Salkantay Trek On Your Own: A Complete, Concise Guide

We did the Salkantay Trek on our own in December 2016 and it was, by far, the wettest and toughest hike I've ever done. But it was a crazy adventure, and became one of my most vivid and fond memories from South America. If you like trying new things or challenging yourself, the Salkantay Trek on your own will definitely be a worthy adventure for you.

Scene: The world is storming like crazy. We huddle in a patch of cover, rain pelting us from all sides. Nearby, a tour group is having a 3-course dinner in their personal dining tent. We sit shivering, eat our pasta and watch lightning after lightning light up the world.

salkantay trek lightning storm

Scene: It has been raining for hours on end. My boots are filled with water. My feet squelch with every step. I'm fading. Fading. We set up camp early at a deserted picnic site. We open the backpacks. Everything is wet - sleeping bag, precious warm jackets. NOOOOOOOoooOOOO. I fall in a despairing heap inside the tent. Later I hear Mr. Human calling my name, telling me to come outside. We have a visitor. It's Salkantay. 

salkantay trek mount salkantay

Hike Overview

Click through the interactive map below to familiarise yourself with the locations of the Salkantay Trek hiking route. You can also zoom into to see additional points to click on.

Salkantay Trek Elevation Map

how to interpret the Hiking times

For all the hiking times that I list above and throughout the guide:

  • Use the shorter time if you are a fit and experienced hiker
  • Use the longer time if you hike at a slower pace, are less experienced, have an injury or are not used to hiking with all your own gear. For example, Day 2 will likely take you 10 hours.

Finding the trail

There are blue signs along most of the trail; however it is best to download "maps.me" or "Google Maps" to get the offline map of the area. Both have the Salkantay Trek hiking route on it, very useful! 

Day 1: Cusco - Mollepata - Soraypampa

Total travelling time: 3 hours drive to Mollepata. From Mollepata, either 6 - 8 hours uphill walk to Soraypampa OR get a lift to Sayllapata and walk the remaining 3 hours to Soraypampa from there

Directions: Catch a collectivo van from the corner of Arcopata and Avenida Abancay in Cusco at 5AM. Ask for the van going to Mollepata. Once dropped off in the plaza of Mollepata, look for tour group vans and ask if you can share a ride to their drop off point. Alternatively, take a taxi to Sayllapata or walk.

salkantay trek day 1 - 1 (1).jpg

Day 2: Soraypampa - Salkantay Pass - Chaullay

Total hiking: 8 - 10 hours; longest day of the hike. I recommend a 6am start.

Directions: 4 - 5 hour uphill from Soraypampa to the Salkantay Pass. Then 4 - 5 hour descent to Chaullay, a small cozy village with covered tent spots, places to hang up wet gear and the possibility to buy beer, tea, etc. 

Tip: If you cannot make it all the way to Chaullay, there are places to camp beforehand.

salkantay trek chaullay

Day 3: Chaullay  - La Playa - (Lucmabamba)

Total hiking time: 4 - 5 hours to La Playa + 30 mins to Lucmabamba

Directions: Trail is a little difficult to follow today, ideally tag onto a tour group or use a mapping app for general directions. La Playa is a small town; if you camp here you'll be able to get dinner and a shower at your campsite. 

Tip: If you walk 30-40 mins down the main road from Chaullay, there are swimming pools next to the river if you'd like a mid-hike soak and relaxation. 

Tip: Lucmabamba is the home of coffee plantations! This is a beautiful camping alternative to La Playa. I loved camping high up in the clouds, tasting fresh coffee and meeting one of the families in this coffee plantation community. 

salkantay trek lucmabamba coffee plantation

(Optional Extra Day): La Playa - LLactapata

Total hiking time: 4 - 5 hours uphill from La Playa (subtract 30 mins if going from Lucmabamba)

Tip: If you have a spare day, adding in this extra day will allow you to take the hike at a more relaxed pace. The campsite and ruins site at Llactapata are a dreamy place to camp with a peek at Machu Picchu from your campsite!

Day 4: (Lucmabamba) - Llactapata - Hidroelectrica - Aguas Calientes

Total hiking time: 8 - 10 hours from La Playa (subtract 30 mins if going from Lucmabamba)

Directions: 3.5 - 4.5 hours uphill to Llactapata along an old Incan trail. Llactapata are some cool, tranquil ruins from where you can first see the Machu Picchu valley.  2 hours downhill to Hidroelectrica. Then 2.5 - 3.5 hours to Aguas Calientes. Buy your Machu Picchu tickets from the office (opens 5:30am - 8:30pm).

Tip: If you're pretty sore/blistered when starting Day 4, you can go to the main road (from Lucmabamba), and find a tour group van to offload some stuff/a backpack, to wait for you at Hidroelectrica. It will probably cost around 10 sols but will be completely worth it. Alternatively, if you are pretty dead, you can take a taxi from Lucmabamba to Hidroelectrica for 50 sols ($USD 15).

Tip: The cheapest place to eat in Aguas Calientes is the 2nd level of the market (breakfast and lunch)

Start of the walk from Hidroelectrica. There's snacks and drinks to be had here,  as well as a few restaurants.

Day 5: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu

Total hiking time: Approx. 7 hours if returning to Aguas Calientes + 2.5 hours for Hidroelectrica

Directions: 1.5 - 2 hours walk from AC to Machu Picchu entrance (ensure you bring your ticket/passport/ISIC card), about 4 hours exploring Machu Picchu, 1 hour return walk to Aguas Calientes. Alternatively, if you're too tired, you can take a bus up to Machu Picchu from AC ($USD 12 one way, 20 mins) and then return to AC by walking.

salkantay trek machu picchu chilling

Machu Picchu info

Machu Picchu ticket office opens 5:30am - 8:30pm.

Prices: Adult tickets for foreigners is 152 sols. Student tickets (with International Student Card - ISIC) is 77 sols

Food: You're technically not allowed to bring food into MP but we did it anyways. Bring a packed lunch and snacks from Aguas Calientes; there may be a lady selling sandwiches outside the MP entrance.

Least busiest time: Sunrise and late afternoon (2:30 - 4pm).

Storing luggage: Ask to store your luggage BEFORE you go up the stairs for Machu Picchu. Options are: the Municipal Campground, or the restaurant at the bridge. 

Seeing Machu Picchu for sunrise: Leave Aguas Calientes at 4:30am, arrive at the bridge by 5am (20 - 30 mins walk from AC), bridge opens at 5am, briskly walk up stairs to Machu Picchu (1 hour), Machu Picchu entrance gate opens at 6am. 

Tour guide: Before you enter Machu Picchu, there will be guides waiting around the gates. We didn't get one but, from what I heard, it's 80-90 soles for a 4 person group (Spanish-speaking guide). An English-speaking guide will be more expensive.  

salkantay trek machu picchu

We didn't get a guide but had a lot of fun anyways and found plenty to do:

  • You can sit on the terraces and enjoy a snack.
  • Walk to the Sun Gate (1 hour walking from the entrance - one way).

  • Walk to the Incan Bridge (45 min walk from the entrance - one way) 

  • Simply wander through the city of Machu Picchu itself.

salkantay trek machu picchu

Where to after Machu Picchu?

Aguas Calientes - If you need to return to AC it's a 1 hour return walk from the Machu Picchu entrance

Hidroelectrica - About 2.5 - 3 hours walk from the MP entrance to Hidroelectrica

Ollantaytambo - From Hidroelectrica, take any collectivo van going to Cusco. Ollantaytambo is on the way to Cusco (4 hours from Hidroelectrica) and makes a perfect stop after Machu Picchu! We volunteered here for a month and had so much fun exploring, check out the lovely things to do in Ollantaytambo that I enjoyed a lot. Alternatively, you can take a train from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo for $USD 45 p/p (We bought last min tickets in the low season - December. Arrive at the train station 8AM to buy $45 tickets, train departs 8:30AM.)

Cusco - From Hidroelectrica, you can find collectivo vans direct to Cusco (6 - 7 hours). I'd recommend bringing snacks/food for the long ride back


Food preparation

how much food to pack

I recommend bringing 3 x breakfast, lunch, dinner PLUS adequate snacks (dried fruits, nuts, chocolate) to fuel you in between. Bringing this amount should cover you for all the meals you need to supply yourself, with extra as a just in case. Try not to bring much more than this because the weight of food adds unnecessarily to your backpack.

Where can you buy meals?

There are quite a few opportunities to buy meals/snacks throughout the hike (listed in italics below)

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Day 1 Breakfast in Mollepata Bring Lunch Bring Dinner
Day 2 Bring Breakfast Bring Lunch Bring Dinner
Day 3 Bring Breakfast Bring Lunch / Possible in La Playa Possible in La Playa
Day 4 Bring Breakfast Lunch in Hidroelectrica Dinner in Aguas Calientes
Day 5 Breakfast in Aguas Calientes Lunch from Aguas Calientes Dinner from AC/Hidroelectrica

Example hiking menu

If you'd like ideas for what foods to bring on the Salkantay Trek, check out my food guide for the Salkantay Trek. Note: We brought a camping stove with us.

Water

We were able to get water every day of the hike, either from campsites or villages we pass through. There are natural sources of water, however, we avoided drinking this if we could as there is a lot of animal/faeces all over the trail that could easily get in the water.

Note: We brought a Steripen with us, which is a UV light pen which you can use to sterilise water. We personally recommend that you sterilise all water before drinking, even if drawn from taps.


Packing List

DO NOT overpack for the Salkantay Trek. I've read many accounts of people doing the trek and every single one complains about how heavy their backpack felt. Even if you have experience hiking, the high altitude and steep continuous climbing amplifies the weight of your backpack. 

If you need more specifics:

Gear Rental

We went to Rosely on Calle Procuradores, next to the Plaza de Armas, which had the best prices we found after checking 10+ palces. We rented a sleeping bag for 5 sols / day. On top of that, we met another girl doing the Salkantay on her own who rented everything (tent, sleeping bag, boots, camping stove, etc.) for 25 sols / day from Rosely. 


Expenses

Item Cost Total
Pre-Hike Sleeping Bag Rental 25 sols (5s/day) 150 sols
Food 125 sols
Day 1 Bus to Mollepata 30 sols (15s p/p) 70 sols
Breakfast in Mollepata 30 sols (15s p/p)
Campsite 10 sols
Day 2 No expenses, camped for free
Day 3 Campsite 5 sols 5 sols
Day 4 Taxi to Hidroelectrica 50 sols 110 sols
Hostal in Aguas Calientes 60 sols
Day 5 Machu Picchu Tickets 229 sols (152s for adult, 77s for student) 360 sols
Breakfast in hostal 20 sols (10s p/p)
Sandwiches 10 sols (5s / sandwich)
Lunch in Hidroelectrica 20 sols (10s p/p)
Transport back to Cusco 80 sols (40s p/p)
Grand total for hike 744 sols for 2 people

Where to camp

A guide to some good campsite options for each day of the hike.


wet season vs dry season

The dry season: Late April - Early October

The busiest time will be from May - September, but during then you'll have the best chance for good weather (however expect very cold nights, down to -6 degrees Celsius). However, even in the dry season, you should be prepared for rain as the weather can get very changeable at such high altitude.

The wet season: Late October - April

Shoulder months such as October/November and April would be a good time to go, with not too much rain and less people.

Once you head into December, January and February, the rain becomes quite intense. Be prepared for a majority of days raining (and raining a lot). As a bonus, there is less people during the wet seasons. We saw other hikers when we went in December but it was quite minimal and never ever felt crowded. 

My biggest tip if you are going during the wet season: Buy a pack of garbage bags and individually garbage-bag your sleeping bag, tent, clothes, food, etc. For the life of you, just do it and do it good. 

Read about our Salkantay Trek Saga to see what I mean about the rain, but don't let it scare you! It was definitely tough and we learnt out lesson to garbage-bag everything, but it was a great experience (and story!).


Hope that helps you guys planning your Salkantay Trek on your own! If you have any questions about the trek or any criticisms/comments about this post, I would really love to hear them! I want to do my best to make my website as useful as possible for people around the world. :)

Have a wicked Salkantay Trek on your own!