The Salkantay Trek and the Inca Trail are two of the most popular routes to reach Machu Picchu. However, the two routes offer very different things. In the following article, we will discuss the differences of the Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail along with their pros and cons to help you determine which one is the best to take.
About the Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay Trek is a trek most commonly known as an alternative method to the traditional Inca Trail for reaching The Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trek will take you to cross the Salkantay Pass at a height of 4600 meters above sea level, descent into the cloud forest, pass the Inca ruins of Llactapata, and finally see the view of Machu Picchu from a distance. You will be able to enter Machu Picchu, too, provided that you have booked a ticket to enter the place. If you really want to enter Machu Picchu, make sure that you book the ticket several months in advance because the tickets are always sold out very quickly. You may want to book the ticket five or six months in advance, just in case.
The Salkantay Trek begins in Mollepata, which is located a couple of hours from Cuzco, and ends in Santa Teresa or Hidroelectrica to give access to Aguas Calientes which leads to Machu Picchu. Compared to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is not as popular. But it is certainly just as great, if not more beautiful. This trek has been named as one of the 25 best treks in the world by National Geographic Travel Magazine. This trek is great for the adventurous people, but it is also suitable for beginners because it is not too steep.
Salkantay Trek’s Pros
One of the biggest advantages of the Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail is the landscape scenes. Seriously, the views are beautiful! Many people even insist that the views of the Salkantay Trek are more beautiful than the Inca Trail, but this is quite like comparing apples to oranges if we consider that the two routes indeed offer different atmospheres. Nevertheless, the Salkantay Trek is a natural trek, so you will be able to enjoy more natural scenes. You will come across more large mammals such as deer, foxes, chinchilla, or even spectacled bears if you are lucky enough. The plants are also more varied. You will get captivated by the picturesque Andes as you hike to the glaciers, descend through lush green valleys, and back up to the high jungle.
The next benefit that the Salkantay Trek offers is the significantly lower traffic. This route is significantly less crowded. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek does not have any daily limit, and you can book the ticket much more easily. The average traffic rate is only about 50 people per day. So, you will have much of the trek for yourself. You will get more immersed in the atmosphere of wilderness.
Finally, the Salkantay Trek is also cheaper and more flexible. It costs significantly less than the Inca Trail, and you can have some flexibility to change the date or cancel the booking.
Salkantay Trek’s Cons
Compared to the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek is quite more physically challenging. With a total length of 51 miles, the Salkantay Trek is almost twice longer than the Inca Trail. It also goes to a higher altitude, and is generally colder.
There aren’t many campsites along the Salkantay Trek, and the available ones do not have many facilities. You may need to bring your own tent latrines. There aren’t showers, but you can bathe in the streams if you can withstand the cold.
Finally, the difference between the Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail is that the Salkantay Trek does not have many ancient ruins. While it also follows historical routes, the only set of ruins that you will come across is the Machu Picchu Citadel. You do not enter Machu Picchu through the Inti Punku Sun Gate, but you indeed wake up early and hike up to the sun gate to before the sunrise in the last day of the trip.
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About the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is one of the most popular treks in Peru and in South America. It is awesome because it combines the natural beauty, ancient history, and sheer mystery into one awe-inspiring trip. It follows the route of the Inca’s royal road – there is no other route that follows the royal road. You will come across several ancient ruins in this route, as you gain and lose 1000 meters a few times before reaching the ultimate end: Machu Picchu.
Note that since 2001, the government has implemented a quota system that limits how many travelers can be on the trail in a day. Permits sell out months in advance, and the permits for the entire current year become available on January. You are not allowed to organize the trek yourself, so you have to book with an authorized tour operator.
Inca Trail’s Pros
One of the biggest advantages of the Inca Trail when considering between the Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail is the rich Inca ruins scattered around in the route. This is the only route that hikes right into Machu Picchu. You will emerge from the jungle into the Inti Punku Sun Gate. From here, you can enjoy the full sight of Machu Picchu under the sunrise. Afterwards, you can descend into the citadel. Although the natural scenes aren’t as rich as the Salkantay Trek’s, the landscape views are also beautiful.
The Inca Trail is generally considered as to have a moderate difficulty. It is not as physically taxing as the Salkantay Trek. This route is appropriate for both younger and older trekkers. It only has one difficult part, which is the steep climb to the Dead Woman’s Pass. Well, you may also want to rent walking sticks to ease your knees when descending the small stone steps at Winay Wayna. Finally, the Inca Trail has more campsites with complete facilities.
Inca Trail’s Cons
If you are interested in taking the Inca Trail route, you have to be prepared. You have to book the permit several months in advance; booking on January is very much recommended for the best chance of getting the permit. However, note that you will not be able to change date or cancel your booking. In the extreme scenario, you may still get the permit one or two weeks before the desired date.
The next thing that you also have to consider is that the Inca Trail is significantly more crowded. While the quota system has managed to keep the crowds at tolerable levels, you will still come across so many people.
If you prefer to walk through the ancient roads and ruins more than seeing natural scenes, the Inca Trail is the way to go. This route will take you to the very Inti Punk Sun Gate and Machu Picchu. Note that this route is significantly more crowded. Otherwise, if you prefer to enjoy a longer trip with more breath-taking natural scenes, the Salkantay Trek should be your choice. It also makes an excellent alternative if you prefer to avoid the crowds.