As one of the highest and most beautiful peaks in southeastern Peru, Mount Salkantay dominates the surrounding landscape. This great mountain’s Quechua name is derived from the words “sallqa,” meaning “untamed” and “antay,” “avalanche maker.”
This multi-day trek can be completed using nightly campsites, as a lodge-to-lodge walk, or while enjoying the new “glamping,” or luxury camping, option developed by Peru Ecocamp. This unique alternative is the perfect option for those travelers seeking a different way to reach the ruins of Machu Picchu, which does not involve the world-renowned but often crowded Inca Trail.
This less well-known, more remote hike starts in the small town of Mollepata, two hours by road from the city of Cusco. The trailhead marks the beginning of a journey that takes hikers around the base of snow-capped Mount Salkantay, down into the semi-tropical cloud forest of Santa Teresa, and on to the final destination for most visitors to Peru: the Inca city of Machu Picchu.
Trekking the Salkantay Trails
The first day of this unique route through the Peruvian Andes can be preceded by an acclimatization hike to the condor viewing point at Chonta, or to the archaeological site of Choquechurco, followed by a delicious and nourishing meal served at the Pincopata EcoCamp.
The trek itself starts with the hike from Marcocasa to Soraypampa, where most trekking groups tend to camp for the night. A much better option is to continue during the afternoon of the first day to Lake Humantay. The turquoise waters of this glacial lake contrast markedly with the mountain’s white glacier, which in turn is framed by blue Andean skies. This extended first-day hike will give walkers more time to tackle the high altitude trek they will face the next day, rather than spending the morning visiting the lake.
Day two of this route takes travelers to Salkantaypampa, a great plain overlooked by Mount Salkantay, the name of which is unoriginal from the Quechua words “sallqa,” meaning “untamed” and “antay,” “avalanche maker.” Towering some 6271 meters (20,574 feet), Salkantay has been sacred to the people of this part of the Andes since the pre-Inca period. Such sacred mountains, known in Quechua as “apus,” are seen as deities entrusted with the safekeeping of the valleys they dominate, and all the life forms sheltered by those valleys, including humans.
After climbing a steep slope, the trail leads to a high pass, from where there is a truly breathtaking view of a panorama composed of the snow-covered peaks of the Vilcabamba range, including Pumasillo (5991 meters / 19,656 feet) and Choquetacarpo (5520 meters / 18,110 feet).
From this high pass, the trail continues downhill, the landscape seeming to change with every step; it is here that the high Andean landscape is left behind, as walkers enter a cloud forest environment.
Trekking the Peru Cloud Forest
Passing waterfalls, the trail continues down into a dense forest filled with orchids, birds, and butterflies. Here the balmy air fills hikers’ lungs with the oxygen they were starved of during the high-altitude section of the route, and the Santa Teresa River welcomes them to Huiñaypocco.
Here, in the afternoon, it is possible for hikers to visit a local coffee plantation to observe how coffee beans are harvested, processed and roasted, and to savor one of the most welcome cups of coffee they will ever drink.
The next day, an easy morning’s walk leads to the Machu Picchu hydroelectric station. Depending on the route chosen, this day’s walk can take travelers through the plantations of coffee, bananas and other tropical fruits in the Santa Teresa valley, passing an adventure park where it is possible to try zip-lining over the Sacsara River. Another option on this day is to visit the hot springs at Cocalmayo. This route follows a trail through rainforest habitat, along an ancient Inca highway with many surviving paved sections. From the ruins of Llactapata, originally an Inca control point, hikers will get their first view of Machu Picchu from an angle seen by very few who visit this monumental Inca city.
That same afternoon, hikers can choose to take the 20-minute train ride to the small town of Aguas Calientes, situated below the ruins of Machu Picchu, or spend three hours walking to the town, following the train tracks.
Having spent the night in Aguas Calientes, the following day will be spent visiting the ruins of Machu Picchu, which can be accessed by shuttle bus or via a steep trail composed of more than three thousand steps.
Watch these two videos, on the first one check what the Peru Ecocamps look like from the air and in the second one, get an idea of the tour itself. Enjoy!