Inca Trail vs Salkantay Trek
If faced with the choice between two exciting routes to Machu Picchu – the legendary Inca Trail or the majestic Salkantay Trek – which would be your choice? This decision is not an easy one, especially when each trail offers unique experiences and breathtaking views. Although there are other ways to reach Machu Picchu, knowing the particulars of these two routes can help you decide which one best aligns with your expectations and level of adventure. Explore our detailed comparisons to make an informed decision.
Known as one of the most iconic trails in the world, the Inca Trail offers a unique hiking experience that culminates at the entrance to Machu Picchu through the spectacular Sun Gate. The most popular option is the 4-day trekking route, which combines history, culture and natural landscapes, giving you an unforgettable experience.
As the most popular alternative to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek invites adventurers to a unique trek, bordering the impressive Salkantay mountain and crossing areas of tropical rainforest. This trek is usually 5 days, although there is an option to shorten it to 4 days for those in good physical condition.
|26 miles (42 km)
|46 miles (74 km)
|Up to 4,200 meters (13,780 feet)
|Up to 4,600 meters (15,090 feet)
|Andean mountains, cloud forests, Incan ruins
|Snow-capped mountains, tropical forests
|Moderate to challenging
|Yes, limited permits
|No permit required
|Numerous, including Machu Picchu
|Few, mainly natural landscapes
Differences between Inca Trail and Salkantay
Inca Trail The Inca Trail is a historic route that offers a journey through mountainous landscapes and misty forests, passing ancient Inca sites such as Llactapata, Sayaqmarka, and Phuyupatamarca. This path culminates in the terraces of Winay Wayna and an arrival at dawn at Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate (Inti Punku).
On the other hand, the less-traveled Salkantay Trek is distinguished by its impressive natural landscape and higher altitudes, circling Mount Salkantay. Although it has fewer Inca ruins, it offers unique encounters with wildlife and views of Machu Picchu from a distance before arriving in Aguas Calientes, followed by the visit to Machu Picchu the next day. Both routes offer different and memorable experiences towards Machu Picchu.
For either of these two routes, good physical fitness is necessary, as both reach maximum heights (4200m – 13,828 feet), and it’s important to acclimatize to the altitude before hitting the trail.
- Classic Inca Trail: This has a moderate difficulty level throughout the journey, and good physical condition is necessary. The most challenging day is the second, crossing the Dead Woman’s Pass (4200 meters – 13,828 feet).
- Short Inca Trail: This option is much easier and also allows you to see some Inca sites, ending at Machu Picchu.
This hike is much more strenuous, crossing rough, steep, and generally colder terrains, especially on the first two days of the trek. It also covers much more ground than the Inca Trail, with the most challenging day being the second day crossing the Salkantay Pass (4600m – 15,100 feet). Much more experience is required for trekking this trail.
- Inca Trail: The dry season is from April to October and is perfect for this trail.
- Salkantay Trek: Almost all year round, it has the same cold and temperate climate.
- The Inca Trail closes in February each year for maintenance, while the Salkantay remains open all year round.
- The Inca Trail is generally much more expensive than the Salkantay trek, with differences in organization, permits, camping, porters, all because the Inca Trail is a cultural heritage of Peru, and this is done to preserve the trail.