Salkantay, which winds through the Cordillera Vilcabamba in Central Southern Perú – all the way to Machu Picchu – is a nature lover’s paradise, providing an immense variety of landscapes, wildlife and culture, all set among the remnants of the great Inca civilization.
Continue reading to see why this epic trekking and climbing destination is not one to be overlooked.
What and Where
Due to its size and location, a variety of terrains can be found throughout the mountains. Snowy peaks are visible from much of the trail, along with vast landscapes of cloud forests and lush, tropical jungles.
Lakes, rivers, and waterfalls also pop up throughout the range, allowing you to experience almost all terrains imaginable. Since the intimidating Salkantay peak was venerated by the Incas, some ruins can even be found along the trail. Many are unestablished as visitor destinations, and are still semi-overgrown and undiscovered.
The Salkantay mountains can be seen from a number of routes, on climbing trips as well trekking the entire trail. We certainly recommend doing the whole thing. It is a mega experience that is never regretted, and is accessible from a number of levels. Learn more here.
Best Time to Visit
Since the mountains cover a wide range of terrains, the climate – and thus weather and temperatures – can vary drastically throughout the mountains. This means that you can experience freezing temperatures one night and humid, sunny weather the next day, regardless of when you visit.
All departures for Salkantay climbing and trekking trips leave from Cusco. The hike can be done in either 5 days/4 nights, or 4 days/3 nights, including a day at Machu Picchu. The trail itself starts at the town of Mollepata and ends in the town of Aguas Calientes, which provides easy access to Machu Picchu before returning to Cusco by train.
Fitness-Level and Experience Required
The path itself is not intimidating, but the high altitudes make it more difficult to breath, especially with additional backpack weight. Trekking with the use of pack animals, and thus carrying much less weight, makes things much easier.
Since the departure point for Salkantay goes through Cusco, which is about 3,400m above sea level, acclimatization will already be a part of your pre-trip itinerary. Take advantage of resting a couple of days there, since the hike will take you up to 4,650m. Thus, the longer you are accustomed to breathing thinner air and allowing your body to adjust, the better shape you will be in for the trek.
As always, since there is still a rather drastic difference in elevation between Cusco and Salkantay’s highest passes, be sure to monitor your health throughout the trek. For signs of nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness, or any other symptoms of altitude sickness, notify your guide immediately, drink lots of water, keep warm, rest, and if debilitating, head down to lower elevations as quickly as possible.