Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail

Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail

Peru is recognized worldwide as a popular destination for hiking enthusiasts, offering a wide range of options. In addition to the famous Inca Trail, which has captured global attention with its ancient history and impressive archaeological sites, the Salkantay Trek is emerging as a prominent alternative to reach Machu Picchu.

While the Inca Trail stands out for its historical legacy and the fascinating archaeological sites it passes through, the Salkantay hike takes you through surprising landscapes and dreamlike natural settings.

In this article, we will explore both routes to Machu Picchu, detailing their most popular trails, analyzing their distinctive features and key differences to help you make an informed decision. Regardless of which route you choose, an unforgettable experience awaits you exploring the magical world of the ancient Incas and the stunning beauty of the Peruvian Andes.

What is the Salkantay Trek?

The Salkantay route to Machu Picchu has been recognized as an excellent alternative to the Inca Trail. It is a true adventure that offers some of the most impressive landscapes you can imagine. You will experience a descent from the snow-capped mountain peaks into the warm jungle. During this tour, you will have the opportunity to observe a variety of animals, from alpacas to exotic jungle species, as well as peculiar flora. You will also pass through small communities where you can observe rural life up close.

What is the Inca Trail?

The Inca Trail in Peru is one of the most famous routes in the world, and its popularity is justified. It offers a unique historical experience by visiting ancient ruins and walking along trails used by the Incas 500 years ago. During the tour, you will cross many steps, making stops at different places that will allow you to enjoy the impressive landscapes of the Andes and the characteristic wildlife of the region. The constant ascents and descents can be demanding on the legs, so it is important to be well prepared physically.

Difficulty of the Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail

Is the Salkantay route more difficult than the Inca Trail? It is a common question among hikers who want to explore Machu Picchu. Both hikes offer unique trails, but it’s important to consider a few factors:

How long is the Salkantay hike?

The classic Salkantay trek generally lasts 5 days and 4 nights and is considered more demanding in terms of distance and altitude. During this trek, hikers walk approximately 74 kilometers (46 miles), facing steep slopes, rocky terrain, and drastic weather changes.

How long is the Inca Trail?

The classic Inca Trail spans 4 days and 3 nights, with a distance of 42 kilometers (26 miles), known for its steep trail and stone steps. Despite this, there are shorter route options, such as the 2-day Inca Trail, as well as other alternatives that can last up to a week.

Altitude of the Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay trek reaches its highest point at Abra Salkantay, located approximately 4,600 meters above sea level, usually during the second or third day of the route.

Altitude of the Inca Trail

As for the Inca Trail, also known as Qhapaq Ñan, its maximum elevation is 4,215 meters above sea level at the Warmiwañusca Pass, also called Dead Woman Pass, located on the second day of hiking from the beginning of the trail.

Landscapes of the Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail

Salkantay Trek

During the Salkantay trek, you will traverse deep, lush valleys, visit the impressive Humantay Lagoon, and enjoy spectacular panoramic views. You will experience a wide range of climates, from the cold, snowy mountain regions to the humid high jungle. As you approach your final destination, you will witness the majesty of the high jungle and be captivated by panoramic views that will leave you in awe. Throughout the tour, the Urubamba River will accompany you, adding even more beauty to your trip. Finally, you will arrive at Aguas Calientes, the town located at the foot of Machu Picchu, where you can prepare for your latest adventure exploring this historic sanctuary.

Inca Trail

On the Inca Trail, you will walk through lush rainforests and have the opportunity to observe diverse and exotic flora and fauna. During the journey, you will ascend and descend numerous steps, making stops at various points along the way. Additionally, you will explore impressive archaeological sites such as Runkurakay , Sayacmarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñay Wayna. However, the highlight of the journey comes when you approach the majestic Inca citadel of Machu Picchu through the Puerta del Sol, known as Inti Punku. From this point, you will enjoy an incomparable panoramic view of the citadel, with its stepped terraces and its magnificent, perfectly preserved Inca buildings.

Weather on the Salkantay to Machu Picchu route

On both the Salkantay hike and the Inca Trail, the weather can experience significant changes due to the various altitudes and ecosystems that characterize the region of Cusco, Peru. During the first day of the trek, in the Mollepata area, it is typically hot during the day, while the nights can be cool, dropping to about 2 degrees Celsius (41 degrees Fahrenheit). As you ascend to higher altitudes, such as Abra Salkantay, temperatures drop considerably, reaching around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit). In the lower areas close to Machu Picchu, such as Santa Teresa and Aguas Calientes, the climate is usually warmer and more humid. During the day, temperatures range between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (68-77 degrees Fahrenheit), while at night they drop to around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

Weather on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

During the day, in low-lying areas such as the starting point of the hike in Piscacucho (km 82), you can experience warm temperatures ranging between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (68-77 degrees Fahrenheit). As you head to higher elevations, like the Warmiwañusca Pass, temperatures can drop to around 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) or even lower. In areas close to Machu Picchu, such as Wiñay Wayna and Intipunku (Puerta del Sol), the climate is usually warmer and more humid, with temperatures between 20 and 25 degrees Celsius (68-77 degrees Fahrenheit).

Where to sleep on the way to Machu Picchu?

Camps on the Salkantay Trek

During your journey, you will spend three nights in comfortable accommodations where you can admire the starry sky. On the last night, you will rest in a hotel in Aguas Calientes before exploring the magnificent Machu Picchu. At Salkantay Trekking, we make sure to offer you the best accommodations so that you can enjoy a comfortable stay after each day of hiking.


How much does it cost to do the Salkantay trek?

The Salkantay trek is cheaper compared to the Inca Trail. The average cost to do the 4 or 5-day hike varies between $500 and $700. At Salkantay Trekking, we provide the Salkantay trek with a guide, camping equipment, meals during the tour, accommodation and the entrance to Machu Picchu included.

How much does it cost to do the Inca Trail?

The average price to do the Inca Trail of 4 days and 3 nights ranges between $600 and $1000 per person. At Salkantay Trekking, we provide the Inca Trail with services that include a guide, round-trip transportation from Cusco to the start of the trek, meals during the trek, camping equipment, and entrance to Machu Picchu.

Permits for the Salkantay vs Inca Trail route

Permits for the Salkantay hike

Entrance to Machu Picchu: To access the citadel after completing the walk, you will need to purchase an entrance ticket to Machu Picchu. This ticket can be obtained through the Decentralized Directorate of Culture of Cusco or through the official Machu Picchu website.

Tour guide: Although it is not mandatory to have a tour guide for the Salkantay trek, it is recommended to hire one. The guides are familiar with the route, offer information about places of interest along the way and can assist you with any problems or difficulties you may face.

Travel Agency Services: Many hikers choose to participate in a tour organized through a travel agency that provides complete services for the Salkantay trek. These packages usually include transportation, accommodation, guides, meals, and other essential services during the trek.

Permits for the Inca Trail

Entry permit to the Inca Trail: It is essential to obtain this permit to carry out the walk. It is important to reserve in advance, as there is a daily limit of permits available (200 tickets for general visitors).

Machu Picchu Entry Permit: As with the Salkantay hike, you will need this ticket to enter the citadel after completing the hike.

Authorized tour guide: To do the Inca Trail, it is mandatory to be accompanied by an authorized tour guide. The guide will lead the group and provide information about the trail and archaeological sites along the tour.

It is crucial to consider that entrance tickets for the Inca Trail sell out quickly, especially during high demand months like June, July and August. It is recommended to make a reservation several months in advance to ensure the necessary permits on the desired dates.

So which one to choose?

As you have seen, both the Salkantay hike and the Inca Trail are two of the best routes in the world that will lead you to Machu Picchu. The choice depends on your personal preferences, time available and level of physical condition you have. Both options are incredibly beautiful and will allow you to live a unique experience in the Peruvian Andes. Here, we give you a list of the best of each of the routes to Machu Picchu:

Why choose Salkantay?

Here’s a list of reasons to consider this incredible route, put together to help you decide if it’s right for you:

No permits required: This route is always available, meaning you don’t have to worry about seat availability. However, it is important to check with the tour operator to make sure they have availability.

Stunning landscapes: Many consider this the most scenic route in the region, and rightly so. You will be able to enjoy spectacular views and experience a wide variety of climates, from the cold snowy mountain regions to the humid jungle.

Humantay Lagoon: In recent years, this impressive lagoon has been included on many lists of places to visit before you die. If you opt for the Salkantay hike, you will have the opportunity to visit it on the first day as part of your experience.

More services. On the Salkantay route, you will have access to bathrooms along the way and will spend the last night in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, which means you can shower and clean up before climbing Machu Picchu.

Fewer tourists. The trail is becoming more popular every year, but that doesn’t mean it’s as crowded as the Inca Trail. You will be able to enjoy moments of peace and tranquility while you travel the route.

Horses. If the climb to Humantay Lagoon or Salkantay Pass is too hard for you, you can choose to rent a horse to take you.

Price. This route is much cheaper than the Inca Trail because it is not necessary to buy a permit. This makes it more accessible to everyone.

Why choose the Inca Trail?

Here are our reasons to consider the Inca Trail as a standout option for hikers visiting Peru:

Ancestral trails: The name Inca Trail reflects that you literally walk the same routes used by our ancestors. It is a unique experience that transports you back in time, allowing you to imagine what life was like for this ancient civilization.

World recognition: This trekking has received numerous awards, making it one of the most famous and requested routes in the world. It’s exciting to know that you are following in the footsteps of many other adventurers throughout history.

Inca Ruins: If you have an interest in history, the Inca Trail is ideal. During the tour you will visit numerous archaeological sites that are only accessible through this trail, offering you a deep immersion in the ancient culture of the Incas.

Back to basics: This route is perfect for lovers of the outdoors and nature. There are no modern facilities along the way, allowing you to disconnect and enjoy the purity of the natural environment for several days.

Single entry to Machu Picchu: The Inca Trail is the only hike that allows you to enter Machu Picchu through the Puerta del Sol, known as Inti Punku, instead of the main entrance. This experience offers a unique and memorable perspective of the citadel from a privileged point of view.

Appropriate difficulty: Compared to the Salkantay Trek, the Inca Trail is considered a little less physically demanding, making it more accessible for those who prefer a less strenuous hike. Even so, it remains a challenge that requires physical and mental preparation.