INCA TRAIL VS SALKANTAY TREK

If you were given only two options to get to Machu Picchu, Inca trail vs Salkantay trek, which one would you choose?. For many, the famed Inca trail is just what they want, and for some, the Salkantay trek is unmissable. Though there are other ways to go to Machu Picchu, it is good to know which is more suitable and what you can expect to see while hiking on one of these treks. See the comparison we describe below. 

Inca Trail.-   The Inca trail is one of the top hiking routes in the world that leads you straight to Machu Picchu on foot, and of course, entering through the famous Sun Gate. The most common package is the 4-day hike Inca trail hike.

Salkantay Trek.- This is the main alternative Inca trail hike, in which travelers embark on a multiday hike near the imposing Salkantay mount and through the warm jungles. It usually is a 5-day package, but it can be shortened to a 4-day if you are fit. 

Inca Trail Salkantay
Permits required
Yes
Not Required
Capacity
500 people per day
Unlimited
Highest Altitude
4 215 m / 13 820 ft
4 600 m / 15 090 ft
Tour length
4D/3N
5D/4N
Distance
43 km / 26 mi
61 km / 37 mi
Difficulty
Difficult
Difficult because of altitude

Inca trail vs salkantay trek

AVAILABILITY AND FLEXIBILITY

Inca Trail.- Only 500 people are allowed to enter the Inca Trail per day, including tourists, guides, porters, and cooks. If you really want to do this hike, plan well in advance to secure your Inca trail permit. Otherwise, you will arrive at taking alternative treks. See our 2-day hike Inca trail

Salkantay trek.- There is no need to pre-book the tour months before, as it receives unlimited tour groups year-round. Just look for a reliable tour operator and ask for the tour, then they will begin to organize the hike. Even for the last-minute bookings, there is always availability. 

WEATHER

Inca Trail.- Winter months on the Inca trail are just the right time to go. Although the temperature is cold at night, the day hike is more enjoyable, having sunny days. However, if you are planning on hiking in summer, the weather remains nice (warm). However, rain and fog can obscure the scenic views. See more about the best time to hike the Inca Trail.

Salkantay trek.- Expect cold temperatures at night and early hours in winter running from May-August, but it turns out to be advisable months for doing the hike. (Temperature can dip below zero degrees). Whereas, in the summer months from December – March, the temperature gets warmer but followed by downpours. The rest of the year is mild.

MOUNTAIN SCENERY

Inca Trail. The surrounding mountain slopes of the Inca trail are more overgrown with bushes, and trees, so it is greener in coloration. Given a little luck, you may spot some Andean deer or a spectacled bear wandering nearby.  And on a good winter day, you even have a glimpse to see the snow-covered peaks far away. 

Salkantay trek.- Hiking the Salkantay trek, on the first day, you can expect to see the towering snow-covered peaks, such as Humantay and Salkantay mountains, both featuring over 5 000 m. Also, the turquoise gem of the route, the Humantay lake. Nearing Machu Picchu, the landscape turns into a jungle landscape, giving enthralling views, where flocks of birds fly and Orchids and other flowers come into blossom.

inca trail vs salkantay trek

MOUNTAIN VILLAGES AND LOCAL PEOPLE

Inca Trail.- Since the Inca trail surroundings are overgrown with bushes and vegetation, no family is living in those secluded mountains. Additionally, the vast area is under preservation to protect the wildlife of Machu Picchu´s sanctuary. Only the first day you see some local stores and family houses, but nothing of that captures your attention that much. 

Salkantay trek.- The first highland town you get to is called Mollepata, and along the way to Soraypampa, the starting point of the trek, local people farm and live raising some cows as a source for food. But also, they raise mules and horses for working on the route as muleteers. Beyond the Salkantay pass, down in the valleys, there are country houses where locals started to implement a coffee tour to offer tourists experience those coffee preparations.

PORTERS

Inca Trail.- No pack animal is allowed to enter the Inca trail. Besides protecting the damage that these animals can cause on the trail, the fact is that they just can’t climb up and down on some of the steep sections of the trail. Only manpower carries the hiking gear and food. All the tour operators hire the famous Inca trail Porters. 

Salkantay Trek.- At the start of your hike, you will be presented your Salkantay trek muleteers, and they will carry the supplies and the campings gear for the hike. Most of them come from the Soraypampa community, and after 3 or more days of work, they have to climb the high Salkantay pass again back home with their mules running trot. When work is low, they work on farming native potatoes and some other work at home. 

inca trail vs salkantay trek

TRAIL CLOSURES IN FEBRUARY

Inca Trail.- Yes, it closes for upkeep procedures. 

Salkantay trek.- No, it doesn’t close in February. But since it gets somewhat risky, some tour operators stop until March comes along.

CAMPING ESTABLISHMENTS

Inca Trail.- The Inca trail porters set up the camping tents, one kitchen tent, dining tent, and passenger tents for overnight. There are some shower stalls for those who would like to take shower after the hike (nighttime shower). As for the restrooms, there are only squat toilets, unless you find some proper toilets in the first-day hike but bear in mind these are private, so you will be charged by someone else.

Salkantay trek.- From the first base camp on, there are various kinds of camping accommodations. From Domo tents, Andean huts to the simple shelters thatched with straw to set up tents inside if you are going on your own. There are some stores to buy water and some other boosters you may need for the hike. As for the showers and toilets will depend on where you stay, but there are some mid-level showers. 

salkantay trek vs inca trail

THERMAL HOT SPRINGS

Inca Trail.- It is important to clarify that you won’t find any hot springs in the mid-hike. The way you can get it is if you have an extra night at Aguas Calientes, so you can visit the hot springs just a few minutes away from the main square. 

Salkantay trek.- Beyond the coffee farm communities on the route, Santa Teresa town sits on the shores of the Vilcanota River, which at present became a must-stay place for many tourists, due to its outdoor Cocalmayo hot springs where to relax, for just a few soles. (Bear in mind that visiting Llactapata ruins, you will skip the hot springs).

WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU AND WHY?

Who should choose the Inca trail? 

If you care more about History and like a jungle landscape than a high altitude trek, then book this Inca trail before the permits run out. Because the Inca trail boasts the incredible Inca trail ruins spread along the route and the original Inca path, so that is worth the hype to see them. If you are sticking more to the Salkantay trek rather than the Inca trail, fine, so find out more about it and do it. And enjoy your Humantay lake and coffee tours. 

Who should choose the Salkantay trek?

Salkantay trek is like a backup route to the Inca trail. Unlike the Inca trail, it offers more gorgeous alpine lakes such as Humantay lake, snowy mountains closer but few ancient Incan ruins. Indeed there is only one major Inca ruin named Llactapata which gives a glimpse to the western face of Machu Picchu the day before the official visit. If you are ok with high altitude trek and used to walk for several hours, considering what you will see, this is the one you should do.

Author: Aldair Choque

INCA TRAIL AVAILABILITY DAY BY DAY FOR 2021 – 2022