The best trekking experience in South America – Salkantay, Peru

I was dreading the Salkantay trek. After Ciudad Perdida in Colombia (the hardest trek I had done), I was not really keen on a similar experience. But I needn’t worry, Salkantay proved to be not only easier, but the best trekking experience we had in South America! 


We flew from Lima to Cusco, where we spent four days to acclimatize while discovering beautiful colonial architecture. Exploring the city was great, however, we had a plan; the 5 days trek that would culminate with a visit to one of the New 7 Wonders of the World: Machu Picchu.

Reaching Machu Picchu after the Salkantay trek in Peru.
Machu Picchu view after the Salkantay trek in Peru
View over Machu Picchu after the Salkantay trek in Peru

Day one – Soraypampa campsite

We were picked up by the agency’s car at 5am and driven to a village, about 2h from Cusco for breakfast. After the meal, we drove for another hour to the start of the trek. As our guide called it, the first day was a training one. Day two was going to be a killer!

 

The first hour of the trek was fairly easy, and we soon arrived at our camp, Soraypampa, situated at an altitude of 3850m. We settled in our tent and then went on to have an epic lunch. The chef blew us away pretty much every day with the variety, tastiness, and presentation of all meals. All of this being catered to both vegetarians and nonvegetarians. I still dream about that avocado starter we had on day one :).
Day one of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Day one of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Day one of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
Day one of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
 
After lunch, we started a steep climb to the Humantay Lake. Although the path was quite steep, the view from the top was totally worth it, as well as the moments spent at the lake. Some brave trekkers, including Bertrand, took a dip in the freezing water. I preferred to watch from the side :).
Day one of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
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Day two – Salkantay Pass and the Gringo Killer

Richard woke us up at 5am with a cup of coca tea – one of the morning habits that both Bertrand and I loved. After breakfast, we were packed and ready to go see what this Salkantay pass was all about.
 
The first hour of the trek was OK, the next hours a bit less. There’s no better description than the nickname that the guides gave to this part of the trek: the gringo killer. Yep, that’s the name!
So was the gringo killer really that hard? Yes and no. As long as you acclimatize and take it slow, you can do it. I’m not saying it’s easy peasy, just that there are other treks in South America that can really call themselves gringo killers, like Ciudad Perdida in Colombia.
 
So why would anyone, in their right minds, do this trek? Because the views on the way and at the top are breathtaking! And not only that but also for the satisfaction you have when reaching that 4600m altitude point.
Day two of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
 
After arrival and the mandatory pictures, we had a thank you ceremony with our guides, Richard, and Edson. We thanked Mother Earth and made a wish. Normally, I’m not really into things like this, but Richard did a great job telling us about the Inka culture and the fact that their religion revolves around nature; thus I was able to enjoy the moment without any prejudice.

 

As soon as the ritual was over, we started our descent to the lunch place where a massive change of scenery happened: we literally went from snowcapped mountains to the jungle!
We arrived at camp number two quite tired, but we were rewarded with happy hour (snacks and tea) and then an epic dinner which culminated with wine from the house. Yes, they actually gave us wine :).
Salkantay, Peru-1-9 Day two of the Salkantay trek in Peru, South America Salkantay, Peru-1-23 Salkantay, Peru-1-22   Salkantay, Peru-1-18       Salkantay, Peru-1-11 Salkantay, Peru-1-10
 

Day three – Zip lining and Hot springs

This was the most fun day. We started with a walk to the lunch place, and after that, we went zip lining. Have you heard of that? I hadn’t, but from people’s reaction, I understood it was fun. Although everyone tried to convince me to do it, this type of activity is not really my thing. But they all had fun, including the 10-year-old boy in our group. Yes, a 10-year old boy had more courage than me. Don’t judge me :).

 

After (not) ziplining we went to the nearby hot springs for a few good hours of pure relaxation. Just what my tired body was in need of.
We finished the day relaxed and happy, and without knowing how hard the next day was going to be…

Day two of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.

Day four – Llactapacta and the first view of Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trekking introduced a new route at the beginning of April, which although beautiful and rewarding, was quite tough…
 
We started the day with a 3h walk uphill. Yep, those steep parts in the jungle, the high humidity. Great. However, when you get there, wow! The views are spectacular and a major treat is actually seeing Machu Picchu from the far. The place is a ruin called Llactapacta and it totally worth the effort.
After the lovely climb and descent, we arrived at lunch and then started a 10km walk to Aguascalientes where we checked in, had a lovely dinner and said goodbye to one of our guides, Edson.
 
Next day (five) would be the long-awaited day when we get to see Machu Picchu…to be continued in a future post.
Day five of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu in Peru.
 

Was it worth it?

The Salkantay trek was definitely hard, but so damn rewarding. I have seen the most beautiful mountain views and pushed myself to achieve something that, at the beginning of the trip, I could not have been able to: a 70km walk over 4 days on steep land, at high altitude, through the jungle with humidity and ardent sun, as well as wind and snow.

 

This trek was without a doubt the best experience of the kind in South America and I can’t thank enough the team that made it all possible: Richard and Edson, amazing guides; Wilmer and Joseph, talented cooks, and Faustino, the lovely man who took care of our belongings throughout the trek.
 

How and Where to:

How to get to Cusco: We arrived in Cusco by flight from the capital city, Lima. We chose LCPeru and the price was $114 pp return.
Choosing the agency: You can either book online or buy it in Cusco, whatever your choice, I recommend doing a thorough research on the internet before purchasing a package. I also recommend staying away from agencies outside Cusco or Peru for that matter. They tend to double or triple the price you would pay in Cusco.
Our agency: We chose Salkantay Trekking, and we chose well. Impeccable services along the way. If you do go for it, I suggest you ask for Richard and/or Edson as guides.
Price per package: The price for the 5 days tour was $400*.
How many days: We took the five days package. There are shorter, or longer options, however, five days proved to be the right length.
What we took with us: Layers are important as you will go from hot to cold, so be prepared; a lantern as you will need it in the tent, as well as for going to the toilet at night :); money, there are some things not included in the package such as zip lining; some medicine especially if you suffer from altitude sickness.
*Disclaimer: We were in Salkantay in April 2016 so all the details regarding the experience including prices, date to that time.
 
This post is in collaboration with Salkantay Trekking.
Photography by Bertrand Delvaux.
 
24 Responses
  • Vladu
    July 12, 2016

    BEAUTIFUL POST!!!!!

    • atunitsirc2014
      July 12, 2016

      THANK YOU! :)

  • Gil Sosua
    July 15, 2016

    I was in Peru four years ago, and Machu Picchu was that place that seems to be just a memory from someone else. I still find it hard to believe I have been there, I look at my photos and think “wow, I actually been there”. But there is something that I absolutely regret, and that is not doing the trek you did. I was in Peru for just two weeks, and I wanted to see it all…, and I did the mistake of thinking that 4 days hike would be a waste. Yes, I still regret not doing it. And looking at your photos, I regret even more not doing it. Your photos are stunning, the view seems to be stunning as well. Amazing article too, loved every single bit of it!

    • atunitsirc2014
      July 15, 2016

      Thank you for the lovely comment Gil :). Indeed, the trek is really rewarding, and you do appreciate Machu Picchu more after walking for 70km to reach it. I hope you will have the opportunity to go back one day and do the trek!
      Happy travels.
      Cristina

  • Bella
    July 15, 2016

    this looks incredible !! i am dying to go xx

    https://fallingfairie.wordpress.com/

    • atunitsirc2014
      July 17, 2016

      Don’t hesitate, it’s pretty awesome, Bella :).

  • salkantay trek
    August 4, 2016

    The Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, it is one of the best alternative trekking options, designed for those who wish to see and experience different ecosystems atmosphere including an important wide-range varieties of plants, flowers. Witness yourself a living ancient culture in remote small villages, hardly ever seen or visited by foreigners.

    • atunitsirc2014
      August 7, 2016

      Thanks for the info :).

  • damir
    August 10, 2016

    These are some seriously beautiful pictures! Love the moods and emotions they convvey. Salkantay is truly one of the most beautiful treks. Never understood why everyone is focusing on the inca trail. It might be famous, but it is expensive and crowded..and, frankly speaking, a bit touristic!

  • Jen Morrow
    October 12, 2016

    Gorgeous views! I am an avid day hiker, with the occasional overnight backpacking treks. The altitude concerns me for this hike, but I think it would be totally worth it! Definitely on my list for South America travels.

  • Lyssie
    October 12, 2016

    Wow, I’m so impressed you did this! Ideally I like to think I’d be able to survive such a hike, but with a path like the “gringo killer,” I just don’t know if I’m tough enough. Good for you!!! Did you go in winter or is it just always cold because you’re on top of a mountain?

  • Alex
    October 12, 2016

    Holy crap, that trek sounds intense! (Lazy bum here) And to think you found that to be even easier than another that you did… I have trouble just walking above 4000 meters, let alone trekking. Props to you for making it, and your photos are gorgeous!

  • Leah
    October 12, 2016

    If your photos don’t not only inspire a trip to Peru, but also inspire trekking the countryside, then I don’t know what would. Brilliant!

  • Amanda Williams
    October 12, 2016

    The Salkantay trek still sounds fairly challenging (well done btw) but definitely worth it judging by the fantastic images of some great scenery you have provided. I love the location of the campsite. So dramatic! What a wonderful experience. I fancy dong this one day so am pinning for future reference.

  • Christina
    October 12, 2016

    What an incredible journey. This is definitely one of the treks that I want to do someday. However, nowadays I travel with my children so my first trip to Machu Picchu will probably be by train. For now, I will enjoy the views from your wonderful pictures.

  • Melinda
    October 12, 2016

    How amazing! You’ve made this gimpy old lady want to trek Peru. You must have really appreciated the great meals after such full days. I think I would love the hot springs but would have passed on the zip-lining also.

  • Melissa | Parenthood and Passports
    October 13, 2016

    Your pictures turned out AMAZING! I want to do this hike so so bad, but we travel with a little one in tow everywhere we go. The fact that a 10-year-old did this hike gives me hope that it isn’t too far off in our future.

  • Brittany
    October 13, 2016

    Amazing post! What an incredible and rewarding journey. Your pics are beautiful as well! This company sounds awesome! The hot springs sound like the perfect way to help your body recover along the trek. Machu Picchu is on my list! I really want to complete in within the next two years.
    PS no judgment zip lining is totally not my thing either ;)

    -Brit
    StayCuriousDarling.com

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