Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu The Ultimate Guide 

by Kshaunish Jaini, on Jan 6, 2017

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Salkantay Trek

The Salkantay Trek is named after the 6000m peak Mt Salkantay, under whose shadow the trail runs. From a pure trekking perspective, it is considered to be better than the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It takes one through the beautiful Mollepata Valley, goes over the Salkantay Pass at 4300m before descending to cloud forest with sweeping view of the plains. You will encounter hot springs and walk the last stretch beside an abandoned railway track to the town of Aguas Calientes, the base town for accessing Machu Picchu ruins. You will have experienced 5 different climatic zones in a matter of days, seen jagged Andean peaks, vast plains in the valley, trekked through sub-tropical jungles and paid homage to the precariously perched citadel of Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trek is a journey packed with adventure the this is its ultimate guide.

Salkantay Trek

The good thing is that despite fantastic scenery and a walk through 5 ecosystems, the Salkantay trek is a less crowded alternative Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. It is usually preferred by the more adventurous or when the permits to the classic Inca Trail trek are sold out. And they do get sold out upto 6 months in advance! Luckily, so far there is no permit based entry for the Salkantay trail.

Salkantay Trail - Alternative Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Salkantay and Inca trails are part of the extraordinary Inca Trails or Qhapaq Ñan , which refers to the network of trails covering about 30,000 kms that were constructed over centuries by the Incas for communication, trade and defense purposes. They are recognized as a UNESCO heritage site, linking the Andes, to the coast, running through Amazon rain forests, fertile valleys and deserts. Both Salkantay trail and Inca trail, experts believe, were meant to be a holy pilgrimage to the holy site of Machu Picchu . The truth is, no one knows the true purpose of Machu Picchu or why it was constructed in such a remote place, since the Incas left no written records. There are different routes to Machu Picchu , and in this article I will cover the two most popular.

Machu Picchu Inca Ruins

The Salkantay trail connects the city of Mollepata, a couple of hours away from Cusco, to Machu Picchu. This route is generally done over 4 or 5 days. Below is a crisp itinerary of Salkantay Trek, although the exact details such as camping sites may vary across different operators conducting the trek.

Salkantay Trek 5 Day Itinerary

Day 1 - Cusco - Mollepata - Soraypampa

Distance walked: 13 kms

Time taken: 6 hrs

An early morning start from Cusco will get you to Mollepata. Depending on the operator and the trip cost, you will be taken in a public bus or shared taxi or a private car. At Mollepata you will meet your trek crew. Following a wide gravel track, you will pass by occasional villagers in horseback and in about 6 hours gradually ascend to Soraypampa situated at 3800m. This is where you will set camp in the shadows of the Andean giants. Your trekking crew would have pitched your tents by the time you reach.

Village hut near Mollepata

Day 2 - Soraypampa - Salkantay Pass - Huayrac Machay - Challway

Distance walked: 22 kms

Time taken: 9 hrs

Another early start will see you witness spectacular scenes as the sun illuminates the jagged 6000m peaks in the Andean range. This will be a tough and a long day that will take you over the Salkantay pass at 4600m. The air will become progressively thinner and the walk harder. The climb to the pass takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours comprising of steep, narrow switchbacks and steady uphill paths until the pass. Loose gravel and stones does not make the walk any easier. Except the rainy months from November to March the trail should likely be clear of snow or ice, although hail and rain are possible at any time of the year. “Salkantay” is a Quechua word, meaning “Savage Mountain”. The peak likely earned its moniker due to the notoriously swift change of weather conditions on it.

Once over the pass you will descend almost 1700m to Challway. Along the way you will see beautiful views of the plains below before heading to the cloud forest. By the time you reach your campsite it will be dark.

Horses grazing on the Salkantay Trek

At Abra Salkantay. The sign shows the altitude of Saltantay Pass at 4600m

Day 3 - Challhuay - La Playa - Santa Teresa

Distance walked: 16 kms

Time taken: 5 hrs

The trail from Challway to the lunch stop at La Playa is distinctly different from the previous day. No longer is the air getting thinner, the temperatures colder and the views comprising of sheer mountains jutting into the sky. The semi-tropical characteristics result in raging waterfalls and streams. During this jungle hike you will be able to see cacao, coffee and several native plantations. Such climate also fosters mosquitoes and other insects, so be sure to bring insect repellents with you. Later in the afternoon a 1-2 hour bus ride downhill will take you to the village of Santa Teresa. There you will have dinner and spend the night in tents. This town is also famous for its hot springs where you can go and relax in the bubbling mineral waters.

Fast flowing streams as you descend during Salkantay Trek

While not very hot, the springs are definitely warm, located right on the banks of a raging river. The local villagers also sell cheap beer which you can enjoy while warming up in the Santa Teresa hot spring.

Hot springs at Santa Teresa beside raging river

Day 4 - Santa Teresa - Hydroelectric - Aguas Calientes

Distance walked: 19 kms

Time taken: 7 hrs

In the morning after breakfast you will walk for about 4 hours until you reach the Urubamba River. Some companies may cover this stretch partly on foot and partly by bus. Lunch break is by the hydro-electric station there.

Next you will walk towards Aguas Calientes following abandoned train tracks, roughly 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in about 3 hours. Given that the entire track is shaded by jungle foliage and the incline is very gradual, this comes as a welcome relief. You will get to sleep on real beds in a hotel/hostel and get to shower too.

Hiking towards Aguas Calientes beside train tracks

Note: if you do not want to walk after lunch, you can take a train from the hydroelectric station to Aguas Calientes, but it only leaves in the late afternoons.

Day 5 - Aguas Calientes - Machu Picchu - Cusco

Distance walked: 19 kms

Time taken: 7 hrs

This is a special day that culminates the Inca Trail with a tour of Machu Picchu. Do note that hundreds of tourists catch the train to Machu Picchu daily. So the earlier you start the better your chance of avoiding the crowds and perhaps catching the glorious sun rise.

There are two options to go from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu.

Option 1 is a 45 minute bus transfer from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. The first bus leaves at 5.30 am, but queue starts forming starting before 5 am. It is a 20 minute ride and buses run every 20 min.

Option 2 is a 6 km walk to Machu Picchu. Note that a fair bit of walking will be done on the Machu Picchu citadel. It is much better to walk in the Machu Picchu ruins than waste precious energy hiking this last stretch.

Machu Picchu

On arrival a guide will inform you about the history and exemplary architecture of one of the only well preserved Inca ruins that survived desecration by the Spanish conquerors.

You can also chose to scale Huayna Picchu, which is the mountaining dominating the background of Machu Picchu, on the so called “stairs of death”. Check this video to know why. It take about 45 minutes to do so, unless you want to take the great tavern detour which will extend the trip to 1 to 1.5 hrs. This is a challenging climb which is not recommended for those suffering from a fear of heights. The stairs are carved on cliffs with sheer drops as the picture below will show.

Like the Inca Trail there are only 400 permits issued per day for the Huayna Picchu hike, most of which are sold out in advance. There are 2 entrance slots, first at 7 am and the second at 10 am.

After the tour of Machu Picchu you can take the bus to Aguas Calientes, which departs every 10 minutes. Alternatively you can take the direct train or a combination of train and bus. At 6:45 pm, depending on availability, you can take a train to Ollantaytambo. From there a bus will take you to Cusco, arriving by 22:30 pm.

Train from Aguas Calientes

Salkantay Trek 4 Days vs 5 Days

In the shorter 4 day Salkantay Trek you will go from La Playa to Hydroelectric without halting overnight at Santa Teresa. At Hydroelectric you can hike for 3 hrs along the train tracks to Agua Calientes or take the train if you are too exhausted.

Salkantay Trek Machu Picchu

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Salkantay Trek Altitude

The entire trail is above 2300 m, with the highest point being the Salkantay Pass at 4600 m. The Salkantay trek is therefore a high altitude climb and climbers must be wary of the dangers of AMS or Acute Mountain Sickness . I will talk more about altitude sickness later on.

Below is a map of the elevation profile of this alternative Inca Trail. It also shows Salkantay trek length, its highest point and the daily distance traveled.

Salkantay Trek Permit

Unlike the more famous Inca Trail Trek, the Salkantay trek does not require a permit. This means that travelers usually do not have to book their treks almost half a year in advance. However, the entrance to Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu hike still require tickets, and so do return trains from Aguas Calientes. Thus I will highly recommend booking Salkantay Trek early. Almost all companies charge just a reservation deposit ranging from 20%-40% to book your spot, with the remainder payable at a later time or on arrival.

Salkantay Trek Accommodation

As described in the itinerary earlier, camps are set up on the first 3 nights. On the penultimate night at Aguas Calientes you get to sleep in a hotel/hostel. Below is a recap in a slightly more focused manner.

On day 1 at Soraypampa, one of the 4 or 5 families constituting this village rents out their campsite. Most tour companies have covered camps to protect from elements of nature.

Starlit Sky at Soraypampa campsite on Salkantay Trek

At Challway on the 2nd day, the camps are not covered. While all companies provide tents with rain protection, it is challenging to keep the water from seeping from the wet ground. Make sure that you question the companies about how the tackle such situations and whether their equipment is good enough to keep dry.

At Santa Teresa on the 3rd day the camping situation is the same. It is not unusual for budget service trekkers to find their tents too wet to sleep in on rainy nights. It is best to chose a better operator who handles such situations with care or accept the kind of service you pay for.

The 4th night at Aguas Calientes comes with hotel accommodation likely having a shower facility, depending on the type of hotel chosen.

Salkantay Trek Lodges

The only lodges built on the remote Salkantay trek are the Mountain Lodges of Peru . A Salkantay lodge to lodge trek will allow you to combine the trekking pleasure without having to compromise on a night’s sleep or comforts of luxury travel. Each day you will enjoy accommodation in the exquisitely designed mountain lodges true to its Incan roots with amenities ranging from hot showers, fine dining and wine, heated rooms, jacuzzi, satellite telephone, plush bedding and personalized services from hotel staff.

Salkantay Lodge

Salkantay Lodge - 3869 m

Wayra Lodge - 3906 m

Colpa Lodge - 2870 m

Lucma Lodge - 2135 m

Do note that a 7 day itinerary that is slightly different from the one mentioned in this article will be followed. The costs are also significantly higher as compared to standard camping trips to Machu Picchu. For a comparison of costs across the best operators you need to contact several of them online. I will talk more about Salkantay trek prices and some of the best companies later.

Salkantay Trek Difficulty

Salkantay trail is meant for relatively fit people who can walk atleast 10 kms a day with a light backpack on. It is more challenging than the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The first two days are most difficult on the Salkantay Trek. You will cover nearly 35 kms out of which the initial 19 kms are uphill to the Salkantay Pass. And you will climb nearly 1200m vertically from 3400m to 4600m in the first 30 hrs of the trek. The weather will be cold and the air thin, making it quite an intense adventure. Once over the pass it is downhill that will bring a respite to the legs. But there is still a lot of distance to cover until Aguas Calientes. From there to Machu Picchu you can chose to take the bus or hike up the stairs, which is not easy on the muscles. At Machu Picchu you can opt to climb the challenging Huayna Picchu mountain, which can further take the difficulty a notch up.

In summary, the Salkantay Trek from Mollepata to Aguas Calientes is moderately difficult. If you undertake the walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and then scale Huayna Picchu, it becomes more challenging.

A trekker walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail Trek

Below is a comparison between Salkantay and Inca Trail treks on certain parameters. Both the treks have their pros and cons. While Inca Trail is more popular, its popularity should not be mistaken superiority over the Salkantay Trail. I suggest that you compare the various aspects of both routes to see which one suits you better.

 

Salkantay Trek

Inca Trail Trek

Distance

46 miles or 75 kms

26 miles or 42 kms

Duration

5 days

4 days

Maximum Altitude

15200 ft or 4600 m

13800 ft or 4200 m

Overall Difficulty

Not challenging but more difficult than Ica Trail

Moderately difficult

Inca Ruins along the trail

Only Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu & others

Tourist Traffic

Low

High

Natural Scenery

Excellent

Good

Permit for trail

Not required

Required, hence sold out months in advance

Toilets on the trail

Temporary, requires setup

Permanent and cleaned every 2 days

Entrance to Machu Picchu

From below

From above, emerging directly at Inti Punku Sun Gate

Great views during Salkantay Trek

Salkantay Trek Weather

Below is a month wise breakdown of Salkantay trail weather. Note that weather patterns in higher altitudes are unpredictable regardless of the time of the year. In rainy months it is almost certain that there will be a lot of rain or snow, but even in dry season it can rain or snow at any time. Although dry months have sunny and warm days, the night temperatures can plummet to below freezing point. The days, however, are usually clear and have extensive visibility.

Gloomy conditions close to Salkantay Pass

January to February - these are the rainiest months on the Salkantay and Inca Trails. The Peruvian government shuts down the Inca trail for repair, but the Salkantay trail is still open. It is best to avoid trekking it due to very wet weather conditions.

March to April - although the Inca trail reopens, the rains still continue and make the treks impossible at higher reaches due to excessive snow and cold weather. The end of April will already start becoming drier and thus a good time to do Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu.

May to October - this is the dry season. Although the days are nice and sunny the temperatures are cold since it is winter time in southern hemisphere. May is a particularly good month to trek since the recently abated rains will have made the landscape lush green. The crowds are also very thin in this month. June onwards it starts becoming busy in Cusco, particularly towards the end as it is time for the Sun festival of Inti Raymi. A lot of tourists flock to Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail is usually full. The Salkantay Trek alternative is a great option to beat the crowds.

Green trails on Salkantay Trek during May

July and August is holiday season in Peru and the locals join in the foreign tourists as they head towards the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu. It is best to avoid this bustling timeframe if you are looking for a quiet time in your holiday. September continues to be a very popular time or tourists due to the warm and dry days. Alternative Inca trails like the Salkantay trek or the Lares trek are still not crowded.

Locals in traditional costumes during Inti Raymi Festival during late June

October starts seeing the crowds wane down. With the warm and dry weather still lasting, October along with May is one of the best time to visit Machu Picchu. Needless to say, Salkantay trek is an excellent choice during this month.

November to December - the rains will have returned by November. However, the tourist inflow is still not less, particularly with the holiday season coming up. The Inca Trail permits are relatively easier to obtain for these months, but the prices of hotels rise up due to the high demand.

Salkantay Trek Temperature

You can find live weather forecast and temperatures along the Salkantay Trail here . The first two days of the trek are the coldest since you climb really high. The 3 day onwards the temperatures warm up since you enter cloud forests.

Cusco average temperature

Salkantay Trekking Company

Given the extensive popularity of the Inca Trails to Machu Picchu, a lot of tour operators have cropped up to service the demand. In 2016, there were 195 officially registered operators licensed to conduct Inca Trail treks. Most of them are also listed with reviews on Tripadvisor. But almost all companies with excellent ratings increase their prices banking on their reputations and brand names. If you are undecided about the trip or need help to book Salkantay Trek, contact us and we will help.

From my extensive experience in researching, emailing and calling about 50 different companies, I can safely say that there are 3 types of operators operating this trail. A detailed comparison Salkantay Trekking Companies and Salkantay Trek prices are below.

 

Budget operators

Mid range operators

Luxury operators

Cost of 5 day Salkantay trek

US$ 280 to US$ 400

US$ 450 to US$ 850

US$ 1800 to US$ 3500

Hotel at Cusco

-

Not included or standard hotel

4 or 5 star hotel

Transport to trailhead

Public bus

Private car or minivan

Private car

Starting point

Mollepata

Mollepata

Marcoccasa or Soraypampa, which are further than Mollepata

Equipment quality

OK

Good to Excellent

Excellent

Sleeping mattress

Thin pads

Inflatable mattresses

Air bed or lodge accommodation

Toilets

Nature’s call

Nature’s call

Portable chemical toilets

Showers on trail

-

-

Included

Drinks

Water, tea or coffee

Water, hot tea or coffee

Non alcoholic beverages and a selection of alcoholic drinks

Porterage

-

7 kgs

7 kgs

Porter welfare

Poor

OK to Good

Excellent

Hotel at Aguas Calientes

Budget

Standard

Boutique, 4 or 5 star

Train used from Aguas Calientes to Cusco

Regular service train

Regular service train or first class Vistadome

Luxury Hiram Bingham Express

Group Size

Large (15+ people)

Medium to large (12+)

Usually private tours

Salkantay Trek Packing List

High altitude treks require layered clothing. This is highly relevant in Salkantay trek due to the various climatic zones you will pass by on the trail. The layered clothing concept is explained in our blog for Kilimanjaro climb packing list , another bucket list adventure.

Essential clothing

Essential accessories

Optional items

Cusco - Gateway of Inca Trails to Machu Picchu

Cusco, the ancient capital city of the Incas, is the gateway to the Inca ruins and archaeological wonders that lie sprinkled around it. The city has a long history dating back to 1200 AD. One can find a juxtaposition of centuries of Spanish influence and Incan culture, which remains deeply entwined within the fabric of this region.

One of the first things you will notice when you land at Cusco is the rarified air. Situated at 3360m altitude, Cusco is one of the highest cities in the world. I suggest that you take is easy the first 2 days so that you can get used to the altitude. To know why head over to the section on altitude sickness in this article.

You will also notice the contrast between indigenous styles and the modern world. Another curious sight is the Inca wall made out of huge carved blocks of granite fitting perfectly without the aid of mortar. The Incan ingenuity at building anti seismic buildings are the only reason their constructions are still in tact despite years of earthquakes, whereas the Spanish colonial architecture has been destroyed and rebuilt several times.  

How to get to Cusco

There are 3 ways to reach Cusco, the ‘archaeological capital of the world’.

Plaza de Armas Cusco

1. Flying from Lima to Cusco

This is the quickest and the most expensive. Direct and 1 stop flights go from Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima to Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco several times a day.

Several airlines fly this route such as Latam , Peruvian , Avianca , TACA , Star Peru and LC Peru . Most Lima to Cusco flights depart in the morning and early afternoon. The reason is that relatively clear skies in the morning help pilots navigate over the looming Andes towards the high perch of the city.

Arial view of Andes when flying from Lima to Cusco

The cost of tickets depends on how early you book and the fuel prices. As an indication the return flights can cost anywhere between US$ 140 and US$ 500. You can find a comparison across many websites such as::

You can find arrival and departure information below for the respective airports.

2. Taking bus from Lima to Cusco

Consider this option if you are on a tight budget, have more time at hand or just want to experience one of the craziest bus rides in the world. This journey will take you about 22 to 26 hours of riding dizzying heights, hairpin bends and rugged roads.

There are a few bus companies operating this route such as Tespa , Superciva , Excluciva , Econociva , Oltursa and Cruz Del Sur . You will find a comparison of their prices here . They can cost US$40 and up for a one way ride.

Sacred Valley and the winding roads on hills

Options range from budget to highly comfortable ones. For instance, the Cruz Del Sur and Excluciva are the most reputable and comfortable services with 160 to 180 degree reclining seats, LCD screens, air conditioned buses, chemically treated toilets, wifi and meals on board. Read about the exact details here , but do note that you will sometimes hear travelers complain about amenities not working on board. I recommend you read up the latest state of play online before buying a ticket.

3. Combine bus ride and train travel

Travel by bus from Lima to Arequipa . This journey takes about 17 hrs. From there, you must take either a 6 to 7 hr bus or a train connection to Puno, a highland town situated alongside Lake Titicaca. Thereafter you can book a train ride with PeruRail from Puno to Cusco. The train portion of the journey lasts around 8 or 9 hours or more and is run by PeruRail .

The train journey is recommend as one of the highest and most scenic routes in the world. However, it can be very expensive with cheapest bunk bed cabins costing north of USD 500 for Puno to Cusco route, inclusive of meals and drinks on board this luxury train. Exact service details can be found here .

Views from the Andean Explorer Train

Cusco Altitude

Cusco is nestled at 3399m on the Andean mountains. If you are flying in from sea level or low lying areas the difference in altitude can be significant from one day to another. And this can be a recipe for AMS or acute mountain sickness, which can ruin your holiday. Fortunately there are precautions that can be taken to prevent the symptoms. Having said that altitude sickness can affect even the fittest of people. The same person who did not experience AMS in her previous visit to high altitude regions can experience it on her next visit. In summary, you can never know whether you will feel it or not, and it is always advisable to be safe than sorry.

Panoramic view of Cusco and surrounding mountains

Altitude sickness or AMS

Altitude sickness a common problem you will encounter to some degree or another when trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or doing the Salkantay trek. Altitude sickness occurs when the body fails to adapt to the thinner air on higher altitudes. Almost everyone will experience the symptoms of altitude sickness unless their bodies have acclimatized to the change in altitude!

AMS stands for Acute Mountain Sickness and is the formal name for altitude sickness. Since the air is thinner at heights, it requires more breaths to fill your lungs with oxygen. If the air is 40% thinner, you will need almost twice as many breaths as you would at sea level! Your body, having failed to adapt, tries a second method of breathing faster to get more oxygen to your vital organs - your brain, your heart, your muscles. When your vital organs don’t get enough oxygen, they malfunction.

AMS is usually classified into three categories, depending on the severity. Mild, moderate or severe. Most Salkantay trek climbers will experience some form of mild or moderate AMS. There are a few rules that you must simply follow to allow your body the time it needs to acclimatize. Remember to not compare your situation to others around you since you may react very differently to high altitudes than others. Below are a few precautionary measures to prevent altitude sickness when you want to do the Salkantay trek or the classic Inca Trail Trek.

  • Rest for a few hours immediately after arrival at Cusco. Whether this means staying at your hotel or sitting at a restaurant or cafe, or even calling it an early day.

  • Take it easy in Cusco. Spend at least 1 to 2 days getting used to the rarified atmosphere. Explore the markets and the surrounding Inca ruins without exerting yourself.

  • Buy Diamox, a pill to reduce the symptoms of AMS, and take it before your flight to Cusco or after landing. You can buy these at home before traveling to Cusco.

  • Drink a lot of water, atleast 2 liters daily, so that you present becoming dehydrated and adding to the symptoms of AMS.

  • Breathe deeply to compensate for the reduced oxygen levels.

Symptoms of AMS - Mild AMS feels like a bad hangover. Headache, nausea, a bad mood and lack of appetite are common symptoms. Moderate AMS is more serious. Those suffering from moderate AMS will be constantly out of breath, may throw up and the headache is splitting and will not abate.

If anyone is suffering from severe AMS, DESCEND to lower altitudes IMMEDIATELY. Besides those mentioned above, symptoms include slurred speech, sleepiness, confusion and coordination problems. One of the ways this is treated is the Gamow Hyperbaric Bag ( which increases the pressure inside and thus mimics the pressure at lower altitude ). Good Salkantay trek companies usually carry this with them.

You can also read more about Altitude sickness and it’s prevention here .

Things to do in Cusco Peru

Before you embark on Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, I recommend that you let your body acclimatize in Cusco for reasons stated above. This will ensure that you keep well on this Peru holiday. It will also allow you to experience the rich surroundings of Cusco city, which some travelers do not account for since their focus is on the trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Below are some highlights of Cusco and its surroundings.

Peruvian dancers at the parade in Cusco

Cusco Cathedral

Situated at the centre of Cusco, this church was built by the Spanish in the 16th century as an intentional desecration of the Inca Palace of Viracocha. It stands where the temple (same as the palace since the Inca society worshipped their rulers) of the Incas once stood. Their effort was aimed at uprooting the Inca religion from Cusco and replacing it with Spanish Catholicism.

Main cathedral in Cusco, Peru

Plaza de Armas

This is Cusco’s bustling main square , that covers part of the once Inca square of Huakaypata. It has many a gardens, restaurants and hosts the city’s most important gatherings such as the Inca Festival of the Sun and the religious procession of Corpus Christi. Plenty of vendors will try to sell you local handicrafts and pullovers made out of local Alpaca wool. They can be pretty persistent, so be prepared to ignore them should they get on your nerves. The nightlife is quite vibrant with a selection of good bars and clubs to go to.

Plaza de Armas and Church of the Society of Jesus

Qorikancha

This Incan ruin literally translates to the “Court of Gold”. It was the richest temple built throughout the Incan empire with walls covered in real gold and statues of plants and animals made out of precious metal. None of this wealth remains as it was looted and melted away by the Spanish or given as ransom for the captive Inca ruler Atahualpa.

Once the temple came under Spanish rule, the church of Santo Domingo was constructed over it using stones from the temple building. Not all the Inca architecture was destroyed, and it is estimated that 40% of the church is the original temple . This makes ones of the best examples of traditional and modern architecture juxtaposition, instances of which you will see throughout Cusco.

Lonely Planet recommends that if there was only one place you could visit in Cusco, then you should visit the Qorikancha.

Qorikancha ruins and convent Santo Domingo

Sacred Valley

Tucked about 15 kms away from Cusco, the Sacred Valley of the Incas was an important site for the Inca civilization not only because of its fertile plain but also as it provided a protective cushion against the warring tribes living in the jungles.

A lot of our companies offer Sacred Valley Tours (day trips) that showcase the famed Pisac market and the archaeological sites of Ollantaytambo and Chinchero. You can also visit the Pisac ruins on the same trip but that will leave you less time at the Pisac market instead.

View of Sacred Valley from Pisac ruins near Cusco, Peru

These day trips can cost anywhere between US$ 15 to U$ 30 for group travel, excluding lunch and entrance tickets. The entrance can be paid for by buying the official Boleto Turistico which covers fees to various sites. The full ticket costs 170 Soles whereas the partial circuit tickets cost 70 Soles. The price is reduced for students 70 Soles for the full ticket - but you must get your official student card to avail this offer. Departures are usually on the market days of Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.

In order to make the experience more immersive and less rushed, I recommend that you devote 2 days to the Sacred valley. On day one you can cover the Pisac market and Pisac ruins. On the next day visit the Inca village and fortress of Ollantaytambo and the Quechua village of Chinchero.

Pisac Village and Market

Pisac is situated at 1 hour bus ride from Cusco. Buses ply every 15 minutes and cost about US$ 2 one way. It is a pretty village best known for its colourful and bustling market that is set up every Sunday, although smaller versions of this are open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Locals from around the valley gather to sell handicrafts and Alpaca wool products. Although thousands of tourists flock here every week, the Pisac market continues to be popular and has not lost its charm. Most people keep to the stalls but I would recommend you to walk down where the locals dye the Alpaca wool and make threads out of it.

Pisac Market, Sacred Valley, Cusco

Pisac Ruins

Public transport does not go up to the Pisac ruins. You must hike there or hire a taxi which should cost about US$ 10 one way. The entrance fees is included in Boleto Turistico ticket. The hike takes 2 hrs to complete, and offers a spectacular view on the valley. The intricate stone work on the ruins rivals that found in Machu Picchu ruins.

Pisac Ruins in Peru's Sacred Valley

Ollantaytambo

The fortress ruin at Ollantaytambo was once the site of a major battle between the Spanish and the Incas, and one of the only ones where the Incas were able to defeat the colonialists. It is also the most common starting point for trekking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or catching the train to Aguas Calientes.

Ollantaytambo ruins in Sacred Valley

It is 60 kms from Cusco and the journey takes between 70 to 90 minutes depending on the mode of transport and traffic. Locals buses start from the bus terminal at Grau Street where you must take the bus to Urubamba. Bus may be cheaper but it takes longer and is not very comfortable.

Instead we recommend taking a shared taxi, locally called “colectivo” from the taxi stand at Pavitos street. This will cost about US$ 3 to US$ 5 each way. The taxis run as soon as they are full, and usually run throughout the day.

Chinchero

Situated high above at 3700m, this village, located 8 km from Cusco, is yet another establishment that combines Inca ruins with a church and has a bustling Sunday market that is far less busy than its counterpart in Pisac. The views of overlooking the Sacred Valley and the imposing presence of Salkantay mountain make this place quite beautiful.

Although, if you have just landed in Cusco, I will advice you not to visit this lofty village due to lack of acclimatization. The entrance to the ruins is part of the Boleto Turistico ticket.

The ruins of the palace of the Incas in Chinchero, Cuzco, Peru at sunset.

Tambomachay

Situated 7 kms from Cusco, Tambomachay or the Inca Baths is located on the road to Pisac. It is a complex of canals and aqueducts. No one knows the purpose of this building, but it is quite peaceful and was likely meant as a place of worship of the Water God.

You can get there by taking a shared taxi or colectivo from Plaza de Armas. The cost for the round trip will be about US$ 18. Do note that you may have to ask the taxi to wait unless you want to hike back.

Tambomachay archaeological site near Cuzco. Devoted to God of water.

Sacsayhuaman

The temple fortress of Sacsayhuaman was the largest structure built by the Incas. It is yet another example of the mastery of the Inca architects over stone masonry. This fortress has 3 massive walls zigzagging parallelly for 600m across, probably meant as a line of defence. Recent excavations of objects of ritual importance have led to the belief that Sacsayhuaman may have been a ceremonial site dedicated to the God of lightening, and not just a fortress.

Sacsayhuaman is a walled complex on the northern outskirts of the city of Cusco

Today it is the site of reenactment of the Inca festival of Inti Raymi, although sun rituals performed by local believers can be seen throughout the year.

Sacsayhuaman is located just 1 km from Cusco. You can take a taxi from Plaza de Armas or hike up. Account for 15 to 30 min to walk since the route can be quite steep in certain sections. From the ruins you will be able to see the entire city of Cusco.

This image was shot in Cusco, Peru during the Inti Rami festival and shows several participants running with rainbow flags

Q'enko

Part of the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park, but much less visited than the Sacsayhuaman, the Q’enko was a ritual performing site for the Incas. The is not much to be seen here, other that some carvings on the walls, but that does not diminish the importance of this religious site. It is believed that sacrifices and mummification were carried out here.

Q'enko, located at the edge of the Archaeological Park of Sacsayhuaman, on a small hill called Socorro, is a temple or oracle.

The Q’enko lies a bit further ahead than Sacsayhuaman, about 6 kms from Cusco.

Peru VISA

Do I need visa for Peru?

According to my knowledge there are no countries that do not require a Peru Visa. Citizens of a lot of countries are allowed to obtain visa, which is just getting an entry stamp on passport, on arrival in Peru. These are:

  • North America: Citizens of the United States, Canada and Mexico

  • Central America: Citizens of most Central American countries (exception Costa Rica, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic)

  • South America: Citizens of all South American countries

  • Europe: Citizens of all countries within the European Union and Switzerland

  • Africa: Citizens of South Africa

  • Asia: Citizens of Brunei, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand

  • Oceania: Citizens of Australia and New Zealand

Traveling to Peru is easy for most people around the world.

Citizens of all countries other than in the above list must procure a visa prior to entry in Peru, either at the Peruvian Embassy in their country of residence or the nearest Peruvian Consulate .

Tourist VISA requirements for Peru

Make sure that you are covered on all the points below. This list may not be exhaustive, so please consult the latest information on your local Peruvian consulate website / office.

  • A valid passport with at least 6 months more before expiry date.

  • The passport must have at least 2 pages free in the visa section

  • Completed application form

  • Round trip ticket that clearly shows your entry and exit dates in Peru

  • Hotel reservation or travel package confirmation with a local tour agency or a letter of invitation

  • Proof of sufficient funds in your bank account - a 3 to 6 month bank transaction data is the proof that is usually required

  • Passport size photos

  • Application fee - check with your local consulate

Have at least 2 pages free on your passport!

Do note that the Peru visa is non-extendable, single entry visa that grants you entry upto a maximum of 183 days. The customs officer has the right to stamp the number of days of stay he deems you will require in Peru, which is usually 90 for US citizens.

Vaccinations for Peru

Generally vaccinations are not mandatory to visit Peru. The exception is when you are visiting from countries where yellow fever is endemic, when you will be required to take the yellow fever injection.

Are you well vaccinated for travels?

Routine vaccinations such as MMR, tetanus, chickenpox are recommended. Additionally hepatitis A and typhoid is recommended as a safety measure against contaminated drinking water and food.

You should consult your doctor before visiting.