Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail: Which Route to Machu Picchu is Best for You?

Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail: Which Route to Machu Picchu is Best for You?

Trekking to Machu Picchu is undoubtedly an unforgettable experience, but did you know there’s more than one trail that leads there?

Most popular among adventure seekers are the classic Inca Trail and the more remote, but just as spectacular, Salkantay route.

Each trail has its own charms, and choosing which one to embark on can be difficult. To help you pick, here’s a quick overview of what each of these beautiful treks has on offer.

Below, you’ll also find a more detailed look at the differences between the two trails.

 Salkantay TrekInca Trail Trek
Length37 miles26 miles
Altitude15,000 feet13,828 feet
AvailabilityRecommended to book in advance. On average, 50 tourists per day.Must book in advance since there is a cap of 200 tourists per day.
PricingMore affordableMore expensive
Best forExperienced hikers who are looking for mountain scenery and a variety of wildlife.Adventurers in good shape who are okay with walking with big crowds of people. People who want to see the ancient ruins and explore the paths of the Incas.


Salkantay Trek

The classic 5-day Salkantay Trek tour starts with a visit to Humantay Lake. Then, it takes you on an adventure through the Salkantay Pass and the Peruvian jungle. On day 4, you arrive at Aguas Calientes for a good night’s sleep before heading to Machu Picchu.

The total length of the 5-day Salkantay Trek is 37 miles (59km).

Two women on the inca trail surrounded by snow-capped mountains

Get ready for many spectacular mountain landscapes on both hikes!


Inca Trail

The classic Inca Trail starts in the Sacred Valley. You can choose between a 2-day or 4-day tour, depending on your preferences and how much time you’d like to spend hiking.

The 4-day Inca Trail tour leads you through the ancient paths of the Incas, showing you breathtaking ruins and stunning nature. The length of the classic trail is 26 miles (42km).

The 2-day Inca Trail tour takes you through several important archaeological sites and gives you a tour of Machu Picchu. This tour is ideal for travelers who are short on time or don’t have too much hiking experience.



Note: As both treks reach an altitude of over 13,000ft in places, spending at least two days acclimatizing in Cusco is strongly recommended.

Salkantay Trek

The highest point of the Salkantay trek is the Salkantay Pass at 15,255 ft (4,650 m). That said, you’ll be hiking at high altitudes (9,840 ft/3,000 m) for only a couple of days.

snow capped Salkantay mountain

Mount Salkantay is one of the highest and most spectacular mountains in the Cusco region.


Inca Trail

The Inca Trail has a lower altitude, but you’ll spend a bigger part of the hike above 9,840 ft/3,000 m.

The highest altitude along the way is the Dead Woman’s Pass (13,829 ft/4,215 m).



Salkantay Trek

The trek via the Salkantay route is strenuous, going through steeper and rougher terrains. Each day, you’ll hike for about 6 to 10 hours.

Because of its diverse climate and walking conditions, you’ll need to carefully prepare your Salkantay Trek packing list. The trek takes 5 days, so remember to pack light and smart.

travelers hiking salkantay pass

Travelers hiking the Salkantay pass, the hardest part of the second day.


Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is considered a moderate hike, and you’ll likely walk around 6 to 7 hours most days. The shortened, 2-day version of the trek is easier and it allows you to see key sights at a more relaxed pace.

The weather on the Trail can be unpredictable, so preparing a packing list for the Inca Trail including all the essentials is a must-have.



Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay trek comes with plenty of varied and beautiful sceneries – turquoise lakes, glaciers, and snow-capped mountain peaks. You will also visit the Amazon jungle and witness rivers, waterfalls, and coffee plantations along the way.


Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is nothing short of impressive. It offers travelers centuries-old Inca ruins and sites, mountain views, and cloud forests. On your last day, you get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate.

inca trail ruins

The Inca Trail will impress you with many stunning ruins that you’ll see on the way.



Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek does not have a strict limit on the number of tourists allowed, offering a wider availability. However, it’s still sensible to arrange and book your trek on time as the best operators get booked fast.


Inca Trail

The Inca Trail has a limit on the number of hikers allowed (200 a day), so you must book well in advance.

The peak tourist period runs between June and September, and the Inca Trail permits sell out quickly. May and October are the best time to do the Inca Trail as the landscapes are still green, but the trail is less crowded.



Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is often less crowded, and that’s a big factor when it comes to facilities.

The trek is ideal for those looking for solitude and an authentic hiking experience, but it’s good to remember that there are no showers or bathrooms set up along the way.

woman in sky lodge at night on bed

On the first night of the Salkantay trek, you’ll sleep under the stars in the sky domes.


Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is the most popular route to Machu Picchu and, as such, it’s equipped to meet basic travelers’ needs.

During your Inca Trail hike, campsites are set up for you. In addition, basic bathrooms and showers can be found along the route and many of them are well-maintained.



Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay trek doesn’t require special permits and, although you need to pay a fee to enter Salkantay, the costs will be lower than those of the Inca Trail.

The average cost of hiking the Salkantay Trek is between $500 and $600.

Inca Trail

One of the important factors to keep in mind here is that the Inca Trail is strictly controlled. Because there is limited availability per day and you need to have a permit, Inca Trail tours are more expensive.

Depending on the duration of the hike, the average cost of the Inca Trail tours ranges between $500 and $800.

girl at inca trail passport control

One more control at the checkpoint we’re ready to go!


How Do I Choose the Right One?

The Peruvian Andes region and its captivating treks to Machu Picchu are a must-visit for any nature lover. When choosing a trek, there are several key things to consider.

Here’s how to figure out which trail is right for you.


Plan Your Budget

Although costs should not be the only factor when deciding on a trekking tour, it’s still something to keep in mind.

As mentioned above, each route has different costs, so evaluate that based on your budget and plan accordingly.


Consider Your Strength and Interests

One of the main factors when choosing a trail will ultimately come down to your interests and what you want to get out of your hike (e.g experiencing the jungle or exploring ancient ruins).

Be sure to take your fitness level into account, as well. The longer and steeper the hike, the more difficult it’s going to be. Here’s a quick breakdown:

  • Easy: little to no elevation gain
  • Moderate: Steady ascent with some obstacles like roots
  • Strenuous: Longer, steeper ascents that likely include numerous obstacles such as rocks


view of machu picchu

One thing both hikes have in common is the ultimate highlight they include: Machu Picchu.


Do Your Research

To avoid any surprises along the way, be sure to do your research beforehand and find out more about other travelers’ experiences, as well as carefully weigh in the pros and cons of each route.

Before you book, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We’re happy to help you out wherever we can.


Get Ready to Explore the Ancient Inca Citadel

Once you’ve decided which route to take, it’s time to get excited about your Machu Picchu adventure.

Ready for the next step? Check out our ultimate Machu Picchu travel guide and find everything you need to know when visiting the lost city of the Incas.

  • 27 October, 2022 at 10:56 am

    I love the comparison of the treks and it is very helpful to get more insights about Salkantay or Inca Trail. But which hike offers more diversity?

    • 4 November, 2022 at 12:58 am

      Hello Chris,
      thanks a lot for your comment. If you are looking for a trek with more diversity than is our 5-Day Salkantay Trek the perfect choice. You’ll enjoy the perfect combination of: mountains, jungle, nature, ruins and so much more. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any other questions.


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