Okay, before we make enemies (more than we already did with our article taking a massive sh*t on the Blue Lagoon), let me start off by saying that if you already did the Inca Trail or are thinking of doing the Inca Trail, we still think you're a total badass. From what we've heard and read, the Inca Trail is ridiculously challenging, unbelievably beautiful, and full of Inca history. What's not to love?
For me, however, I went to South America without much of an itinerary. I also forgot my giant briefcase of bottomless cash, so the Salkantay Trek was a much more practical choice given my circumstances.
The Inca Trail usually runs between USD $560 and $1,600 depending on what type of experience you're after. You also have to book pretty far in advance (about six months in advance during June, July, and August; three or four months in advance during April, May, September, October, and November; and three to five weeks in advance during December, January, and early March).
The Salkantay Trek? For four days (you can do five days for the same price) of a guided trek through one of the top hikes in the FREAKIN' WORLD, three meals a day, a horse to carry 5 kilograms of your stuff, a tent and sleeping bag, a hostel in Aguas Calientes, and entrance to Machu Picchu with a guide, we paid USD $230. We also booked it about 15 hours before we were set to leave. Not to mention, since it's one of the "alternative hikes" to Machu Picchu, it's not nearly as packed as the Inca Trail, with about 70% less traffic on the Salkantay.
And, of course, the variety of scenery is OUT OF THIS WORLD. I'm talking glacial mountains, blue lagoons, and jungles. One minute you're in the clouds trying not to slip on ice and the next, you're swatting mosquitoes out of your sweaty face.
However, all Salkantay pride aside, there are some cons to choosing this trek in comparison to the Inca Trail. Although they both end at Machu Picchu, on the Salkantay, you don't enter the ruins through the Inti Punku Sun Gate. Rather, you stay in Aguas Calientes the night before where you can either take a bus to the ruins or hike up the intense (which is putting it painfully lightly) steps at dawn and later trek to the Sun Gate. The Salkantay is also almost twice as long as the Inca Trail (51 miles compared to 26 miles) and reaches a higher altitude (15,215 feet compared to 13,800 feet), meaning it's more physically challenging and colder than the Inca. Not to mention, the Inca Trail has significantly more history and ruins along its trek, which is one of the reasons why many prefer it to the Salkantay.
Either route you choose, you're going to have your mind blown (and your legs whipped to Jell-O), so it's all a matter of preference, flexibility, and funds. In my opinion, while I never did the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Trek was the most epic hike I've ever conquered. And here are some pictures as proof.
If you have any more questions on doing the Salkantay, feel free to reach out to Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy trails!