Machu Picchu treks: Salcantay vs Inca Trail

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Trekking to the Lost City of the Incas is a bucket list ticker for many adventurers, but which route is the best?

The famous Inca Trail, rated one of South America’s finest treks, allows travellers the chance to follow in the footsteps of the ancient Incas, visiting the impressive ancient Inca sites along the way. The Salcantay trek, an alternate route for Inca trail trekkers, is no less remarkable with an array of breathtaking scenery – from snow-capped mountains to cloud forests – that will make you feel closer to nature.

Whichever route you decide on, both promise to deliver an unforgettable trek up high mountain passes and through lush jungles, with that llama selfie you were probably hoping of taking too. Use our comparison table below to help choose the right Machu Picchu trek for you.

Salcantay Trek

Classic Inca Trail

Duration 4 days of trekking 4 days of trekking
Why do it Experience the wilderness of the Peruvian Andes, looping around the glacial and verdant path of Mount Salcantay en route to Machu Picchu, avoiding the Inca Trail crowds. Considered the best short trek alternative to the classic Inca Trail without having to worry about permits. Earn bragging rights for visiting one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and completing one of the greatest short treks on earth. Trek along the ‘original’ route Incas travelled from the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu. Visit intriguing Inca sites every day and enjoy your first glimpse of Machu Picchu at the dramatic Sun Gate entrance.
Inclusions – Expert bilingual guide

– Use of a gear pack including sleeping bag, fibre filled jacket, thermarest and headtorch

– Breakfasts, lunches and dinners while on trek

– Porters/mules to carry personal gear

– Sightseeing and site entrance fees (including Machu Picchu)

– Group medical kit and camping equipment

– Expert bilingual guide

– Use of a gear pack including sleeping bag, fibre filled jacket, thermarest and headtorch

– Breakfasts, lunches and dinners while on trek

– Porters to carry personal gear

– Sightseeing and site entrance fees (including Machu Picchu)

– Group medical kit and camping equipment

Highlights – Trek to magnificent views of Mount Salcantay (6270m), regarded as one of the most sacred snow peaks in Inca mythology and is the highest peak in Vilcabamba mountain range.

– Hike slightly higher than the highest point on the classic Inca Trail.

– Climb to the pristine turquoise waters of Lake Humantay.

– Enjoy a nature-rich experience, from highland to cloud forests, with vistas of the Vilcabamba Mountain Range in every direction.

– Pass through banana, granadilla, avocado and coffee plantations and spot Andean condors along the way.

– Gain a special view of Machu Picchu sanctuary from the southeast that few travellers get the chance to admire, with lunch served in a scenic viewpoint that looks out to Machu Picchu.

– Discover the enigmatic ruins of Machu Picchu on a guided tour with time to explore the site at your own pace.

– Enjoy two scenic train journeys from Hydroelectric train station to Aguas Calientes and from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo.

– Trek the famous ‘Royal Highway of the Incas’, built more than 500 years ago.

– Hike past centuries-old Incan terraces, camp in picturesque valleys and marvel at stunning Incan architecture.

– Enjoy a guided tour of the Machu Picchu sanctuary with time to explore the site at your own pace.

– Get an extra visit to Machu Picchu with an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes to fully appreciate the majestic site at its best, early the following morning.

– Enjoy a scenic train journey from Machu Picchu to Ollantaytambo after the trek.

Lowlights You do not enter Machu Picchu through the Inti Punku ‘Sun Gate’, instead a train is taken to Aguas Calientes. (However, the longer Salcantay Base Camp trek does include this in the itinerary.) –  A limit of 500 permits available per day for trekkers and crew and must be booked far in advance (If you’re thinking of going within the next year, you better start booking now). April to August permits sell out fast.

–  This is the most popular and thus the busiest route where strict permit rules do not allow for date changes and cancellations fees would apply.

Permit required No. Without permit limitations, there is more booking flexibility and availability to do the hike. Yes. If there is a shortage of Inca Trail Permits and they aren’t available for your trip date at the time of booking, we offer the Salcantay trek as an alternative option at no additional cost (except on the Inca Trail Adventure trip).
Difficulty and level of fitness Introductory (3) – This will rarely involve flat terrain. It is harder than the Classic Inca Trail with daily physical exercise around six to eight hours due to more rugged trails. Introductory (3) – Daily physical exercise on the trail is around six to seven hours with some long steep ascents and rough ground to cover. Expect a lot of stairs.
Maximum elevation Salcantay Pass (4638m) Warmihuañusca Pass (4200m)
Starting point of trek Challacancha Ollantaytambo
Bonus climbs Can climb one of the two mountains in the Machu Picchu sanctuary (minimum of 3 hours return) by purchasing a Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain permit. (Note: these options sell out if not pre-booked early) Can climb one of the two mountains in the Machu Picchu sanctuary (minimum of 3 hours return) by purchasing a Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain permit. (Note: these options sell out if not pre-booked early)
When to go March to December March to December. The most popular time to hike the Inca Trail is between April and August.
How to experience it Salcantay Trek & Machu Picchu (7 days) > Best of Peru (16 days) >

Classic Inca Trail (11 days) >

Inca Trail Adventure (6 days) >

Inca Trail & Jungle Adventure (10 days) >

Peru Explorer & Inca Trail (19 days) >

Reader Poll: Which Machu Picchu trek do you prefer?

Other treks to consider

  • Salcantay Base Camp trek to Machu Picchu: Camp beneath the spectacular Mount Salcantay and on the final day, join the classic Inca Trail for the unforgettable sight of Machu Picchu from the ‘Sun Gate’. This is a variation of the Salcantay trek which is longer and slightly more challenging.

 

  • Inca Rivers Trek – Choquequirao to Machu Picchu: If you’re after rare views of Machu Picchu, this remote trek is for you. Visit more varied trails away from the crowds, which take you to other spectacular Inca Ruin sites, such as Choquequirao. Traverse along the spectacular Vilcabamba mountain range between two sacred Inca Rivers before taking in incredible views of Machu Picchu. This is a moderate to challenging trek.

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