Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail: Compare Hikes to Machu Picchu 

Know the difference of the 2 most popular treks to Machu Picchu to choose the best one for you!

You’ve almost finished planning out your trip to Peru, the only thing left to do is decide how you’ll visit Machu Picchu. Out of all the options, you’re debating over two: Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail.

Deciding between the two hikes can be difficult, as they both offer different experiences and scenery on the route. To help you out, we’ve created this comprehensive guide to help you choose the best one.

Salkantay Trek vs Inca Trail: Quick comparison

Inca TrailSalkantay Trek
Duration2 or 4 days4 or 5 days
Distance7 mi (12km) / 27 mi (44km)29 mi (47km) / 35 mi (56km)
Highest altitude13,830 feet (4,215m)15,090 feet (4,600m)
AvailabilityBooks out months in advanceCan book 1 to 2 months in advance

Scenery & highlights

Both of these treks have lots to offer when it comes down to scenery and highlights, it all just boils down to what you’re looking for. 

The Inca Trail brings you along several types of Andean landscapes including the lush cloud forest, alpine tundra, astonishing mountain passes and Inca Ruins such as Llactapata, Sayaqmarka, Phuyupatamarca. And the best part of it all, being the first to arrive to Machu Picchu at dawn through the Sun Gate, the original entrance that the Incas went through.

The Salkantay Trek, named one of the world’s most beautiful treks by National Geographic, is an experience like no other. Although offering just a few ruins, it makes up for it’s scenery. You’ll go through snow-topped glaciers, cloud forest, rainforest and jungle while also visiting the Humantay Lake and going through the famed Salkantay Pass. Since this route is less crowded than the Inca Trail, the possibility of seeing foxes, deer, chinchillas, spectacled bears and other wildlife is more common.


Compared to other tour options, including the Inca Jungle Trek, both these hikes require a decent level of physical fitness and proper acclimatization beforehand. 

The Inca Trail is the easier of the two and is considered of moderate level. On the 4-day trail, you cover a total of 26 miles (44 km) in a span of six to nine hours of hiking per day, the most difficult part being when you go through Dead Woman’s Pass. An even easier option is the 2-day trail, which is perfect for those who still want to experience some hiking while visiting the Inca Sites without the demand of the 4-day option.

Salkantay Trek is more strenuous, covers more distance and reaches a maximum altitude of 4,600 meters (15,090 feet). The terrain also tends to be steeper, more rugged and colder than the Inca Trail and you face different environments throughout the hike. This option is best for experienced hikers looking for an exciting challenge.

Availability & best time to go

When choosing between the Salkantay Trek and the Inca Trail, availability can play a huge factor, depending on when you’re booking.

Being the most popular route to Machu Picchu, and one of the world’s most famous treks, the Inca Trail needs to be booked far in advance. The trail has a strict limit of only 200 permits (tourists) allowed per day. It’s strongly recommended to book at least 6 to 8 months in advance.

Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek has no limit on the number of people allowed on the route and is less crowded. Booking is much easier and is recommended to do it with just a few months in advance. 

The dry season between May and October is the best time to go on any of the hikes, July being the busiest of months. The rainy season goes from November to April, but don’t worry, you still have a pretty good chance to have nice weather before January.

It’s important to note that the Inca Trail is closed every February, the wettest month, to go through maintenance.

Which is best for you: Salkantay Trek vs. Inca Trail

Altogether, both treks offer great experiences in different ways. It now just depends on what you’re looking for and taking into account a few things.

The Inca Trail is best for history buffs and those who don’t mind a busier path. You’ll be hiking the original trail that the Incas once did during their reign. Discovering Inca sites along the way, learning about the Inca Empire and have the first glimpse of Machu Picchu at dawn. Just remember to book at least 6 months in advance!

If what you’re looking for is an off-the-beaten path and unforgettable landscapes, Salkantay Trek is the one for you. Less crowded, different terrains and wildlife are just some of the things you’ll enjoy on this trek before arriving at Machu Picchu. Just remember to prepare for this trek, as it’s more difficult.

Finally, you have any questions regarding the Inca Trail or Salkantay Treks, you can always contact us! We’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Hope to see you on the trail soon!