When visiting Peru, the number one thing on most travelers’ bucket lists is visiting the sacred site of Machu Picchu. It has skyrocketed in popularity, partly due to it becoming one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. The treks to Machu Picchu as well as entering the site has become so popular to the point where you have to book months in advance. The most popular trek is the Incan Trail. We decided against doing this trek and instead chose to do the Salkantay trek.
The Incan trail takes you along one of the same paths that the Incan people took to make it to Machu Picchu. When doing the Salkantay trek, you will instead go around the surrounding area and visit some of the most popular sites. In total, this 5-day trek will be around 73 Kilometers or 45 miles.
In this guide, I will go over how to do the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu solo, where to stay, and many more details.
Where is Salkantay Located?
The Salkantay trek is located outside of the famous town of Cusco in Peru. The Cordillera Vilcabamba is the mountain range that surrounds this area. These mountains sit high and Mount Salkantay reaches a height of 6,271 meters or 20,574 feet.
How to Get to Salkantay Trek Solo
Known by some as the Salkantay Pass, this trek can be reached easily solo. If you want to come to do this independently, then you’re in the right place.
The cheapest way is to take a collectivo from Cusco and then a cab to the trailhead. This will cut the price in half for a tour company. The added benefit of you going solo is that you’ll be able to start this hike a little bit later in the morning.
- Cusco to Mollepata one-way by Collectivo = 20 Soles (each)
- Mollepata to Saoryapampa one-way by Cab = ~30-40 Soles (total)
- Entrance to Laguna Humantay = 10 Soles
- Pay the Entrance Fee in Mollepata
I started at Challacancha, which is a longer route toward the base of Laguna Humantay. It is popular to stop here and do the side hike to the lake.
How to Get to Cusco, Peru
There are many different ways of getting to Cusco from throughout the country. Many people fly straight from Lima as it is their first stop. Below I will give the other options from different towns.
Lima to Cusco
This is a long bus ride from Lima to Peru. It will end up taking you around 22 to 24 hours in total. I highly recommend that you pay the extra money and get the VIP seats. These will be better for sleeping and overall make it a much more enjoyable ride.
- If you don’t want to go to the bus terminal, you can order your ticket on Redbus. This is the go-to for online bus tickets in Peru.
- Julio Ceasar is one of the highest-rated bus companies but they are all pretty good.
- Terminal Plaza Norte and La Victoria are two good stations
- The bus ride is around 22 hours. If you buy early you can get tickets as cheap as $30.
Arequipa to Cusco
Arequipa is located southeast of Cusco and is much closer than Lima. The prices also reflect this and it is a much more doable bus ride.
- Once again I suggest looking on Redbus to get an idea of where to look and the price.
- This bus ride is around 10 hours long and only costs $14.
- I would suggest taking the night bus as you will save money on accommodation for that night.
Best Places to Stay in Cusco, Peru
- Kokopelli Hostel Cusco: This is the most popular hostel in all of Cusco. It’s not the cheapest place but the atmosphere makes up for that.
- Wild Rover Cusco: If you’re looking for a more social atmosphere with partying, then Wild Rover is your choice.
- Intro Hostels Cusco: With free breakfast and only $8 a night, the Intro hostel is a great choice for backpackers and travelers alike.
My Suggested Hiking Gear
Below is a list of some of my favorite hiking/travel gear I bring everywhere. Everything below is something I currently use and never leave my house without.
- KEEN Durand II Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots: I finally upgraded my hiking boots in 2022 and these are fantastic. They have top-notch ankle support and are super durable.
- Petzl Tikka Headlamp: A headlamp for hiking is a must if you’re like me and love sunrise hikes. This is a great price for a quality headlamp and also has a good red light to not disturb others in the morning.
- Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks: I originally got these as a present but I had to buy more because these are the most comfortable hiking socks I’ve ever tried on.
- Grayl GeoPress Water Filter Bottle: You will never have to rebuy plastic water bottles. This is the best water filtering device on the market. It is excellent for hikers and travelers alike.
Tips for Altitude Sickness
A common fear of most people when traveling to these parts of Peru is the chance of getting altitude sickness. This isn’t fun and can ruin a trip. Here are some of the best tips to lower the chances of this happening to you while traveling to Peru:
- Drink a lot of water (I like to aim for a gallon a day)
- Rest, Rest, Rest. Sleep is everything with recovery and health.
- If you’re planning on hiking, start with smaller hikes like Cristo Blanco (if in Huaraz, then Wilcacocha )
- Coca is very popular in Peru and having some of the candy on hand can be smart
- Stop and rest wherever you are
- Take ibuprofen
Salkantay Trek Details
- Distance: This hike is around a 46-mile loop in total to reach Machu Picchu. For just the Salkantay Pass, it is 12.3 miles point to point.
- Duration: On average it will take people 5 days to finish. This depends on fitness level and time at the laguna.
- Difficulty: I’d rank this hike as difficult because of the altitude and elevation gain as well as the length.
- Incline: The max elevation for the Salkantay trek is 4,630 meters or 15,190 feet.
- Hiking Guide: A guide is not needed for this hike and is easily accessible by the public.
If you want more details and reviews of just the Salkantay Pass part of the trek, then you can check it out on Alltrails.
Salkantay Trek Altitude
During the Salkantay Trek, the max altitude you will reach is 4,630 meters or 15,190 feet. This elevation is reached normally on day 2 and from the Salkantay Pass, it is mainly downhill until Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu sits at 2,429 meters or 7,972 feet.
Best Time to Visit Cusco, Peru
The best time to visit Peru would be in its dry months or winter. This time frame lasts from April until November. It is also their peak season and many travelers come here hoping for clear skies and beautiful mountain ranges.
The opposite in weather has to do with Peru’s proximity to the Equator. It is located in the southern Hemisphere which has the opposite effect of those in the North.
We did the Laguna Humantay Trek as well as the others located along the Salkantay trek in August. It was clear skies for the majority of the time.
5-day Salkantay Trek Solo Guide: The Itinerary
The famous 5-day Salkantay Trek can be done solo or with a guide. In this section, I will go over the day-by-day itinerary and details of the hike.
This can also be done in 4 days but most people opt for the 5-day trek instead.
Day 1 – Soraypampa to Laguna Humantay
Day 1 of the trek will be long because you have to first drive a few hours into the mountain. If you are going with a guide, then they will be picking you up very early in the morning. Most companies will pick you up around 4 am.
If you are doing the Salkantay Trek solo, then you get the added benefit of being able to wake up a little bit later.
You will want to catch the collectivo from Cusco to Mollepata. From here you will then need to find a ride to take you to Soraypampa.
This is where you will begin the hike to Laguna Humantay and stay the night here as well.
Day 2 – Laguna Humantay to Chaullay thru Salkantay pass
After a good night’s sleep, you will want to wake up early and eat breakfast. Getting an early start every day will be beneficial to you as you will be less likely to be fighting daylight.
The trek through the Salkantay pass to our next stop will be around 12.4 miles long. Day 2 is also when you will be at the highest point of the whole trek at 4,630 meters.
You will arrive in Chaullay where there will be multiple accommodations to choose from.
Day 3 – Chaullay to Lucmabamba
Day 3 is in my opinion the easiest day of them all. The entire day either downhill are along a canal in a valley. You will be going from Chaullay to Lucmabamba. This will take you around 5 to 6 hours and is 18km long or 11 miles.
The area around Lucmabamba is known for its coffee plantations and there will be some here that you can stay at.
Day 4 – Lucmbamba to Aguas Calientes
This is the last real day of hiking and you will not have to sleep in a tent or hostel anymore. Aguas Calientes is the town right below Machu Picchu.
Although it is touristy, it is a really cool town to explore.
This is the longest day of the whole Salkantay Trek. It will take you around 7 to 8 hours and is 25km long or 15.5 miles.
This day will take you along some old ruins that are in decent condition.
Day 5 – Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Today is the day! Day 5 is solely focused on visiting the historic site of Machu Picchu. Please do not just arrive at Machu Picchu and expect to get in. You will need to buy a ticket well in advance if you want to visit the amazing site.
We had an early wake-up call, caught the bus to the top, and explored Machu Picchu for 3 hours. C
Completing the Salkantay Trek before arriving here really made it so much more worth it.
Accommodations during the Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is so popular that there will be accommodations at every stop, even if traveling solo. Below I will go over the options that you will have when arriving at these stops.
Places to stay near Laguna Humantay
When arriving at Soraypampa, there won’t be as many options as other sites along this trek. The best option is to camp in your own tent if you have one. There is a hostel at the bottom of Laguna Humantay called Backpacker Humantay.
It costs 80 soles for the night and this includes breakfast/dinner.
Places to stay in Chaullay
When starting day 2, you will be relieved to know that there are a lot more options for where to sleep when getting to Chaullay.
If you are looking to book in advance, you can at Salkantay Hostel. The cost is ar found $45 for two and includes breakfast.
If you didn’t book ahead, look at maps.me and walk up to any hostel you want and ask if they have a bed. It shouldn’t cost much.
Places to stay in Lucmabamba
Lucmabamba is where there are many coffee and avocado plantations. You can do the same as before and just show up or ask your host in Chaullay to help you book it for you.
We stayed at the Jungle Domes and absolutely loved it!
They had some of the cleanest bathrooms I’ve seen along the Salkantay Trek and at this point in the trip, that’s a huge plus.
Places to stay in Aguas Calientes
When arriving at Aguas Calientes on day four, you will soon come to realize that there is nowhere to camp. This was fine by us as we were craving a comfy bed and a hot shower.
Hostelworld is full of accommodations that you can choose from. Make sure to book these well in advance too as they can sell out fast, especially during peak season.
My Experience Hiking the Salkantay Trek
After giving you all of the details for completing the Salkantay Trek solo, I will now go over my experience of this amazing adventure.
This was the #1 thing I did in all of my travels this year and it wasn’t even close.
Arriving at Laguna Humantay Trek Trailhead
When we started our Salkantay Trek, we started some ways further back than you’re able to. I’m not sure as to the reason but it helped us get warmed up for the days ahead.
This day was very easy as most of it was extremely flat, and we followed an aqueduct to the town of Soryapampa.
Many people do this hike as a day trip but it was a great way to start our 5-day journey to Machu Picchu. Laguna Humantay was crystal clear and conditions could not have been better.
Deprating on Salkantay Trek solo
Day 2 was when we really started our Salkantay trek. This day was much harder than the previous but the views of the mountains helped take the pain away.
We a handful of times until we arrived at the top of Salkantay Pass (4,630 meters). This is where we ate lunch, had some coca tea, and enjoyed the views.
Shortly after we finished eating, a group of clouds came rolling through and it brought some chilly weather. We took this as it was time to go and we started the rest of the trek to Chaullay.
This 2nd half was much easier as it was all downhill or flat.
Arriving at Chaullay
Chaullay is where we stayed the night on Day 2. We stayed in some huts and had an amazing dinner.
This dinner consisted of some of the best chicken I’ve had in Peru or possibly ever. After every day of hiking, we also had pre-dinner which consisted of tea/hot chocolate and popcorn. Man was that some good popcorn.
We didn’t have to wake up as early as the days before. We got to sleep in until 6 am which felt amazing.
Day 3 of the Salkantay Trek
When we started day 3 I thought it was going to be over fast. This day took us a little bit longer than we had planned. There were too many cool places to take a stop at that we couldn’t resist.
At the end of the day, this trek is to be done at your own pace. All that matters is that you enjoyed it.
For a large majority of this day, we hiked along the cliffside in a canal. It felt epic, to say the least.
Unfortunately, we had to push back the coffee tour until the next morning because we ran out of time. This was quite alright because I was itching for a good cup of coffee in the morning.
We had a good supply of coffee during our Salkantay Trek.
Arriving in Pueblo Machu Picchu (Aguas Calientes)
There were some cool things to see like old ruins on day 4 but the main mission was to make it all the way to Aguas Calientes or Pueblo Machu Picchu.
This meant we had to hike close to 16 miles in one day. Our feet didn’t like the sound of that. What kept us going was the hot shower and comfy bed when we arrived.
You really do get to see it all when doing this trek and that’s why I would do it again in a heartbeat.
This day had some of the best viewpoints too. It was hard to get up off the seat and keep moving when it was time.
We were all mesmerized by the views.
Early Morning at Machu Picchu
The day had finally come. This is what many people come to Peru for and what others dream of seeing one day. Machu Picchu is one of the most iconic wonders of the world. I recommend going with a guide here because they will teach you some valuable information you would otherwise not get.
The day started at 6 am as we had breakfast and headed to the bus. The bus takes you straight up to the entrance of Machu Picchu. The only other entrance is the Incan trail entrance and we could easily tell who were the ones that came from there.
The weather was perfect and the site was breathtaking. It was the perfect cap for our Salkantay Trek adventure.
Other Activities to do in Cusco, Peru
Cusco is popular for a reason. There is so much to do around this beautiful area of Peru. This is mainly a huge hiking hub but there are other activities for those that don’t. Some of the activities around here include the Laguna Humantay Trek, Rainbow Mountain, Machu Picchu, and Salkantay Pass. Below are some amazing tours that you can book with just a click of a button.
Final Thoughts on the Salkantay Trek Solo
What more can I say? This was an adventure of a lifetime and something that I will never forget. The Salkantay Trek was more than I could have ever imagined. To experience it with some good friends and other travelers was the cherry on top. As I did do this with a group, it is the same path and steps as if you are doing it solo. I would do this hike again with the tour company solely for the food. It was amazing. We had 3-course meals every meal and snacks. They were extremely accommodating and I wish I was back right now.
That being said, I highly recommend this hike to everyone. Even budget travelers can make this trek work.
Thank you for reading my guide on how to do the Salkantay Trek solo! I hope this helps you on your adventure of a lifetime.