Self-Guided Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu (7 days)

Looking for an adventurous way to get to Machu Picchu? Here you go! 😉

The Salkantay Trek is the #1 alternative to the famous Inca Trail. The best thing is that you can do it not only with a tour guide (like the Inca Trail), but also on your own. It was clear that we wanted to do a trek without a guide and so we decided really quickly for the Salkantay Trek. Shortly before, a couple of people told us that even this trek is very touristy, but we did not experience that at all. During the entire trip, we saw maybe three groups, the rest of the time was far and wide no one to be seen. This certainly had a lot to do with the fact that we had our own “schedule”. We never set an alarm, had a relaxed breakfast, and then started our daily hikes.


Preparation

For the trek we had to repack our backpacks and leave some things at the hostel. We stayed at Dragonfly Hostel in Cusco. We stored all of the unnecessary things in the storage room in our backpack transport covers, and all of the valuables locked up in the hostel office.

As for equipment, we didn’t have to worry about anything because we brought all of the necessary equipment from home. (See packing list) The only thing we had to get was a gas cartridge for our gas stove. (A small 230ml cartridge was enough for the trip but we took an extra one just in case) For Machu Picchu we took a daypack.

Of course, we had to take enough food for the trek. We went to the grocery store with absolutely no plan. What would we really need? In the end, it turned out that we were pretty spot on with our spontaneous calculations.

Our stock for the trek: (2 people)

  • 6 Pkg. Ramen Noodles
  • 2 pkg. pasta noodles (250g)
  • 2 pkg. tomato sauce
  • 4 cans of tuna
  • 500g oatmeal
  • dried cranberries
  • raisins
  • nuts
  • crackers
  • 2 bananas (for the first day)
  • granola bars, power bars
  • 7 liters of water (CamelBak and Nalgene bottles filled,
    –> Important: bring water purification tablets!!!)
  • bread (for the first day)

No worries: Along the way are always snack shacks where you can stock up on water and snacks again.


Day 1

We started at 6:00 am. From our hostel in Cusco (Dragonfly Hostel) we walked for about 5 min. to “Avenida Acropata” and took a colectivo to Mollepata (15 soles per person), where the tours start the trek. We planned to take a taxi to Soraypampa because we wanted to avoid the 4 hour hike on the boring dirt road. Our Colectivo driver was so nice and organized us a ride with his “buddy“. So we were chauffeured in the back of a truck with 15 indigenous people to Soraypampa. The whole thing cost us 15 soles per person instead of 100 Soles by taxi. 🙂

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We took off in Soraypampa and soon saw the big camps, where the tour groups sleep. Right at the camps you have to turn left if you want to go to Laguna Humantay (4200m). And it is absolutely worth it, because the lagoon with turquoise water surrounded by glacier offers a breathtaking panorama. There we had tuna with bread for lunch and then let the sun shine on our stomachs. Once and a while a tour group came through, but most of the time we had the beautiful scenery all to ourselves. In the evening we set up our tent and cooked our gourmet dinner – Ramen Noodles. 😉 It got pretty cold at night at such high elevation, but our sleeping bags kept us warm. It is definitely worth it to be able to look up at the stars and milky way in total darkness. Breathtaking!

Day 2

We woke up pretty early, before the sun rays reached the summit. We took plenty of time to enjoy the scenery in the morning light and to take some more pictures. We had oatmeal with dried cranberries for breakfast. (Without sugar or honey it tastes pretty boring, so be sure to bring some along!) While the tent dried in the sun, we packed everything together. We filled our Nalgene bottles with lake water and purification tablets, because we did not know when we would be able to get water again. At about 10 we were on our way back to the camps to return to the main trail. We asked a man with donkeys (he looked as if he belonged to the camp) if he had bread for us because we ate all we had the previous day. Low and behold … he coincidentally had a bag of bread hanging on his backpack and he just gave it to us for free. (It was no longer the freshest bread, but hey, beggers cant be chosers.) 😉 We hiked steadily our way to the Salkantay Pass (4600m – the highest point of the trek) to make sure we got there in time. The trail follows along a river until the next camp. Up until then, it was already pretty exhausting with the thin air and our heavy backpacks, but the real challenge was still waiting for us. The following zig zag ascent and the last stretch to the pass took us to the limit of our stregth and condition. We walked very slowly and made many short breaks. The feeling when we reached the Salkantay Pass was incredible! We made it! This panorama – the mighty glacier just a reach away – gave us both goosebumps! From there on everything is downhill. We chose a spot with no wind and rewarded ourselves with a power snack. We still wanted to make it to Andenes, so we marched on. Pretty exhausted, we were able to make it with the last few minutes of daylight. We just asked a guy we saw on the trail and he let us camp in his backyard for 10 Soles. With the headlamps on, we set up the tent and cooked pasta with tomato sauce. Then fell exhausted into “bed”.

Day 3

After our morning routine we started our hike to La Playa, which was the goal of the day. Immediately after Collpapampa you can decide whether you want to hike along a dirt road or a trail along the river. We opted for the trail, to get there you have to walk down a little bit of dirt road then cross the river to the left side. The trail follows right next to the river the whole time. Immediately after the bridge I rolled my ankle really bad. Unfortunately, from then on we had to hike at a much slower pace. In La Playa we pitched our tent in the backyard of a nice woman, who even cooked us dinner. (chicken with rice) The food cost us 10 soles/pp and camping was free.

Day 4

For breakfast, we got rice with eggs (10 soles/pp). The woman had a small shop where we could buy some snacks and water. Overnight my ankle was quite swollen. Two doors down, we found a pharmacy where we bought some anti-inflammitory cream and an ace bandage. Most tours hike from La Playa to Santa Teresa. For us, we continued on to Llactapata, because we did not want to miss the view of Machu Picchu. (Llactapata Lodge has a great view) This day we should have started much earlier. The steep path went up 700 meters on the sunny side of the mountain (no shade). And it ONLY went uphill! The heat really killed us. Thankfully we arrived about halfway through to a small spring, where we were able to take a break and could refresh ourselves. Just before reaching the lodge you pass some Inca ruins and from there, you can see Machu Picchu for the first time from a distance. A beautiful moment. At the lodge, we met the first hiking group who was also staying overnight. We were not able to get dinner there so we cooked Ramen Noodles while we enjoyed the beautiful sunset overlooking Machu Picchu. We paid 8 Soles/pp for camping. For the first time we had the chance of a real shower and we took advantage of course! (shower with hot water – amazing!)

Day 5

This morning we also took our time getting going. (That’s the best part, if you are traveling alone – the tours always start very early) For 10 soles/pp we got breakfast (pancakes and eggs). On this day we hiked down the other side of the mountain we hiked up the day before, until we got to Hidro Electrica. There we enjoyed a „menu del dia“ for 15 Soles/pp. We hiked along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes. This seemingly never-ending trail took about 3 hours to Aguas Calientes. There, we bought our tickets for Machu Picchu, checked into the “Pirwa Hostel” and enjoyed a wonderful gourmet dinner at “Julian Restaurant” for 30 Soles/pp – highly recommended!

Day 6

Finally it was here – the day we would finally see Machu Picchu! We locked our large backpacks in the locker in the Storage Room and packed only a daypack. It was amazing to be on the go with such little weight on our backs. The countless steps were still very exhausting. Finally we made it! We experienced the magic of this unbelievable place. We enjoyed the view for a while before we explored through the ruins and after about 2.5 hours, made our way back down. It started to rain a little, but we started walking anyway so we could get back to Hidro Electrica in time. (You can also take a train from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco, but it costs 85 dollars and that was clearly too much for us.) Along the train tracks there are a lot of small restaurants. In one of them we grabbed some lunch, hoping the rain would pass a bit. At dusk we arrived at Hidro Electrica. From there, we found a Colectivo which took us to the Hot Springs in Santa Teresa. (Admission: 10 Soles/pp, camp 10 soles/per tent) It did not take long for us to get into the warm water. After about 80km hike – that was amazing!

Day 7

From the Hot Springs, we took a taxi to Santa Teresa (3 Soles/pp). There we got into another Colectivo to Santa Maria (10 soles/pp). There we grabbed some breakfast before we drove with the final Colectivo back to Cusco (25 Soles/pp). After so many great experiences and kilometers we were pretty exhausted and glad to be back at the hostel.

I hope this article gives you a good overview of how to do the Salkantay trek by yourself. We loved it und can only recommend to dive into this adventure! If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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