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Salkantay trek price difference explained! – a company comparison

This is why one Salkantay trek costs more than another

With the limited availability of the Inca Trail, the Salkantay trek (a 4/5-day trek through the Peruvian Andes) has become an increasingly popular trek to hike to Machu Picchu. Accordingly, many companies in Cusco started offering the trek but all for very different prices and different service levels. Prices range from $170 to $615 (or even more) for the same hike. However, it is difficult for travelers to find out where these Salkantay Trek price differences come from. We will change that with this article!

Three companies compared

Namely, by speaking to four companies in three different price ranges ($200, $400 and $600 for the 4-day, 3-night trek) we found out that differences in accommodation, transportation, food & drink, route and add-ons like sleeping bags, etc., can explain the majority (around $300) of the cost difference for Salkantay treks. In the remainder of this post, we will discuss the difference between the companies and the cost difference accompanied. While doing so, we provide you with a lot of information about the trek: win-win! 🙂

An overview of what you pay for

For each element, we give you a lot of information about the trek as well. The goal is not so much to give you an exact price list, but more to help you understand exactly what you pay for, such that you can make a better-informed booking (and negotiate 😉 )

Little note: companies like to keep a certain extent of unclarity. Therefore, our prices might not be 100% correct but they serve more as an indication. Some service elements are hard to express in money value too and were estimated by us!

The structure

First, we tell you a little more about the approach, then we start comparing and lastly we give conclusions. We also give a table with all the hidden cost you have to pay on top of the fares. It became a bit lengthy (sorry!), so make sure to use the links below and arrow to go back up. It was a lot of fun writing this rather Economic article and we hope you like it!

introduction

The comparison

Conclusions

Salkantay Trek Peru Jungle Cusco
Hiking trought the Peruvian Jungle

The companies in our Salkantay Trek price comparison

In our comparison we were able to speak with four companies in three different price ranges for the 4-day trek:

Low Budget Treks – $170-$205

Many companies in Cusco (for instance at hostels), offer a very cheap option to hike the Salkantay. We spoke to Coya Tours while in Cusco, who offered the hike for $170 when booking in Cusco. We spoke to and checked the website of Okidokitravel for reference, as our friends booked with them for $205. However, many more companies of this sort exist, and the groups of these agencies are often merged into one big group when starting the hike (so don’t pay too much). We refer to this option as the budget Salkantay Trek option.

The middle ground – $420

The middle ground is taken by companies like Salkantay Trekking. They include more service, like the train back on the last day or a night in the Skydomes (see accommodation). Because I would participate in the trek with my 60-year old dad, we booked this option based on recommendations of friends.

The big spenders – $615

After returning to Cusco we spoke to the number one on TripAdvisor, Alpaca Expeditions, about their 5-day trek. It is by far not the most expensive trek around, but as we focus on low budget travel, we use this rate as the upper bound.

Big price differences for the same trek, right? Where do these price differences come from? Let’s have a look.

4 or 5 days of Salkantay trek?

It is a question we asked ourselves too: should we do a 4- or 5-day Salkantay trek? Both have the last day fully dedicated to visiting Machu Picchu, so the extra day would be spent hiking.

We did 4 days, 3 nights

We decided to book the 4-day version due to time constraints. In hindsight, we were happy with this for four reasons. Firstly, we found the hike quite demanding with my dad being a little older. Moreover, the extra day of hiking would only be the difference of not taking the taxi on day three to Hydroelectric (see transportation) and walking instead.

More importantly, skipping the walk allowed us extra time to do other nice excursions in Cusco, like visiting the Rainbow Mountain and the Red Valley. Lastly, it does make a slight price difference as you pay $30 more for an extra day (and you can buy a lot of good food for that in Cusco).

the Salkantay trek price comparison is based on 4 days, 3 nights

For the comparison, it is easier too to look at a 4-day, 3-nights trek, because all three tours offer the same amount of nights for this specific duration. In case of the 5-day trek, Alpaca Expeditions includes an extra night at the beginning of the trek. So, whereas the other tours arrive at the first camp around 11  am and visit lake Humantay in the afternoon of the first day, Alpaca Expeditions arrives the previous night and visits the lake in the morning when fewer people are around.

An important thing to note though is that Alpaca Expeditions does still offer a different route in case of the 4-day as well as for the 5-day tour than the other tour companies (more about this in the route comparison).

This is how the comparison works

During our research, we noticed there are 5 main aspects that determine the price of a Salkantay Trek: transportation, food & drinks, accommodation, the route, and add-ons. What we will do in this article is the following: We assume Alpaca Expedition has the best service and is the baseline for the comparison. For each of the above-mentioned elements, we discuss the differences between the three companies and tell how much it would cost to get the same service as at Alpaca Expeditions.

So, if you, for instance, look at the transport back to Cusco, Alpaca Expeditions offers an explorer train. If you would want this for your budget tour, you would have to pay $60 extra. So $60 of the price difference is explained. If the budget option or Salkantay Trekking has better service than Alpaca expedition, we use a minus sign.

Lastly, there are some elements that are hard to express in money, like group size, safety, and social responsibility. We discuss them as well. Then to conclude we give our conclusion on how to book the Salkantay Trek.

Let’s start!

villages Salkantay trek puppies
Comparing puppies in one of the Salkantay Trek Villages

Salkantay Trek Transportation comparison

We would say transportation is the most important element in the price difference for Salkantay Treks because adding more comfort increases the price a lot. One of the major reasons that the low budget tours are so cheap, for instance, is that you go back to Cusco by a 7-hour bus ride after seeing macho Picchu. We discuss the various transportation methods and how they differ per company.

Bus to Hydroelectric/Ollantaytambo & train to Aquas Calientes

Machu Picchu lays in the mountains at Aquas Calientes. There are two ways to get to Machu Picchu town: from the west, by walking or by train from the hydroelectric facility or from the east by train from Ollantaytambo.

Almost every trekking company will offer the option via Hydroelectric. This means that after lunch you will take a minivan to the facility. However, whether the fare for this ‘taxi’ is included depends on your company: at Salkantay Trekking it is but at the budget options you pay 10$ per person extra. Once at Hydroelectric, you can either walk for 2-3 hours to Aquas Calientes or buy a ticket for the train for $31. For both companies, this ticket is for your own cost.

The route via Ollantaytambo, on the other hand, is the practice at Alpaca Expeditions as they follow a different route. Both a van to Ollantaytambo as the train from the town to Aquas Calientes (costing around $60-80) are included.

Salkantay Trek Minivan Transport Compared
TIP: ask if you can sit on top of the van for an even better view

Bus to Machu Picchu

Aquas Calientes is where you will sleep the night before your big visit to Machu Picchu. The next morning, if your legs allow, you walk up the stairs to the world wonder or you take the bus. The bus costs you $24 per one-way journey. Alpaca Expeditions includes both the ticket up and down in the price.

Back by bus from Aquas Calientes to Cusco

After 4/5 days of hiking, you reached Machu Picchu as the grand finale and, believe me, afterward you just want to go home. When you booked a budget trek, you will have to walk for 3 hours from Aquas Calientes back to Hydroelectric again instead (or pay $32 for the train ride), where you get into a minivan that will drive you back to Cusco in 7 hours.

Back by train from Aquas Calientes to Cusco

Companies with budget treks offer you the possibility to return to Cusco by train as well for an additional fee. In this case, you make your way to the train station in Aquas Calientes itself and have a pleasurable train ride to Ollantaytambo. Once here, it is only a 2-hour ride by minivan back to Cusco. There roughly are two options for the train, the Explorer (around $60) and the Vistadome (around $80), which is quite luxurious and has a panorama roof and lunch included. Both Salkantay Trekking and Alpaca Expeditions include the Explorer in their basic package. If you want to add a train to your budget Salkantay trek, the price increases a lot immediately (for instance from $205 to $290 at okidoki).

TIP: don’t pay too much extra for an update to the Vistadome. On this website of Perurail, you find photos and the reasonable prices (in case you would book on your own). Furthermore, the companies book trains according to availability so you might get lucky and get the Vistadome anyways.

Train Salkantay Trek Cusco Aqua Calientes
A well deserved train ride after 4 days of hiking

Salkantay Trek price difference explained: transportation

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Transportation

Budget option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

Busses to Machu Picchu ($24 one way)

Not included

(+$48)

Not included

(+$48)

Included

(+$0)

Train from hydroelectric to Aquas Calientes ($32)

Not included

Not included

Another route

Transport back to Cusco

3-hour walk & 7-hour bus. Change to normal train to Ollantaytambo

 (+$60) or luxury train (+$80).

luxurious train back worth $80

luxurious train back worth $80

Total

+$104

+$48

+$0

Salkantay Trek Accommodation comparison

As a Salkantay trek is a multiple-day trek, the type and costs of accommodation influence the Salkantay Trek prices heavily. The first 2 nights you will be sleeping in villages along the route of the trek and the third night you sleep in Aquas Calientes.

Accommodation night 2 and 3

For both Alpaca Expeditions and the budget option, you will be sleeping in tents these nights, although in different villages (see route differences). The first night in Soraypampa you will sleep in a tent under a roof during the budget Salkantay trek and the next day in Chaullay you sleep in a regular tent. During the trek of Alpaca Expeditions, you sleep in regular tents both nights. In case of a 5D/5N trek with Alpaca Expeditions though, you sleep in a tent under a roof the first night in Soraypampa too. You will need an air mattress, which is not always included in the price (see add-ons)

Salkantay trekking supplies a different type of accommodation, namely huts. Especially the first night is their trademark: the skydomes. This night you sleep in a hut with a glass roof such that you can see the stars from your bed. The second night, you sleep in little huts too which are less fancy yet still comfortable. With an eye on the price comparison, we would say both are better than the tents of Alpaca Expeditions. So, we minus the price difference here!

Skydomes Salkantay trekking accomodation
Sleeping under the Andean stars

Accommodation Night 3 in Aquas Calientes

The biggest difference though is caused by the night in Aquas Calientes. Why? Well, here the different companies select different levels of luxury and a good hotel in the Machu Picchu town can easily cost you 80$ a night. In case you book a budget tour you sleep in a hostal, but the more expensive tours allow you to sleep in a twin room in a hotel.

Salkantay Trek price difference explained: accommodation

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Accommodation

Budget option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

First night

Tents under a roof (+$0)

Sky domes (-$40)

Tents (+$0)

Second night

Tents (+$0)

huts (-$20)

Tents (+$0)

Agua Calientes

Hostal (+$40)

Hotel (+$0)

Hotel (+$0)

Total

+$80

-$60*

0

Salkantay Trek food and drinks comparison

An important element in the price of your tour is definitely the food and drinks. Some meals are included at one company where at others they are not.

First Breakfast of the Salkantay Trek

At day one you are picked up around 4 am at your hotel and you drive towards the start of the trek. On the way, you will stop for breakfast at a family home/restaurant, which is not included in the fare for the Budget Salkantay Trek and Salkantay Trekking. The breakfast costs around $6. Alpaca Expedition includes it in the price of the trek.

Last lunch in Aquas Calientes

Although not relevant for the comparison, as no company includes it, it is still good to know that the last lunch in Aquas Calientes before the return journey to Cusco is for your own cost.

Dinner the last night

It is customary to have a last dinner with your Salkantay Trek group in either Aquas Calientes/Ollantaytambo the day before visiting Machu Picchu. The more you paid for your tour, the more luxurious your final dinner becomes. Alpaca Expeditions gives you all included, that is a starter, main, dessert, and drinks. Salkantay trekking gives you an a-la-carte three-course menu, but you pay your own drinks. The budget option gives you dinner in the traditional Peruvian menu style. That is a starter, main and a soft drink.

Food Salkantay Trek compared
Family style dinners with the group

Water

The more expensive tours allow you to refill your empty bottles with water boiled by the cooks. The budget tours do not though, and that becomes a pricy affair as the prices for one 1,5-liter bottle can end up around 10 soles along the route and you’ll need at least one every day.

Tea time

This probably started as an extra at one tour and now is the standard: a snack hour in the afternoon after finishing hiking for that day. With your group, you sit together and enjoy some tea and snacks. All companies include this on day 1, but only Salkantay and Alpaca on day 2 as well.

Dietary options

The more you pay for your tour, the more skilled cooks can be hired and the more variety they can offer in their cooking. Especially Alpaca Expeditions is able to adapt fully to most dietary wishes.

Cooks Porters Salkantay Trek
Tea on top of the Salkantay Mountain, served by your (young) private cook

Salkantay Trek price difference explained: food and drinks

(turn your screen for a better view!)

Meals

Budget option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

First Breakfast

Not included (+$6)

Not included (+$6)

included

Last Lunch

For own cost

Not included

Not included

Dinner in Agua Calientes

Soup, main, 1 softdink

(+$30)

 

Starter, main, desert. Drinks on own cost (+$20)

All included

Water

Not included

(+$15)

refills with boiled water

refills with boiled water

Tea time

Included day 1

(+$10)

Included day 1 & 2

Included day 1 & 2

Dietary options

Minimal (+$30)

Elaborate (+$20)

Very elaborate

Total

+$91

+$46

+$0

Salkantay Trek route comparison

It has been mentioned a few times now, but a big part of the increased price at Alpaca Expedition is due to the difference in the route. Not only do they include an extra train ticket to Aqua Calientes worth $60-80$, but the route they take is also less common and therefore less busy. You sleep in villages where little other travelers sleep too. (Salkantay trekking includes a short coffee farm demonstration to make up for this on day 3).

The route of Alpaca Expeditions takes you around the other side of the Salkantay Mountain. This means a different highest point of the hike, namely 5200 m instead of 4600 m. The hike is, therefore, more demanding on the hikers as well as on the staff that carries the supplies and luggage. It is logical they are paid accordingly.

Lake Humantay Cusco Andes
Tours might take a different route, but fortunately all visit lake Humantay

Another interesting feature of Alpaca Expeditions is that when you do the 5D/5N version, you actually walk a part of the original Inca trail. Although it is not the part leading into Machu Picchu but relatively close to the beginning, it is possibly a good alternative in case you are really gutted you could not walk the full Inca Trail.

It is difficult to express the different route in money value, but because the experience is really different, but it is hard to access how much that is worth to you. We would say $80, but we leave it up to you!

Salkantay Trek price difference explained: route

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Route

Budget option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

Train ticket

+$60

+$60

+$0

Special route

(+$80)

(+$80)

+$0

Total

+$140

+$140

+$0

Salkantay Trek add-ons comparison

Unfortunately, even with these prices, not everything is included… The add-ons we found with respect to materials are sleeping bags, mattresses and walking sticks. There are also still entrance fees to be paid. On a positive note, there is a discount for students too!

Sleeping bags

On a personal note, we found it odd that sleeping bags are not included at Alpaca Expedition and Salkantay Trekking, especially because you sleep at big height (really cold) on the first day and you already pay a lot. At these companies, you pay $20 to rent a sleeping bag. At Okidokitravels it seems the sleeping bags are included and at Coya you only pay $10.

Mattresses

Although not a problem for Salkantay trekking (you sleep in huts both night 1 and 2), at the other agencies air mattresses are needed. Again, at the budget option of Okidokitravels, the mattress is included. Surprisingly, you have to rent one at Alpaca Expeditions for $25.

Walking sticks

Lastly, you can decide to rent Nordic walking sticks during the hike against an extra fare of $10 at the budget treks, $15 at Alpaca Expeditions and $20 at Salkantay Trekking. I hired them but personally, I really did not enjoy walking with them and hardly used them. As this is a personal choice to rent them or not, we do not include them in our price explanation.

Salkantay entrance fee

When arriving at the Salkantay national park on day 1, everyone is required to pay a $3 entrance fee. Only Alpaca expeditions included this in the Salkantay trek price.

Machu Picchu mountain/ Huayna Picchu Mountain

When booking the hike, the companies will ask you as well if you want to buy a supplementary ticket to one of the mountains at Machu Picchu. We would strongly advise you to do so, especially in the rainy season. It allows you an extra entry! We write more about this in our article with Machu Picchu hacks!

Interesting is the fact that the prices vary per company for the same mountain: $15 at Okidoki, $25 at Salkantay Trekking and $35 at Alpaca Expeditions. We found these amounts on their websites. For some reason the more expensive companies ask more, use this in your negotiation.

Student Discount

If you are a student with an official student card from your home/Peruvian University you can get a $20 discount at Machu Picchu.  You need to bring the card to Machu Picchu and already ask for the discount during booking before the Machu Picchu tickets are bought. Important: an ISIC card does not work.

TIP: We write more about the Machu Picchu mountain, student discount and other Machu Picchu hacks in the blogpost below

Salkantay price difference explained: Add-ons

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Additions

Budget Option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

Sleeping bag

-$10

+$0

+$0

Mattress

-$25

-$25

+$0

Salkantay entrance

+$3

+$3

+$0

Machu Picchu/Huayna Picchu Mountain

-$20

-$10

+$0

Total

-$52

-$33

+$0

The total Salkantay Price Comparison

We have analyzed the differences in transportation, accommodation, food and drink, the route and the add-ons. How much of the price difference is explained by these elements? Time to add it up!

Salkantay price difference explained: the final result

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Element

Budget Option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

Rate

$205 (or $170)

$420

$615

Transportation

+$104

+$48

+$0

Accommodation

+$80

-$60

+$0

Meals

+$91

+$46

+$0

Route

+$60 (+$80)

+$60 (+$80)

+$0

Additions

-$52

-$33

+$0

Total

$488 to $558

$481 to $561

$615

What can we learn from this table? Firstly, that the biggest difference is caused by the transportation, and the different route of Alpaca Expedition which causes them to include an extra train ticket. By this method, we see that the price differences are pretty well explained by the extra service provided. However, differences remain…

Salkantay Trek Seven Snakes
Hiking with a view, day 1

Non-Money elements

Still, differences in prices remain… We hope this due to some aspects that are hard to express in money value, such as group size, safety, and because the staff is better paid, not because the companies make more profit. Anyway, for everyone, these elements might have a different value and therefore it is difficult to put an amount on it. Accordingly,  we discuss them separately.

Group size and safety

Where Salkantay has a maximum of 12 people per group with one guide, budget treks run groups between 10 and 19 people with one guide. For Alpaca expeditions apply a maximum group size of 16 people, but after 8 participants a second guide is added. Why does this matter? Fewer people give a more tranquilo experience.

More important, fewer people per guide (or two guides) means more personal attention for the wellness of the members of the group (which my dad really liked). If something is wrong with a group member, the second guide can take care of it. That having said, there are parallel groups and the support staff as well. Other safety measures add to the price too. Take for instance the satellite phones of Salkantay Trekking and Alpaca Expeditions to ensure communication at any moment. Alpaca Expeditions even takes oxygen with them on top of the mountain for emergencies.

As said completely in the beginning, the budget tours often combine bookings from various agencies into one big group. You can ask about this during your booking.  

Social Responsibility

Considering that a ticket to Machu Picchu already costs you $50, you have three meals a day, accommodation and transportation, it becomes quite clear that the staff of the low budget trek can never earn a lot. And there is a lot of staff… Because next to your guide, you have porters who carry your belongings with the help of horses and cooks that prepare your meals. 

The more you pay, the more the staff will earn in general (also because tips are relative to your trek price). Alpaca Expeditions is for instance very active with social responsibility well and not only pays their support staff but also gives back to their villages and cares about gender equality.

Tips for the staff

You could, of course, make your low budget tour a little more conscious by giving a bigger tip to the guide, porters and cooks. Tips, in general, are a bit of a hidden cost: you are kind of expected you give between 10%-20% of the tour price in total, divided over the staff. It is better to give your tip directly to the staff members to make sure it really reaches them. 

TIP: if you book a budget tour, giving a bigger tip could be nice. We prefer to give bigger tips to the support personnel, rather than the guide who always gets the most.

Salkantay Trek Social responsibility porters horses
Everything you take with you is carried by porters and horses

What is the real price for a Salkantay Trek? All hidden cost included!

Over the categories, you have seen us mention a few costs that you will inevitably make, but are not yet included in the price you pay at the agencies (see for instance the add-ons). Therefore a Salkantay Trek actually costs quite a lot more than the $170, $420 or $615 advertised. We made it easier for you: in the table below you find per tour the things that you will have to add, and what the total becomes.

Note: we added the train back to Cusco and one bus to/back form macho Picchu in the end, but if you go really budget you can leave that out! We also strongly advise a ticket for the mountains (read here why). Lastly, it is up to everyone individually to what extent you will tip, but it is custom to give 10-20% of your tour price.

(turn your screen for a better view!)

Salkantay Trek price

Extra cost

Budget Option

Salkantay Trekking

Alpaca Expeditions

OFFICIAL PRICE

 

$205  
(or $170)

$420

$615

 

Minivan day 3

+$10

Included

Included

 

Sleeping bag

+$10

+20

+$25

 

Mattress

Included

Included

+$25

 

Entrance Salkantay Park

+$3

+$3

Included

 

Water

+$15

Included

Included

 

Breakfast first day

+$6

+$6

Included

WHAT YOU PAY

 

+$249

$449

$665

 

Tips (here 10% of trek price)

(+$20)

(+$40)

(+$60)

INCLUDING TIPS

 

$269

$489

$735

 

Bus back from Machu Picchu

(+$24)

(+$24)

Included

 

Train back

(+$85)

Included

Included

 

Mountain ticket

(+$15)

(+$25)

(+$35)

 

Student discount

(-$20)*

(-$20ish)*

(-$20ish)*

INCLUDING EXTRAS

 

$392

$538

$770

* only for students with a valid student card (which you need to bring)

Is it worth it?

From the table, we can conclude that Salkantay is quite an expensive trek. Especially when you add all hidden cost. Still, we would really recommend it. The views were amazing and seeing Machu Picchu after 4 days of hiking makes seeing the world wonder even more special. 

Day 2 Jungle Salkantay Trek
Salkantay is one of the more costly experiences in Peru, but really worth it

Our conclusion

By splitting up the price differences into different categories, we tried to provide more clarity into what you pay for. While doing so, we were able to describe many aspects of the Salkantay trek. We were surprised to see that sometimes, the low budget Salkantay Treks include more or provide extras at a lower price. Furthermore, when paying the Price for the trek, you are not yet done spending money. There are a lot of hidden costs like taxis, entrance fees, and sleeping bags. We tried to sum these up too, such that you now know what it will cost to hike the Salkantay Trek.

By looking at the differences in the service level of the different Salkantay Trek companies, we could explain more than $300 of the price difference between the budget tour and Alpaca Expeditions. However, other important factors for your decision could be group size, safety, and social responsibility. It is up to you how important service is and, of course, how big your budget is.

That having said, EVERYONE we spoke with had an amazing time hiking the Salkantay trek, no matter if they paid $400 or $200. Accordingly, there is no good or bad decision, it is just preference. 

Machu Picchu father and daughter
Me and my dad, so happy to reach the end (and to not have to hike anymore)

Holy moly, this became a long-ass post, with a lot of information. We hope it was useful for you. If it was, we would highly appreciate it when you would share it with your friends, such that more people can benefit from it.  Following us on Instagram would be grand too!

Questions? Leave them in the comments or drop us a message!

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