The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu, Day by Day: A Photographic Journey

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott March 19, 2014 5

A visit to Peru’s Machu Picchu is rewarding no matter what, but it’s especially satisfying and carries even more meaning after you’ve hiked four days to get there. The feeling that you’ve earned the view – that you can imagine and even remotely empathize with the challenges the Incas must have faced building this city with their bare hands in this remote mountaintop location – cannot be understated.

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu is not nearly as famous and popular as its traditional cousin, the Inca Trail, but we’d argue that it gives it a run for its money with tough-to-beat views and the environmental diversity that you’ll experience along the route. (Not to mention that you’ll likely avoid the crowds along the Inca Trail and in the early hours at Machu Picchu itself.)

Wondering what you might find along the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu? Here’s our day-by-day visual guide.

Day 1: Cuzco – Mollepata to  Soraypampa

After the bus drops you off at Mollepata, the real journey begins. This is a relatively easy day with only a few hours of hiking until the campsite at Soraypampa (3,850m /12,630 ft). But it remains a hike. Towards the end of the day you’ll turn a corner and get your first views of Salkantay Peak ahead. This is just a sneak preview of what awaits the next day.

First views of Salkantay Peak at the end of Day 1.

First views of Salkantay Peak at the end of Day 1.

Soraypampa campsite. Talk about a tent with a view.

Soraypampa campsite. Talk about a tent with a view.

Day 2: Soraypampa to Salkantay Pass to Andenes

Get an early morning start, as this is the most difficult day of the Salkantay trek. It’s also the most visually rewarding one. No pain, no gain, right? Go slowly, as the high altitude can affect how you feel not only physically, but mentally as well, and it will surely slow your pace. Take advantage of the slow pace by taking breaks and enjoying the views. After almost three hours of full-on uphill climbing you’ll reach the Salkantay Pass at 4,600m (15,100 ft).

Early morning views, getting closer to Salkantay Peak.

Early morning views, getting closer to Salkantay Peak.

Enjoying a break in a flat section.

Enjoying a break in a flat section.

Making the final push up to Salkantay Pass.

Making the final push up to Salkantay Pass.

Greeted by stunning views and cairns (rocks stacked on top of each other) at Salkantay Pass.

Greeted by stunning views and cairns (rocks stacked on top of each other) at Salkantay Pass.

Then begins the long ascent down where the environment and landscape changes from alpine to almost rainforest.

Enjoying a break – and a cold beer – after the long walk down from Salkantay Pass.

Enjoying a break – and a cold beer – after the long walk down from Salkantay Pass.

Day 3: Andenes to Collpabamba to Lucmabamba

This day is marked by more lush landscapes of waterfalls, rainforest, tropical plants, and streams. You’ll pass through villages and farmlands perched on steep hills. Days like this offer the slightest taste of the diversity for which the Peruvian landscape is so famous.

Surrounded by green as we make our way towards Lucmabamba.

Surrounded by green as we make our way towards Lucmabamba.

Keeping balance on handmade stone bridges over mountain streams.

Keeping balance on handmade stone bridges over mountain streams.

Day 4: Lucmabamba to Santa Teresa to Aguas Calientes

Santa Teresa is known for its hot springs, so if you have time, take a dip. This day will take you past a few more villages and waterfalls until you reach the town of Aguas Calientes, the hopping-off spot for Machu Picchu.

An unlikely pair of friends at Santa Teresa.

An unlikely pair of friends at Santa Teresa.

Kids on their way home from school near Santa Teresa.

Kids on their way home from school near Santa Teresa.

Day 5: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu to Cuzco

Machu Picchu at last. This is what you’ve been working towards so be sure to get a very early start to avoid the crowds. For the very ambitious, you can hike up from Aguas Calientes (a fulfilling yet steep climb) starting at around 4:30am to be the first ones in line to access the grounds of Machu Picchu. Alternatively, you can take the first bus shortly afterwards (easier and faster), but you’ll have a few more people ahead of you at the entrance. If you are up for an additional climb and more mind-blowing views, be sure to get tickets to Waynu Picchu, as only a limited number of visitors are allowed each day and they run out quickly.

Once you enter, enjoy all that’s in front of you. You’ve earned it.

Machu Picchu without the crowds. A just reward.

Machu Picchu without the crowds. A just reward.

5 Comments »

  1. Ruth March 22, 2014 at 9:55 am - Reply

    Thanks for the much needed info to help me make my decision.

    • Audrey | Uncornered Market April 5, 2014 at 6:14 am - Reply

      Ruth, glad this post provided the additional push to make the decision on your trek. Enjoy it!!

  2. Duncan A McLaren March 28, 2014 at 8:06 am - Reply

    However you get there be it by a trek, bus, or train make the journey as Machu Picchu is a destination that must be visited!

  3. Rach April 15, 2014 at 8:30 am - Reply

    Great pictures. I have read in some guide books that there are a couple of high passes along the route. Do you need to be an experienced walker or just have a good fitness level and not scared of heights? Thanks

    • Daniel Sendecki April 15, 2014 at 10:51 am - Reply

      It’s not a technical hike—so you should be okay with a solid fitness level and a little intestinal fortitude!

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