Salkantay Trek in Peru: A once-in-a-lifetime experience hiking to Machu Picchu

Peru. The ancient land of the Incans.

Astounding natural beauty. Festivals galore with rich cultural heritage. Heaven for the active and adventurous traveler.

Think Peru and the first thing that pops into your mind is the glorious ancient site of Machu Picchu. We did the Salkantay Trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru from Cusco to reach Machu Picchu. This has to be one of the most unforgettable Peru treks!

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This mystical site is set in a spectacular location.

Also, read: Have you visited any of the 7 New Wonders of the World?

An upscale trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru

Peru is a dream destination for trekking and there are many amazing trails in this marvellous country besides the well-known Inca trail. Hiking the ancient route – the Inca Trail – to Machu Picchu did not appeal to me. Camping, sharing toilets and backpacking is just not my style. There are also many restrictions on the Inca trail – the government of Peru gives limited passes to 500 persons per day, porters included.

A colleague from my husband’s Sao Paulo office suggested the Salkantay Trek offered by Mountain Lodges of Peru (MLP).

The famous Salkantay Trek (or Salcantay Trek) is named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.

Salkantay Route takes trekkers through fifteen bio-zones, across stunning mountain passes, and to heights up to 15,000 feet, along its path to the ancient Inca city of Machu Picchu.

Apart from avoiding the crowds at the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Route offers a lodge-to-lodge trekking option. This is ideal for travelers looking for upscale hiking opportunities, without sacrificing a good night sleep or other comforts of luxury travel.

I looked at their boutique lodges in the wilderness – heated rooms with soft beds, warm showers, gourmet food, and internet. Luxury in pristine surroundings. I was sold!

Built according to eco-friendly practices, the lodges by Mountain Lodges of Peru ensure that guests will experience the wonders of the Peruvian landscape without negatively impacting its environment.

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Traverse a mountain pass over 15,000 feet on the Salkantay Trek!

This is a moderate difficulty level trek. You carry only a small backpack with you – water, some snacks and personal care stuff. All the luggage gets transported between lodges on mules. Picnic lunches and gourmet dinners in lodges are arranged before you reach the spot.

But you still need to hike for 4 – 6 hours by yourself! You do cross an altitude of 15,000 ft. So even with all the luxuries and facilities, the trek certainly demands more than a moderate level of fitness.

Reaching Cusco

A brief 1 hour 20 min flight from Lima got us to Cusco, the starting point of the Salkantay Trek. Cusco has several activites to do including a tour to Moray and Maras.

From sea level to an altitude of more than 11000 ft in an hour is not something your body is used to. So make sure you reach Cusco a day or two early and get acclimatized. My husband had a bad headache on the first day in Cusco, the coca tea and chewing the coca leaves helped him a lot.

Cusco or Cuzco – South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city – is the gateway to Machu Picchu. This city steeped in history and heritage has enough to offer for a day or two of exploration. But we were on a tight schedule in our 3-week South American sojourn. We spent the day resting in our hotel and wandering through its cobblestone streets and the main square, Plaza de Armas.

We met with other guests on the trek and had a briefing session with the MLP staff that evening.

Here is a brief account of my most exhilarating trek till date. I have added enough photos to spark your wanderlust!

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Day 1 – Cusco To Salkantay Lodge

Today was an early start with the MLP guide waiting for us in the hotel lobby. We first drove to the Inca ruins of Tarawasi (about 1.5 hours from Cusco) and then the mountain village of Mollepata.

We then ascended a winding mountain road to reach the starting point of the trek. I couldn’t be more excited! But this was the first day and with a 6-hour trek ahead, we were advised to pace ourselves and not rush through anything.

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Lush valleys and peaks all along the trek.
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Taking a break!

It is difficult to describe the beauty of our surroundings in words. You feel surreal walking the path that has been used by many for centuries before. The route we were taking to the first lodge – Salkantay Lodge in Soraypampa – was called the “Camino Real” or the Royal Path.

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Each day’s trek ends with a hot shower in a cozy lodge, and a gourmet meal provided by local staff.

And the friendly welcome at the Salkantay Lodge (at 3,869 m/12,690 ft) is just what you need after the first day of working all those unused muscles. I assure you that the view of the Salkantay Peak from this lodge is unforgettable.

Day 2 – Hike to Lake Humantay

The hike to Humantay Lake on the second day is optional. But it is advised to do this moderate-to-challenging hike as it is good for acclimatization and immersion into high-mountain trekking that is to come later.

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You have to be comfortable with steep descents.
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Some of us dipped our toes in the deliciously cold water.

The views and crystal-clear water of Laguna Humantay or Humantay Lake are definitely worth a visit. This is also a popular day trip from Cusco. And after experiencing the beauty of the lake, I sure can understand why.

Those who have vertigo may find the descent a bit challenging – it is a narrow path. But if you have no fear of heights, the landscape with green mountains around is stunning. Once you are back to the Salkantay Lodge, do make use of the outdoor jacuzzi to relax and enjoy the clear views of Salkantay Peak.

Day 3 – Crossing the Salkantay Pass

This is the most strenuous day of all. We reach the trek’s highest point on the Salkantay Pass (at 4,638 m/15,213 ft). The peak from here looked formidable and only something for expert mountaineers to scale.

Salkantay is the second most sacred peak in Inca mythology and, at 20,600 ft (6,270 m), the highest in the region. The name Salkantay is a Quechua word meaning “Savage Mountain”.

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The south face of Salkantay towered over us.
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A local belief: Piling stones brings luck on the trek.
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A closer look at the Salkantay.

We trekked for about 7-8 hours and we all had blisters on our feet. Thankfully, an American guest on the hike was carrying moleskin – an excellent bandage for those blisters.

We were all relieved to reach the Wayra Lodge (at 3,906 m/12,812 ft) and soak our tired feet in warm water. If not for the heated lodge and excellent food, I really couldn’t have gotten up from the bed the next morning.

Day 4 – Descending into the Cloud Forest

An easy downhill hike was on the cards on Day 4. This is a much-needed break after crossing the Salkantay Pass.

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Nature at its most scenic!

Gushing streams, verdant scenery, an easy path to follow – all made for a resplendent day to be outdoors.

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It was fun to cross the rope bridges over some of these streams.

The Colpa Lodge (2,870 m/9,414 ft) built in picturesque surroundings was a great place to put our feet up. By this time, we were familiar with all guests, helped each other on the trek with amenities and advice, had swapped our travels and adventures, and brought out the cards and board games to play each evening.

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Day 5 – Following the Santa Teresa River Valley

The hike of 5-6 hours was again at a moderate level. We passed through banana, and avocado orchards and coffee plantations (said to be one of the best organic coffees in the world).

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Can you spot me?

Lucma Lodge (at 2,135 m/7,003 ft) set in an avocado orchard makes you feel like you are alone in this world.

Day 6 – Lucmabamba to Aguas Caliente

This is the last day of the trek to be tackled.

We head uphill for 2-3 hours towards Llactapata pass (2,736 m/8,974ft), where we come upon a distant view of Machu Picchu from the southwest, a view few tourists ever glimpse.

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A trek of a lifetime!

We began our final descent to the Aobamba River through lush bamboo forests and more orchards and coffee plantations (2-3 hour descent).

We then arrived in Aguas Calientes (now referred to as Machu Picchu Pueblo) to check-in to the luxurious Inkaterra Hotel for the night. This hotel was also booked by Mountain Lodges of Peru for us.

Day 7 – Machu Picchu to Cusco

We wake up early to have breakfast at the hotel and then make our way to the bus station for the ride up to Machu Picchu (30 min).

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Visit the site first thing in the morning to avoid crowds.

A complete guided tour of Machu Picchu was provided (2 hours). We then had some additional time to explore the site on our own—there is a lot to do and see.

Afterward, we returned by bus to Aguas Calientes for lunch and then to go to the train station. The train took us to Ollantaytambo (1.5 hrs), and then we reached Cusco via a private vehicle.

After the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is the 2nd most popular trek to Machu Picchu (and a lot less crowded). The Salkantay adventure taken by us with Mountain Lodges of Peru goes beyond deluxe lodges and a great trek. It is a unique opportunity to discover the beauty of Peru, see its varied landscape and rich flora and fauna, experience history at the mystical Machu Picchu.

Peru Travel: For more information and resources, check out at the Peru Tourism website.

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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

26 thoughts

  1. The Sakantay Trek with mountain lodges in Peru looks like a life time experience. Till day, I haven’t heard about this trek, Everything there looks so pristine and out of world. I am surely going to visit that glacier Lake, whenever travelling to Peru. Lovely pictures.

  2. The Salkantay Trek with Mountain Lodges of Peru sounds like an epic experience! As much as we love hiking the Inca trail didn’t appeal to us either when we did Machu Picchu, so we took the train, but I would definitely be interested in a lodge to lodge hiking trek. And I love that the lodges are built according to eco-friendly practices. It’s so fabulous too that the landscapes are so diverse on this trek – another thing that kind of turned us off the Inca trail, as we heard from many people the scenery got a little monotonous. But you definitely saw different bio-zones. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of this trek before, thankyou for sharing your experience 🙂

    1. Meg, as an adventure traveler, you will love the Salkantay route. It has everything going for it – comfort lodging, scenic hikes, glacier lakes, bridge ropes, gushing waterfalls.

  3. Incredible! I too am deterred by the thought of a congested Inca Trail so I’m happy to find out there are alternative routes. Definitely pinning this for future planning! The Savage Mountain is it now? Very interesting to learn this is the second most sacred peak in Incan mythology with all the mountain ranges around the country.

  4. This looks incredible! I did the Inca Trail a few years ago and met several people who had done this as an alternative, but this stands alone as an incredible experience – no need to call it an alternative! That lake is unreal-looking! I’ve been trying to convince my husband to do the Inca Trail with me again (he’s not done it before) but this sounds like the trek I want to do now!

  5. Definitely on the bucket list. Less people is always a plus. I feel like I would half wanna take the train and half wanna hike. Hmm choices lol

  6. What an amazing trek! I don’t know if I’m in good enough shape to take that on, but I’d love to feel the exhilaration of being in those places and seeing those views (plus enjoying the comfortable lodging every night)! Machu Picchu is definitely a place I’d love to see some day!

    1. Tami, this would require some preparation especially for the third day. But the lodging makes it easy. There are easier ways of reaching Machu Picchu. But this trek definitely is a glorious way of immersing in Peru’s natural beauty.

  7. Wow, awesome scenes on the Salkantay Trek indeed. And to think that at the end of the day you get cozy lodges for hot meals and a great night of rest. Finally, to end with Machu Picchu sounds like the trip of a lifetime! This is what I will recommend to my husband.

  8. Gosh I wish I’d heard of this ten years ago – the Salkantay route sounds so much better than the backpacking/camping option most people follow! Great post – I just hope it doesn’t get too popular too soon!

  9. This is great info, thanks for sharing. I’m dying to go to Macchu Picchu but I also like to avoid hoards of tourists, I’ll definitely take a look at the Salkantay trek

    1. There are many ways of reaching Machu Picchu. This route is amazing if you enjoy trekking and immersing yourself in nature for 5 days before reaching the Inca citadel.

  10. This hike looks incredible! Plus I love avoiding crowded spots, so this would be the perfect hike for me! Although if I had enough time, I’d definitely try to do both haha. Your photos are so beautiful!

  11. I am like you in many ways. If I was offered the chance to avoid the crowds and choose an alternative rout I would be all for it! I haven’t been to Peru but it’s one of the places I’d love to go!

    1. I love less crowded routes. But let me be honest – my husband and I chose this because we dislike camping, wanted the lodge comforts. But it is a more scenic route to Machu Picchu. Peru has a lot of natural beauty, you will enjoy it whenever you do go.

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