Most people have heard of the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, but there’s an alternative trail: The Salkantay. The Salkantay Trek is a more difficult, slightly longer journey that takes you over Peruvian mountain passes and deep into the jungle, all along the multi-day trek to reach the incredible Machu Picchu.
Our five day/five night Salkantay Trek with Alpaca Expeditions was one of the top highlights of our time traveling South America so far. And while I have lots of practical advice (like, definitely bring these hydrocolloid blister bandages), I also wanted to take the time to share some of the beautiful scenery along the way.
Between putting one foot in front of the other along this trail (which I personally found more challenging than Everest Base Camp), I was snapping away on my camera. Below, please enjoy 41 of my favorite photos from the Salkantay Trek – to inspire your own journey to the beautiful part of Peru!
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41 Photos of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
If you trek with Alpaca Expeditions like we did, the journey actually begins on day 0, with a long and bumpy van ride to your accommodation in the mountains. We arrived in pitch black night, with expansive views of the milky way overhead. No light pollution out here!
The next morning, day 1 of the Salkantay Trek, we were woken up at dawn to a knock on the door (and hot coca tea), and this stunning sunrise view of the mountain peaks that we were about to start trekking into.
One thing that set our route with Alpaca Expeditions apart from others was the itinerary on day 1: a detour up to the gorgeous glacial Humantay Lake, first thing in the morning. This was one of my favorite views along the entire trek!
Don’t worry, there is a bathroom at the base of the mountain detour to Humantay Lake. And it’s even labeled men’s and women’s!
Our next steps on day 1 took us along dirt paths with towering mountain views…
Including this little cabin in the clouds. Imagine living there!
There were quite a few horses along the trail on day 1. This was the steepest, most difficult day, and you could pay to ride a horse for a portion of it if you chose. We didn’t, but the 9 and 11 year old in our trekking group did! Can you blame them with these cuties?
Other horses along the trail carry packs and supplies for both trekkers and the people who live in the mountains.
If you’re lucky, you’ll even see a herd or two of semi-wild alpacas!
After a steep uphill then downhill morning, we took a lunch break (and a short nap) with a view.
Then began the ascent to Salkantay Pass, at 4600 meters. Of course, we took some photos to commemorate the achievement…
Our guide, Rey, even treated us to this Peruvian herbal concoction. He sprinkled a bit in our hands, then instructed us to deeply inhale and hold our breaths (cue: coughing and hacking – but man, that’s one way to clear your lungs at altitude).
Day 2 began in our tents (which the porters kindly set up for us – complete with hot water to clean off with). After a quick breakfast, we began hiking out of the mountains. Not before I managed to snap a few more sunrise alpen glows!
I mean, look at this view! Peru does mountains right.
Day 2’s trek took us out of the mountains and into the jungle along a dusty path. I even sampled some of the jungle fruits for good measure – below is a grenadilla, plucked from a trail-side tree. Have you ever seen one before?
Our accommodation this night was even better. I couldn’t believe it when we cleared the trees and found actual hobbit houses built into the forest! Best accommodation ever.
Day 3 began (after saying goodbye to our hobbit house) at the rocky shores of the river, with this hand built mud-log-stick bridge. All I can say is, thank goodness it was dry season! I’m not sure I’d like to test that out with a raging rainy season river.
On day 3 we battled bugs, humidity, and heat, but it was all worth it when we reached the Inka Andean Starbucks…
By that, I mean a tiny remote coffee farm, where we spent a few hours learning how coffee is made in this region from a local Peruvian woman named Paulina. We began by picking fresh, red coffee berries…
The coffee beans are grown on the farm, as well as all the coffee flavorings – like these orange peels drying on the laundry line.
After learning about the roasting and drying process, we watched Paulina hand-grind the beans (and a few of us tried it out for ourselves).
Paulina then hand poured us all the freshest, most perfectly roasted coffees of our lives.
Coffee with a view, I’d say!
Before we left the coffee farm to continue our hiking, I had to bid adieu to Paulina, and the other local residents…
Next came a grueling, steep uphill slog. Luckily, we were rewarded with some of the best views of the entire Salkantay Trek at the top! (And some of the most delicious fresh-squeezed orange juice I’ve ever had).
Speaking of deliciousness? Alpaca Expecitions slayed it with the food. Mango ceviche or Peruvian causas in the middle of a jungle? No problem.
Finally, our day 3 hiking brought us to our campsite for the night. And not just any campsite. From our tents, you could see Machu Picchu in the far distance!
On day 4, we woke up to stunning sunrise views over the Andes from our tent.
We took it all in, before beginning our fourth and final day of trekking. Over rivers…
And finally, along a few miles of train track and a lunch stop at a local cafe.
Lunch featured guacamole from the avocados right by our table!
Finally, we reached the end of the Salkantay Trail! That night, we slept in a hotel in Aguas Calientes, before a 4am wake up call on day 5. It was time to see Machu Picchu for ourselves! When we arrived, she was shrouded in clouds and mist.
It soon burned away, giving us incredible views of this wonder of the world…
After reading about Machu Picchu in textbooks and seeing so many photos over the years, it was astounding to witness it in person, and TRULY see how remote this place is…
The Salkantay Trek was a journey of a lifetime, and one I’d looked forward to for many years! As much as I loved Machu Picchu, but I have to say the true heart of the journey and some of my favorite views were had before we even arrived. The cliche that it’s “the journey, not the destination” completely held true for the Salkantay Trek.
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Thank you to Alpaca Expeditions, who hosted our trek along the Salkantay trail to Machu Picchu! As always, all opinions are my own, and I only partner with organizations that align with my values.