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Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek which is the best trek to Machu Picchu

Are you planning to hike to Machu Picchu and don’t know which trek is better, the Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek? In this article, we have the best advice for you that can help you decide which trek would be best for you! As you may know, these two routes have become very popular in recent years, and many people have heard of hiking on them with the goal of reaching Machu Picchu.

Trekking to Machu Picchu is the dream of many travelers who have decided to explore Peru and the most iconic ancient site, but nowadays there is more than one way to reach it, whether through the classic Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek, the Lares Trek, the Inca Jungle, or just by joining a classic train trip. My name is Vidal Gamboa and I have been working as a tour guide for more than 12 years, leading groups through these different routes, and in this article, we will provide you with a concise description of each and look at the highlights of each trek to help you decide which route you would prefer to hike on.
Which trek is good for you
Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek

Overview

Hiking on the Andes mountains of Peru towards Machu Picchu is one of the highlights of South America. While the Inca Trail is the most iconic route that leads you to the lost city of the Incas through the Sun Gate, for many years it has been constantly ranked among the best hikes in the world due to its originality being well preserved and protected.
The Inca Trail is part of the most incredible communication system that connected the most important regions in the Inca empire. It takes you over many Inca sites as you hike through diverse scenery. The Salkantay Trek on the other side is more strenuous and famous for high mountains, lakes, and alpine views.
Whichever you choose since both treks offer breathtaking views, Inca sites, tradition, culture, and history
Have a look below to find the comparison and determine which tour is the best option for you.

Distance of Hike to Machu Picchu

Comparing the hiking distance between the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek in their classic four-day and five-day tours will be as follows:

Classic Inca Trail Hike distance

The kilometer 82 of the rail way Cusco – Machu Picchu is the starting point of the Classic Inca Trail, and the trail distance is 43 kilometers (26 miles) until Machu Picchu.

Classic Salkantay trek hike distance

The Salkantay trek in its five-day version begins in Challacancha, near Soraypampa; however, this starting point is flexible because the cars could take you until the base camp in Soraypampa. On its itinerary, you will have the option to hike to Humantay Lake, and with this included, it will be about 60 kilometers (37 miles) in total until Machu Picchu town.

Scenery on the Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek

Both treks have incredible scenery in the mountains, high Peruvian jungle, and flora and fauna

Inca Trail scenery

Without a doubt, one of the best places on the planet that combines different scenery of mountains, Inca sites, cloud forest, flora, and fauna that you can find only along this trail, as well as the first glimpse of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate on the last day.

Salkantay Trek scenery

The Salkantay Trek will give you more stunning and varied landscapes, including high alpine mountains, turquoise lakes, glaciers, cloud forests, and abundant local traditions. The outstanding view of Machu Picchu from the ancient Llactapata makes this trek one of the best alternatives to the Inca Trail.

Turquoise Lake
A beautiful lake at the foot of the Salkantay Mountain

Availability of Inca trail vs Salkantay Trek

Certainly, there are limited spots for the Inca Trail, but the Salkantay Trek is open for booking anytime because there is no limit to how many people could hike on the Salkantay.

Inca Trail ticket

The number of hikers traveling on the Inca Trail per day is limited; only 500 people are allowed to hike through this classic Inca trail to Machu Picchu, including tour guides, porters, cooks, and tourists. This hike must be booked far in advance because just 200 tourists could hike it in a single day.
According to the regulation, the travel companies are allowed to lead a maximum of 8 people at a time with a tour guide; in addition, each tour group is limited to 16 participants and is led by two tour guides.
So, the Inca Trail is not like everybody says about how crowded it could be hiking through this route; you could easily don’t see many people during your hike depending on the location of the campsite and the schedule.

Amazing view on the Inca Trail
A gorgeous vista along the Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek tickets

The Salkantay Trek is not subject to the same strict regulations as the Inca Trail; this implies that you can set up camp anywhere that your tour guide or trekking crew decide. The travel companies could decide how many tourists could participate in a group; there is no limit to the size of the group.
Nowadays, the first campsite is located at Soraypampa, and many travel companies built their camps around there. It is on the same route as the Humantay Lake, so many travelers hike to this lake on a day tour from Cusco; don’t be surprised to see many tourists doing this tour on your first day.
There will be days when you see more tourists on the Salkantay Trek than on the Inca Trail. Remember that only 200 people arrive at Machu Picchu each day through the Inca Trail, and over 4,000 people arrive at Machu Picchu every day.

Altitude of the Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek

Altitude sickness is the most common symptom for all travelers on the Machu Picchu trip. At Vidal Expeditions, we recommend that you arrive a few days before your trip, drink more water than you usually do at home, eat light food on the first days of arrival, and have some medication that your doctor prescribed for the altitude. This will help you a lot with the altitude symptoms.

The Altitude in the Inca Trail

On the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, you will find three significant mountain passes: Dead Woman’s Pass is at 4,215 meters (13,829 feet), which is the highest point on this Inca Trail. To reach that point, it takes around 5 hours. The second one is called Runqurakay Pass, which is 4,005 meters (13,132 feet) high. To reach that point, it takes 2 hours of ascending, and on the last part, you will have the last mountain, Phuyupatamarca Pass, which is 3,613 meters (11,853 feet).
Although the Inca Trail is lower in altitude than the Salkantay, you will spend more time at heights of more than 3,000 meters (9,842 feet).

 The highest point ont he Inca Trail
Dead Woman’s pass in the Inca Trail
The Altitude in Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is higher than the Inca Trail. At the highest point on the Salkantay Pass, elevation is 4,630 meters (15,190 feet), almost 200 meters higher than the Inca Trail’s highest point. However, it is only one pass that you have to climb for around 4 hours on the second day.
As we know, the Salkantay Trek has the highest altitude, so the chance to be affected by this is greater, but the breathtaking views are unreal due to your willful approach to the Salkantay mountain, considered a deity for the Andean people.
The other sections of the route are lower, with an average altitude of 2,600 meters (8,530 ft) in the cloud forest.

History in the Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek

Are you the type of person who loves to hear ancient histories? So, the Inca trail is definitely the best choice for you. Along the route, you will visit more Inca sites than on the Salkantay trek; however, this does not imply that you will not get historical lectures on the Salkantay trek, because the same tour guide of the Inca trail could be guiding along the Salkantay trek.

Inca Trail history

Along the Inca Trail on these four days, you will stop at several archaeological sites, including Patallacta, Runqurakay, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarka, Intipata, Wiaywayna, and the famous Sun Gate. Your tour guide will explain the history of each one at each stop.

Phuyupatamarca Inca site along the Inca Trail
Archaeological Inca site that you can see in the Inca Trail
Salkantay Trek history

During the Salkantay Trek, your tour guide will explain some important history of the Incas; also, in Llaqtapata, you will visit the most important Inca site and get your first view of Machu Picchu.

Facilities in the Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek

The facilities that you can find on both trails are one of the important differences that will help you decide which trek you will consider.

Inca trail facilities

On the Inca Trail, you will find a kind of midrange natural camping where the porter team needs to carry everything with them and set everything up every day, including the tents, food, and other items that the company will provide. Along this trek, you will not find as many buildings as on the Salkantay Trek. According to the companies, you can find luxury services with portable toilets, shower tents, and more.

Salkantay Trek facilities

The Salkantay Trek has become very popular in the last few years, and different travel companies have decided to build their own camping area with luxury lodges and domes that can be appreciated along the route. Some accommodations offer toilets and showers in wooded cabins. To transport the food and some gear, you will find horses or mules that the locals hire for a reasonable price.

Salkantay Pass

Consider your Budget

Inca Trail

The Inca Way is subject to stringent government regulation, and daily access is limited. Salkantay Trek trips will always be less expensive than Inca Trail treks as a result. Think about an increase in the average of $100 brought on by permit costs.
The typical price of a group excursion on the Inca Trail is $650–$750. The following considerations must be made when making a reservation for an Inca Trail trek:
It is crucial to be aware of if a personal porter is included in your trip because some companies only provide it as an add-on. It is important to reserve a trip with a provider of personal porters. Otherwise, it could be expensive to hire one while hiking.
Verify the company’s ability to provide all-encompassing transportation services. Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu bus service is not offered by all operators, for instance. A bad encounter at the end of the tour could ruin the entire trip.

Salkantay Trek

There are no specific permissions required for the Salkantay Trek. You will still need tickets to access Machu Picchu and train tickets to return to Cusco. It is crucial to note that there is a cost to visiting Salkantay, although it is far less than the Inca Trail.
The Salkantay Trek costs between 550 and 650 USD on average. It must be considered before arranging a tour.
Avoid booking the lowest-priced trips for this hike. Participating in a day excursion is better than reserving the lowest fee. However, suppose you want to hike for many days at a high altitude in possibly terrible weather. In that case, you should rethink and book with a reliable organization with expert tour guides and appropriate camping equipment at heights of 3000 meters or more.
The groups will be larger when the price is reduced to make up for costs, underpaid workers, poor food quality, inadequate equipment and lodging.

Take Note

Any excursion offering the Salkantay Treks for less than $400 USD is probably hiding a number of additional costs. In the end, you’ll spend more money than you would on an all-inclusive vacation (entry fees, an emergency horse, a duffle bag for personal items, transportation during the trek, extra activities on the route, hotel category, and the bus up and down to Machu Picchu are basic things you must check before booking). When you discover that some things were left out of your trip, you will be disappointed.
Last but not least is the return train schedule to your hotel. Some companies offer cheaper costs because they will book you on the least expensive and latest trains. After four days of trekking in the mountains, you will not appreciate this. The latest and cheapest trains will return to Cusco at midnight or 1 a.m.

Wonderful view on the way down from Salkantay
Descending from Salkantay Pass

What is best for you?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this page, you will have an experience of a lifetime on any of these tours. If the Inca Trail is sold out, you can hike the Salkantay Trail, the Lares Trek, the Inca Jungle, or even the Short Inca Trail, which are all great options.

Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is one of the most famous hikes in the world and attracts thousands of trekkers every year. That creates as many ups and downs as you’ll find on the trail itself. The positive is that choosing this option means you’ll be hiking the original trail that the Incas did, and it allows you to see otherwise unreachable ruins. The downside is that it can be busy, but there is always another option for you. In case your dream is to hike on the Inca Trail, we recommend booking it in advance to secure your spots.

 Machu Picchu after hiking
Machu Picchu, Peru
Salkantay Trek

It’s tougher and more basic, and there are fewer Inca sites, but it features more breathtaking scenery for those who are fit enough to embark on it. For some, its appeal is that it is a more authentic trek. It’s certainly quieter and affords more time to take in the scenery away from the crowds. This trek nowadays averages about 150 to 300 people per day, depending on the season of the year.

“Traveling with one of the best company makes your trip an unforgettable experience.”

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