Cusco – Salkantay – Machu Picchu: High altitude trekking and bravery

There are five days of walking or trekking that separate the city of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Following the route that crosses the second highest and most beautiful snow-capped mountain in the entire Cusco region. This road to one of the Seven Wonders of the World has a complicated section, so it is recommended to have a strong and determined spirit to overcome the 70 kilometers of intense conditions. In this article we will learn more about the snow and how to cope with this route.

Salkantay trek

1. Important information

The snowy Salkantay is a special route because few people have reached this place and even fewer have crossed this road to Machu Picchu. This snow-capped mountain is also known as the “wild mountain” for its translation from Quechua. For this reason, it is necessary to emphasize important data to recognize the different factors that travel this route.

  • a) How is the route?

    The route has different slopes, climates and terrain, the main attraction of this trail, since that is where the difficulty of this activity lies. Spaces with dry and cold climate are crossed, and of extreme cold when the Salkantay is crossed. However, you will descend and part of the high jungle will be appreciated, where the climate will change and be more moderate, even becoming more temperate. From this point, flat spaces will be traversed, but with abundant vegetation. Finally you can visit Machu Picchu

  • b) What will you find?

    During this route that crosses part of the Peruvian Andes and reaches the Cusco jungle, you can find different landscapes, different species of animals and plants. The first section (first and second day) of this trek consists of reaching and crossing the snowy Salkantay, while the second section (from the third to the fifth day), is enter the Peruvian jungle and then ascend to the imperial citadel.

    • Among the first section you will find animals such as the vizcacha, the kestrel, alpacas, llamas, Andean falcons and even the condor.
    • While the vegetation, in the first section, will have abundant ichu or straw and areas where orchids with varieties of colors grew.
    • During this first section you can also visit the Humantay Lagoon, the most beautiful in Cusco. turquoise color and a spectacular landscape.
    • As you cross the snow-capped Salcantay, you can see an impressive view of everything you have traveled and the majesty of this mountain.
    • While arriving in the Cusco jungle, you will be able to find more exotic animals such as the cock-of-the-rock, which is a national emblem, the spectacled bear, the torrent duck, the sachacabra, the giant hummingbird, among others. It is important to highlight the presence of more than 300 species of butterflies that can only be found in this area of ​​the world.
    • While, in terms of flora, in this territory, more than 400 species of orchids and more than 2,354 species of plants native to the area can be found in the Machu Picchu Sanctuary alone.
You can visit the Humantay Lagoon with a trekking tour from Cusco. The walk lasts two hours from Soraypampa to the lagoon.

  • c) The highest snow-capped mountain in Cusco?

    • One of the main attractions is to visit and cross the Salkantay snow-capped mountain, although this does not have the first place of highest snow-capped mountain in Cusco, it is located in the second place. The Nevado Ausangate occupies the first place with 6,372 meters above sea level. and the Nevado Salkantay is 6271 meters above sea level; however, both peaks can be climbed with specialized equipment.
    • As we mentioned, this route to visit the sanctuary of Machu Picchu is one of the most versatile, but it is conceived as one more alternative, in case you have already done the route of Inca Trail or this one is very simple for you.

2. Unmissable natural destination: The Salkantay Trek

  • The trekking to Salkantay is quite a challenge for those who dare to do it. Although it seems complicated, it is not, due to the division of days and the corresponding breaks. Only the second day becomes more complicated, but it is the day in which you arrive at the Salkantay Pass, which has an approximate height of 4580 m.
  • Located in one of the highest mountains in Peru and also between the Vilcabamba mountain range, it has no point of comparison.
  • A point to take into account is to recognize which are the months where it rains more frequently in this territory.
  • The most recommended months are the dry season: June, July and August.
  • The least recommended months are January, February and even March. The rains make the road difficult.
Legend of the Salkantay and his brother Ausangante, it is said that they were brothers from a village close to Cuzco. The people were very hungry and the brothers decided to go out in search of food. Ausangate travels south and Salcantay north. They both find food and send it to their village. However, Salcantay fell in love with the deity named Veronica. Both brothers had to return to their village because it was in a drought. To prevent this, both brothers become snowy. The sadness and crying of Salkantay originated the Humantay lagoon with crystal clear waters and turquoise tones.

The 5-day itinerary is as follows:

  • a) First day:

    • The first day starts from the exit of Cusco to Challacancha, the exact place where the walking tour begins. Once in this place you must travel approximately 16 kilometers uphill.
    • The first destination to arrive is Soraypampa. The most recommended option is to visit Humantay Lagoon, which deviates a bit from the route, but this lagoon is a must-see.
    • In Soraypampa, it is the first day of rest.
  • b) Second day:

    • The second day is the most exhausting and at the same time the most spectacular. Crossing the Salkantay Pass is one of the best experiences you can have in life.
    • After traveling 22 kilometers, you go from the Andes to the Cusco jungle, another magnificent experience.
    • Furthermore, there is a surprising change in climate due to the descent to Chaullay.
    • It’s approximately eight hours of walking.
  • c) Third day:

    • The beginning of the second section begins when you leave Chaullay in the direction of Sahuyaco, the first rest point. As you descend the landscapes will change and turn green. This is a sign that we are descending the high jungle.
    • After resting in Sahuyaco, the next point to arrive is Santa Teresa, where you can already enjoy relaxing thermal baths in Cocalmayo, this will be the resting point to wait for the next day.
    • This route consists of 16 kilometers.
  • d) Fourth day:

    • The fourth day is already a flat road due to the presence of vegetation and the manifestation of the jungle.
    • It will be another route of 16 kilometers, but on a simple and quiet path.
    • On this day the route is followed from the Hydroelectric Station to the well-known town, Aguas Calientes, where the night will be spent.
    • A possible drawback is the abundant presence of mosquitoes.
  • e) Fifth day:

    • This is the day you climb a 10-kilometre path to the sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
    • Some recommend doing it from 4:00 am, so that when you arrive you can enjoy the sunrise from the heights of this place.
    • Finally, after touring the entire citadel, you descend once more to Aguas Calientes, where you can take a train to Ollantaytambo and then a bus or car to Cusco.

3. Tips and recommendations

  • The best option to start this tour is to book this trek in advance, due to the demand to enter Machu Picchu.
  • The Salkantay trek can be done without a guide, but providing the entrance to Machu Picchu.
  • Moderate training about six months before the trek.
  • Acclimatize a few days before in the Imperial City.
  • Take care of the diet before and during the trek.
  • Do the trekking in the months of June, July and August.
  • Good hiking boots and a light backpack.
  • Water container, preferably 2 liters.
  • Caps or hats next to a blocker.
  • Raincoat.
  • Sleeping bags.
  • Water purifying tablets.
  • Insect repellents.
  • Bring personal hygiene items.
  • Have cash.

4. Prices

  • Hiring the Salkantay Trek service for 5 days and 4 nights costs approximately 350 to 500 US dollars per person.
  • The price variation will vary depending on the tourist agency to hire.

5. Does doing the Salcantay trek have any reward?

  • Facing this trek in itself is already understood as a great achievement. Not many people would dare to take this route. Going up the Andes and descending through the Cusco jungle is the most impressive activity that can be done. Imagining doing it should stir any heart with sheer excitement. Once you have achieved all this journey, you will have the merit of having achieved something that only some people achieve, it is really a challenge that will only demand the best of yourself.


By Imachupicchu – Last updated, March 24, 2023

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