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Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail

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There are several ways to get to the ruins of Machu Picchu, from express tours of a day, to hiking several days to reach the magical citadel. Since the 70s, routes and trekking circuits have been added that have expanded the possibilities to reach the Sacred City. In this article we explain you the differences between two main trekking routes to Machu Picchu city: Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail.

 

Salkantay Trek  Inca Trail
Duration: 4 days / 3 nights 5 days / 4 nights
Total Route: 43 km - 26.72 miles 65 km - 40.4 miles
Starting point: Km 82 of the Cusco - Machu Picchu railway line, in the town of Huayllabamba, 1 hour and a half from Cusco. Village of Challacancha which is 3 hours and a half from Cusco. Before, you must pass through the town of Mollepata.
Itinerary: 1st day: Cusco - Huayllabamba
2nd day:
Huayllabamba - Pacaymayo
3rd day:
Pacaymayo - Wiñaywayna
4th day: Wiñaywayna - Machu Picchu
1st day: Cusco - Challacancha
2nd day: Soraypampa - Challway
3rd day: Challway - Sahuayaco Beach
4th day: Llactapata - Aguas Calientes
5th day: Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu
Degree of difficulty: Moderate High


The Salkantay Trek

Advantages of the Salkantay Trek

  • Landscape: Salkantay peak is famous for its landscape, most guides give faith, which exceeds that of the Inca Trail. You'll have a better chance to see lots of mammals like foxes, deer, chinchillas, and hopefully, even spectacled bears. There are many varieties of plants too. It is a walk through the typical Andes, it takes you to the imposing glaciers, and then descends through lush valleys with coffee plantations, finally ascends towards the jungle or high jungle brow. 
  • Traffic: Nobody would think of reclaiming the fame of the Inca Trail as "something out of the ordinary", but in the Salkantay Trek there is about 72% less traffic, which gives a daily average of 50 people compared to a daily average of 180 that has the Inca Trail.  
  • Availability and Flexibility: little traffic means that there is no need to set daily limits, which make the permits to the Inca Trail run out quickly. You can find trips to Salkantay almost every day, it's just a matter of finding a departure group on the same day you want.  

Disadvantages of Salkantay 

  • Prestige: Unlike the old Inca Trail, you do not enter Machu Picchu through the Inti Punku or Sun Gate. Since first you spend the night in the town of Machu Picchu and the next day you can take the bus to the citadel. However, during your visit to Machu Picchu, it is possible to walk to the door of the sun, in a half hour. 
  • Difficulty: In a Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail, the Salkantay hike is almost twice as long as the Inca Trail (82 kilometers compared to 42 kilometers) and reaches much higher altitude (4637 meters instead of 4200 meters). This means that it is physically more demanding than the Inca Trail, it reaches colder levels as well. 
  • Facilities: camping equipment along the Salkantay Route does not have many facilities, so most tourist groups establish their own camp latrines. There are no showers, although you can bathe in the streams, if you are willing to face the cold. 
  • History: Although the hike to Salkantay follows historical routes as well, the only set of ruins that can be seen is the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. 

The Inca Trail 

Advantages of the Inca Trail 

  • Prestige: The Inca Trail is the famous hike in Peru and one of the best treks in the world, and the only trek, which takes you directly to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The hikers appear from the jungle, in the Sun Gate or "Inti Punku", from where you can see everything Machu Picchu. From there, hikers descend to the citadel. 
  • Landscape: The Inca Trail has beautiful landscapes ranging from snowy peaks to cloud forests and high jungle. Includes a variety of small historic ruins en route. You can walk on the original Inca steps, and even pass through an Inca stone tunnel. 
  • Difficulty: The Inca Trail is considered a moderate hike, and with a time of acclimatization in Cusco for height, it is ideal for both young and old hikers. 
  • Facilities: Camping equipment along the trail includes bathrooms that are cleaned every two days. For some, this is an advantage of the hike, although authentic campers may prefer the more 'wild' feel of the Salkantay.

Disadvantages of the Inca Trail 

  • Traffic: The old Inca Trail is an extremely popular route. They limit the entrance to keep the crowds tolerable, but the largest number of people means that their chances of seeing mammals like foxes, deer and Chinchilla are reduced. 
  • Availability / Flexibility: To travel the Inca Trail, it is mandatory to go with an authorized operator, who will buy your Inca Trail permits in advance. Permits are limited to 500 per day, of which 300 are guides, porters and cooks. For much of the year, income is available, but must be purchased at least one or two weeks in advance to make sure the desired date is found.

Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail - Which to choose? 


In case you want to know in depth the history of the ancient Incas or want a challenge for your physique, the old Inca Trail is the best option. While it can be difficult to find and buy tickets for this trek, it is definitely worth it. If your budget is limited and you planned it with less anticipation, you should take Salkantay. The Salkantay Trail is recommended for nature lovers and anyone who wants to get out of the routine.

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