Salkantay Trek in Peru without a guide

The Salkantay Trek is a nearly 90-km trek that in four nights and five days of sun, snow, Inca ruins, climbs, rivers, bridges, glaciers, smiles, coffee and tropical fruit plantations, shelters in the middle of nowhere, tremendous leg pain, coca leaves, tears, 5:30 a.m. wake-ups, six layers of blankets and Cusqueña beer, takes you to Machu Picchu.

The Salkantay Trek is the most radical chic trail, an alternative to the more famous and expensive Inca Trail, which costs around 1,000 euros and should absolutely be done with a guide instead. The Salkantay Trek without a guide instead can be done. If you choose to do this with an agency, so find yourself in a small group of a dozen or so, costs about 500 euros, includes meals, Sherpas, shelters, entrance to Machu Picchu. And it often allows you to sleep in the “Domes,” those Igloos, from which you can see the sky.

I, who don’t want to talk to anyone while walking, because a day of hiking is like 10 therapy sessions, did it alone. Once you get to Cusco, the agencies advise against doing it alone; rightly they have to work too. Few people know that it can be done independently, however, in my opinion, it can and should be done. Because if you’re doing it alone, you’re sleeping in the homes of families who have arranged for themselves with shelters that are sometimes good: a bed, a bath and a hot meal, and sometimes to perfection, with great dinners and super soft beds.

How it works

Before I left, I studied the route, decided more or less what stage I wanted to sleep in and called the families directly. I read reviews, directions from those who have been there, saw photos, read blogs, and looked up phone numbers and contacts on Google, Booking, and even Airbnb. It can be easily arranged a few days in advance; room can always be found. Also because, if one family has no room, surely the brother’s cousin has a bed available and a hot meal.

The trail is well marked and leave from Lake Humantay, on which the mountain is reflected, pass through Salkantay, the villages, greet the locals who live in the mountains, cross a bridge with an improvised pulley, arrive at LLactapata, a peak from which Machu Picchu can be seen and you are moved, ride the rails to Agua Calientes, and the next day visit the lost city of the Incas.

DAY 1: Cusco – Laguna Humantay

Departure from Cusco at 10 am. I get into a mini-van that starts when it is full. Here the concept of time is relative. Travel time about three hours. Cost 20 soles (5 euros). Arrival in Mollepata. I get into a cab that takes me to Soraypampa in 45 minutes. Beginning of the journey. I cost 30 soles because I share it with two Frenchmen, who also ran away from home. Many people wake up at 3 a.m. to catch the minivan from Cusco at the beginning of the trail, when you can easily leave at 10 a.m., as I did, well-rested. These departures in the middle of the night, I never understood them.

In my opinion, you can start slowly because the first day there is little walking, but just enough to crack your lungs at 4500 meters. And also you can start from Soraypampa instead of starting from Mollepata. This saves you three hours of walking uphill on a dirt road full of mini-vans going back and forth with tourists. That to me seemed dangerous as well as ugly. You will start your walk around 2:30 to 3 p.m. and it takes about three hours, to see Laguna Humantay and return to the lodge. A green and blue lake reflecting the snow-capped mountain. I found it deserted, because everyone wakes up at dawn to see it all at the same time anyway. And then it empties out. It’s time to take a shower in an outdoor bathroom with no heat, an al dente spaghetti dinner and sleep at 8:30 at night, because it’s freezing and I’m tired.

Photo by Michael Brawn on Unsplash

The first night’s shelter I found on Airbnb. I have to say that there are not many options available, because the nicer, Dome-style shelters are in the hands of agencies. If I have to be honest, I didn’t eat very well and the rooms and bathroom are very spartan, and to say I did, that means it’s true. Consider that if you can’t find better, this is just fine. The owners are brother and sister, and they are very kind. You can also get your passport stamped with the Salkantay Trek stamp.

Cost of the day 120 soles, about 30 euros
Kilometers traveled: 7km
Shelter: Humantay Sky Lodge

DAY 2: Laguna Humantay – Chuallay

Wake up at 5:30 a.m. It is already light. Breakfast of coffee and eggs. Today is Salkantay day, the mountain that gives the trek its name, a whopping 6272 meters. The pitch is “only” at 4800. It means that today is the most difficult day. The first three hours are very hard. There is a lot of walking and climbing. And there is no breathing. It is beautiful, though.

Photo by Ash Edmonds on Unsplash

Then endless miles and miles, fortunately almost on the flat. I arrive in Chuallay exhausted and headlamped. By now we know that the sun sets at 6 p.m. The lady who is hosting me is a bit grumpy. And she is indignant when I ask her for a towel. Again, I must say that the sleeping and eating are not great. In the first two stages, I didn’t find much so I was content, while on the third day I found the most beautiful shelter in the world. I have really slept everywhere, but there are some places that seem more or less cozy. Often this feeling corresponds to the level of cleanliness and also to that homey touch that some hosts, even the humblest, can provide.

Cost of the day 90 soles, about 25 euros.
Kilometers traveled: 22km
Shelter: Samana Wasi Hostel

DAY 3: Chuallay – Llactapata

Today is the day of coffee plant ations and Passion Fruit and Tumbo plantations . On the way, you stop to eat tropical fruits and drink coffee. Beautiful, isn’t it? It is also the day when a piece of the path collapsed due to rain, so you have to cross the river and do a piece on the road. And how do you cross the river? With a pulley. Suspended over nothingness. Good thing there were three other pilgrims so we pulled each other along. Today the route may stop at 3 p.m. in Lucmabamba. But why not make another three-hour climb to see Machu Picchu from the mountain in front? What I enjoyed most was the evening spent in Llactapata, an optional but in my opinion must-do stop for another three hours of climbing, free of charge.

Photo by Ashim D’Silva on Unsplash

In the shelter there is a lady who greets you with a beautiful smile. The shower is hot, the place is remote, and when I say remote, it means that the first other houses are a three-hour walk away. The lady asks me if I want a Cusqueña and makes popcorn for my appetizer. Come on. At her place too, as in other families, sleep, breakfast and dinner cost less than 30 euros. For dinner he made me a vegetable velouté garnished with fresh avocado and a stew with vegetables. I greet her with a hug and again I am moved. I don’t want to say goodbye to her. I want to stay here in Llactapata. But somewhat like the metaphor of this journey, I am walking toward a new destination.

Cost of the day 120 soles, about 30 euros.
Kilometers traveled: 22 km
Refuge: Llaqtapata Lodge

DAY 4: Llactapata – AguasCalientes.

The time has come to approach Machu Picchu. Destination: Aguas Calientes, the town from which we set out to visit the lost city. One thing that intrigued me is that in Aguas Calientes you can only get there by train or on foot, as in my case. Another thing that intrigued me is that you get there by walking for three hours on the rails. Then when you hear the train whistle, you move. Once the train has passed, resume your path on the rails.

Photo by Giancarlo Revolledo on Unsplash

Upon arrival in Aguas Calientes, my first stop is the pharmacy for an ibuprofen because I can’t feel my legs anymore, second is the hotel for a shower, and third is pizza, to celebrate. In the end, the trek is almost at an end. Aguas Calientes is a terrible place, it looks like Disneyland where I have never been. Lights, noises, and everyone wants to sell you something. Let them then be quiet, we tourists buy anyway. Here you are spoiled for choice, for where to sleep, where to eat. In addition to looking like an awful place, it will also look expensive, and perhaps it is. I slept in a simple place. From the room you can hear the sound of the river accompanying you all night long.

Cost of the day 200 soles, about 50 euros.
Kilometers traveled: 18 km
Hotel: Terrazas del Inca

DAY 5: Machu Picchu

It is Machu Picchu day and I tell about it here. In the meantime, I’ll just tell you that you don’t need to wake up at 3 a.m. to enter Machu Picchu. In fact, it is not recommended. I realized one fundamental thing. That everyone is champing at the bit to go to the most beautiful places in the world at dawn. Thinking that no one is there. They are all there, though. So I decided that I’ll take it easy, no getting up and enjoy the place just for me. Don’t tell anyone. I, for example, have noticed that the calmest time with the fewest people is at closing. At 2 p.m. is the last entry, and most people have finished the tour. And in fact there are some glimpses, where you are alone, in the lost city.

I also remember a couple of key pieces of information about the entrance ticket. You only buy it at the Ministerio de Cultura in Cusco or. in Aguas Calientes. Booking a guide service is recommended. Otherwise they are just a series of famous stones to admire. The guide can be bargained a few minutes before entering, in Aguas Calientes.

How much does the Salkantay Trek cost in Peru

Salkantay Trekking, total expenditure 150 euros, including some Gatorade, beer and the packed lunches. Excluding entry to Machu Picchu. Total kilometers walked to Aguas Calenties: 74km. Then to reach Machu Picchu more kilometers have to be added, not including those within the lost city. And so you can easily reach 90 km.

Below I put you the link of the Salktantay Trek through agency if you want to do it with a group and sleep in the starry sky view domes. If you book through Viator, I get a small commission that I will use to update my blog and continue writing.

What I ate

As far as lunches are concerned, I have organized myself as follows. Before leaving, I bought some chocolate, dried fruit, dehydrated fruit, 3 avocados, a mini form of aged cheese. Got everything at the San Pedro market in Cusco. The market sells excellent and inexpensive products. For breakfast I ate what the family prepared for me, usually coffee and eggs. Before I got up from the table, I would grab the delicious little sandwich and wrap it in a napkin for lunch. Around 1 p.m. I would stop at a nice place and with my pocket knife make my avocado and cheese sandwich. Then dehydrated fruit and chocolate, hello. If you feel like a hot meal, consider that you will always find some “restaurant” or small store open.

In the evening I ate in the families and I must say that sometimes you eat well and sometimes, not. Like when they made spaghetti for me. But I say, make me a typical Peruvian stuff, which you do well! No, noodles and broken too. I was going to call the dough police, but in the middle of nowhere they would not come. I always say that I am a vegetarian when I cannot choose from the courses on a menu. Even on the plane, I choose the vegetarian menu. This is to avoid surprises of meat or fish that might impress me and also because I am in fact practically a vegetarian. But it is advice that I would give to everyone, especially in places where the care (or fish) might not be quality.

Can everyone do it?

Do it only if you are trained. It is hard, at almost 5,000 meters you have no breath. It’s a good thing that the closer you get to Machu Picchu, the further down you go, in altitude. I, on the fourth day, had to take an ibuprofen because my legs ached with every step. My advice is to chew coca leaves incessantly, and if you think you can’t make it on the second day, which is the hardest, you can always get on a mule to find some relief. For a fee, of course.

Salkantay Trek accommodation

As we know the agencies advise against doing it alone, but it can and should be done, without a guide. I did a Google search, happening upon the English and Spanish sites of other travelers who have done it on their own. If you’re wondering where to sleep during the Salkantay Trek, I’ll tell you what I did.

I wrote a WhatsApp message to the shelters and they responded rather quickly with photos and prices. Then there are also people who don’t book anything. He leaves and along the way asks families directly in the shelters if there is room to sleep and eat in the shelters. If the answer is no, the brother’s cousin definitely has room. Not all shelters will be perfect and not all families will be kind.

This is because many farmers have abandoned their fields to work in tourism, which is much more profitable. Caught up in the heat of Machu Picchu. This is why not everyone is professional, because it is not their field. So don’t be surprised if at times you feel like a walking dollar.

What to bring

I explain it properly, because everyone was in shock when they met me with the small, 20-liter backpack. Which is the kit I pack every time I go on a trek in the mountains for a few days.

Here is what I brought with me on the Salkantay Trek:

  • 5 Panties
  • 4 T-shirts,
  • Thermal leggings
  • Thermal T-shirt as pajamas
  • Hiking poles
  • Front light
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • Folding quilt
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Comb
  • Sun cap
  • Cold weather cap
  • Power bank
  • Charger
  • Earphones
  • E-book
  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Cocoa butter
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Dehumidified wipes
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Everything in the Decathlon vacuum bag.

I met some people with big backpacks fatigued, at 4800 meters looking at me as if I were crazy or a genius. I have seen people, giving up trekking because of too much load. Really, other than underwear and two T-shirts what do you need to bring? Those who choose, on the other hand, to leave with an agency can count on the help of horses. To me, the idea makes me a little sad.

Final reflections

I feel proud that I did it myself, despite being advised against it. Not because it is dangerous, but because it seems that really very few people know that you can organize yourself. I am not so much for organized tours, I choose them when they are really the only option to reach remote places. And so I always try to make my own arrangements, with all the contingencies. But I am rewarded by contact with locals, who always help me and perhaps esteem me for trying. Speaking Spanish makes a difference in everything: in prices and organization.

Then I always like to be the only one in the middle of nowhere or among the locals. I learned to organize myself without tours and without agencies with experience, getting the hang of it. All this is to say, that tours, group travel, agencies, retreats are all very well. To then choose what is best for you.

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