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, partially because it became one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. 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 the same paths the Incans took to make it to Machu Picchu. While the cost of travel in Peru is low, these excursions are pricey. I still think it’s a must to add to your Peru itinerary!

When doing the Salkantay trek, you will instead explore the surrounding area and visit some of the most popular sites like Laguna Humantay. This five-day trek will be around 73 Kilometers or 45 miles. It’s also popular to do the Salkantay Trek without a guide.

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.

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 hike details.

This can also be done in 4 days but most people opt for the 5-day trek instead.

Day 1 – Challacancha to Soraypampa| Laguna Humantay

Hiking details (includes Humantay Lake):

  • Distance: 6.21 miles/10 km
  • Duration: 5 – 6 hours
  • Highest Elevation: 4,200 meters/13,780 ft
  • Lowest Elevation: 3,800 meters/12,467 ft
  • Sleeping Elevation: 3,900 meters/12,795 ft

Day 1 of the trek will be long because you must drive a few hours into the mountain. If you go with a guide, they will pick you up early in the morning. Most companies will pick you up around 4 a.m.

If you are doing the Salkantay Trek solo, you get the added benefit of waking up a little later but not by much! It’s important to get an early start to the day.

You will want to catch the collectivo from Cusco to Mollepata. Download the Mapsme app and look for the bus symbol with the word “Mollepata” next to it.

This app is a lifesaver during the trek and for all your travels in South America. It’s offline maps for free!

These colectivos leave when they are full and can take up to an hour to leave. If you don’t want to deal with this and would rather pay a little more, you can ride with a tour group.

Visit one of the many tour agencies in Cusco and ask them to arrange a ride for you. The cost for the colectivo is around 20 soles and a ride with a tour is around 60 soles.

Once you arrive in Mallepata, find a cab to take you to Challancha. The trail is straightforward and can also be found on your offline maps.

After about three and a half miles, you’ll be at Soraypampa. Here, you will begin the hike to Laguna Humantay and stay the night.

Day 2 – Laguna Humantay to Chaullay thru Salkantay Pass

Hiking details (including stops for lunch):

  • Distance: 12.5 miles/20 km
  • Duration: ~11 hours
  • Highest Elevation: 4,630 meters/15,190 ft
  • Lowest Elevation: 2,900 meters/9,514 ft
  • Sleeping Elevation: 2,950 meters/9678 ft

After a good night’s sleep, you want to wake up early and eat breakfast. Getting an early start every day will benefit you as you will be less likely to fight daylight.

The trek through the Salkantay pass to our next stop will be approximately 12.5 miles long. On day 2, you will also reach the trek’s highest point, which is 4,630 meters.

You will arrive in Chaullay where there will be multiple accommodations to choose from. The prices for these range from 60 to 80 soles

Day 3 – Chaullay to Lucmabamba

Hiking details:

  • Distance: 17 km/10.56 miles
  • Duration: 6 – 7 hours
  • Highest Elevation: 2,950 meters/9,678 ft
  • Lowest Elevation: 2,000 meters/6,562 ft
  • Sleeping Elevation: 2,000 meters/6562 ft

Day 3 is, in my opinion, the easiest day of them all. The entire day, either downhill or 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 where you can stay.

Day 4 – Lucmbamba to Aguas Calientes

Hiking Details:

  • Distance: 25 km/15.53 miles
  • Duration: 8 – 9 hours
  • Highest Elevation: 2,800 meters/9,186 ft
  • Lowest Elevation: 1,800 meters/5,906 ft
  • Sleeping Elevation: 2,040 meters/6,693 ft

This is the last real day of hiking, and you will no longer have to sleep in a tent or hostel. 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 Trek. It will take 8 to 9 hours and is 25km or 15.5 miles long.

The last portion of this day of hiking will be flat but it’ll be next to the train tracks that go into Aguas Calientes. It’s an interesting and surreal feeling to watch passengers from Cusco pass by us and wonder what we have been through the past few days.

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 for the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu if you want to visit the amazing site. You can also take the stairs but it’s a long hike up.

We had an early wake-up call, caught the bus to the top, and explored Machu Picchu for 3 hours.

Completing the Salkantay Trek before arriving here made it much more worth it.

machu picchu trek
machu picchu trek

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

There are many coffee and avocado plantations in Lucmabamba. You can do the same as before and just show up, or ask your host in Chaullay to help you book it.

We stayed at the Jungle Domes and absolutely loved it!

They had some of the cleanest bathrooms I’ve seen along the 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 realize that there is nowhere to camp. This was fine with us, as we were craving a comfy bed and a hot shower.

Hostelworld offers many accommodations. Make sure to book these well in advance, too, as they can sell out fast, especially during peak season.

Things to Know

Salkantay Trek without Guide or with a Tour?

This will depend from person to person. Most of the best guided tours for this trek will cost from $400 – $600 USD.

Doing the Salkantay trek without a guide will mean you can go at your own pace, stay wherever your heart desires, and not be around a bunch of people 24/7.

But there are some pros of taking a tour.

Pros of Going with a Guide

  • Fantastic meals cooked for you in a comfortable location
  • Larger gear carried for you
  • Learn the history of the area through your guide
  • No need to plan the hike

Costs of Hiking the Salkantay Trek (4 nights/5 days) Without a Guide

Necessary PurchasesCost
Accommodation ~215 Soles ($58.33 USD)
Transportation~70 – 120 Soles ($19 – $32 USD)
Machu Picchu Ticket~154 soles ($42 USD)
Salkantay Trek Entrance Fee~20 soles ($5 USD)
Lunch + Snacks~100 soles ($27 USD)
Dinner~80 soles ($22 USD)
Total~639 – 689 soles ($173 – $187)

These prices may vary for many reasons, such as what time of year you do the trek and open availability at the hostels.

You can easily spend more or less at the grocery store for lunch and snacks. It’s all up to you and what you’re willing to pack.

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, you can check it out on Alltrails.

cusco church

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

This goes for a lot of hikes in Huaraz and throughout Peru! The altitude can take some time to get used to.

sky camp humantay trek salkantay

Salkantay Trek Altitude

During the Salkantay Trek, the maximum 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 Hike the Salkantay Trek

The ideal time to hike the Salkantay Trek without a guide is during Peru’s dry season, which is from April to November. These months will have clearer skies and reduced chances of rainfall, setting the stage for an unforgettable hiking experience.

Peru’s location in the southern hemisphere means that, unlike the northern hemisphere, its weather patterns are different.

When I hiked this trek in August, the weather was on our side. Mostly clear skies blessed our journey, as did the Laguna Humantay Trek and other trails along the route.

Where 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.

Other Hikes in Peru You’d Enjoy:

laguna humantay trek
salkantay trek

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 can. I’m not sure why, 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.

salkantay trek
laguna humantay trek

Hiking to the Salkantay Pass

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.

salkantay trek

Arriving at Chaullay

On Day 2, we stayed the night in Chaullay. We stayed in some huts and had an amazing dinner.

This dinner consisted of some of the best chicken I’ve ever had in Peru. 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.

salkantay trek
salkantay trek

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.

machu picchu
machu picchu

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.