The Salkantay hike is one of the best alternative trails to Machu Picchu. It is not only cheaper than the Inca Trail, but also much easier to book.
For starters, you do not need a permit to hike this 5-day trail. This makes it a great option for backpackers and those without a fixed Itinerary.
As the Salkantay trek has grown in popularity, so has the number of tour operators offering this trek. So, which are the best Salkantay Trek companies when it comes to hiking the Salkantay trek all the way to Machu Picchu?
In this article, I will review some of my favorite Salkantay Trek companies. I have also included different price ranges to suit every kind of hiker's budget. These choices are based on personal experience, first-hand reviews, and in-person discussions with the best Salkantay Trek companies based in Cusco.
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Best Salkantay Trek Companies
Why Is There Such A Difference In Prices Between Salkantay Trek Companies?
If you have ever researched Salkantay trek companies, you will probably notice the huge price difference. Local tour operators quote anything between $200 all the way up to $650 per person. If you are booking through an international company, you may pay even more.
So what's with the discrepancies?
Here, we will look at some of the main factors that impact Salkantay Trek companies and their respective tour prices.
Return Transport: Bus or Train
The main difference in your Salkantay Trek price is whether your tour includes a train return trip or not. The budget tours are much cheaper because you walk back to Hidroelectrica and take a bus back to Cusco.
The bus takes 7-8 hours plus you will be walking an additional 10km (6,2 mi) from Aguas Calientes along the rails to Hidroelectrica. This route is flat, but you will feel pretty exhausted after 4 days of hiking and exploring Machu Picchu.
In comparison, the train ride from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo is a comfortable 1.5 hours. From Ollantaytambo, it is only 2 hours by van to Cusco. The train costs approximately $70 more than taking the bus.
There are additional options for the train. The explorer (which costs about $60) is more commonly included with Salkantay trek tours. The Vistadome train is more luxurious with a glass roof (which is ideal for sightseeing), and lunch is included.
I recommend that you first check train trip prices on Peru rail. Compare what you find to those offered by tour companies. This will give you an idea of fairness in train prices.
Please Note: On the bus ride back to Cusco from Hydroelectric, budget Salkantay trek companies outsource the return trip. You will likely share the van with locals and other tourists.
To be honest, the budget transportation option above was one of my worst bus rides ever in Peru. The road was poorly made, the weather was windy, and the driver was careless. If you take this cheaper transportation option, be sure to pack motion sickness tablets. You’ll need them!
Expect the trip to take 7-8 hours with a stop at a roadside stand for refreshments while the buses get cleaned. You will get back to Cusco between 9-10 pm.
Agua Calientes To Machu Picchu: Climb the Stairs or Take a Bus
Some tours include a bus ride up from Aguas Callientes to Machu Picchu. The bus ride is 20 minutes and costs $12 each way. The alternative is to walk from Aguas Calientes up the ∓1775 stairs (trust me, I counted!).
Personally, I found the stairs to be a rewarding way to reach Machu Picchu. After 4 days of trekking, catching a bus up the last stretch could be anti-climatic. Sure, you are tired, but it feels extra rewarding when you reach the top on foot.
Looking for a day tour? Here are my 5 favourite day tours around Cusco:
- Rainbow Mountain day trip (with meals)
- Moray and Salt Mines Quad Bike Tour
- Sacred Valley day tour
- Humantay Lake day tour
- Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu entrance tickets
See more Cusco day trips.
Food and Accommodation
Higher-end Salkantay trek companies consistently have better quality accommodation. If you pay a bit more, you can definitely expect to stay in nicer camps at the end of each day. Usually, this means dome accommodation and Andean huts which are vastly different from basic 2-man tents.
The same can be said for your quality of food. Highly rated Salkantay trek companies employ good chefs and buy quality ingredients. Paying more may also give you better options in terms of catering when it comes to specific dietary requirements.
Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options in Cusco:
- Sonesta Hotel (great 4 star hotel)
- Antigua Casona San Blas
- El Mariscal Cusco (very good value)
- Hotel Paradis (good 3 star hotel)
- Quechua Hostel Recoleta (cheap and cheerful)
See more Cusco accommodation options.
With more expensive Salkantay trek companies, water is included in the price. Your cooks will boil clean water for you each day to refill your water bottles.
Budget tours (which cost $300 and under) generally do not offer water. This is because it would cost a lot more to hire extra mules to carry more gas to boil the water and prepare it for the hikers.
As a compromise, you can buy water all along the route. However, this can become costly as prices on the trail range from 6-15 soles. I recommend taking a filter bottle on your trek to save money on procuring clean water. Filters are also more reliable than purification tablets.
There are some less obvious factors to consider when choosing Salkantay trek companies for your tour. It is important to consider the company’s social priorities. For example, staff welfare is an important social priority in this unique tourist spot and a big issue on the trails.
In order to cut costs, many Salkantay trek companies skimp on paying their mule handlers and chefs. It is great if you can establish the company's views on staff treatment beforehand; however, this is easier said than done.
If you book with cheaper Salkantay trek companies, I would advise that you factor in a bigger tip in your spending budget to help make up for salary shortages.
Read more about tipping guides and porters.
Top 5 Picks For Salkantay Trek Companies
Salkantay Trekking - Best Overall Salkantay Trek Company
Overall Rating: 5/5
Description: This is a mid-range option in terms of the price tag. Salkantay Trekking is frequently awarded as one of Peru’s best operators. They have 15 years of experience with a focus on trails to Machu Picchu. This tour Includes a train ticket back from Aguas Calientes.
Tour Price: From $495 per person.
Guides that go the extra mile.
Breakfast on the first day is not included and costs around $6.
Includes a 3-course menu dinner on the last night.
Hikers spent a night in sky domes, Andean huts, and jungle domes.
Air mattresses are included.
Backpack covers and rain ponchos are provided.
Alpaca Expeditions - Best Salkantay Trek Company for Social Responsibility
Overall Rating: 5/5
Description: Alpaca Expeditions is committed to the welfare of its employees and local communities. The company is fully licensed and has a local owner with years of experience in treks to Machu Picchu.
Another thing I like about Alpaca’s Salkantay tour is that they take a less common route. Alpaca goes up a different side of Salkantay Mountain where you reach 5100m (16,732 ft) instead of 4600m (15,092 ft). There are also much fewer people on this trail, which makes for a more exclusive tour experience.
This is a more difficult route though (for the horsemen also), which explains the higher price. Alpaca Expedition’s route follows a short section of the original Inca Trail.
Tour Price: From $650 per person.
High level of professionalism.
Expensive equipment rental.
Salkantay entrance fee is included.
Sleeping bags (which cost about $20) and mattresses (which cost about $25) are not included in the tour package.
Maximum group size of 8.
Good social responsibility.
Machu Pichu Reservations - Best Salkantay Trek for the Budget Backpacker
Overall Rating: 4/5
Description: After several recommendations, I personally hiked with Machu Picchu Reservations. I was impressed with their smooth online booking system and professional office staff.
Machu Picchu Reservations’ Soraypampa Camp (on your first night) is away from the other camps. Perched on a peaceful hillside with Mount Salkantay above, this may be the best of all company campsites. Most of my group slept in skydomes, which was extremely comfortable. This was an unforgettable experience which is not usually offered on budget treks.
This company offers quality tours because they take out bigger groups (around 22) which get split off with 2 guides. My only complaint about Machu Picchu Reservations is that the guides, at times, showed a lack of professionalism. Of course, it comes down to luck of the draw. Many travelers who use this company usually rave about their guides.
Tour Price: From $210 per person.
Superb food, innovative vegetarian options, and tea time every day.
Guides could be better regarding professionalism.
Top camps (including sky domes and Andean-style huts).
The horsemen seem well treated. However, with the low tour prices, it's hard to imagine that they are compensated well.
Amazing value for money.
Overall, I recommend factoring in a good tip for guides, horsemen and porters as part of your trek budget.
Great hostel for last night of trek (which is more like a hotel).
Mountain Lodges: 7-Day Salkantay Trek - Best Luxury Salkantay Trek
Overall Rating: 4/5
Description: The ultimate way to experience the Salkantay route in Luxury is with Mountain Lodges. They offer a lodge-to-lodge version of the Salkantay Trek, which is a relaxing experience.
The hike is extended over two extra days, which makes for easier walking distances. You will walk about 4-6 hours a day at a relaxed pace. At the end of each day, you will have some downtime to enjoy the luxury accommodation provided by Mountain Lodges.
You can also opt to skip some sections of hiking. This is a great choice if money is not an option. It is for those that like their creature comforts more and want to experience the area rather than go on a challenging hike.
Tour Price: From $2,990 per person.
High level of professionalism amongst staff.
It’s very expensive, which is the reason they lose a star from us.
Jacuzzis, massages, and fine dining available at the lodge.
The tour itself doesn’t feel very adventurous, which makes a Salkantay trek (the epitome of adventure) a little pointless.
Additional options like horse riding, coffee tasting, and artisanal workshops also available for hikers.
G-Adventures - Best International Salkantay Trek Company
Overall Rating: 4/5
Description: G-Adventures has a reputation as one of the world’s best adventure tour operators for a reason. This company has run thousands of successful treks and their tours run like clockwork.
Tour Price: From $584 per person.
High level of professionalism amongst the staff.
Not all meals are included in their tour package, which can create extra, expensive costs.
They plan everything down to the last detail.
They have top service and communication, even before you start hiking.
Hello ! I think I will go with Macchu Picchu reservations like you did. Do you think it’s best to reserve online or in person (knowing that I will only be in Cusco a few days before the trek) please ? And how much should be the tipping in total ?Thanks for the wonderful and really helpful article. Laura
I think it’s better to reserve your spot online, but it shouldn’t be a problem to also book in person a few days before the hike. Tipping values are usually 10-15% of the trek cost. If you book with a cheaper Salkantay trek company, I would advise that you factor in a bigger tip in your spending budget to help make up for salary shortages. All the best Laura!