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Differences with Salkantay
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Getting to Machu Picchu by trekking routes can have different options. Today we want to talk about, perhaps the two most famous trekking routes that can be done. The Salkantay Trek is an excellent option due to the lack of availability of the 4-day Inca Trail. Now that more people know about the existence of both routes and that they can book them in advance, they ask themselves, what are the routes like, how are they similar and how do they differ? In this blog, we will answer these questions and also present some comparisons so that the traveler or adventurer who decides to visit Peru, has all the necessary information to choose an option.

This is the 4-day Inca Trail route

The 4-day Inca Trail route begins with the departure from Cusco. When acquiring any trekking route, normally the travel agencies are in charge of giving the briefing, which can be understood as talks where the whole travel group can meet and the guide of the trip introduces himself. This is the moment in which the tourists or travelers should present their questions or concerns, in case something is not clear. The Inca Trail must be done only with authorized travel agencies. While the Salkantay Trek can be done on your own.

As we said, the 4-day Inca Trail begins with the train journey, which can start in Ollantaytambo or Cusco, until you reach kilometer 82 of the railway line. At this point, the whole group will begin to prepare their belongings, adjust their shoes, and start the trek. Before this, the guide will introduce the chef and the porters who will accompany the group and will be in charge of serving the food during the four days. For this first day, all those who do this route must have a good breakfast. The hike is arduous, fortunately, the food offered is light and quite nutritious.

Many people agree that the first two days of the hike are demanding. Probably this comment comes out about the fact that adaptability takes that long to materialize. But it is also because there are ascending routes to reach the highest point. Warmiwañuska is the highest point with an altitude of 4,125 meters. In this sense, it is the route where you can feel colder and at the same time, some discomforts of altitude sickness may appear. Therefore, people must have a few days of acclimatization before making the route. At the time of making the reservation, you should also think about that time of adaptability by doing other activities in Cusco.

Continuing with the 4-day Inca Trail route, the last two days you can already have contact with the high jungle. This means that the weather conditions will be warmer making the hike somewhat more comfortable. Also, it is possible to see some birds that fly curious to the camps or the ancestral road built by the Incas. On the fourth day, the last part of the trek begins early in the morning. In this sense, it is expected to reach Machu Picchu at dawn or see this spectacle from the Inti Punku.

The total distance followed during these four days of trekking is 44 kilometers. Divided according to the difficulty of the route. On the other hand, the tour will end with the return to Cusco. The trip is usually in bimodal service, although this will depend a lot on the option taken by the tourist. This is because you can make a return on any of the services offered by both Inca Rail and PeruRail. The same can be done at the time of making the outbound trip. Both services can stop at kilometer 84 where the 4-day Inca Trail adventure begins.

Archaeological site of Wiñayhuayna
Archaeological site of Wiñayhuayna

This is the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu route

The Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu has 2 variations. One of them can be done in 4 days while the second option is 5 days. The route is normally done in 5 days. The truth is that few people choose the 4-day option because it requires a bus or minivan ride, which trekking enthusiasts usually do not like. This hike is done on the third day when you board the minivan from Sahuayaco to Hidroeléctrica. From Hydroelectric you will hike back to Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Picchu Pueblo. On the fourth day, the ascent to Machu Picchu Picchu is made and we also proceed with the descent.

However, we want to talk about the most used option and, although they have details in common, we believe it is important that the entire route is done on foot. So at least the comparison between these two routes makes better sense. The Salkantay Trek, starting in Cusco, is a single trip by minivan to Mollepata, where everyone starts to pack their belongings to begin the 5-day trek. This first trip from Cusco to Mollepata takes less than 2 hours. We recommend that this trip is done with a travel agency to have everything you need during the trip, but if you do it on your own, we recommend you follow or take a proper guide to the Salkantay Trek.

After arriving in Mollepata, the first activity is the hike to the Humantay Lagoon, one of the most beautiful natural treasures that Cusco has to offer. That night will be spent in one of Mollepata’s campsites. The second day will test the most demanding hikers or trekkers. The route is ascending and you will reach the Salkantay Pass, the highest point of the route, reaching 4,600 meters above sea level. On this day you will also spend the coldest night since the camp will be close to this point.

The third and fourth days are different, we begin a truly magnificent descent. Magnificent for the view that is left behind as the snowy Salkantay and the path through the mountains. In addition, in the distance and as a destination you will see the green vegetation of the high jungle. In this sense, you will cross the points of Lucmabamba, Llaqtapata, and Hydroelectric. All these places are surrounded by abundant vegetation. Arriving at Hydroelectric, which will be on the fourth day. You just have to walk until you reach Aguas Calientes or Machu Picchu Pueblo. In this place, you can spend the night in a hotel or the camping area, according to each person’s decision.

The fifth day is dedicated exclusively to the tour of Machu Picchu. From early in the morning you have the option of boarding the ecological buses or ascending on foot. The tour of the wonder of the world will always be better if done with a guide. They will explain the details of the construction and this ancient civilization. The return coincides with the Inca Trail because it can be done with any option of the train trips. In this way, it would culminate with the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu tour in 5 days. Now let’s know some similarities, and then appreciate the differences between these two tours.

Heading to the Salkantay snow-capped mountain
Heading to the Salkantay snow-capped mountain

Similarities between the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Acclimatization – During the first few days, these tours will take place at altitudes of over 4000 meters above sea level. In this sense, it is recommended to do a previous acclimatization. It is advisable to be in Cusco doing simple activities. In Cusco, you can find many options for acclimatization.

Best travel date – In both cases, it is recommended to do the trek between March, April, May, June, July, August, and September. The rest of the months have a higher probability of rain. Rains can be a danger, especially in terrain near rivers or streams. It is important to know that the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu closes in February.

About the campsites – Campsites in both cases will be indispensable. If you do the Salkantay Trek, you will be able to find some lodges on the trek. But you can also bring your camp for the night. In the case of the Inca Trail, it is simpler, the camp will be in charge of the porters, including the setup.

Spectacular views – One thing that these two routes to Machu Picchu will have in common is that they offer beautiful views of the entire mountain range and also of the landscapes that form between the high jungle and the Cusco Andes.

Effort – We consider that the effort has a great similarity. In both cases, you have to follow uphill and steep sections. Fortunately, the rest of the way is downhill and this can lighten the load. Despite that, both activities require previous training. This is to enjoy the hike and not to suffer it.

Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Traveling the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Differences between the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

Trekking Distance – Although it may not seem like it, the difference is quite a lot. To do the 5-day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu you walk a total of 70 kilometers. While the 4-day Inca Trail is 44 kilometers.

Tour – In the case of the destinations visited, both are completely different and similar at the same time. It is well known that, by doing the 4-day Inca Trail, you can visit beautiful Inca constructions such as Wiñayhuayna, Sayacmarca, and the beautiful entrance to Machu Picchu, the Intipunku.

Safety – This is a very important issue. As mentioned above, it is important to know that you can do the Salkantay Trek on your own, so it will be important to inform a family member of the activity or something similar. In the case of doing the trek with a travel agency, it offers greater security because you have the whole itinerary planned.

Travel time – We mentioned that there is a tour that covers the 4 days of the Salkantay Trek route, but we consider that the experience is best lived on the 5-day route. This is because the connection with nature is not broken. However, even if this happens, you can still enjoy the views and part of the experience.

Comparisons between both routes

Inca Trail 4 days
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu 5 days
Punto de inicioPiscacucho o km 82Mollepata
Starting pointPiscacucho or km 82Mollepata
PermitsThe route is closed in FebruaryIt can be done any day of the year
SafetyAvoid doing it in rainy seasonAvoid doing it during the rainy season
Cost of the tour695 USD450 USD
Route detailsTrail and stairsTrail and flat terrain
Walking distance44 kilometers70 kilometers
WeatherCold to temperateCold to temperate
DifficultyUphill stretchesLow temperatures
Does it require agency?YesNo


By Inca Trail Machu Picchu - Last updated, 18-03-2024

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