The Salkantay

Salkantay is the second highest peak in Cusco, after Ausangate. It belongs to the chain of mountains known as the Cordillera de Vilcabamba, in southern Peru. Since the time of the Incas, it is one of the most revered gods in this part of the Andes. Today, it is part of the 5-day and 4-night tourist route that connects the city of Cuzco with the Inca city of Machu Picchu. Because this route crosses the abra of this snowy mountain, it was called 'Salkantay Trek'.

What is Salkantay?

The Salkantay is a snowy mountain in Cusco, which was venerated by the Incas, to the point that in its vicinity, they built important temples such as Choquequirao and Machu Picchu. It belongs to the so-called 'Cordillera de Vilcabamba'. Today, this snowy mountain is still venerated by the Andean people who still keep many of the beliefs of their Inca ancestors. There is a 5-day and 4-night trekking route that leads to Machu Picchu, which is known as 'The Salkantay trek', as part of the path crosses the mountain.

Where is it?

The Nevado Salkantay belongs to the Vilcabamba mountain range, in the department of Cusco, in southern Peru. It belongs to the province of La Convencion, district of Santa Teresa.

How high is it?

The top of Salkantay is located at 6,264 meters above sea level (20,551 feet). The abra, the highest point where tourists walk towards Machupicchu; it is located at 4,600 meters above sea level (15,091 feet).


For a long time before the Incas, the snowy Salkantay was worshiped by the peoples and ethnic groups that inhabited its surroundings. According to some chronicles, the territories closest to the mountain were inhabited by the so-called 'Rimactampus', who were later conquered by the first Inca Manco Cápac, in the 13th century. The Incas continued to worship this imposing snow-capped mountain which they called 'Apu', or 'great lord'. The most common rituals were the so-called 'payments to the land', which consisted of offering corn, coca leaves and the blood of auquénidos.

During the colonial era, an attempt was made to prohibit the cult of the mountains, which in the eyes of the Spaniards was considered 'idolatry'. However, the cult of the mountains was so ingrained that today the Quechua people continue to worship the mountains. The Salkantay, for example, continues to be venerated by the people of Cusco, who consider it one of the most powerful gods. From the highest points of Machu Picchu, Choquequirao and other Inca citadels, you can see the Salkantay and its immense snows.

Currently, the Nevado Salkantay is part of a 5-day and 4-night hiking route that ends in Machu Picchu. This route crosses the so-called 'Abra Salcantay'. Tourists, as well as Andean settlers, leave the so-called 'apachetas' or offerings made of stone at the top of the mountain. This route is one of the most difficult of the tourist routes that lead to Machupicchu. The cold in the nearby snowy nights are extreme. Even so, there are many visitors who do it.

The Salkantay Trek

The route called 'Salkantay Trek' covers approximately 70 kilometers in 5 days and 4 nights. It crosses high landscapes surrounded by snow-capped mountains, such as the abra of the Salkantay mountain (at an altitude of 4,600 meters). It also travels through landscapes of the high jungle of Cusco, such as the town of Santa Teresa (at 1,550 meters of altitude). The last day ends in the Inca city of Machu Picchu, which is reached through the town of Aguas Calientes. The hike is of medium difficulty - challenging. It is a bit more arduous than the famous 'Inca Trail'.

Route map

What will you see?

  • Flora and fauna – There are many species of animals that inhabit the mountains near the Salkantay mountain range, such as: the vizcacha, the alpaca, the llama and the condor. The most common plant species is the ichu, or Andean straw. If you do the hiking route, you will also be able to see species from the tropical jungle of Cusco, such as: the torrent duck, the spectacled bear, the cock of the rocks, among others. The most common flower spice during the walk is the orchid.
  • The Abra Salkantay – The Abra Salkantay is the highest point that tourists travel during the so-called 'Salkantay Trek'. It is located at 4,600 meters of altitude. From there you can see the imposing snows of the second highest snowy peak in Cusco and one of the largest in Peru. It is a very popular place to take pictures. Getting there is quite a challenge. It is achieved on the second day of the route.
  • The Humantay Lagoon – The Humantay Lagoon is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Cusco. It is located near the snowy Salkantay. The waters of this lagoon have a turquoise color ideal for taking pictures. The walk to get there is a challenge for tourists. It can be reached with a tour from Cusco or by doing the famous 'Salkantay Trek'. In many cases, the visit is optional during the walk as it implies an additional effort. It is one of the most photographed landscapes in Cusco.
  • Machupicchu – The Inca city of Machu Picchu is the final destination of the 'Salkantay trek'. You get there after about 70 kilometers of walking. The entrance to the Inca city is through the route through the town of Aguas Calientes. From the top of the archaeological site (in the Intipunku sector) it is possible to see the imposing Salcantay snow in the distance, for many it is one of the most beautiful landscapes of Cusco.

This is the route

  • Day 1 – On the first day each visitor will travel approximately 16 kilometers. The route begins in the town of Mollepata from where you walk uphill for 7 hours until you reach the Soraypampa camp, a short distance from the Humantay lagoon (optional visit). From the camp the imposing Salkantay mountain can be seen in the distance.
  • Day 2 – The second day is the hardest. Each visitor will walk an average of 22 kilometers on high altitude roads. It is on this day that the highest point is crossed, the Salkantay abra. Fatigue will be greater due to the effects of altitude sickness. Then you descend through mountainous roads until you reach the Chaullay camp where you will spend the night.
  • Day 3 – On the third day you will travel 16 kilometers of downhill roads. The visitor will see how the high mountain landscapes turn green as they enter the high jungle of Cusco. The downhill path ends in the town of Santa Teresa, where visitors can relax in the famous thermal baths of Cocalmayo. In this town he spends the night.
  • Day 4 – On the fourth day, you travel flat paths, surrounded by thick vegetation. You cross 16 kilometers of easy roads. It is on this day that the famous walk is made from the Hydroelectric station to the town of Aguas Calientes, also known as Machu Picchu town due to its proximity to the Inca city. In that town you will spend the night in a local lodging. It is one of the happiest days due to the proximity of Machupicchu and the beautiful landscapes.
  • Day 5 – The last day is destined to visit Machu Picchu. It starts very early with an ascent of only 10 kilometers from Aguas Calientes to the Inca archaeological site (optionally you can take a bus). After the visit to Machu Picchu, we proceed to return to Cusco by train and then by bus. The wonder of the world is the effort for so many days of walking.

How's the weather?

The snowy Salkantay has a very cold climate. The temperature during the day can reach 8ºC. (46.4ºF) while at night the cold can drop to -10ºC. (14ºF) . The months of November to April are the rainiest. From May to October they are less rainy but colder days.

The 'Salkantay trek' route has a varied climate, depending on the day of the trek. The first two days are the coldest (especially at night) because you go through the highest landscapes, close to the snow. The last three days, on the other hand, are hotter, due to the descent through the high jungle landscapes of Cusco. The temperature on those days can vary from 8ºC. (46.4 ° F). up to 24ºC (75.2ºF).

How to do this route?

The Salkantay trek can be done in two ways: with an all-inclusive tour or on your own. The first option is the most recommended since it is the safest. You only need to hire a tour with a tourism agency, either online or directly in the city of Cusco. This route does not have limited availability, as is the case with the Inca Trail. It can be booked with a few weeks or even days left.

How much?

The Salkantay Trek tour has an approximate cost between 300 and 400 US dollars per person. The price varies according to the tourism agency and the quality of its service.

What does a tour include?

All tours offer:

  • Entrance to Machu Picchu.
  • Transportation to Mollepata (starting point of the hike).
  • Tour guide service throughout the tour.
  • Porters service (porters with horse).
  • Cooks service (breakfast, lunch and dinner).
  • Camping equipment (tents, sticks, first aid, etc).
  • Return from Machu Picchu to Cusco by train and bus.

Salkantay in photos

Tour Salkantay
Tour Salkantay
Tour Salkantay
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Additional Information

The Salkantay Trek is considered the second most amazing trek to Machu Picchu, after the famous Inca Trail. The big difference is that the Inca Trail is the only route that reaches Machu Picchu through the high part of the mountain, that is, through the ancient gate used by the Incas, the 'Intipunku'. All other treks, including the 'Salkantay', reach the Inca city through the town of Aguas Calientes.

Another difference between the 'Salkantay trek' and the Inca Trail is that the latter cannot be done on your own, while the 'Salkantay' route; Yes. Although it is not recommended, there are some tourists who go this route on their own carrying their backpacks with the necessary.

The classic route of the 'Salkantay trek' to Machu Picchu lasts 5 days and 4 nights. However, there are some shorter (and a little less demanding) versions that last 4 days and 3 nights. These routes are very similar to the classic route, except that it uses transport to get to the Hydroelectric station earlier and, finally, to the town of Aguas Calientes. It is a great option if you do not have the 5 days for the walk.

Some advices

The 'Salkantay trek' can be done every day of the year. However, according to people who have already done this route, the dry season months (from April to October) are the most recommended. Keep in mind that January, February and March are the rainiest months and consequently the most difficult to walk.

It is normal for the tourist to feel nausea, headache, rapid breathing and other symptoms, when crossing the high altitude geographies during the walk. These are the symptoms of altitude sickness, also called soroche or mountain sickness. These symptoms will slowly disappear as your body acclimates to the high altitude. A good idea is to drink plenty of water.

Before starting the walk, do not forget to bring a backpack with you: sleeping bag, waterproof jackets, sunscreen, rehydrating water, rain poncho, snacks, personal hygiene items and whatever you think is necessary. You should also wear hiking shoes with hard soles. Everything else is included in the tour.