SALCANTAY TO MACHU PICCHU 101

FUN facts, CLIMATE, WILDLIFE, Quechua + SPANISH BASICS AND trekking tips.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW, SO YOU DON'T FEEL LOST MAKING YOUR WAY TO THE LOST CITY OF THE INCAS!

 

The Salcantay trek is an off the beaten path option for hiking to Machu Picchu that's less crowded (and more beautiful in our humble opinion) than the famous and wildly popular Inca Trail. We’ve compiled all the basics to help you get as prepped for your epic hiking adventure through the Peruvian Andes to the lost city of Machu Picchu!

fun and fast SALCANTAY FACTS: Did you know...
 

  • This hike is known for being the most scenic route to Machu Picchu with everything from snow capped glaciers to mossy cliffs to lush rainforests.

  • The word Salcantay means "Savage Mountain" in Quechuan, a language native to the area that many locals still speak today.

  • On this route you get an exclusive view of the backside of Machu Picchu from Llactapata, ancient Incan ruins that were once used as a stopover before reaching the lost city. 

  • National Geographic Adventure Magazine named the Salcantay one of the 25 Best Treks in the World! Check out their amazing footage here for a sneak peek of what's in store.

The Highs and Lows: Geography of the TRAIL

 

  • Salcantay mountain is the highest peak of the Willkapampa mountain range, and one of the highest peaks in the Peruvian Andes at 6,271 m (20,569 ft). In between the tall, rigid Humantay and Salcantay glacier mountains there is a lush valley full of rainforest wildlife.

  • The Salcantay trek is approximately 20 miles long and has an approximate vertical gain of 1,800 m (5,900 ft).

  • The Salcantay trek is the highest route to Machu Picchu. On day two, you'll reach a height of 4,600 m (15,200 ft) when hiking through the beautiful Salcantay pass, whereas the Inca trail peaks at 4,215 m (13,828 ft). 

  • Unlike the traditional summit climb, the direction of your destination is not vertical. You will trek through a series of ups, downs, twists, and turns before a final descent into the lost city. 


WEATHER +CLIMATE: WHEN TO GO + WHAT TO EXPECT
 

The Salcantay trek to Machu Picchu can be taken year round, but rainy season is typically December - February so we highly recommend the drier months of March - November. April/May and October/November is the sweet spot; when you'll avoid the rain and the bigger crowds at Machu Picchu. We offer not one, but two awesome early springtime Salcantay hikes for that very reason!

Temperatures throughout the year follow a very consistent pattern: days are warm (highs are in the 70s F/20s C on average) and chilly at night through the early morning (lows are in the 40s F/5s C on average). As you'd expect, the temperatures get cooler as you ascend, and warmer and more humid at the lower altitudes in the Andean rainforest. For that reason, it's especially important that you are prepared for changing temperatures and pack smart...


PACKING TIPS: What to BRING
 

The most important thing to think about when gearing up for a Salcantay trek is LAYERING! You will want warm clothing in the mornings and evenings when it's chilly, but be ready to strip down in the afternoon when temperatures are highest. Light layers to throw on and off come in handy as you ascend to high, windy passes and descend into cool shaded valleys. Wools and dry-fit clothing are our favorite! Tip: shy away from cotton and stick to wool and/or synthetic garments that, unlike cotton, will wick away moisture. Check out our packing guide for a full run down of what we recommend you bring:


Health and Safety: Healthy hikers are happy hikers

At WHOA, health and safety are our top priority! Here are some tips to make your trip over the Salcantay glacier and into the lost city of Machu Picchu as safe, happy, and successful as possible:

TAKE TIME TO ACCLIMATIZE

Because of the significant altitude changes on this trail we recommend taking at least 1 day in Cusco (3,400 m) to acclimatize before beginning your journey on the Salcantay. Before you leave, talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for Diamox to help with altitude sickness (you can also purchase it once you arrive in Cusco). 

AGUA! AGUA! AGUA!

Once you're on the trail, be sure to drink lots of water! Staying hydrated will keep your energy levels up and is the best way to deter any side effects you might feel from the altitude. You can also drink coca tea, a natural energizer made from coca leaves that the locals swear by.

EVERYTHING UNDER THE SUN

Protect your skin by applying (and reapplying) sunscreen and lip balm everyday. Even if it's chilly out, you'll be at high altitudes, close to the equator, and the sun is no joke and winds are intense. Don’t forget polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes, and bring an extra pair if you are someone who tends to lose them!

NO NEED FOR SPEED!

Don’t force yourself to walk faster than your body wants to. Talk to your guides and let your them know how you're feeling, and know that our WHOA Peru crew is 100% dedicated to keeping you happy and healthy! If you do not feel comfortable with the hiking pace, but want to keep up with the group, don’t be afraid to ask for the help of a horse or mule - and enjoy the ride!


A Motley Crew: we're in this together! 
 

The Salcantay is one of the most secluded routes to Machu Picchu, and sharing the experience with others gives you extra support and company which will only make it that much better! In our opinion, the best way to tackle this route is with a team of local, experienced professionals who will ensure the trek is as efficient and safe as possible. Not to mention, seeing the mountains through the eyes of a native is the best way to get to know the local culture. We never underestimate the power and positive energy that comes out of having a strong team! Here's a breakdown of who will be with you along the way:

PORTERS

A porter is a person employed to carry the luggage, food, equipment up along the trails. They will be assisted by horses and mules who will carry the heavy stuff!  Don’t feel bad about hiring a porter, most rely on the tourism industry for their income and have grown up trekking these trails. At WHOA, we adhere to the Peruvian Porter's Laws to ensure our crew is provided with tip top workings conditions and earns adequate wages. 

GUIDES

Trained in wilderness safety and full of wisdom about the history and geography of the region, guides will be your fearless leaders on the tail. We are lucky to have Elizabeth (aka "Mama Sherpa") as our lead mountain guide! She's a local Peruvian who's been hiking through the Andes her whole life, and her wild wondrous spirit and extensive knowledge of the region bring so much to each of our adventures! 

COOKS

There are no grocery stores or restaurants along the trail, so it's necessary to have a mountain chef or two on the trek! They have the special permits (and skills) needed to create amazing meals on the trail that will keep you full of energy. On our WHOA trek, you can expect healthy and fresh local cuisine everyday...get ready for the best guacamole of your life!


Machu Picchu and the Legacy of the Incas
 

Machu Picchu is a spiritual site built by the Incan Empire between 1438 AD - 1532 AD, during their short 100 year reign. Although the Inca themselves were a small ethnic group, they gained control over more than 12 million people from 100 different cultures in an area stretching over 2,500 miles! When the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s, the Inca made the decision to abandon their holy city to preserve its architecture and beauty. As the Inca hoped, Machu Picchu was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors invading the region in the early 1500s. It wasn’t until 1911, 300 years after it had been abandoned, that French-American explorer Hiram Bingham came across the “lost city” as he was searching for the hidden capital city of Vilcabamba, located 50 miles north. Because the Incas left no written history, most of what we know about Machu Picchu comes from archaeological finds. Here are some fun facts about the history and mystery of Machu Picchu and the Legacy of the Incas:

GIRL POWER!

Coya, the Inca queen, played an integral role in ceremonies and was expected to take over for her husband if he was indisposed. She was representative of the moon, and the emperor represented the sun.

SPIRITUALITY ABOVE ALL

Machu Picchu sits in the shadows of two mountains, Montana Picchu and Huayna Picchu, that were used by the Incas for worship and sacrifice.  Huayna Picchu is home to the Temple of the Moon which is carved into rock an believed to preserve the mummified bodies of Machu Picchu’s leaders. 

IT'S IN THE STARS

Some researchers believe Machu Picchu was built as an astronomical observatory, and the site’s multiple observation points suggest that the Incas worshipped the sun. Twice a year, the sun sits directly over the sacred Intihuatana stone with no shadow. 

YOU'VE GOT MAIL

Because the Inca did not have a written language, they were extremely skilled verbal communicators. They had postal system where relay messengers would run across rope bridges to deliver communications to the next team on the other side. 

BUILT TO LAST

The Inca’s did not use draft animals, iron tools, or the wheel in the construction of Machu Picchu. It was constructed atop two fault lines, so without the Incan ingenuity, many of the best known buildings at Machu Picchu would’ve crumbled long ago!

WHAT'S FOR DINNER?

The Inca’s drank a beer called Chicha made from fermented maize, and they commonly ate guinea pigs, or cuy, that fed on plants and kitchen scraps inside their homes


TREKKING TIPS: HOW TO HIKE #LIKEWHOA

  • It’s about the journey. Going slowly will keep you safe, happy and healthy by allowing your body to adjust to the daily altitude increases. Not to mention, it gives you the chance to really take in all the stunning scenery!

  • Get to know the other trekkers and your crew. You're all taking an incredible journey - one that’s made exponentially better because you're sharing it with each other. Don’t forget that together, you have a collective strength that will get you through even the toughest times!

  • Be humbled. We live in an amazingly beautiful world! You're at the mercy of mother nature when you're on an adventure like this, and that’s a beautiful thing  (one that we too often forget in our daily lives)! Even when you choose the best season, the weather can be unpredictable. So while we all hope for the best, be prepared for the worst. It’s all a part of the adventure - embrace it!
     
  • Take time every day to be alone with nature reflect on where you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.  Setting aside moments away from others (and electronics) will help you recharge and keep perspective.

  • But don't forget to capture the moments you wish to savor most! Bring a camera and extra batteries. Camera batteries freeze and won’t work in cold temperatures, so keep them warm by sleeping with them in your sleeping bag at night...you don’t want to miss any photo ops!


SALCANTAY WILDLIFE
 

The bio-corridor between Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and the lowland Amazon forest is exceptionally diverse, and possesses an astounding array of plant and animal life. We're talking over 370 different species of birds, 47 different types of mammals over 300 types of orchids - if that isn't diverse we don't know what is! Here are a few of the notable residents you're going to want to keep an eye out for while hiking the Salcantay: 

COCK OF THE ROCK

With their vibrant orange and scarlet feathers, you can't miss the males of this native Andean bird species. They have a large half-moon shaped lump of feathers on their head that's used to attract females, and are known to be aggressive for their gals! In fact, they got their name because they have loud and aggressive mating habits similar to roosters, or cocks. 

BUTTERFLies

Peru is home to the largest array of butterflies in the whole entire world - over 3,700 different species! Needless to say, you'll see many different shapes and sizes of these beautiful creatures flittering and floating through the air along the trail. The great diversity in species is attributed to the varying climate zones the Salcantay trek covers. Keep an eye out for the rare and exotic sapphire blue Callithea, which can only be found in South America.

SPECTACLED BEAR

These shy mammals like to hide out in the trees of the Andean cloud forests. They get their name from black circles around their eyes that look a lot like eyeglasses, or spectacles. They're fluffy and friendly, and barely ever walk along the trails...however, one of these guys was recently spotted taking a tour of his own around the ruins of Machu Picchu, can't say we blame him!

LLAMAS

These adorable guys belong to the camel family, and are now considered South American natives. They have a pretty amazing history that dates back about 40 million years! They used to live in the central plains of North America, but, during the ice age, they migrated down to South America and started residing in the Andean Mountains. They were domesticated in the highlands of Peru by the Inca where they were worshipped and named “silent brothers."  They still play a huge role in life in the region, and so you can expect to see lots of them hanging around Machu Picchu and in towns along your journey. 


QUECHUA BASICS
 

Quechua is the ancient Incan language, and, to this day, is still the most widely spoken Amerindian language, with over 8 million speakers. In Peru alone, a quarter of the population speaks Quechua, and about a third of the Quechua speakers speak no Spanish. The name Cusco means navel and Machu Picchu means old peak or old mountain. The term Inca means ruler, or lord, in Quechua, and was used to refer to the ruling class or the ruling family in the empire. Some English words, like coca, condor, guano, gaucho, jerky, lima (bean), llama, puma and quinoa, are derived from Quechua. Here are some basic words and phrases that might come in handy on your adventure through the ancient Incan empire:

sun
inti

moon
killa

star
qoyllor

cloud
phuyu

snow
rit'i

tree
malki

flower

t'ika/waita

hello
imanallya

goodbye! (until later!)
cayacama

good morning
alli puncha (A-jee POON-cha)

good evening
alli chishi (A-jee CHEE-shee)

good night
allin tuta (A-jeen TUU-taa)

How are you?
Imanallatac canqui? (EE-mah-nah-YA-tahk CAHNG-ee)

My name is ______ .
Nukaka ___mi kani. (Nyoo-KAH-kah ___-me KAHN-ee)


SPANISH BASICS

Let’s go! 
Vámonos

Nice to meet you!
Mucho gusto!

I’m sorry
Lo siento

drinking water
agua potable

friend
amigo

How do you say...in Spanish? 
¿Cómo se dice...en Español?

My name is... 
Me llamo... 

Hi, how are you? 
Hola , cómo estás

very good
muy bien

goodbye! 
adiós!

good evening! 
¡ buenas noches ! 

please
por favor

thank you very much
muchas gracias

you’re welcome
de nada