How to complete the Salkantay Trek safely by yourself*
Think of doing the Salkantay trek but not interested in joining a tour? The Salkantay Trek is completely doable by yourself (full blog here) but staying safe is another thing. I completed a 5-day, 4-night trek, and here are a few points to know before you embark on it.
*Disclaimer: these are just tips not advice and are strictly for your own knowledge. Altitude sickness affects everyone differently regardless of how 'in shape' you are.
10 Basic Precautions
1. Fitness Level: It is a long, hard hike and there's no sugarcoating that. Even if you get help from mules, trains, and vans, it's still a long, hard hike. You will be walking anywhere from 68-74km (depending on where you start) if you decide to walk the entire thing. Your days are also going to be long. Think over 5 hours each day, walking over 14km. Be realistic about your fitness level when going into it. If you know you might not be in the best shape, or never hiked before, it will be a long, long 5 days with many breaks. Even if you are an avid hiker, that elevation is something else.
2. Acclimatize: You reach an elevation of 4600m which is no joke (tip: make sure you're insurance covers activities over 3000m as a lot do not). It is highly recommended to start your trip in Peru from a low altitude and go to a high altitude (i.e. start at Lima and work your way up). To get used to the altitude, hang out in Cusco for a few days.
3. Coca Leaves: have been used by locals for a long time to relieve symptoms of mild altitude sickness. You can buy these everywhere in Peru from small little bags to huge ones. In order for coca leaves to work, you need to drink or chew coca leaves BEFORE you feel the altitude (i.e. before leaving Cusco on the 1st day of the trek and in the morning on the 2nd day to Salkantay Pass). It's too late to take it when you start feeling it.
4. Hydratation, nutrition, rest, repeat: all of these will have a big impact on how well you will handle this hike, especially the altitude. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during, and after the hike. I brought electrolytes which I found helped. Always carry snacks with you to eat throughout the hike (there are shops where you can buy water/snacks on the trek).
5. Tour Groups: if you want that extra precaution measure on this hike, stay within arms reach of tour groups. All guides are trained in first-aid, carry medical kits, and usually have an oxygen tank. Plus some even have an emergency horse/mule for their customers to ride if need be.
6. First aid/Ambulance: Soraypampa (where you start) does have a first aid center and an ambulance truck if needed. This is also where you will spend your first night and a good time to judge how you feel at a higher altitude.
7. Pacing: this hike is not a race, there's no prize for getting to the top first, take your time and go at a pace you can manage especially when going up. Take as many breaks as you need (I like to call them breathing breaks because it feels like I just need to stop and breathe), hydrate, and refuel.
8. Mules: Renting mules is an option, especially for the first 2 days. Talk to your accommodation for more options.
9. Blisters: most of these points are about elevation but let's talk about your feet. You're walking for 5 days, blisters are the last thing you want. I ended up getting blisters because I don't change out of my sweaty socks. ALWAYS keep your socks dry! Bring a few pairs of merino wool socks and keep them in a handy spot so you can change them when needed. If you think you're getting a blister or have a blister, put a band-aid/ducktape/Moleskin over it to prevent more rubbing and irritation.
10. Research: the most important thing you can do before this hike is RESEARCH the symptoms of altitude illness! Understand when they are present (fatigue, headache, nausea), how long they should last for, and what you should do. The main rule is if you feel like you have symptoms, even mild ones, DO NOT keep ascending and sleep at that elevation. And if the symptoms worsen at that elevation, you should descend. There are many reputable resources on the internet you can get your information from.
I hope these tips help you with planning your Salkantay Trek hike! Even though you can do this hike by yourself, I would highly recommend always going with a friend. Save this post for future reference or share it with a friend! If you're looking for more hikes in Peru, check out my Peru Hiking page.