"The famous Salkantay Trek (or Salcantay Trek), named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine, is a trek open to everybody, with no limitation on spaces or permits (at least for now). Connecting the city of Mollepata, Cusco with Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek is an ancient and remote footpath located in the same region as the Inca Trail where massive snowcapped mountains collide with lush tropical rain forests."
We decided to create this page after discovering a lack of detailed account of the Salkantay Trek on the web. The experience of hiking this trail is so amazing that it is difficult not to get lost in the beautiful scenery and all of the overwhelming feelings as you follow the path of the Incas into the clouds. We put in our best effort to stay grounded as we wrote this blog keeping a detailed record of the logistics and planning.
The Salkantay Trail is very easy to follow most of the time. We made it with only having one - "andreantravelweb.com" map (available on the Map page); waiting for passer by's to ask for directions when needed worked pretty well. In this blog I gave detailed descriptions of several places where the trek direction is not obvious.
The trail is hard ground with gravel, larger rocks in some places. Good ankle support is essential.
Majority of the hike is along a waterway. Therefore, access to water is mostly easy; make sure to have a filter and/or iodine tablets handy. In addition, you will run across at least one kiosk per day, usually at campsites, where you can purchase bottled water.
The hike will be in mostly remote rural areas for the first three days, until you get to La Playa. Therefore, if you are following close to our 4-day trek you will need to carry about 2.5 days worth of food. Pack light. Instant soups do wonders. However, you don't really need to carry even that much. Again, at least once a day you will run across a camp site (or you will camp at one) where there will be a kiosk with some food and snacks; and you can always purchase a hot delicious meal prepared for you by the local hosts, or possibly make a deal with one of the tour groups.
WARNING! Always be ready for the unexpected in the mountains. You may get caught by rain or illness (both of these happened to us), etc and food may not be easily accessible. In the moment when you may need it most there will not be any passer-by locals or tour groups to give you a hand. Be a responsible backpacker and count on yourself - pack one or two emergency meals.
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It will be below freezing on the first night in the mountains. The frigid conditions are also exaggerated by high humidity. You must have winter clothing and a warm sleeping bag. My 0°F down Big Agnes was very comfortable. Bring chemical foot warmers or boil some water for a hot water bottle or regular bottle to keep your feet warm at the bottom of the sleeping bag.
It will get very hot during the day, especially at lower altitudes. Synthetic (non-cotton) light clothing is essential.
Good hiking boots are a must. You will be carrying a lot of weight uphill for 1 day and downhill for 3 days. You shoes must be able to protect your feet; but athletic tape is always a good backup.
Sunglasses and SPF - you need good SPF protection at high altitudes. The sun is very strong.
Bug spray - at the end of day 2 you will reach a tropical climate and bugs will be abundant.
Medication - as a responsible backpacker you must have a complete first aid kit including (but not limited to) bandaids, disinfectant, and basic medicines; prescription altitude sickness medication is highly recommended. Remember that there are no cell phones, no rangers, no rescue helicopters, and no hospitals.
Dealing With Altitude (Sickness)
The highest point along the trek is at 4,600-4,800m / 15,100-15,700ft. Everyone is different but most people do feel 15,000ft in one way or another; generally, around 10,000-11,000ft you start sensing the elevation effects beyond the basic breathing difficulties. Vova and I have both had bad altitude sickness experiences in the past right around 15,000ft, with nausea, lightheadedness, etc, and were prepared for the worst on the trek.
The key to dealing with altitude sickness is acclimatization. Your body *will* get used to the height and lack of oxygen if you give it enough time. At the very least, spend 2-3 days in Cuzco, which is located at 3,360m / 11,000ft. If you have the time, do your best to plan the order of your Peru itinerary to gain elevation gradually, ie:
- Arequipa: 2,500m / 8,200ft
- Ollantaytambo: 2,850m / 9,350ft
- Pisac: 2,960m / 9,700ft
- Cuzco: 3,360m / 11,000ft
- Puno: 3,830m / 12,600ft
This will save you a lot of headache (literally) and you will be well prepared for the hike.
Mild altitude sickness symptoms include headache, possibly increasing to slight dizziness or light-headedness. Moderate symptoms elevate to nausea and loss of appetite. A good comprehensive description is here: http://www.traveldoctor.co.uk/altitude.htm
Coca leaves, widely used throughout Peru to cure practically everything, are known to provide significant relief of the altitude sickness symptoms by improving oxygen absorption, reducing fatigue, and providing many vitamins and minerals. We chewed the leaves on our hike up and it sure seemed to help! Coca leaves can be purchased at any Peruvian market. (Note that "it takes 5,000 Coca leaves to make 1g of cocaine"). More info on Coca leaves here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca_tea
Money and Fees
Some websites state that you have to pay a fee for hiking the Salkantay Trek with the fee station located in Soraypampa. We did not pay anything for the hike or for campgrounds in either Collpapampa or Santa Theresa (and were not asked to do so at any point). You may want to have some cash to purchase snacks, dinner, or other items at the kiosks and campgrounds.
There are some comments on blogs regarding the dangers of being robbed while hiking the Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek; and often one of the marketed "advantages" of going with a guide is that you will be protected from such attacks. No guarantees of course, but in our personal experience - at no point did I feel in danger of being robbed or attacked during our trip. Be smart, like you should be traveling anywhere in Peru - don't carry loads of cash with you, but be prepared to part with anything valuable that you do choose to carry. In my opinion - my most valuable possession are my photos, so take a few memory cards with you and switch them out throughout the trip - if your camera gets stolen you might be out a few / many hundreds of $$, but at least you will keep your memories :)