Hiking the Salkantay Trail to Machu Picchu Without a Guide

by Bklein456 on June 27, 2011

START POINT: Mollepata
END POINT: Hydro-electric Train
SEASON: Rainy Season (January) / Off-season

My fiance and I decided to hike the Salkantay Trail from Mollepata to the hydro-electric train near Aguas Calientes. We did this trek without a guide. Not very much information was found on the Internet giving solid trail details. And perhaps due to the rainy season, as well as it being the off-season, the trail was not well-marked and oftentimes split off into many directions, which made staying on trail that much more difficult.

The maps available online of the trail in relation to the villages, towns, and camping spots were not to scale. They did not show the splits and were altogether not as detailed as we would like. With what little we did find online about the trail, we quickly realized during our excursion that perhaps it would be helpful to give a more detailed trail guide for those who wish to do the Salkantay on their own.

Unlike the Inca Trail that must be booked sometimes months in advance, the Salkantay currently does not require a hiking permit or a guide. Because it was the off-season for tourists, we did not come across any posts for fees that were mentioned by others' blogs at Mollepata or Soraypampa.

We arrived in Cusco and stayed for three days to acclimate before beginning our trek. We drank a lot of mate de coca to help us acclimate and we carbed on pasta the day before our trek start. We did a hike to nearby ruins to get some exercise before the long hike. This also gave us some time to get our gear prepped and purchase any items we needed or had forgotten. There are shops galore in Cusco in which to purchase all your camping gear, clothing, as well as stove fuel for modern stoves. Be careful about pack covers. Some are NOT waterproof! It's best to purchase those in your home country. Also, when purchasing anything, shop around a bit and see how low the vendors will go before making your purchase.


In preparing for the rainy season trek, here is a list of items we purchased. All items were placed in large ziplock bags or tupperware to keep them dry. You could also use a dry bag.

    * head lamp
    * waterproof hiking boots
    * passport
    * shot records
    * sunscreen
    * bug spray
    * winter hat
    * sun hat
    * sunglasses
    * waterproof gloves
    * rain gear (pants, jacket/poncho, pack cover)
    * food (teas and drink mixes, snacks, etc.)
    * water bottles
    * water filter
    * tent (with rain fly)
    * warm sleeping bag
    * sleeping pads
    * fleece jacket
    * long underwear
    * camp stove
    * 2 cans of fuel for two people (we used only one)
    * cookware and utensils
    * first aid kit
    * lots of hiking socks and liners
    * moleskin (for blisters)
    * hiking poles
    * compass
    * handkerchief and/or toilet paper
    * money (200-300 Soles; bring small bills as people in small towns do not have a lot of money to give change)

Optional items

    * camera
    * GPS
    * binoculars
    * book


Mollepata to Marcocasa: 9.6 miles
Marcocasa to Soray: 7.5 miles

We took a taxi cab from Cusco to Mollepata that took 2 1/2 hours or so. The cost will run you from 100-150 Soles for two people.

We were dropped off in the town's center in front of the church's entrance. There is a general store in the town's center, located on the left side walk in front of the church, that has a bathroom the ladies will let you use, and goods you can purchase (snacks, hats, etc). If you do use their bathroom, purchase a candy bar or snack. These bars, candy, snacks will come in handy for payment when asking locals for directions.

Ask the locals where the trail starts. When you reach the dirt trail, continue on until you come to the first major fork. Make a right UNLESS you want to take a longer route to Soray via Marcocasa. This will tack on a day's worth of trekking. We ended up taking this way because we missed the fork in the road. We would not recommend taking this route because the trail is not marked, branches off often, and is difficult to follow.

If you take the right fork, this will lead you down into a valley and across a river. You can follow the trains of mules because this is the standard way for guided tours of hikers on Salkantay. This will be a 4-6 hour hike to Soray. Expect a lot of uphill hiking.

We hiked beyond Marcocasa and camped in a clearing off the trail.


Upon reaching Soray, you can camp off the trail for free or you can pay to stay in a campsite. If you want to hire a horse to carry your packs over the pass, there are people who can help you. The person we hired lives beyond the Soray Lodge and allowed us to camp on his land.

We paid the carrier 60 Soles to take our 30 and 40-lb packs up through the Salkantay Pass (15,340 feet) to Huayraccmachay, which is a ways down the pass. You will pass another lodge on your way down. Continue to head down the trail until you reach R. There is a campsite on the right-hand side, just after you cross of stream. This camp area is open to everyone; however, guides use this for tour groups. If you see people there, just go and say hi to the guides and politely ask if you can camp away from the group. Don't be surprised if they offer you some hot mate de coca early the next morning!


Rayn-nyoc to Collpapampa: 2 hours
Collpapampa to La Playa: 4 hours
La Playa to Lucmabamba: 30 minutes

This day felt like a big push. Because of the rainy season, the road that normally leads down to La Playa was washed away, and we had to take a very sketchy and steep downhill trail to get to the main road. The main road to La Playa feels LONG. Be prepared to cross many streams. Sometimes you will need to remove your shoes and manuever your way through thigh-high rushing water. The poles helped immensely!

When you are going down the hill to La Playa, make a right before you cross the bridge to go into town. This will take you to Lucmabamba. The trek to Lucmabama is really short. There are groves of trees that you could camp in if you decide to do so. Be aware that if you decide to hike beyond Lucmabamba, there are few camping spots, as you are now on the famous UNESCO reserve trail to Machu Picchu. Going up means less flat spots for camping. We hiked an hour beyond Lucmabamba on this trail and ended up having to camp on the trail itself underneath a lean-to. We woke up early enough so that we would not disturb any hikers heading up to Llactapata.


This trail from Lucmabamba to Llactapata will take you over a second pass (9,240 feet). It is a lot of uphill with only one good place to filter water, so make sure you have enough water in Lucmabamba to get you to that point, which is three hours from the start of the UNESCO trail. You will enter into a thick forest, and there will be a sign pointing you to the left which will take you the ruins. When you get here, you will come into a clearing with the ruins. On the left, there is a sign soliciting camping spots and water and snacks. Take that trail. There is a block, a closed wooden gate, in the trail. Be careful and swing yourself around it and continue on the trail. This may be closed only during the rainy/off-season). The trail will empty you into another clearing, where there are bathrooms and a few buildings, which was closed.

From the lodge, make a right heading through the field with horses. Then the trail starts to go downhill through farmland. You'll see crops of corn and other plants. Then you will be on a steep downhill for a good two to three hours, on A LOT of switchbacks. You need to be very cautious on this downhill. It's easy to slip.

This trail ends with a bridge over a river to a dirt road. Once across the bridge, you make a left along the road. The river will be to your left. Once you pass a huge waterfall coming straight out of the mountain on the righthand side, then start to look for a small trail leading up and to the right. This trail is well-traveled, yet smaller than the dirt road you were on.

The trail will take you across a few roads and will end at a road. Take a right on that road into what looks like a construction site. Go straight through the large area until you see a booth. This is a security checkpoint. They can help you get to the hydro-electric station, which is a two-minute walk from the security checkpoint. If you follow the road to the right, you will end up at the station.

We learned that you cannot purchase any train tickets at the station. You have to purchase them in Santa Teresa and bring your tickets back in order to get on the train from the station to Aguas Calientes. There are many taxis that make the 20-minute drive to Santa Teresa for very little Soles. One of them went to Santa Teresa while the other stayed behind.

At the train station, you can purchase food and drinks while waiting for the train. The train comes later in the afternoon (around 4:30 pm) so plan accordingly. However, if you miss the train, or opt to walk to Aguas Calientes, just follow the train tracks for two to three hours. Many people walk. After four or five days of intense hiking with packs on, however, you might want to treat yourself to a train ride and enjoy a beer, finally.

Aguas Calientes is like any other tourist town. It has hostels, hotels, restaurants, shops, and ATMs. From here, you can purchase your tickets for Machu Picchu, and if you're still itching to hike, you can do the two to three hour hike from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. Or, for a mere USD$7, you can take a bus. Unfortunately, this bus must be paid in U.S. Dollars. They do not accept any other form of currency. There are ATMs that dispense U.S. dollars. Just ask around because certain ATMs only do Soles, while another does both.


    * We hiked about seven to nine hours per day with full packs.
    * You will be crossing lots of streams and rivers. Be prepared to get wet. Sometimes you can jump from rock to rock. Other times, you are trucking through the mud.
    * You will also be crossing many bridges, sometimes very shaky and man-made ones too. Just a heads up.
    * Ask every person you pass whether you're going the right way.
    * Know some Spanish. Most people speak Spanish; however, you might come across some locals who know only Toto or Quechua, the Incan language. Be prepared to speak using your hands.
    * Every lodge during the rainy season was closed.

We hope that this information was detailed enough for you to have the courage to hike the Salkantay sin guia.

Flag Comment as Inappropriate

by Nathan
About 7 years ago

Tumbes is a horrible town, but the border crossing has changed since the last update. There is a brand new nice building where you check out of Peru and into Ecuador in the same building. You no longer check out of Peru and have to taxi to the Ecuador office. You literally get stamped out of Peru, step to your right, and get stamped into Ecuador. My girlfriend and I had read all the horror stories about the Tumbes border crossing but it is different now.

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by Ceridwen
About 9 years ago

We had problems with kids trying to pickpocket us in Cusco. In particular there were a couple of boys that hung around outside Mama Africa at night, offering to help you find your way back. They'll go to hug you and nab your purse.

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