The Salkantay Trek: Glaciers to Jungle
In the remote Vilcapampa range of the Peruvian Andes Mountains lies one of the tallest peaks in the Western Hemisphere. At a breath taking elevation of 20,574 feet (6,264 m), stands Salkantay Mountain, known as the "Savage Mountain" in Native Quechua. The Inca people worshipped this mountain as it towers over the lowlands of Machu Picchu. For anyone who has considered trekking to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trail offers an off-the-beaten path, 5-day, 45 mile alternative route through the mountains to the sacred site.
Planning for the Salkantay Trek:
The Salkantay Trek was recently published in National Geographic Magazine as one of the Top 25 Best Hikes in the World. Excited to hit the trail, the Root Republic team chose mid June, which is considered one of the best months for the Salkantay Trek. Although considerably colder, the months of April to October offer clear skies and much less rain. Along the trail, you will encounter snow covered peaks, vibrant blue glacial lakes, grassy green valleys and humid highland jungle...not to mention the sacred site of Machu Picchu!
Due to the varied terrain and many climates you will encounter, preparing the right gear for this excursion is monumental. This means bringing both cold weather and warm weather clothing and gear. The Salkantay Trail can be completed with or without a guide, however we recommend the former as altitude sickness, getting lost, or getting injured are a real threat. If you choose to make the trek without guide, be sure to carry your Backpacking 10 Essentials and plan your route accordingly. Keep reading below for our highlights on the Salkantay Trek.
Day 1: 8 miles
The trailhead: The Salkantay Trek starts at around 9,500 feet near the crystal clear turquoise Humantay Lake. After spending some time to reflect by the lake, we continued our trek towards Salkantay Mountain before sleeping on a ridge at 13,451 feet elevation.
Day 2: 14 miles
The big day: After a night of cold, roaring wind, we woke up at 5 am to a clear view of Salkantay Mountain and began the ascent. With every step, the air thinned. After a set of switchbacks locally known as "the gringo killers", we summited Salkantay Pass at 15,250 feet. Lesson of the day: take care of your feet!
Day 3: 10 miles
Going downhill: With every step of the descent from Salkantay Mountain, the landscape and climate seems to change. After 10 miles of downhill hiking, we turned a corner and found ourselves in a lush and humid cloud forest. After setting up camp, we visited a nearby hot spring which was much needed!
Day 4: 12 miles
The Inca Trail: After a day of hiking through the humid jungle, we caught our first glimpse of Machu Picchu from a nearby summit. From this remote view point, it felt as if we had the entire place to ourselves.
Day 5: 2.5 miles to Machu Picchu
Made it! After 45 miles on the trail, we woke up in the remote town of Aguas Calientes and completed the trek to Machu Picchu. We were welcomed at the sacred site by a strange yet positive energy and baby llamas. Mission complete.
Thanks for reading! If you are considering the Salkantay Trek for your next big adventure, we offer you one more piece of advice: Be grateful for Pachamama (Mother Earth) and enjoy the journey! Happy trekking folks!
Root Republic Team