As the trail grows in popularity each year, so does the number of Salkantay tour companies selling it. There are definite perks to joining an organized tour. However, experienced backpackers may prefer a more rugged experience. No permits are needed for this route which makes hiking the Salkantay a lot easier to organize.
After hiking the Salkantay trail myself, I have written this article and compiled this list of info, tips, and advice for planning your solo hike. With a little preparation, you should have no issue taking on the Salkantay Trek unguided.
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A Solo Salkantay Trek - Hiking Advice for the DIY Backpacker
Can I Hike The Salkantay Trek Without A Guide?
The answer to this is 100% yes. The trail is very clear and the local people are friendly and helpful. You can easily find accommodation and food along the way. This means that, with minimal planning, you can embark on this trail without booking a tour.
You can’t throw a rock in Cusco without hitting a tour office selling the Salkantay trek. If you enquire at these offices, you may well be told that it is too remote or dangerous to hike solo. Of course! Tour operators are not about to promote their biggest seller as a DIY hike.
It will benefit you greatly to speak some conversational Spanish. Speaking some local lingo will (literally) open doors when you are trying to find accommodation, directions, or a place to eat.
Is It Safe To Do A Solo Salkantay Trek?
As far as safety goes, you will be fine walking without a group. As the trail has grown in popularity, so have the facilities around the route. You seldom go more than 3 hours without stumbling across a rest point with a snack store and toilets.
During my Salkantay trek, I met a handful of solo hikers, including solo female travelers like myself. None of these unguided hikers had any complaints. In fact, most were happy with the freedom to rise on their own schedule and set their own pace.
Also, there are multiple other people on the trail at any given time. If you get into a sticky situation, help wouldn’t be far off. Make sure you pack a first aid kit with the essentials as well as your prescribed medication.
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Where do I sleep on the Salkantay trek?
Imagining hauling a tent up the mountainside is what initially put me off hiking the Salkantay unguided. But in reality, you have a whole range of options for accommodation on the Salkantay Trek.
You will end each day in a set camp or small town. It is very easy to find somewhere to sleep. You can usually pay for a homestay or dorm room in the small towns on route. It is also possible to find campsites where tents, mattresses and sleeping bags are provided. Some towns have fancier options like glass domes too.
There is a variety of choices depending on your budget. You may have to hunt around a bit for a place that isn’t booked up by a tour company. On my third night hiking the Salkantay Trek, I was offered accommodation while strolling around Santa Theresa with a beer in hand. It’s really that easy to find a place to rest your head!
Cold showers and toilets are usually included in the price you pay for accommodation. If you ask around, you can sometimes find hot showers for an extra 10 soles.
I haven’t tried this option, but I doubt you could book some of these places in advance. I recommend arriving early to secure your sleeping arrangements for the night.
What do I do for meals when hiking the Salkantay trek unguided?
Have no fear, you do not need to plan and prepare 5 days' worth of meals for this hike. The villages and campsites along the trek have restaurants and ‘snack bars’.
You will be able to buy a plate of food or sandwich for almost every meal. Provided you are not too picky about where you eat, you can usually pay a little extra at hostels or guesthouses to include meals.
I recommend stocking up on some snacks before you hit the trail. Prices are a lot higher along the trekking route. There is an amazing variety of dried fruit and nuts cheaply available in Cusco’s markets. San Pedro Market has the biggest variety of trail-friendly food and snacks.
Kiwichi bars also make perfect lightweight trail snacks. You will see these cereal bars in every corner shop around Cusco. They sell for around 1 sole each ($0.25c!)
You can of course go hardcore-outdoorsman (or woman) and cook for yourself. In this case, you will need to have cooking gear. Here are some good examples of camping cookware and camping gas stoves you can use during your solo Salkantay Trek.
How much does it cost to hike the Salkantay Trek on your own?
It is possible to do a solo Salkantay Trek for around $175-$200 per person. This price includes food, accommodation, basic transport and Machu Picchu entrance tickets.
This price varies depending on the type of accommodation and meals.
Whether or not you hire hiking and camping equipment will also factor into the overall cost. If you are hiking as a couple or a group, you will be able to share certain costs.
Packing for your Solo Salkantay Trek - Some DIY Backpacking Tips
If you are doing a solo Salkantay trek, you will need to carry your own gear. You can find accommodation along the way, but you may want to bring a tent. This is only if you plan on camping in more remote campsite locations.
Pack light and avoid taking too many duplicate items on the packing list. For example, take only one pair of trekking trousers instead of two.
You will be able to buy meals and snacks along the way. Just to be safe, you should pack some ramen noodles, trail mix, and energy bars.
Try to keep your pack under 15kg; any more weight will make the trek very tough. If your bag is too heavy to carry, consider acquiring the services of an arrieros (horseman) in Mollepata. They charge between 30-40 Soles per mule per day and an additional 30-40 Soles per day for themselves.
Solo Salkantay Trek: Day by Day Route Information
Day 1 of Unguided Salkantay Trek: Cusco to Soraypampa
From Cusco, you can hire a private car, taxi or public bus to take you to Mollepata or Challacancha. You can also find transport from the Sacred Valley areas of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo.
Costs vary depending on the mode of transport and departure town. Budget between 200-400 soles for a private car or taxi. It is much cheaper to take a collectivo from Cusco, which costs about 16-20 soles.
From Mollepata or Challancancha, follow the trail to Soraypampa camp. Here, you will quickly be able to find accommodation as well as lunch. A tent here costs as little as 20 Soles ($5).
You can leave your bag at camp to trek up and visit Humantay Lake. Hundreds of tourists visit the lake every day, but most of the crowds leave by 1 pm.
Day 2 of Unguided Salkantay Trek: Soraypampa-Chaullay
Rise early at Soraypampa to start your trek up the pass to Abra Salkantay. If you get going just after 6, you should be ahead of most tour groups. The trail up the pass is easy to follow.
It should take 2-3 hours to get to the top. This is a good spot for a snack break and for taking some beautiful photos. From Salkantay Mountain, you will descend about 1-1.5hrs to the village of Wayramachay.
On the left of the trail, glacial streams flow off the mountain. This is a good spot to refill your water bottles. I’d still recommend using a filter to play it safe though.
Wayramchay is a small, rural settlement below Mount Salkantay. You should arrive here around lunchtime. There are a few small restaurants where you can stop for something to eat (expect to pay 10-15 soles).
From Wayramchay, the surrounding landscape changes to a mixed tropical forest. Temperatures increase significantly and there are biting insects (so, remember to carry bug spray!).
The path is very easy to follow. It is a fairly gentle descent on a dirt track all the way down to Chaulley. Be sure to move out the way for horses and mules coming up the path simultaneously.
Chaullay (2,860m / 9,383ft) has a good variety of backpacker accommodations. Most of these camps have restaurants and small shops selling snacks and beer.
You will have no problem finding food and accommodation for the night. Budget around 30-40soles ($8-$10) for a room for two people. You can also find electricity here to charge your phone.
Day 3 of Unguided Salkantay Trek: Chaullay-Lucmabamba / Santa Theresa
From Chaullay, you will walk a short distance along the road and through another town called Collpapampa.
If you are trekking unsupported, you may get a little confused on the trail out of Collpapampa. There are many subsidiary trails that lead off the road. Generally, these are shortcuts that lead the same way down into the valley. It’s best to follow the road or an organized tour group.
Just before the road crosses the river, you will see the trail veer off to the left bank. There is a green safety railing, making it easier to spot. In case your powers of navigation fail you, it’s a good idea to follow this single-track trail. You can walk along the road, but it will make your route a lot less interesting.
When you follow this trail, the path soon reaches a steep section through the forest. When you get to the fork at the top, KEEP RIGHT. You will gradually get back to following the river course.
The trail takes you past a waterfall which is another good spot to refill your water bottles. From there, you will pass by Maracuya plantations and rest areas selling fresh juice.
As you approach La Playa, the trail splits. If you stay on the left bank of the river, which most tour operators do, you will cross a bridge. From here, the trail takes you straight into La Playa Lucmabamba (2,008m / 6,587ft above sea level).
You can also cross to the right along the riverbank and across a small suspension bridge. From here, the trail goes back up to the road. Follow the road to La Playa. If you are tired, you could try to catch a ride to town with a van from here.
You can find accommodation in La Playa, but it is nicer to walk a few extra kilometers to Lucmabamba or Santa Theresa. These quieter sites have good camps and accommodations on coffee plantations.
Please Note: It is worth stopping in La Playa to do a short coffee tour. There is one particular cafe with a machine for serving cappuccinos. Look out for a double-story, wooden restaurant with ‘Coffee’ signs. It is almost the first structure on the left as you enter the town.
Day 4 of Unguided Salkantay Trek: Santa Theresa / Lucmabamba- Llactapata-Hydroelectrica-Aguas Calientes
On the fourth day, you will go up the mountainside through the coffee plantations. There are signs off the road to the trail. I recommend asking the accommodation owners or locals to point you in the right direction so you don’t get lost.
Some of this trail is on the original, stone Incan stairway. Once you are on the path, it zig-zags upwards and you can’t really go wrong. It takes around two hours at a good pace to reach the top.
When the trail flattens out in the bamboo forest, you will see some more signboards. From here, the trail splits again. To the left is a shortcut to Hydroelectrica and views of Machu Picchu. I recommend walking for about 3 minutes and spending some time at this viewpoint. The first sight of Machu Picchu in the distance is pretty good motivation.
There is also a shop selling sandwiches, juice, and coffee at this lookout. It is worth holding out until here for a late breakfast.
After spending some time enjoying the view, backtrack onto the main path and take the right fork. It is a short walk down to Llactapata ruins. After the ruins, there is around 1.5-2 hours of a steep trek downhill to the river valley.
Cross the bridge and follow the road to Hidroelectrica. There is a checkpoint here where you will need to present your passport. You can either have lunch in Hidroelectrica or continue to Aguas Calientes.
It is possible to buy a train ticket to Aguas Calientes, which costs about $30. You can book your ticket on the Peru Rail website or take a chance and buy it at the station when you arrive.
Alternatively, the 10km / 6 mile walk to Aguas Calientes is completely flat and quite pretty. In Aguas Calientes, you will have a whole range of hotels and backpacker accommodations to choose from.
Aguas Calientes' accommodation can be booked in advance, which I highly recommend doing. After around 22km / 13,7mi of hiking, you are not going to feel like searching for a hostel.
Day 5 of Unguided Salkantay Trek: Aguas Calientes-Machu Picchu-Cusco
From Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu town), you either need to catch a bus (which costs about $12 each way) or walk up the 1700+ stairs. I found the stairs to be a fitting way to reach the citadel after the 4-day trek.
It is most important that you book your Machu Picchu ticket well before arriving in Aguas Calientes. Tickets sell out up to two months in advance for the busy season (June - August).
Personally, I like buying the early tickets (6 AM). This allows you to explore the ruins before they become too crowded with other tourists later in the afternoon.
You can acquire the services of a registered guide outside the gate. Expect to pay 40-50 Soles per person for two or more people, or 80-100 Soles if you are doing a solo Salkantay trek. You can also do some reading in advance or take a good guidebook (here are some great recommendations) on your travels.
Don’t walk around uninformed. Your experience will be immeasurably heightened if you have good information to draw on as you walk through the city.
For DIY trekkers, it is possible to trek back to the Hidroelectrica Station. Here, you can get a bus that will take you all the way back to Cusco, via Santa Theresa and Ollantaytambo. This is a longer, but cheaper route than taking the train.
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If you would like more information on the solo Salkantay Trek, you can read our full Salkantay Trek Guide. This complete guide includes information on elevations, the best time to hike and more.
We also have some helpful information on altitude sickness and how to deal with it in this article.
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