- Bus tickets to and from Machu Picchu – 180 Soles
- Train tickets back to Cusco – 400 Soles
- Total = $305 USD or 1,140 Soles
Additional Expenses for the Salkantay Trek
- Hiking Poles = 50 Soles
- Total = 25 USD or 50 Soles
Salkantay Trek Preparation
- Book your tickets to Machu Picchu in advance and your tickets to Huayna Picchu farther in advance.
- Book train transportation from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco in advance as well. Trains fill up quicker going out of town versus going in.
- No permits are required to hike the Salkantay Trail.
- Hiking poles were a game changer. You absolutely will need these for the descent from Salkantay Pass.
- Bug spray with high % of deet is necessary once you get to Lucamabamba.
- Avoid altitude sickness by giving yourself time to acclimatize. Coca leaves and Muna tea.
- Park smart. Pack light.
- Most hotels and hostels offer free luggage storage.
- Drones are not allowed at the summit or on the trail in general. Reasons being that their are condors that fly and it scares the horses on the trail. There are no signs posted but a local guide came over and told us that we weren’t allowed to fly as we were flying ours.
Salkantay Trek Packing List
Packing smart and light is essential for a successful trek. Below is a quick packing list for the Salkantay trek. Joe and I made the mistake of over packing and towards the end of the trek, we were dying!
Packing is such a key component to a triumphant trek that I made an entire detailed post about what to bring on the Salkantay trek including what to bring, what not to bring and why. Here’s a quick Salkantay packing list.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, found it useful or if there’s anything I missed that you think would be beneficial to future hikers, give me a shout out in the comments below. I’d love to hear if this post was helpful to someone andI try to keep my guides as up-to-date as possible, so your experiences and any useful information that could help out your fellow travelers goes a long way.
If you are planning your trip to Peru, I spent 2 months traveling around this beautiful country so check out my Peru travel page for inspiration.