Why take the Salkantay trek?
There are a few major trails you can hike in Cusco; the most popular one is commonly the 4 day Inca trail to Machu Picchu; however there are great alternatives such as the Salkantay trek. So why take the Salkantay trek? Well there are several reasons why this route can be superior to the Inca trail.
Out of the complaints we’ve heard about the Inca trail; the one that usually stands out are the group sizes. Group tour sizes for the 4 day Inca trail can range from 10-30 person groups in some agencies, this I believe takes away plenty from the experience of this beautiful hike. This is one of the biggest drawbacks to being one of the most popular trails in the world. The Salkantay trek on the other hand shares similar routes to the Inca trail but the group sizes are normally 5-12 people, the traffic for the Salkantay is up to 70% less than the Inca trail. In some places you will see bigger groups but the average stays at around 5-12; this ensures you have a more personalized experience despite this being a group tour (private tours as with the Inca trail are also available).
Local Flora and Fauna
The Inca trail boasts ruins and stone paths laid out along the way to Machu Picchu; this makes it a very traversed trail and basically very linear. The paths are beautiful of course, travelling along the same stone pathways and visiting ruins along the way give this trek a special feel. On the other hand the Salkantay is more centered along the natural, local beauty. Since this trek truly is set of the beaten path being slightly more elevated gives you the opportunity to see more of the local plants and animals. You are much more likely to see foxes, deer or chinchilla along the Salkantay than on the Inca trail.
Feeling of Accomplishment
Since the Inca trail is thought of as the more laid and set up trail with pathways and markers along the way it can feel a little like a walking tour and not so much as a “trek”. The salkantay is a more difficult path with full days spent at over 14,000 feet but the rewards come as spectacular views and an overall feeling of accomplishment at the end. As you make your way to aguas calientes on day 5 you begin to feel like you really earned your visit to the Inca citadel “Machu Picchu”.
In conclusion both trails are amazing in their own right but why the Salkantay trek? It is overall a more demanding trek with spectacular views of the local scenery. Group sizes for the Salkantay trek are smaller which adds to the trekking experience of camping out in the Andes mountains under the crisp highland night.