Hiking Machu Picchu on your own is at the top of many bucket lists. Yet, many see the cost of the Inca trail with tour guides — usually ranging from $500-$900 — and are immediately put off by it.
Sure, you can take the train. But, you want the whole experience of hiking and making it worthwhile. You’re also not trying to break the bank, though.
The Inca Trail has become highly regulated and expensive to hike. Thus, hikers have turned to other, cheaper options.
If you’ve ever wondered, “Can you visit Machu Picchu without a guide?” The answer is yes!
This post will show you how YOU can hike Machu Picchu on your own, and save money while doing it.
And that’s by taking the Salkantay Trail.
Things to know before hiking Machu Picchu on your own
There are a few questions I’ll answer in this section. They are:
- Can you hike Machu Picchu without a guide?
- Is the Salkantay Trek dangerous?
- What’s the Salkantay Trek map look like?
- How long is the Salkantay Trek?
- How high is the Salkantay Pass?
- When is the best time to do the Salkantay Trek?
- How hard is hiking Machu Picchu on your own?
- How do you train for hiking Machu Picchu on your own?
- What should my Salkantay Trek packing list look like?
Let’s dive into them.
Can you hike Machu Picchu without a guide?
Yes! And it’s very easy to do. The path is easy-to-follow, and there are usually many groups you will pass while you hike.
The best part of hiking Machu Picchu on your own is enjoying the beautiful landscapes at your own pace.
Want to zoom through it all and do it quickly? Go on ahead!
Want to take your time, stretching it out even longer to take it all in? Enjoy it!
This guide will tell you exactly how to get to Machu Picchu on the Salkantay Trek.
Is the Salkantay Trek dangerous?
Not at all. The most dangerous part is spraining an ankle or tripping over a tree root.
On the hike, we saw about 40-50 other hikers (most in tour groups). Other than that, it’s farmers and locals who happen to be walking the trail.
The group we went hiking with even joked, “If you manage to get lost, follow the line of tourists.”
It’s a great form of adventure travel if you like it, and it’s safe to do the Salkantay Trek without a guide.
What’s the Salkantay Trek map look like?
How long is the Salkantay Trek?
The Salkantay Trek distance is around 46 miles. The total distance I tracked with my watch was about 40 miles. But, I forgot to start my watch as soon as we began hiking a few times.
How high is the Salkantay Pass?
Across the entire hike, I recorded 7,076 feet of elevation gain. There’s a lot of up and down. But, as you hike the Salkantay Pass on the first day, you will knock much of that out early.
The max elevation is 15,090 feet, which is at the Salkantay Pass.
From here, you can see the highest point of Salkantay Mountain. It’s a beautiful place. So rest and enjoy the view.
After that, you make your way downhill for the rest of the trek as you descend into the Sacred Valley.
The only time after the Pass you will have a fair bit of climbing is the beginning of the third day. But, once you reach that peak, it’s all downhill.
When is the best time to do the Salkantay Trek?
Technically, you can do it year-round. But, it’s advised to do it between March and October. From November to April is the rainy season.
March to October is the dry season, so you avoid rainy days. A little rain isn’t bad, but you want to avoid long, rainy days for enjoyment and safety reasons.
How hard is hiking Machu Picchu on your own?
I would rate hiking the Salkantay Trail as moderate. If you’re of average fitness, you can do it. That’s not to say it won’t be difficult. But many people can do it.
Especially if you do some training.
You will have long days out on your feet, so preparing for that will help greatly.
The first day (which you will read about) is the most difficult. Once you get over that, it’s (mostly) smooth sailing.
How do you train for hiking Machu Picchu on your own?
Get out and hike trails with hills. But, even if you don’t have hills near you, simply spending the time on your feet will do you a world of good.
Pack a backpack with the weight you expect to carry while doing the hike (around 20 pounds). Then, find somewhere to walk around for extended periods.
The idea is to get time on your feet to build up your muscles, tendons, and bones to be ready for hiking.
The first day of the hike provides the most significant difficulty with hills. So, if you can add uphill hiking, you’ll be better off.
You’ll hike 6-8 hours daily on the Salkantay Trek. While you don’t need to be doing this in your training, getting used to a few hours with some weight on your back will help.
You don’t need to be the fittest person to do this. But having a bit of training beforehand will save you a lot of suffering on the trek.
What should my Salkantay Trek packing list look like?
My top Salkantay Trek tip: don’t overthink it, and don’t pack too much.
My girlfriend and I cut a lot of stuff out and still brought too much. Having less weight on your back will pay off when it comes time for the hike. Trust me on this one.
You won’t have porters to help you since you’re doing the Salkantay Trek without a guide, so making your bag lightweight is critical.
I’d recommend the following:
- Two shirts (one base layer, one for lounging)
- Two pairs of pants/shorts (one for hiking, one for lounging)
- 2-3 pairs of underwear (wash between hikes)
- 2-3 pairs of socks (wash between hikes)
- Hiking boots/trail runners
- Small body wash/shampoo
- Laundry soap
- Water bottle
- Camera (not essential)
- Feminine products (if essential)
- A bit of toilet paper
- Sleeping bag (if you plan on staying at campgrounds)
There are plenty of campgrounds along the way. I didn’t do this method, so I won’t cover it. But, there are great write-ups about how to do it with a sleeping bag (saving even more money!)
Things like insect repellent are useful as well but aren’t necessarily essential. You can wear a longer shirt depending on the weather. But, it’s worth considering.
Fitting everything into a nice-sized day pack is perfect. You keep your weight down but also have everything you need easily accessible.
Inca Trail and Salkantay Trek compared
A common question is how the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trail are different. The Inca Trail is the most famous route, after all. But, here are some differences between them.
How different are the Inca Trail and Salkantay Trail?
The Salkantay Trail is arguably more difficult than the Inca Trail. It’s longer and has more elevation gain.
You won’t get to go to places like Dead Woman’s Pass, but the Salkantay Trek has its own beautiful views. For example, the hike to the top of the Salkantay Pass has some of the most stunning views I’ve seen.
The Inca Trail may be more famous, but that doesn’t mean it’s better.
Can you hike the Inca Trail without a guide?
No. You cannot hike the Inca Trail without a guide. The Inca Trail is heavily regulated by the government and has become more so recently.
This regulation is one reason the Inca Trail tour companies can charge higher prices.
Inca Trail cost
To hike the Inca Trail, you must pay between $500-$1,000. It depends on your tour company, how many days, and more options.
So, in addition to your flight, accommodation, and entrance fee to Machu Picchu, you’re looking at a lot of money spent.
Hiking Machu Picchu on your own in 4 days
It takes four days to get to Machu Picchu. The first day you’ll largely spend traveling via bus, colectivo, or car. For the last three days, you will hike.
Day 1: Soraypampa — 1 mile
Cusco to Soraypampa
You have a few options here for your Salkantay Trek itinerary. You can start in Mollepata, where the trek “officially” begins. Or, you can start in Soraypampa, a little further than Mollepata.
We chose to start in Soraypampa, and we’re glad we did.
You’ll start early in Cusco. Head to the Arcopata bus terminal on the corner of Calle Arcopata and Umanchata. This is a short, 10-15 minute walk from Centro Historico.
If you have Maps.me downloaded (which you should), it’s marked on the map.
When you arrive, you’ll see a collection of silver-colored vans. Walk up to the driver and ask them if it’s going to Mollepata. If you speak limited Spanish, an easy question is, “Vas a Mollepata?”
If it’s not the right colectivo, the drivers will point you to the right van.
I’d recommend arriving early (6-7 am) as the colectivo’s don’t operate on a fixed schedule. When they fill up, they set off. So, if you’re like my girlfriend and me, you’d prefer not to miss one of the few options of getting to your starting point.
The ride should cost around 15-20 soles ($4-5), and it takes about three hours.
Mollepata to Soraypampa
This is where you’ll have a decision to make.
You can hike to Soraypampa from Mollepata, which is around a 6-7 mile hike. Many people online have mentioned the trail is hard to find. And, if you’re going to walk along the road, it’s a dull route and potentially dangerous.
The second option is to take a taxi or local truck to Soraypampa.
We chose this option, and I’d recommend forking out extra money for a vehicle to take you.
We met a Spanish woman named Sara on the ride to Mollepata and had agreed to share a taxi with her.
This ride cost us 80 soles total (26 soles/$7 a person). This didn’t include the entrance fee to the park where Humantay Lake is and the beginning of the trek.
The entrance fee is 35 soles per person ($10).
Soraypampa is not a town but more of a conglomeration of sleeping spots. Some places offer tent spots, tent spots with a tent rental, sky dome rooms, and hostel-style rooms.
We had booked an Airbnb in a cabin-style room with a sky view at a campsite called Humantay Sky Lodge.
Part of this was wanting to reduce the amount of cash we had to carry, part wanting privacy, and part was laziness.
So, we paid more than you have to if you’re looking to do this on a tighter budget.
In hindsight, we would have shown up and booked the same room (for a lower price). But, hey, we know for next time.
Cost of amenities
The Spanish woman we hiked with booked a hostel-style room at the same accommodation and paid 25 soles ($7). This was for the room.
For dinner, which consisted of a plate of spaghetti and some tea, it cost 15 soles ($4).
Breakfast, which was bread, scrambled eggs, and soupy-like oatmeal, cost an extra 15 soles ($4).
Wi-Fi is three soles ($0.80) per hour. You must ask the workers for it, and then they’ll give you the password.
The speeds were acceptable for general purposes (browsing the web, social media, etc.)
There was one urinal, toilet, and shower on the men’s side.
The workers told us the shower was “hot,” but Sara denies this claim.
Kaitlyn and I didn’t use the shower, so we can neither confirm nor deny this. But Sara seemed like a pretty trustworthy woman.
Throughout the hike, all hosts will tell you the showers are “caliente.”
It’s hit or miss whether this is true. Good luck.
By skipping the hike from Mollepata to Soraypampa, you allow time to visit Humantay. This cuts down on an extra day’s hiking total and gives you time to enjoy the beauty of this lake!
The hike is a little over a mile to the lake entrance and back. With that mile, you’re going to climb the entire time. You’ll gain a little over 1,000 feet.
But, the view that greets you is worth the effort. I sat here for close to an hour, taking in its aqua waters and snowcapped mountain that created a real-life Bob Ross painting.
Take a jacket as it can get chilly at the top.
Day 1 recap
- Total costs: 130 soles ($35) per person
Day 2: Soraypampa to Collpapampa — 13.5 miles
The second day will initiate you quickly, as it’s the most challenging day of the trek.
In the first four miles, you will climb over 2,200 feet. The elevation makes this day difficult as you’re headed to the Salkantay Pass.
At the peak, you’ll sit at over 15,000 feet above sea level, and the lack of air in your lungs makes it clear.
Unfortunately, I got sick the night before and spent most of the night rushing to and from the bathroom. If you struggle with altitude, I’d recommend adding a day. Altitude sickness is no fun, and the extra day may help.
So, with a stomach illness, full-body fatigue, and trying to avoid a very embarrassing bowel movement, I wouldn’t have minded if a boulder tumbled down and took me out of my misery.
This climb was hell for me. After speaking to other, more healthy individuals, it was hell for them, too.
You should prepare yourself for this climb — mentally and physically.
At the top lies some stunning views. Staggering mountains wear snow like a cloak. Below, greenery dips into a valley before climbing the side of yet another mountain.
It’s breathtaking — in every sense of the word. So, you shouldn’t spend too long at the top (especially if you’re feeling sick) and should start your descent.
And it’s a brutal descent. You’ll drop over 5,500 feet by reaching Collpapampa, about 10 miles from the top of the pass.
Cost of amenities
When you arrive in Collpapampa, head to the small shop near the town entrance. They will sort out your room for you and have a few different options depending on how full they are.
Many tours pre-booked their rooms, giving us the sky dome option. Some Spanish guys — Juan and Aidan — we met and joined up with for the rest of the hike had a standard room with two beds.
The price included everything, so it consists of the following amenities.
The price for the room was 50 soles ($13.50).
We had dinner and breakfast included in the room price.
Dinner consisted of yet another plate of spaghetti.
Breakfast consisted of eggs, bread, and coffee.
Neither meal was fancy, but it was filling. And that’s precisely what you need when you’re in the middle of a trek.
Also, you can buy snacks, water, Gatorade, and anything else you need at the small shop.
There was Wi-Fi, and the speed was fast. But, it only worked in certain parts of the small town.
One router was near one of the accommodations and handled the entire area.
We had to walk closer to the street from our skydomes to get service.
This didn’t bother us. But, it’s something to be aware of.
There was one set of showers and toilets (at least for our accommodation section).
One building houses two bathrooms and one shower. The shower included hot water, and we can verify it was hot.
Day 2 recap
- Distance: 13.5 miles
- Total costs: 70 soles ($19) per person
Day 3: Collpapampa to Lucmabamba — 12 miles
This day will be much easier than the previous day. You’ll descend the vast majority of the hike and have some beautiful views along the way.
Get some breakfast in Collpapampa, pack up your things, and begin heading out of the town the opposite way you entered.
You’ll follow a series of short descents that wind and twist until you come to an area where the trail will split.
Here, you’ll have two options: stay on the broader trail, or take the path that splits off to the left and descends downward.
This decision depends on your fitness level and how hard you want to work that day.
If you follow the main trail, it’s slightly less exciting. You’ll walk along a dirt road trafficked by buses and trucks with little to see.
Follow the trail on the left (which is what we did), and you’ll be on a narrow piece of single-track trail that runs along the cliffside. If you’re scared of heights, there will be some problematic areas, but the sections are short, so you should be fine.
Throughout this hike, you’ll pass by the occasional shop where you can stock up on water, snacks, and any other items you need. So, you won’t have to worry about running out of essentials.
The trail is easy to follow and runs along the river for much of the time. If the trail splits, stay on the rightmost path.
You will come to an area where you can take the trail left, a slight ascent across a bridge. Or, you can take the trail right, which descends near the river.
We pondered which one to take for some time before choosing the right. An ominous stick laid across the trail deterred us. Plus, the bridge at the top looked like it was bordering on collapsing.
Follow this trail until you pass a small school with a play yard on the right in the small village of Sahuayaco. The trail will split not far past this school, with a long bridge crossing the river on your right.
Take this bridge across.
On the other end, you can stop for a small meal at the lodge on the left side of the trail. Many tour groups stop here, so feel free to follow their lead.
After you’ve fueled up, you’ll continue following a wide dirt road where buses and trucks will pass you.
You’ll follow this for over a mile before the road splits. Take the right trail leading uphill. You can use a small shop on the right side of it for a marker.
You’ll climb uphill for about a quarter of a mile before a two-story building appears on your left, and another two-story building will be on your right.
This is Casa Mery (or Refugio de Mery), and this is an excellent place to stay for the night.
Cost of amenities
Casa Mery makes exceptional food, and the beds are comfortable as well. The hosts were friendly and did everything they could to help us feel comfortable.
For rooms, the hosts split our group between men and women — men in one room, women in the other.
This included a bed for each of us, with a private bathroom in each room.
For the night, we paid 40 ($11) soles per person.
We paid 15 soles ($4) for lunch when we arrived. This included guacamole with French fries, lomo saltado with rice, and a fruit cup.
Included in the 40 soles was breakfast the following day. This breakfast consisted of an omelet, fried bananas, bread, slices of avocado, and some delicious coffee.
The food prepared by the owners was incredible for both lunch and dinner. Easily the best food we had on the entire trek.
There was Wi-Fi, and the speeds were great. It reached all the areas, and we had no issues with connection even when we were in our rooms.
As mentioned, there’s a bathroom in each of the rooms. B, there’s an extra bathroom outside the rooms.
There’s a shower on the side of the accommodation. But, I can’t comment on the temperature because we didn’t use it while there.
Side trip to Cocalmayo
About a 45-minute trip from the accommodation is a set of hot springs that make a great side trip if you feel up to it.
We arranged a colectivo through the owners of Casa Mary. And after some negotiating, we paid 22 soles ($7) per person for a ride to the hot springs and back.
Cocalmayo has three thermal baths with temperatures between 100 °F and 111 °F.
I’d recommend visiting the thermal baths as it’s an excellent reward after two days of hiking. I’d recommend starting in the colder pool and working your way up to the hottest.
The entrance fee was ten soles ($3) per person.
Day 3 recap
- Distance: 12 miles
- Total costs: 87 soles ($23.50) per person
Day 4: Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes — 14 miles
Welcome to the final day! Machu Picchu lies ahead; you just have some work to do to get there first.
Enjoy an excellent breakfast at Casa Mery (it was a delicious breakfast for us), then pack up and head out.
Leaving Casa Mery’s, you’ll start your ascent, which will be long and challenging. You’ll hike around four miles to the top, gaining over 2,000 feet.
Take your time and enjoy the views on your left and the viewpoint about halfway up. This is an excellent spot for some photos, and there’s a swing if you’re looking for the perfect Instagram photo.
Once you reach the top, the trail will split. Stay left and follow the path until you arrive in an open field at the top of the mountain. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Machu Picchu in the distance.
If you’re like most people, cloud forests will block any view you’d have. But that’s alright because the next three miles are all downhill!
The entire trail to the bottom is a switchback-style trail. Along the way, there will be two points to stop off, take in some ruins, and get another opportunity to see Machu Picchu if the Cloud Gods permit.
You’ll know you’re at the bottom when you pop out of the dense vegetation covering the trail, and there’s a bridge spanning a wide river. Follow the bridge and the road that turns left after it.
After about two miles of walking, you’ll arrive at the Hydroelectrica. Stop here for some food/drink if you’d like.
As you begin to leave the Hydroelectrica station, there will be a brief moment of confusion as the tracks continue straight. Look for signs pointing to the right up some stairs signaling the way.
Head up these steps. It’ll pop you out onto the proper tracks that you’ll walk along the entire way to Aguas Calientes.
The following six miles aren’t very scenic (except for the occasional view of the mountains).
The Hydroelectrica tracks run into Aguas Calientes, so you can’t miss them.
Congrats! You’ve completed the Salkantay Trek!
Cost of amenities
For the last evening in Aguas Calientes, my girlfriend and I had again booked an Airbnb. Once again, part of this was out of reducing the amount of cash we carried and out of laziness.
But, the group we hiked with stayed at a hostel, so I will list their prices here for a more accurate representation.
They paid around 40 soles for their hostel, which included breakfast.
To reward ourselves, since it’d be the last time we were all together as a group, we went out for dinner and some beers.
The food in Aguas Calientes is overpriced (especially compared to the prices you paid on the hike), but it is what it is.
We stopped at a restaurant on Imperil de Los Incas and Calle Contisuyo.
But, the prices we saw were similar, regardless of where you went.
We all split the bill and paid around 50 soles per person.
The price includes Wi-Fi. It worked well within the rooms and the hostel and was fast for basic purposes.
Each room is equipped with a private bathroom and shower.
Day 4 recap
- Distance: 14 miles
- Total costs: 90 soles ($24) per person
Total 4 day cost for Salkantay Trek
You spend only 377 soles ($100) for your 4-day trek. You read that right, your total Machu Picchu hike cost is $100!
This is a much cheaper option than the tours (like G Adventures) on the Inca Trail (which range from $400 to $900).
For anyone on a budget, doing the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu without a guide is your option.
This doesn’t include your fee to get into Machu Picchu. The prices vary depending on the experience and route you want to take.
Machu Picchu tickets
There are four circuits for Machu Picchu.
- Circuit 1: Top short
- Circuit 2: Top long
- Circuit 3: Bottom short
- Circuit 4: Bottom long
The tickets for each circuit are the same — 152 soles ($40).
But, they also offer other tickets:
- Circuit 4 with Huaynapicchu Mountain — 200 soles ($53)
- Circuit 3 with Machu Picchu Mountain — 200 soles ($53)
- Circuit 4 with Huchuypicchu Mountain — 152 soles ($40)
All these tickets get you access to Machu Picchu; it’s up to you to decide what extras you’d like to add (if any).
For example, there’s the Huayna Picchu mountain hike, which takes you up to the peak of Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu). The mountain you see behind Machu Picchu in most pictures is Huayna Picchu.
One thing to check out is the Sun Gate. The Sun Gate gives you a beautiful view over Machu Picchu. This gate, called Intipunku, is dedicated to the Inca Empire Sun god Inti.
But, even with the ticket to Machu Picchu included, your total for the Salkantay Trek in 4 days comes to no more than $160.
Are you ready to begin hiking Machu Picchu on your own?
There you have it. You absolutely can see Machu Picchu on the cheap. And the Salkantay Trek without a guide is your way to do it.
I hope this guide helped, and if you have any questions, leave a comment, and I’ll help as much as possible!