Congratulations! If you're reading this post there's a good chance you're planning to undertake the Salkantay Trek.
At minimum, I would guess you're researching whether or not it's something in your wheelhouse.
I can tell you from recent experience it's an excellent experience that you'll take with you for the rest of your life. If you're still undecided, I would highly encourage you to pull the trigger.
Having a good experience along the Salkantay Trek in Peru first and foremost requires proper preparation. You'll also need to decide if you're attempting the Salkantay Pass on your own or through a tour operator.
Also, once you're done reading this post be sure to check out my Peru Video Travel Guide that will highlight some of my favorite activities to do around the Cusco area.
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Who is The Best Salkantay Trek Tour Operator?
Many people will choose an operator who can help plan your route, hire porters and provide a local guide. In that case I can recommend Alpaca Expeditions which offers a 5-Day Salkantay Trek. The first four days involve hiking through the Andes to Aguas Calientes which sits at the base of Machu Picchu.
On the fifth day you'll reach the ruins and spend the day exploring them before heading back to Cusco.
This guide is geared towards hikers who are utilizing an operator. Also, if you're still trying to figure out what else to do on your trip, be sure to check out my Peru Travel Guide.
For us the porter team carried our tents, sleeping bags, water and took care of meals. Past that we had a budget of about 10 lbs (5 kgs) worth of weight that the porters would carry of our personal belongings.
It certainly takes the edge off for those of us in average physical condition. You should still expect to be carrying 20 lbs (10 kgs) of extra weight in your day pack for the duration of your trek.
Salkantay Trek Packing List - Prepare for Rain
Before we jump into the lengthy list of items you'll need to survive in the mountains for four days, let me tell explain why it is so important to come prepared for this hike.
Even though you should be attempting this hike during Peru's dry season (we went in May) there's a good chance you'll encounter inclement weather. Weather in the mountains can be unpredictable so you need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
The photograph above is the only decent one I took around the Salkantay Pass. Our first day of hiking involved waking up near Soraypampa and hiking to Humantay Lake. It was a rainy morning, but nothing too crazy.
I had an entire top layer of waterproof hiking gear which provided me excellent protection in rainy conditions all the way through lunch. Waterproof hiking boots and a cover for your day pack are essentials.
Will it Rain on The Salkantay Trek?
We had been exposed to constant rain for 4-5 hours before making it to our lunch camp site. At that point I checked all of my under layers and was very happy with how everything was holding up. I was bone dry despite all of the rain we encountered!
From our lunch spot we'd ascend to Salkantay Pass. This is where things got a little hairy (well, icy actually). As the day progressed and we climbed higher the weather worsened in intensity.
The wind was picking up and so was the amount of precipitation we were facing. The trail we were hiking had streams of water rushing down the mountain.
As we hiked higher the rain began turning to snow and ice. Eventually the streams of water turned to several inches of wintry slush we had to trudge through.
How high is The Salkantay Pass?
Despite clearing Salkantay Pass at over 15,000 feet (4,600+ meters) we couldn't see the 20,574' peak (6,271 meters) which should've been right in our faces.
There were quite a few things running through my head at this point. On one hand I was disappointed that we wouldn't see Salkantay Mountain's peak, we had come so far.
The weather conditions were too poor for me to risk getting my digital camera out of it's waterproof home in my day pack, not that there was much to see given the whole ice storm situation.
But I also knew I was starting to take on some moisture at this point. After 7 hours of being exposed to rain, snow, ice, streams of water and fields of slush I was starting to take on some moisture through my layers.
Not good when you're exposed to freezing temperatures and far from civilization.
Eventually we made it to our campsite - and having an extra set of warm dry clothing to swap into was critical after being exposed to the elements all day. Many of the things on this list are obvious must have items. There will also be things you decide you can do without.
But I beg you, I deplore you, please, please, please make sure you don't skip out on the waterproof layers.
Weather in the mountains can be unpredictable and had I not been prepared to hike an entire day in the rain, snow and cold our day may have gone quite a bit differently!
Salkantay Trek Packing List
Below you will find a complete Salkantay Trek packing list guide. This list may seem lengthy, but remember you'll be packing for several days in the mountains. The trek duration and changing climates will require you to have a wide variety of clothing options available.
Also remember that effective layering is extremely important on this hike due to large temperature fluctuations on some days.
For most items on this list I included a link to a specific product I would recommend. All of the gear I link to below are items I own and wore during my Salkantay Trek. Quick disclaimer, I am an Amazon and REI affiliate that may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Complete Hiking Gear List For The Salkantay Trek
Hiking day pack - my 40L hiking pack had plenty of room for what I needed to carry. You could probably get by with something in the 30L range if you're an efficient packer (I am not). Be sure your bag has waist and chest straps to help distribute weight. I purchased my hiking bag from REI. If you haven't owned one before go into a store and they can help you find one that fits well.
Also remember that effective layering is extremely important on this hike due to large temperature fluctuations on some days. hiking so I'd recommend the 3L. Honestly, I wouldn't bother with the smaller sizes. You can always just fill up the larger ones part way if you're concerned about weight since they collapse to the same size. I have reservoirs from Platypus and Gregory that I really like.
Water proof boots - the downside to water proof boots is they often lack breathability. Make sure your boots are worn in before committing to several days of hiking in the Andes with them! Timberland makes a really solid pair of water proof hiking boots at a price that won't break your bank. I've worn this particular pair across a wide range of climates (Sedona, Joshua Tree, Glacier, Salkantay) and I've been really happy with them.
Water proof backpack cover - if you purchased your hiking pack new it likely came with this cover included. Alpaca also had extras to provide. This is an absolute necessity as it keeps the contents of your bag dry.
Sleeping bag - probably the most essential item you'll need. On our trek we tent camped twice. The porters carried these for us and most operators will have them available to rent.
Camping mattress - we were able to rent these from Alpaca. They make tent camping a lot more comfortable.
Trekking poles - these are an absolute must. Either bring your favorite set or rent them from your operator. There are some very lengthy and very steep descents you'll encounter along the Salkantay Trek. Spare your knees.
Headlamp - headlamp or flashlight? I like flashlights better for actual walking / hiking in the dark but headlamps are way more practical for use around a dark campsite. You'll get more use out of the headlamp since you won't be doing much, if any, hiking in the dark.
Flashlight (optional) - See above comment on headlamps. I did bring a flashlight with me. It came in handy one night when we were working towards Llactapata around sunset. If you're bringing a headlamp this isn't necessary. The Gearlight Tactical flashlights are great for hiking.
Gaiters - I didn't bring these, but depending on your hiking getup you may find them useful for keeping your feet and legs dry.
What Types of Clothing Should I Pack For The Salkantay Trek?
Moisture wicking t-shirts - Patagonia makes really great hiking t-shirts that keep you dry all day long that also perform well under multiple layers of clothing. I brought one for each day, plus an extra.
Trekking Pants (at least one water resistant pair) - of all the things I ended up purchasing in preparation for this adventure, these KUHL pants were by far my favorite purchase. They performed extremely well and were way way way more comfortable than I ever could've imagined. A light water proof pair will serve you well, you can wear leggings underneath on the colder portions of the trek.
Leggings - you're going to need a warm base layer to go under your trekking pants when you go up to Salkantay Pass. REI has some great mid-weight and light-weight options. I brought one of each. They also make for great pajamas on the colder nights!
Underwear - for the love of god, moisture wicking. I'm a big fan of the Pair of Thieves brand if you're in the market for moisture wicking underwear that won't break the bank! Be sure to pack a clean pair for each day and an extra pair as an insurance policy.
Athletic shorts - I wore my hiking pants even on the warmer days to cut back on bugs and sun exposure. Some people might prefer shorts since they're cooler. Otherwise you might just want a pair for lounging around the campsite.
Hiking socks - I absolutely love the FEIDEER brand of hiking socks. I've tried some other brands more associated with hiking, but I think these take the cake. You'll want a fresh pair for every day and probably an extra pair or two. Just in case.
Fleece top layer - do yourself a huge favor and bring a good fleece jacket. It's essential for Salkantay Pass, but even at the lower elevations the nights and mornings can be cold.
Down jacket - REI makes a super lightweight down jacket at a fair price. Weight and size should be two considerations here and the jacket linked here folds up TINY. Those are nice perks, but most importantly it does keep you very warm!
Long-sleeve shirts - I brought a light-weight and mid-weight long sleeve t-shirt. If you need to cut back on packing, just go with the light-weight shirt. I got tons of use out of this since I ended up wearing it through buggy areas and when the sun was brightest. The light-weight shirt from REI also includes UPF 50+ sun protection, an added perk.
Waterproof rain jacket - this is an absolute must have if you're hiking in the mountains. Made of GORE-TEX, this jacket folds up super thin and is extremely lightweight. It's my top layer in the photo I took at Salkantay Pass.
Wool hat - Salkantay Pass can be frigid. Some of the mornings and nights will also be very cold so you'll want a hat that keeps you warm.
Ball cap - you'll want something other than a wool hat to protect your face and head from excessive sun exposure. I included a link to the same Columbia cap I wore, which I love.
Waterproof gloves - I brought a really lightweight pair and a heavier waterproof pair. The heavier pair served me well around Salkantay Pass while the lighter pair was perfect in the evenings and mornings.
Sandals or leisure shoes - something comfortable to put on after a long day of hiking in your boots. If you have the space and weight you could go with gym shoes or a lighter pair of trekking boots. For me, my pair of Reefs worked fine and took up less space than shoes.
Poncho - Our operator provided us with one. See aforementioned comments on making sure you have plenty of water resistant gear available.
Belt - I said this was a complete packing list didn't I?
Bathing suit - there are opportunities to visit hot springs near Aguas Calientes (which is the literal translation of the towns name). If that's on your itinerary, don't forget to pack a swimsuit!
Small towel - if you plan on visiting any hot springs, consider packing a small towel.
What Toiletries Should I Pack For The Salkantay Trek?
Sunscreen - this is a must considering you'll be exposed to the elements for hours on end. I'm a fan of Sun Bum, but whatever brand you prefer, just make sure you bring plenty!
Hand sanitizer - there won't be many opportunities to properly wash your hands along the way.
Toothbrush & toothpaste
Toilet paper - more valuable than gold when you're in the mountains.
Sani wipes - these will have to suffice in place of actual showers most days. If you travel with Alpaca, there will be an opportunity for a real shower at the Hobbit Houses. You'll probably stay at a hotel in Aguas Calientes no matter how you travel.
First aid supplies - altitude sickness, headaches or an upset stomach. Packing some extra meds to take care of common ailments would be wise.
Sleep aids - Melatonin or whatever you may prefer.
Lip balm - don't forget to pack your Burt's Bees!
Other things to pack
Ziploc baggies - I'm a huge fan of bringing Ziploc baggies with me when I'm hiking. They can help keep items like your phone, cash or medicine dry and they're convenient for storing trash like snack wrappers. If you're bringing any larger electronics (such as a digital camera) make sure you have bags large enough to store these items to keep them dry in rainy situations.
Garbage bags - a couple of plastic garbage bags can come in handy for separating dirty or wet clothing.
Bug spray - the high jungle ecosystems will be home to plenty of bugs and mosquitos. Bug spray is a must, wearing long sleeves or pants even on warmer days can help on this front.
Electrolyte packets - you'll be hiking and exposed to the elements for days on end, make sure you're replenishing electrolytes!
Salt tablets - I bring these on pretty much every hike I do, especially longer ones. Electrolyte replacement tablets are easy to consume on the go.
Battery cell - Anker makes really good portable battery cells. You won't have much cell phone service out in these parts, but you might want some extra juice available for charging your camera or phone.
Snacks - You'll be hiking long days which means you'll need snacks for energy in between meals. What do I recommend? Glad you asked. Epic makes delicious meat based snack bars that are packed with protein. The Sriracha Chicken ones are my personal favorite. Another great option are Rx Bars. Load up!
Digital Camera - for all of the amazing photos you'll take along the way! If you're in the market for a new camera that does awesome 4k video, the Lumix GH5 is best in class for its price point.
Headphones - I'm not usually one to listen to music on hikes like this, but some people are. You also might want them in the evenings at your campsite or before bed.
ID (Passport, etc)
Cash - be sure to bring some soles with you on your trek. Peru mostly runs on cash, especially in the mountains. You'll need cash to tip, purchase souvenirs, use restrooms and to purchase extra food or water along the way.
Tip money - make sure you take enough money with you to tip your porters and guide. Chances are you won't have access to an ATM until you reach Aguas Calientes.
Chargers - for your cell phone or other electronics.
Deck of cards - if you have any campsite games you like to play, don't leave them behind. Card games are great to bring since they're lightweight and small.
Got all that?
Salkantay Packing Tips
Packing for a big adventure like this can be daunting especially when you have to consider weight and space.
I found it easiest to 'overpack' at first. I basically set aside everything I thought I could ever possibly need for this trek.
From there I weighed everything and attempted to stuff it into my bag, setting aside and weighing some items that I knew the porters would help me carry.
Naturally I had way too much stuff packed at first. But having everything laid out in front of me made it particularly easy to cut back on unnecessary things. I called my brother up and we divvied up who would bring sunscreen, bug spray and hand sanitizer.
If you're traveling with other people, this can be a useful way to cut back on carrying duplicates of certain items.
Another useful trick is to take certain things out of their containers. Instead of bringing an entire bottle of ibuprofen, put whatever you want to bring in a Ziploc baggie.
If you have large clothing items (like your rain coat) that you expect to use infrequently, roll them up tight and use rubber bands to ensure they don't unroll in your bag. This is a useful trick for saving space!
Be sure to weigh everything once you're done. If you plan on purchasing any souvenirs along the way be sure to factor that into your available weight and space.
Read about my Salkantay Trek Experience with Alpaca Expeditions
Be sure to check out my post documenting my travels with Alpaca Expeditions along the Salkantay Trek. We saw some pretty amazing places and met some wonderful people along the way.
Even if the 5-Day Salkantay Trek isn't your cup of tea there are still so many wonderful places in Peru to explore. Although we visited Humantay Lake as part of our trek, it is also a popular day trip from Cusco. Be sure to check out that post when you're done here.
If you're looking for a great one stop shop for hiking gear and outdoor apparel - be sure to head on over to REI!