What’s the best way up Machu Picchu: Salkantay Trek or Inca Trail?

Machu Picchu. Often near the top of any seasoned traveller’s “where next?” list, it’s hard to beat – and for good reason. At nearly two and a half thousand meters above sea level, the majestic and mysterious Andes peaks that envelop the Inca Ruins really do take your breath away. And the ancient architecture itself? Magical.

If you’ve been considering taking a trip to Machu Picchu then you probably already know that there’s more than one way to get to it. The most famous route follows the footsteps that the Incas once trod. Trek along the Inca Trail and you’ll find yourself on the royal road system that connected the Inca Empire hundreds of years ago.

But how much do you know about the alternative Salkantay Trek? The quieter, trickier trail treats travellers to incredible peak views and a more strenuous hiking challenge. Wondering which route would suit you better? Let’s take a look at the two to help you work it out.

How far and hard are you prepared to trek?

Machu Picchu trek

To be frank, neither route is for the fainthearted. Both the Inca Trail and the Salkantay Trek will challenge you, so you’ll want to make sure you’re ready for quite the walk.

The Inca Trail is suited to people who are physically fit enough to take a fair old hike each day, coming in at 26 miles which you’ll complete over 4 days. Considered a moderate trek, the more popular trail will allow you to walk in the shoes of the Incas and and reach as high as 13,828 feet.

Consider yourself to be in tip top physical shape? Then the Salkantay Trek is likely to be further up your street. It’s longer, colder and steeper, reaching as high as 15,000 feet in altitude. Perfect for more experienced hikers, the Salkantay Trek totals 46 miles off the beaten track, completed over 5 days. It offers you more solitude, more wildlife, more mountains.

Are you prepared to rough it? (Ok, you won’t actually have to rough it rough it…)

With an average of just 50 travellers per day, the Salkantay Trek offers pretty basic accommodation with its cheapest option. As you’d expect of a more popular route, the Inca Trail is better set up for tourists. Your comfy camp will be put up for you and will include loos and showers – no such luxury can be found in the common, basic Salkantay Trek option.

There are also more luxury options on both routes, at an added expense of course. Glamping is possible on the Inca Trail! Who knew? And lodges with actual beds can be found on the Salkantay Trek too.

As far as carrying your gear is concerned, there are also facilities to have everything taken by pack mules and porters on either route.

Do you prefer history or nature?

Local family in Machu Picchu

If you’re looking for unforgettable scenery (and, let’s face it, you are), both of these routes have lots to offer. On the one hand, the Inca Trail passes lots of other ancient Inca sites on its way to the masterpiece that is Machu Picchu.

But if the prospect of viewing the arguably inferior sites doesn’t quite tickle your pickle and you think Machu Picchu will satisfy your historical architecture itch on its own, then choose the Salkantay Trek. For what it lacks in ruins it certainly makes up in views. The quieter trail gives
travellers a much greater chance of seeing some of the Andes’ wildlife; namely deer, chinchillas and even bears.

How much time do you have to book?

Because of the strict limit of 200 tourists allowed onto the Inca Trail each day, you need to allow plenty of time to book your trip. Tourist passes get released in the middle of December each year, which makes that the best time to book. Over on the Salkantay Trek there are no limitations on numbers so it’s far easier to book your trip.

As the Salkantay Trek is a slightly more specialised and less common route, it is a little more expensive – but you are paying for a more unique experience.

So which should you plump for? The Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trek?

If hiking’s your thing or you don’t have a huge budget, the Salkantay Trek is probably for you. It’ll challenge you and reward you greatly in scenery and the feel-good factor too. You’ll get more time to think with fewer people on the trail although you’ll see fewer ruins on your way to Machu Picchu.

Meanwhile, the Inca Trail will take you on a journey like no other as you see lots of otherwise unreachable ruins on your way to the grande finale. It’s popular for good reason, but it is likely to be more congested. But if you like meeting new people, maybe that’s a good thing anyway.

Oh, and if money is no real concern and you’re not really that into hiking, you could always plump for the most expensive option on the Inca Trail: just one day of walking followed by a luxury hotel stay and a day at Machu Picchu. But where’s the fun in that?!

If you feel like you could use some guidance in choosing the best Machu Picchu trekking experience for you, feel free to contact us today on 0176 930 9007. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have, from “what kit should I bring?” to “can I kidnap a llama?” (unfortunately, the answer to the latter is no…).