Deciding what to pack for the Salkantay Trek can be daunting. This 5-day hike through the Andes finishes at the mighty Incan Citadel of Machu Picchu and has quickly become a backpacker rite of passage. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Salkantay Hike will take you through five ecological zones, making it hard to know what to pack!
The following packing list for the Salkantay Trek will tell you everything you need to know, from what to pack in your duffel bag to the things you need to remember in your day pack. Forget the reams of packing advice provided by your tour company, this no-fluff packing list includes only the essentials.
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The Salkantay Trek: Independent or Guided?
Before I first go into a full deep dive of what you need to pack for the Salkantay Trek (it’s not as much as you think!), you’ll need to consider whether you are going to tackle the trail as part of a guided hike or independently.
Although some people complete the Salkantay Trek independently, most choose not to. Bear in mind that if you are going it alone, you will need to carry all of your own gear (including water), reserve your entry tickets into Machu Picchu in advance and arrange all of your accommodation en route (unless you plan on camping along the way). To find out more about doing a self-guided Salkantay Trek, check out this post.
When I did the Salkantay, I opted to do it as part of a guided tour. There were a few reasons for this. As much of the Salkantay Trek is located at high altitude, I didn’t want to push my body too hard and fail to complete the trek. Having an experienced guide set the pace and prepare me for each stage of the hike was appealing for this reason.
I also liked the idea of not hiking with my main bag. Salkantay Trekking provided mules for the trek so that all I needed to carry was my daypack. Any additional luggage that I didn’t need (such as my laptop), I left at the tour company office back in Cusco.
Nothing makes me more grumpy on a hike than being hungry. Therefore, doing the Salkantay Trek with a tour offered extra peace of mind that I would be well catered for en route and wouldn’t need to carry my own food. (I eat loads when I hike so I knew this would be A LOT of extra weight!)
As most people tackle this trek as part of an organised group as I did, this Salkantay packing list has been put together with that in mind.
Good to know: The Salkantay Trek is not available to hike during February. During this time, the trail is closed due to poor weather. April through December is the best time to do the hike as these are the driest months of the year. Don’t be put off attempting the trek in the rainy season though – speaking from experience, I can tell you it is still worth it!
Salkantay Trek Packing List
Items to Rent
I cannot stress the importance of walking poles enough! As well as assisting with balance, walking poles are a great aid on steep ascents and descents, both of which feature regularly in this trek.
Sleeping bags can be rented all over Cusco. Speak to your tour operator directly to see whether they are offering any deals for customers on package rentals.
You will only need to rent a tent if one is not included in your tour. If you are heading out with a company, accommodation is often included in the price of your tour.
Daypack (10-20 litres)
- Camera: Did you even make it to Machu Picchu if you didn’t take a million photos for your new Facebook profile pic? I joke but you’ll still want photos to remember this epic journey by so don’t forget your camera.
- Phone: You’re unlikely to have any signal (even with a local SIM). Still, a phone is a good alternative to a camera.
- Passport: Don’t forget to get your Machu Picchu stamp! This completely slipped my mind and I will be forever bitter about it.
- Refillable water bottle: You’re likely to need at least a litre per day but everyone is different. Many tour companies will expect you to provide your own water for the first morning of the trek but then will resupply you after that.
- Insect repellent: You probably won’t need this for the first couple of days but once you get to Chaullay it will come in handy.
- Waterproof jacket: Ideally, this should be thin and lightweight. I always opt for packable rain jackets which can be compressed really small.
- Waterproof poncho: If you hate getting wet, a waterproof hiking poncho will be your best friend. You might look silly but you will be drier than everyone else and the contents of your daypack won’t get soaked. Who is the real winner here?
- Sunblock: If you, like me, struggle in the sun, suncream will be your saviour. It is all too easy to get burnt at high altitude, just ask my scalp.
- Lip balm: Time in the great outdoors can result in chapped lips. Opt for a lip balm with SPF to also protect from the sun’s rays.
- Dry bag: Depending on the time of year that you do the Salkantay Trek, it can rain a lot so make sure your valuables are protected.
- Snacks: I wouldn’t recommend bringing your own snacks if you are on an organised trek as most companies will provide these inclusive of the overall tour price.
- Money: If you’ve chosen a good trekking company, you will probably find that pretty much all of your expenses are included in the price you’ve paid. However, you should keep some cash on you for necessities along the trail (like beer) and tips for the guides and porters at the end.
The following clothing items for the Salkantay trek will need to be split into a walking outfit and a relaxing outfit.
FYI: The Salkantay Trek is an intense long-distance hike, not a fashion show. I know I sound like your Gran but it’s not worth dressing to impress. You’ll stink regardless of what you’re wearing. Embrace the dirt and enjoy the journey!
- 2 x Merino wool socks: Save on weight and washing by bringing only two pairs of socks. Merino wool is great for hiking and will help prevent blisters.
- 1 x leggings: These need to be sports leggings as they are sweat-wicking. This will help to prevent any uncomfortable heat rash or chafing.
- 2 x quick-dry t-shirts: One for relaxing in and one for trekking in.
- 1 x loose-fitting trousers: For sleeping and relaxing. These need to be comfy but it’s a bonus if they are light too!
- 1 x waterproof hiking boots/shoes: To be worn during the hike and also for leisure time. Make sure these are broken in before you attempt the hike.
- 1 fleece: You’re not going to win any fashion awards donning a fleece. However, layers are crucial to packing light and these bad boys hold a lot of heat.
- 1 x base layer: Ideal to wear under your other clothes. Base layers are perfect for keeping you warm at night.
- 5 x pairs of underwear: Merino wool pants are highly recommended for women.
- 1 x sports bra: If you’ve got boobs, you’ll need this support on the trail.
- Towel: Many treks to Machu Picchu will include a visit to a local hot spring.
- Deodorant: A small stick of deodorant can limit the offence caused to your fellow hikers!
- Coca leaves: In my experience, natural remedies for altitude sickness are often the best. Allow yourself time to acclimatise and use coca leaves to fend off any ill effects when trekking.
- 1 x buff: This can double up as a neck warmer or headband. I never hike without a buff!
- 1 x hat: I didn’t use mine but Tim swore by his for the early morning starts. Embarrassing alpaca hats can be purchased on every Peruvian market for a steal of a price.
- 1 x swimsuit: For use at the hot springs.
- Sunglasses: Glaciers can be shockingly bright to the naked eye so make sure your retinas are protected!
- Toilet paper: It is more scarce than you would expect!
- Toothbrush and toothpaste: Oral hygiene is always important.
- Headlamp: Useful for the early morning starts, especially the trek up to Machu Picchu when you have to tackle hundreds of very uneven stairs!
- Plastic bags: These help separate dirty or wet clothes from your clean gear. You’ll also want one for rubbish that you accumulate on the trail.
- Plasters: In case you start to get blisters.
- Chargers: I’d highly recommend a portable charger as you won’t always get the option to charge at accommodation along the way. Also, remember the cables and chargers for your phone and camera.
- Medication: If applicable.
- Hand sanitiser: You’ll need this for all those al fresco toilet stops.
- Travel insurance: Although not technically needed in either bag, you should not do the Salkantay Trek without it! Tip: Check the T&Cs to ensure that you are covered for activities at high altitudes.
One item that I didn’t need on the Salkantay Trek (surprisingly)…
- A floaty red dress: I don’t know who these Instagram influencers are but I can tell you they certainly didn’t hike to Machu Picchu in that dress!
Download this Salkantay Trekking packing list to make sure you don’t forget anything. ¡Buen viaje!