Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Stunning 6-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu in the wild back country of Peru

Peru adventure tour

Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu Guided Backpacking Trip

The conventional Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu is famous for being a rugged, naturally beautiful route to the famous Incan citadel. Unfortunately, in recent years this hiking adventure has become extremely overcrowded with all kinds of tourists. To steer clear of these throngs of tourists, Haku Expeditions has developed an alternative Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu for strong, experienced trekkers where the crowds are replaced by wildlife and solitude. This 6-day trek is the perfect alternative Inca Trail hike.

Salkantay Trek Description:

The crowds will go to the west of Nevado Salkantay on the classic Salkantay to Machu Picchu route; we’ll venture to the east, where miles of breathtaking Peruvian back country and wildlife await. The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu crosses two incredible mountain passes, one at Abra Inkachillaska (5,000m) and the other at Abra Palqay (4,700m). We’ll even pass through Apu Salkantay Base Camp, where climbers and mountaineers begin ascents to the highest point of the Vilcabamba mountain range, the mighty Salkantay. The trail then descends the wild, uninhabited Ahobamba Valley, passing pre-Inca ruins on the way north to Machu Picchu. Haku’s Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu boasts spectacular views, flora, fauna, and places that are still truly wild compared to the normal, overpopulated route. This guided backpacking trip is a perfect alternative Inca trail hike.

Why choose Haku’s Salkantay Trek:

There are only two hiking companies in Peru that offer trekking holidays on this particular route of the Salkantay trail. With Haku, you’ll be one of the few people who get to travel by this side of Salkantay to the Lost City of the Incas.

Adventure Tour Dates:

Dates for our Stunning 6-Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

What you can expect

Salkantay Trek Highlights

Some highlights to look forward to on your Peru 6-Day Alternative Inca Trail Hike:

Live a Peruvian adventure

Full Salkantay Trek Details

This first day is about relaxing and acclimating. We’ll begin with a 3.5 hour drive from Cusco (3,300m) to Soraypampa (3,900m). After lunch we can relax and enjoy the views of Salkantay mountain.

If you’re feeling especially ambitious today you can hike up to Humantay glacial lake. This lake is gorgeous. However, we must warn you it will be filled with plenty of tourists being bused in from Cusco, and also those who hike the over crowded Salkantay trail. Don’t worry – we’ll have plenty of crystalline glacial lakes to ourselves after we hit the trail!

Salkantay Trek Stats:

  • Driving time: 3.5 hrs
  • Lodging: Local Cabins
  • Meals included: L, D

Today we’ll leave the tourist crowds of the classic Salkantay Trek behind and head into the wild Peruvian backcountry, on one of the most epic trekking holidays in the world!

We’re starting off strong today — we have two mountain passes to negotiate over many hours of hiking. The first pass, Inkachillaska (4,950m), lies right next to the towering Mount Salkantay, the highest point in the Vilcabamba Mountain Range. A couple of bright green glacial lakes below the pass and views stretching to distant mountain ranges give you the feeling of being among the condors, seeing the world from above. After going down the other side, we have lunch in the spacious pasture Sisaypampa (4,200m). The next pass, Palqay (4,700m), is a 500 meter climb through switchbacks to a rocky mountain ridge between Mount Salkantay and Mount Palqay. This will bring us over the divide and into another world. An hour below the pass, we arrive to Doña Lucilla’s house (4,200m), where we will spend the night. Tonight may be spent in tents or cabins.

Today and on Day 3, we’ll have horses and arriero (horseman) service to carry our expedition and personal gear.

Salkantay Trek Stats:

  • Hiking time: 8-9 hours
  • Distance: 19 kilometers/12 miles
  • Max Elevation: 4961 meters/16,315 ft
  • Elevation gain: 1456 meters/4776 ft
  • Elevation loss: 1246 meters/ 4087 ft
  • Lodging: Cabins or tents
  • Meals: B, L, D, snacks

As we hike deeper into the Ahobamba valley, the mountain walls tower ever higher around us, blocking us from the outside world. Today is much easier than day 2 — only 7km, downhill, giving us time to appreciate the many waterfalls cascading down from the high peaks. In fact, we’ll pass by the highest waterfall in Peru, which is over 160m tall! We’ll arrive at the Ahobamba House (3,500m) around midday, so we’ll have a free afternoon to visit the ruins of a spectacular ancient Inca town right across the river.

Salkantay Trek Stats:

  • Hiking time: 2-3 hours
  • Distance: 7 kilometers/ 4 miles
  • Max elevation: 4132 meters/ 13,556 ft
  • Elevation gain: 96 meters/ 321 ft.
  • Elevation loss: 683 meters/2241 ft
  • Lodging: Ahobamba House or tents
  • Meals: B, L, D, snacks

Today is mostly descent into the Peruvian cloud forest. The trail becomes more rugged as it traverses the sides of the valley high above the river. We’ll be hiking through a beautiful canopy of hanging forests and bamboo thickets, through which we’ll still be able to glimpse Salkantay towering over the Ahobamba valley. We’ll spend several hours today with just us and nature, before we finally get to the Cloud Forest House of Mr. Fortunato at 2,100m. Here, his family lives on a self-sufficient farm where they grow a wide variety of products such as coffee, bananas, pineapples, limes, oranges, passion fruit, avocados, potatoes, and yucca. This is where we’ll stay the night and have a meal of delicious, home-cooked, farm-to-table Peruvian food.

Salkantay Trek Stats:

  • Hiking time: 8 hours
  • Distance: 23 kilometers/14.6 miles
  • Max elevation: 3505 meters/11,499 ft
  • Elevation gain: 256 meters/ 839 ft
  • Elevation loss: 1682 meters/5518 ft
  • Lodging: Cloud Forest House
  • Meals: B, L, D, snacks

After three days in the wild, today we head back into civilization! An hour below Cloud Forest House is the Hydroelectric train station, where many routes to Machu Picchu come through. From the Hydroelectric to the tourist town of Aguas Calientes (also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo), it’s an easy 2.5 hour walk along railroad tracks. Tonight’s the night for a nice hot shower and a luxurious celebratory meal! We will provide you with an amazing, 3-course dinner at 6:45 at the Tree House, a top restaurant in Aguas Calientes. Tonight, you’ll sleep in a hotel before departing for the famous Machu Picchu in the morning.

Salkantay Trek Stats:

  • Salkantay Trek Stats: 2.5 hours
  • Distance: 14 kilometers/ 8.7 miles
  • Max Elevation: 1856 meters/ 6089 ft
  • Lodging: Hotel in Aguas Calientes
  • Meals: B, L, D, snacks

Today you’ll experience Peru’s historical holy grail — Machu Picchu, the “Lost City of the Incas”. If you wake up early enough, you’ll get to see the sun rise on Machu Picchu, a sight you won’t soon forget. Haku will provide a fully guided tour of the city and, if you would like, we can add on Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain for free as well. We’ve purchased a bus ticket for you for both the way up to and down from Machu Picchu, but if you’d prefer a sunrise hike up to the ruins, let us know!

Most people spend upwards of five hours here. Explore the ruins, have a snack, take lots of photos, or just enjoy the views. At some point, however, you’ll have to make it back down in time for your return train to Cusco or Ollantaytambo, which will be the end of an unforgettable journey.

Salkantay Trek Stats:

  • Hiking time: 4-6 hours
  • Distance: TBD by you!
  • Meals: B, L

What’s the price for my 6-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu? And what’s included?

The price for this trip is $1550 per person. This trip requires a minimum of two people in order to run.


  • All transport to and from the trail
  • All meals from lunch on the first day to lunch on the last day
  • Certified bilingual local guide for six days 
  • Salkantay entrance fees
  • Lodging for six nights in local cabins, homestays, tents and hotels
  • Horses and arrieros (horsemen) for some portions of the trip
  • Machu Picchu entrance tickets
  • Bus up to and down from Machu Picchu
  • Machu Picchu train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco or the Sacred Valley
  • Celebratory dinner in Machu Picchu Pueblo

Not Included:

  • Tips
  • Meals not mentioned
  • Hiking sticks
  • Sleeping bag

Salkantay Trek Guided Backpacking Trip Data:

  • Distance: 68 km/ 42.25 mi
  • Max Elevation: 4961 m/16,315 ft
  • Elevation gain: 1956 m/6417 ft
  • Elevation loss: 3611 m/11,846 ft

This trip is wild, rugged and intense. You must be physically fit and in shape. You also must be able to carry your own gear. While we do have horses for some portions of the trip there are parts where horses just cannot pass and you will need to carry your gear.

We have rated this Salkantay Trek as suitable for advanced trekker with a fitness level of 4/6.

Advanced Trekkers

  • For those who spend a good time of the year in nature doing multi-day adventure treks; perhaps you’re an alpinista or a rock climber 
  • For those who’ve got serious gear and significant experience in adverse conditions
  • 7-12 or more days in the mountains doesn’t faze people on these treks. Usually, they think they start smelling good on day 4
  • Fitness level 4
  • Examples: Salkantay Trek, Choquequirao Trek

4 – You exercise 3-4 times a week on a regular schedule and enjoy physical activities such as biking, hiking, skiing. You are constantly active and like to be fit and healthy. 

You enjoy longer hiking days such as 5-8 hours.

All international flights require a layover. Most layovers will be through Lima, Peru or Bogota, Colombia. In the case of flying through Lima most flights will arrive late at night in Lima and flights to Cusco will fly out in the morning. Many people get arrivals at 3-4 am and flights out around 5-6 am. 

Your options for layovers in Lima, Peru:

  • Choose a flight that has a late arrival and early departure and sleep in the airport for a few hours (Most common choice)
  • Choose a flight that has a semi-late arrival like 11 pm and a very late morning departure like 10 am and get an airbnb with airport pickup near the airport. (Choose something 5 min from the airport so you can sleep)
  • Get a room at the hotel connected to the airport. This hotel is called the Wyndham Costa del Sol
  • Purchase two separate flights. One to Lima and stay the night  in Miraflores. Visit Lima a bit for the day and fly out on a later flight to Cusco. 

Things to note when arriving in Lima:

  • On arrival you will need to pass through migrations. These are very long lines and can take more than an hour sometimes.  If you have young children up to two years old, or are over 65 or handicapped, then by law you can use the preferential line
  • After passing migrations you will pass through customs and declare any goods you may have brought
  • Once through migrations and customs you must recover your checked bags, leave the international arrivals part of the airport and then re-check your bags at the check-in. Here there are often extremely long lines. If you have paid for extra baggage or oversized baggage make sure you have the receipt so they do not charge you a second time. Also, oversized bags are dropped off in a special line so ask before you wait in the normal line
  • Once the baggage is checked you can go through the normal process and screening to get to your domestic flight to Cusco

As you can see there is a lot that you must do on arrival to Lima. You will need a bare minimum of two hours (if you have only carry-on luggage) in between flights.

What to bring:

  • Headlamp
  • Sleeping bag
  • Water bottle or two for refilling or
  • Camelbak bladder in your day pack/hiking pack
  • Rain gear. You must have a rain jacket or shell any time of the year. From October through May you also need rain pants as well — a poncho won’t suffice. From June through October, you can take your chances with the rain pants. Just know that it can rain any time of the year in the cloud forest.
  • Waterproof boots
  • Sandals, flip flops, or sneakers for camp
  • Hiking poles (highly recommended as there is plenty of downhill)
  • Down jacket, hat, gloves, scarf
  • Hiking clothes: quick-dry layers, long underwear, hiking socks, etc.
  • Quick-dry towel
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Bug spray
  • Any medicines you may need: epi-pens, inhalers etc
  • Camera or phone
  • Charging devices for phones and camera
  • Original passport for entrance to Machu Picchu
  • Daypack for carrying water, rain gear, camera, snacks, medicines
  • Larger pack or duffel for additional clothing and snacks — this will go on the horse (please keep the weight to a maximum of 8 kilos/18 pounds)
  • Ibuprofen, aspirin, or something similar for headaches or muscle pain
  • Blister kit
  • Bug bite cream
  • Any doctor-recommended meds for both parasites and bacterial infections that you might get at a travel clinic
  • If you think you will want high altitude medication, Diamox is what many people use

We’re super excited you’ve booked your 6-day Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu with us!

We will send you some emails asking you for information. Please get this information to us as soon as possible. We will also need a picture of your original passport in order to purchase your Machu Picchu and train tickets.

If you would like to schedule a call with us we would be happy to have a travel specialist give you a call and discuss all of your questions.

What to expect:

  • There are horses to carry your gear for some days, and others there are not You’ll need a large pack to put on the horse with your extra gear, and a small pack for the day. Each day you’ll carry your water, snacks, camera, rain gear, layers, sunscreen, meds, and bug spray.
  • You cannot get anything off the horse until camp, so bring all you need for the day in your daypack.
  • There are steep valley walls you will descend and ascend, so please consider hiking poles
  • Any changes to the itinerary after the hike begins can incur charges
  • We require travel insurance that covers trip interruption. Your 60% deposit is non-refundable and would be returned to you by your insurance should you get sick or need to go home in an emergency
  • There is no cell service for most of the hike
  • We cannot be responsible for acts of nature such as, but not limited to, earthquakes, landslides, flooding, etc. Nor can we be responsible for strikes by the people closing down roads and transport. We will do our best in these situations to get you to the necessary destination; however, you may need to depart earlier than expected or take a transport that is longer than stated in the itinerary or make changes to the itinerary

Each person is required to have a specific travel/trip insurance outside of your credit card or regular medical insurance. You should get comprehensive coverage with trip interruption/cancellation and with personal liability. Mention all activities that you will be involved in such as mountain biking, hiking at high altitude and whatever other activities you may have planned. 

We do not provide refunds.  If you should get hurt or sick, not only will travel insurance cover your medical expenses it will also cover the lost portion of the trip. Make sure you have trip interruption or trip cancellation included! South America is famous for people striking and shutting down all activities. If you miss your Machu Picchu trip, your Amazon trip or your flight due to strikes, the insurance will cover the loss or additional costs that are incurred. 

Check out our blog on travel insurance and why it is a must for any South America Vacation!

Peru’s currency is called the Nuevo Sol. You’ll be able to exchange US currency for the Sol easily in Cusco. The exchange rate often fluctuates between 3.29-3.33 sol per US dollar.

We recommend you bring cash. Peru is still a cash society. Most people don’t have bank accounts as Peruvian banks charge up to $15 per month just to have the account open. So, services like Venmo, Pay-Pal, and Apple Pay aren’t used here. Most local stores, taxis, and local restaurants are cash only.

ATMS charge around $8 to take out $60-200. Banks only allow a limited withdrawal daily. Thus, it’s probably a good idea to withdraw a good sum of cash before you come to Peru, unless your bank returns ATM fees. You can also try the app called ATM hero and do a little research before you come to decide if an ATM card or cash is best for you.

The USD, EURO, CAD cash you bring should be unripped bills. Small tears or bills that are written on are not accepted for exchange.

As Peru is a cash society and it is difficult to withdraw large amounts of cash, we require your balance be brought in cash.

TIPPING: Local restaurants generally do not require a tip, however, leaving a few soles is a nice gesture. Tourist restaurants are generally a 10% tip. Tipping your guide in Peru is generally 5-10% of the price you paid for the tour.


  • Our all-inclusive treks include meals prepared by local chefs with a love for cooking and the outdoors. The chef and his assistant are with you for the entire hike and are a great companions. The delicious meals generally consist of a soup with fresh vegetables and potatoes, with a main meal afterwards. The main meals are generally chicken or trout along with rice, potatoes and vegetables. Most lunches do not contain flour. Thankfully all of our meat is free range, grass fed and produced by local farmers with small farms. We do cater to both vegetarian and vegan diets
  • We provide a cook tent with attached dining area, stools and foldable tables to protect you from the elements and make you most comfortable in the down times
  • We provide nutritious, locally-made snacks for the hiking days. However, Peru does not have all of the same high calorie snacks that you may enjoy at home. Feel free to bring extra energy bars for the trail that you may find yourself craving
  • We provide boiled water for the entirety of the hike. You will need a bottle or Camelback to fill in the mornings
  • Cusco has an amazing food scene and there are many places to choose from, take advantage before and after the Salkantay trek!

Diet Restrictions:

We can accommodate:

  • Vegetarians
  • Vegans
  • Dairy Free
  • Gluten free (for gluten intolerance, not for Celiac Disease)
  • Food allergies
  • Other restrictions when you advise us beforehand

If you have dietary restrictions please let us know so we can accommodate you.


We recommend you take vitamin C supplements and probiotics before you come and while here.

We also recommend a training program that includes hiking, walking or stair stepping with some weight on your back. Using the pack you plan to use is helpful so you can decide if it is comfortable and how to adjust it.

Before you come make sure your hiking boots are broken in and not new. Try to take a few long hikes in them with the socks you will use to see if they rub or if you can avoid blisters by taping the area with duct tape where it rubs.

Our groups are small, generally 2-4 hikers. However we never have more than 8 hikers unless the group is a private group.

We can provide meals for people with dietary restrictions. Please chat with us beforehand so we can talk about your options.

In short: Our dry season is between mid-May and late September. The shoulder seasons are April and October, and the rainy season is between November and March with the heaviest rains in December and February.

The weather in the mountains changes quickly. Be prepared always for both cold and hot weather.

While tipping is always optional, most guides and crew members in Peru are accustomed to receiving tips at the end of a trek or tour. 

Often a good way to judge how much to tip is 5-10% of the tour cost per person. This can be split between the guide and crew members with the guide receiving a larger percentage of the tip.

Often people get very confused about Machu Picchu Mountain, Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Pueblo. 

Machu Picchu Mountain is not Machu Picchu even though Machu Picchu happens to be located on the very top of a mountain!

Let us explain the layout of Machu Picchu to help you understand all these terms and places. 

Machu Picchu Pueblo is the town that is below Machu Picchu. It is a small town called Aguas Calientes. The names Machu Picchu Pueblo and Aguas Calientes are used interchangeably. 

Machu Picchu itself, the ancient sanctuary, is on the top of a very tall mountain at 2430 m/7970 ft above sea level. It is directly above Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo.  There are two additional mountains on top of Machu Picchu.

The Sun Gate at Machu Picchu is the main entrance for those that are hiking to Machu Picchu via the 4-day Inca Trail Trek. You can hike to the Sun Gate from inside Machu Picchu in about an hour.  It is accessible to everyone who enters Machu Picchu with no additional tickets, so long as you make sure to visit the Sun Gate before you pass by it. Check out Rules for Machu Picchu to read more. 

Huayna Picchu, sometimes spelled Wayna Picchu, is the famous mountain you see in every instagram shot of Machu Picchu. It is the towering mountain that rises above Machu Picchu in the background. The elevation of Huayna Picchu, which means young mountain or young peak, is 2693 m/8835 ft. This hike is not for the faint of heart or leg! The Incan stair case that leads up to it is so incredibly steep that you often need to use your hands to climb up it. Recently a cable was put in to help people accomplish the hike. The hike up Huayna Picchu takes about 1.5-2 hours. If you suffer from vertigo or fear of heights do not climb Huayna Picchu! On the other hand, if you seek adventure and enjoy living on the edge then this hike is for you! Once you arrive at the top you can get an amazing shot of Machu Picchu below you. 

Machu Picchu Mountain is also a mountain that rises above Machu Picchu. Its peak is 3082 m/10,111 ft above sea level. It is much higher than Huayna Picchu and requires more time to hike. The trail is much wider and is not as steep. It is perfect for any age or for people with a fear of heights. 

In this instagram shot from the ruins of Llactapata you can see the difference between Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain. When looking at the bench look a little to the left and that is Machu Picchu itself. If you keep moving your eyes to the left you will see Huayna Picchu rising up. Now look at the wooden pole on the right side of the bench. At the very tip of the pole, covered in thatch roofing is the peak of Machu Picchu Mountain.

Machu Picchu has changed much over the years.  The rules often change yearly. 

As of 2019 the rules changed to limit how many hours you can be at Machu Picchu. Now there are entrance tickets with set timetables and exit times. Your Machu Picchu tickets allow you to be in Machu Picchu for 4 hours. If you have an entrance ticket to an additional hike then you are allowed 2 more hours. While this is difficult to control they can control how many times you walk around Machu Picchu. You are now allowed to walk around only once. That means once you do a full loop you must exit the sanctuary.

The rules on official guides have also changed many times. At one point it was obligatory to have an official guide while at Machu Picchu, however it was very difficult to control or enforce. As of 2019 it is no longer obligatory to have a guide. 

Unfortunately Machu Picchu is now set up with a designated route. You can no longer walk where you would like. This means that everyone at Machu Picchu must walk in the same direction. The important thing to take away from this is that you cannot turn around. This means that if you pass by the entrance to the Sun Gate and then realize you would like to go to the Sun Gate, you are out of luck. Plan your trip accordingly.

Leaving and re-entry is not allowed at Machu Picchu. This is one of the most difficult aspects of the new rules. There are no bathrooms inside Machu Picchu. They are outside the sanctuary. That means that you cannot use the bathroom for the entire visit! If you leave the sanctuary you cannot re-enter! 

Hiking an additional hike will allow you more flexibility with  the hours you are inside Machu Picchu and also allowing for a second loop of the ancient city. This is due to the fact that the additional hikes have a specific timeframe for their entrance and their location. For example if you enter Machu Picchu and need to go directly to Huayna Picchu you will walk the top loop without stopping to see anything in order to get to Huayna Picchu. After your hike you will begin your hike around Machu Picchu on the bottom half of the loop. Once you arrive at the gate where you should leave, your ticket will allow for you to begin the loop again.

If you are flying out the day after the trip ends, we suggest you sleep in Cusco. However, if you will be in the area for a few more days we suggest you sleep in the Sacred Valley and explore more there. Ollantaytambo would be a good place to book a hotel for the night.

We can help you to book additional hotel nights, just ask!

Hotel in Aguas Calientes, Ollantaytambo or Cusco

Make your vacation even easier! Let us book additional hotels or airbnbs for you!

We make sure to book you a place that has a central location.

We also make sure you have a place that has real hot water as many places in Peru only offer cold water or lukewarm showers! 

Hotels include breakfast. Private apartments (airbnbs) do not. 

Price: $60 USD for 1-2 person group

All add-ons will be offered to you at checkout.

Salkantay trail

Is This Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu Tour For You?

This 6-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is one of our most physically demanding options; it designed for adventure-seekers who are looking for an off-the-beaten-path hiking holiday that stays far from the main tourist circuit.

It is extremely important that you are familiar with the demands and expectations of a long-distance trek in the back country of Peru. If you’re unsure about whether or not this Salkantay trek is for you, get in contact with us and we will help you decide on the best option.

Our 6-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is ideal for you if:

  • You are an experienced hiker and have spent multiple days in the back country camping and trekking
  • You are physically fit and enjoy long days on the trail
  • You want to be challenged and amazed with world-class terrain while in Peru
  • You dislike crowded hiking trails that are packed with people
  • You are looking to explore the raw backcountry of Peru
  • You enjoy cultural immersion like homestays and lunches with locals

Salkantay adventure tour

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Giving back

1% For Charity

Haku Expeditions donates 1% of all profits to support local education programs.

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