One of the most popular destinations in the world and one of the New7 Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu should not be missed off any South American travel itinerary. The popularity of the Inca Trail has led to travellers searching for the next route to reach Machu Picchu from Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The proximity of the mighty Salkantay (or Salcantay) Mountain to Machu Picchu makes the Salkantay Trek an attractive alternative to the Inca Trail.
The Salkantay Mountain is the highest peak of the Willkapampa Mountain range which makes up part of the Peruvian Andes and makes for an impressive backdrop during the trek. The mountain’s name is derived from ‘sallqa‘, meaning ‘savage’ in the local language of Quechua and therefore the mountain is known as the ‘Savage Mountain’. A challenging and more off the beaten track, the Salkantay Trek traverses its way through high mountain passes and the jungle until it arrives at Machu Picchu.
Walking up to 11 miles a day over a 4 day period, the Salkantay Trek stretches an impressive 43 miles in total, making it about 17 miles longer than the Inca Trail. The first day of the trek usually starts at the small, ancient village of Mollepata near Cusco at an altitude of about 9,000 ft. above sea level and finishes in Soraypampa 13,000 ft. above sea level. Trekking on the first day can come as a bit of a shock to the system due to the altitude as well as covering a heart-pounding 13 miles. However, the surrounding valley views and spectacular backdrop of Salkantay Mountain, ensures that the nature around you keeps you entertained.
After a strenuous first day, the second day is by far the hardest of the Salkantay Trek as you begin your ascent to Soyroccocha that stands at the highest point of the trek at over 15,000 ft. above sea-level. The up-close and breath-taking view of the impressive Salkantay Mountain is extremely satisfying not only personally for reaching this point of the trek but due to the surrounding vistas and environment. From the heights of snowy-covered peaks and the crisp mountain air, the trek begins its descent to Chaullay. The change in terrain, climate and views can be seen and felt immediately as the trek reaches Chaullay at 9,300 ft. above sea-level, bringing an end to the second day of the trek and a 13 mile hike.
The third and fourth days are a lot more relaxed in comparison to the first two days, covering only 8 miles per day as the trek continues to descend to Santa Teresa and Agua Calientes. As the surrounding jungle with its exotic flowers and plants takes over from the icy heights of the second day, the warmer climate comes as a welcome change on the trek. On the fourth day, the trek arrives in Aguas Calientes, the base-town of Machu Picchu where the build-up to the last day of trekking to see the sunrise at the mystical and majestic Machu Picchu begins.
The Salkantay Trek is one of the most memorable and impressive South American vacation experiences available and one that deserves careful consideration when deciding which trek to take to Machu Picchu. After four long days of trekking, the sense of self-achievement along with the magnificence of Machu Picchu makes the Salkantay Trek experience one that will stay with you forever.