Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail
The Inca Trail is an icon due to its history of being a traditional royal road that connected the Inca Empire. This story is shown through various remains of Inca paving along the parts of the trail. Due to that and combined with the natural environment and the impressive end in Machu Picchu, it is considered the number one trek in South America. For those who do not count with 4 days free to complete the Classic Inca Trail, there is also a reduced version of 2 days which skip the strenuous step of Warmi Wañusca (dead woman) but includes the highlights such as Wiñaywayna and Door of the Sun (Inti Punku).
From all the alternatives treks to Machu Picchu, the Salkantay Trek is the most popular. Although it is more exhausting than the Classic Inca Trail, it shows the best scenery of all the excursions to Machu Picchu. It takes 5 days to border the Salkantay Mountain and then head to Machu Picchu but it can be done in 4 days for those who have a very tight schedule and are in good physical condition. Unlike the Inca Trail, pack mules are used to carry the camping equipment and cooking utensils rather than porters and it can be performed independently or with a group.
In this article we are going to compare both so you can decide which to choose but you need to know that whichever route you choose, you will spend a day in Machu Picchu, exploring and admiring the lost city of the Incas – the perfect culmination of a rewarding trek.
Advantages of the Salkantay Trek:
- Landscape: Salkantay is famous for its landscape that most guides give faith, which surpasses the Inca Trail. You will have a better chance of seeing large numbers of mammals such as foxes, deer, chinchillas, and with luck, the spectacled bear. There is a lot of variety of plants too. It is a trek through the typical Andes that takes you up to the imposing glaciers, then descends through lush valleys with coffee plantations and finally climbs to the high jungle.
- Traffic: No one would think of claiming the fame of the Inka Trail as “something out of the ordinary” but in the Salkantay Trek there is about 72% less traffic which gives a daily average of 50 people compared to a daily average of 180 that the Inca Trail has. This means that you would have the most part of the trek for yourself and that the campsites on the route are not so crowded, allowing you to immerse yourself in the natural environment and camp in a more authentic sense.
- Availability and Flexibility: Little traffic means that there is no need to set daily limits, which make the quotas of the Inca Trail exhaust quickly. You can find tours to Salkantay almost every day, it is just a matter of finding a departure group on the same day you want the trek (unless you go independently or opt for a private tour). There is also more flexibility in terms of modifications than the Inca Trail because in this, the strict rules of permits do not allow date changes or cancellations.
Disadvantages of Salkantay
- Prestige: Unlike the Inka Trail, you do not enter Machu Picchu through Inti Punku or The Sun Gate because you spend the night in the village of Machu Picchu and the next day you can take the bus to the citadel, or if you walk in a route of an hour and a half at dawn. However during your visit to Machu Picchu, it is possible to walk to the door of the sun in a half hour.
- Difficulty: The trek is almost twice as long as the Inca Trail (82 kilometers compared to 42 kilometers) and reaches a much higher level of altitude (4637 meters instead of 4200 meters). This means that it is physically more demanding than the Inca Trail, reaching even colder levels as well.
- Facilities: camping equipment along the Salkantay Route does not have many facilities, so most groups of tourists establish their own camp latrines. There are no showers, although you can bathe in the streams if you are willing to face the cold.
- History: Although the trek to Salkantay follows historical routes as well, the only set of ruins that is seen, is the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. The best ruins along the Inca Trail, located in Wiñaywayna, are similar to the ones of Pisaq in the Sacred Valley of the Incas outside of Cusco. Therefore, to compensate for unseen archeological complexes, it is possible to think about visiting Pisaq.
Advantages of the Inka Trail
- Prestige: It is one of the most famous treks in the world, and the only trek which takes you directly to the citadel of Machu Picchu. The hikers appear from the jungle, in the Sun Gate or Inti Punku, from where you can see all of Machu Picchu. From there, hikers descend into the citadel.
- Landscape: It has beautiful landscapes ranging from the snowy peaks to the cloud forests and high jungle. It includes a variety of small historical ruins in the route. The most important of these is Wiñaywayna with its abundant agricultural terraces. You can walk on the original Inca steps and even pass through an Inca stone tunnel. Upon reaching the high jungle during the last stretch of the walk, you will see a variety of orchids, as well as birds and butterflies.
- Difficulty: It is considered a moderate hike, and with a time of acclimatization in Cusco for altitude, is ideal for both young and old hikers. There is a steep and quite difficult segment on the second day ascent to the highlight of the walk, the step of the dead woman. Apart from that, the hike is not difficult. However it is recommended to hire walking poles, to reduce pressure on the knees as you climb up or down the many small stone steps in Wiñaywayna.
- Facilities: Camping equipment along the trail includes restrooms that are cleaned every 2 days. For some, this is an advantage of the hike, although genuine campers might prefer the more 'wild' feel like the Salcantay Trek. The trails on the Inca Trail tend to be better organized overall as a result of increased demand and reputation.
Disadvantages of the Inca Trail
- Traffic: The Inca Trail is an extremely popular route. They limit the quotas to keep the multitudes tolerable, but the greater number of people means that their chances of seeing mammals such as foxes, deer and Chinchilla are reduced. During the difficult climb up to the Warmi Warmi pass, in the same passage way, and in the descent of the pass, it is quite likely that you will find yourself passing with other groups, and the campsite areas will also be full of people. However, throughout the rest of the trek, there is more likely to be less crowded.
- Availability and Flexibility: To cross the Inca Trail, it is mandatory to go with an authorized operator, who will buy your entrance to the Inca Trail in advance. Permits are limited to 500 per day, of which 300 are guides, porters and cooks. For the must part of the year, income is available, but must be purchased at least a week or two earlier to make sure the desired date is found. During the high season from May to August, you should book with more time in advance as possible, up to 5 months before. Tickets are sold months in advance during this season.
- If you want more information about these and other tours of Cusco and the rest of Peru, do not hesitate to contact our travel agency, to help or to hire tours.
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