For many people, like us, the Inca trail is prohibitively expensive, and booked out months in advance. Luckily, there’s an alternative!
Enter the Salkantay trek. Way less busy, more challenging, and most importantly – you can do it independently, without needing a guide or a tour group. This is how we did it, and what we spent along the way.
About the trek:
By the time you are reading this, you probably already have an idea of what the salkantay trek is – a 90km (or so) hike through the Peruvian highlands, touted by national geographic magazine as one of the top 25 hikes in the world.
This is a high altitude hike, with the highest point of the trek at 4630m – if you are coming from sea level we strongly advise acclimatizing for a night or 2 in Cusco. If you are going with a tour group you will have oxygen and a horse available, but independently you should be more careful.
The appeal of this trek is the variety of terrain that you hike through – cutting through alpine highlands, glaciated mountains, and down into cloud forest, dramatic gorges and coffee plantations, and even an Inca ruin to top off the views down onto machu picchu.
A quick Google search will give you lots of info about doing this with rented equipment (tents, sleeping bags etc) but we didn’t want all the hassle – there is only one other reliable source of information about doing it without a tent or reservations, and that’s on careerbreakadventures – definitely go check it out as well.
If you decide to rent equipment, this will give you more flexibility regarding where you can sleep – there are tons of campsites all along the hike, but not as many guest houses. However, we saw a couple of people setting up and down their tents in the rain, and we were happy to have a roof and a warm bed!
We left our hotel in Cusco at 3:45am and caught a taxi for 5 PEN to the spot marked on maps.me as “collectivo to mollepata” he official rate is 12 PEN to mollepata, and the first minibus leaves from 4am, when full.
We arrived at Mollepata at 6am, and then grabbed another collectivo to Sorayapampa as we got out. The driver tried to charge us 35 PEN each, but we laughed and offered 15 instead which he accepted immediately – official rate is probably around 9-10. Got to Sorayapampa and started hiking at 7am sharp.
If you want to extend the hike for an extra day, take the collectivo halfway to sorayapampa and get off at Challacancha, then hike to Sorayapampa, and try fit in the huacantay glacial lake in the afternoon – supposed to be stunning.
We skipped this section because we were short on time and there was reliable transport available along this route.
From Sorayapampa follow the trail in Maps.me – it’s fairly well trodden and you shouldn’t get lost. This winds up north into the mountains and takes you over the highest point along the route, Salkantay pass, at 4630m.
If you are lucky with clear weather, you’ll also get jaw dropping views of the highest mountain in the region.
The first day of the hike is around 20km, with around a 1000m total elevation gain, followed by a steep downhill into cloud forest, dropping a knee-aching 1800m.
When we arrived in Chaullay, there was only 2 private options for accommodation – guide rooms which were very grimey, and rooms at the Salkantay hostel for 80PEN per night. If you are in off season we’ve heard you can get them for 50PEN, but they weren’t willing to bargain with us.
If you still have the energy, the next town along (visible from chaullay) has a lot more options, and is probably a better stop.
D1 total cost for a couple:
Food: picnic lunch (10) and dinner (30) and snacks /water (5): 45 PEN.
Accommodation : 80PEN
Total: 184 PEN.
We bounced out of bed early, and started our hike at 6. We were pointed along the long way around by a local, this apparently happens a lot. Could have saved 2km or so by listening to the gps.
There are 2 routes for doing today’s section, on either side of a steep valley. The section on the left of the river is far more scenic, with a gorgeous meander through the cloud forest with all its hummingbirds, flowers, and cute campsites, and the dusty road on the right side pretty much just gets you where you need to get to, slightly quicker. We had heard that land slides had closed up sections of the path, but when we did it they were both open with hikers doing it.
We hiked the first 10km on the jungle side, and then switched over to the road – the jungle is definitely the nicer path, but the road is flat and hikes faster. Your choice.
The only accommodation we know about was Sonja y Walter in Llucmabamba, so thats where we stayed – decent, clean comfy rooms for 70PEN including private bathroom. There was loads more before you got there however, and one or 2 afterwards going up the hill, especially if you have your own tent.
We got to Sonja y Walter before lunch and then chilled there for the afternoon – lovely little cute village in the coffee plantations.
Total D2 costs:
Packed brekko and lunch – around 10-15 PEN
Bed and dinner – 90 PEN.
Tea in a café – 5 PEN
Total D2: 110 PEN.
A long day, worse than we expected. The first 14km takes you over an 850m climb, leading straight up from Llucmabamba. On top of the mountain there were stunning views over machu pichu, and the ruins of llactapata.
This was where the fun ended unfortunately – the next 7km of uneven steep downhill was painful, and by the time we reached the hydroelectrica we were back into tourist haven. From the hydroelectrica there are places to eat and sleep all the way to Aguas Calientes (also called Machu Picchu Pueblo).
The entrance to Machu Picchu is 2km before Aguas Calientes – we would recommend skipping the town, and rather staying along the railroad tracks, perhaps at Mama Angelica.
We enjoyed Aguas Calientes, but only because we found an amazing cheap place to eat – El Antojito. Take our word for it, it’s the best place to eat in town, and by far the cheapest fairly clean restaurant.
Most people (especially the type who are doing the salkantay trek) end up hating the town, so if there’s any doubt in your mind, skip it.
Brekko at Sonja y Walter – 20 PEN
Lunch at hydroelectrica – 25 PEN
Dinner at el Antojito – 35 PEN
Hotel room – approx. 50-60 PEN
Total D3 costs: 140 PEN.
D4: Machu Picchu day!
It’s a 4km hike from the start of AC (more if you are staying on the far side of town), with 2km of flat/down and 2km of steep stairs, climbing about 400m to the entrance.
We bought entrance tickets for 7am, because we weren’t sure whether we would make it up in time for the 6am slot – we left at 5 from our hotel and were standing at the gate at 6:15, and had to wait until 7 to get in. You can enter any time after your slot, but not a minute before.
NB: as of October 2019 the guide rule is not yet being enforced – you can just walk in without a guide.
Also – the ruins are organized in a one way circuit, and you cannot re-enter once leaving. Make sure you spend enough time at the places you enjoy, because it’s difficult (if not impossible) to get back to them once you’ve passed on.
Back down the steps to AC, a stroll around town and an early night sorted us out.
Machu Picchu tickets: 300 PEN
Breakfast – leftovers!
Lunch- El Antojito – 25 PEN
Dinner – El Antojito again! – 35 PEN
Miscellaneous – tea, snacks etc – 15 PEN.
Hotel room – 50-60 PEN.
D4 total: 425 PEN
Technically not part of the hike, but you have to get out and back to cusco – 11km hike to hydroelectrica, and a collectivo to Cusco – 6h drive, 40 PEN each. Wouldn’t bargain with us. We had to wait ages to fill up the minivan – if it’s a quiet day, try bum a lift to Santa Maria and get to cusco from there.
Or of course, treat yourself to the train :).
Total cost for a couple, including entrance tickets and transport back to Cusco: 940 PEN/4200 ZAR/280 USD.
That’s it folks! Hope this was helpful, drop us a message if you need any more info, or leave a comment if you did it!