41 Photos of the Epic Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu

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.

mountains in Peru with cottages in front

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!

Humantay lake on the way to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay 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!

A wood and hand drawn sign that says "mujeres-ladies" for a bathroom along the salkantay trek

Our next steps on day 1 took us along dirt paths with towering mountain views…

Mountain peaks with snow, one of the salkantay trek photos

Including this little cabin in the clouds. Imagine living there!

A small house sits in the Peruvian mountains, one of the best salkantay trek photos

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?

Two horses along the salkantay trek in peru

Other horses along the trail carry packs and supplies for both trekkers and the people who live in the mountains.

Horses in the mountains in peru along the salkantay trek

If you’re lucky, you’ll even see a herd or two of semi-wild alpacas!

Llamas along the salkantay trek

After a steep uphill then downhill morning, we took a lunch break (and a short nap) with a view.

Dan resting in the mountains in Peru along the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

Then began the ascent to Salkantay Pass, at 4600 meters. Of course, we took some photos to commemorate the achievement…

At Salkantay pass
A sign that reads "Abra Salkantay Altitude 4600 meters" at Salkantay pass along the salkantay trek in Peru

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).

A Peruvian drink concoction to clear the sinuses 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!

Girl with purple backpack and blue hat looks toward the mountains along the salkantay trek to Machu Picchu

I mean, look at this view! Peru does mountains right.

Mountains at sunrise in Peru on the Salkantay trek

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?

A grenadilla, a peruvian fruit along the salkantay trek

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.

Sarah sitting in the door of a hobbit house accommodation along the salkantay trek

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.

A wood and mud bridge over a river in Peru with mountains in the background

On day 3 we battled bugs, humidity, and heat, but it was all worth it when we reached the Inka Andean Starbucks…

A red yellow and blue sign that says Inka Andean Starbucks Coffee along the salkantay trek to machu picchu

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…

Dan's hand with many red coffee berries freshly picked

The coffee beans are grown on the farm, as well as all the coffee flavorings – like these orange peels drying on the laundry line.

Drying orange peels and dish towels at a remote coffee farm in Peru

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).

Peruvian woman grinds coffee beans along the salkantay trek in Peru

Paulina then hand poured us all the freshest, most perfectly roasted coffees of our lives.

Peruvian woman pours freshly roasted coffee at her remote coffee farm along the salkantay trek

Coffee with a view, I’d say!

A cup of coffee at a local coffee farm along the salkantay trek

Before we left the coffee farm to continue our hiking, I had to bid adieu to Paulina, and the other local residents…

Duck at a coffee farm in Peru
A chick on the salkantay trek in Peru

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).

Sarah looking out over the green and blue mountains along the salkantay trek

Speaking of deliciousness? Alpaca Expecitions slayed it with the food. Mango ceviche or Peruvian causas in the middle of a jungle? No problem.

Mango ceviche in Peru along the salkantay trek
Peruvian causa dish along the salkantay trek in Peru with Alpaca Expeditions

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!

Dan walking up a hill with mountains and machu picchu in the background

On day 4, we woke up to stunning sunrise views over the Andes from our tent.

Sarah sitting in the opening of a green tent at sunrise along the salkantay trek
Blue misty mountains for miles in Peru, looking toward Machu Picchu from the salkantay trek
Dan standing with his arm shielding his eyes at sunrise looking at mountains along the salkantay trek

We took it all in, before beginning our fourth and final day of trekking. Over rivers…

Sarah standing at a river along the salkantay trail

By waterfalls…

Dan posing with a waterfall on the last day of the salkantay trek to machu picchu

And finally, along a few miles of train track and a lunch stop at a local cafe.

A menu along the salkantay trek in peru

Lunch featured guacamole from the avocados right by our table!

Avocados hang from trees along the salkantay trek in Peru

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.

Cloud wisps over Machu Picchu

It soon burned away, giving us incredible views of this wonder of the world…

Sarah posing with Machu Picchu in the distance, the last stop on the salkantay trek

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…

Machu Picchu in the sun, one of the best salkantay trek photos
Stone stairs at Machu Picchu in Peru
A rock window in Machu Picchu looks out to the mountain peaks

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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Planning to take on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu? Check out these inspiring photos from a real experience on the epic 5 day trek.
Planning to take on the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu? Check out these inspiring photos from a real experience on the epic 5 day trek.

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.

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