There are many things in the world that are taken for grant, and / or are not given the recognition that they should – Salkantay is one of those. While the Inca Trail is the classic when it comes to Peru, that is not to say that it is the only one. You can find the tranquility of the Peruvian wilderness in many different places across the country.
This was once named by National Geographic as being among the top 25 treks worldwide. It's easy to see why once you're on it. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and you travel through a variety of terrains, from grassy fields to Andean mountains on down to cloud jungle.
The trek can be done in four days by getting transport to a farther point along the trail but is preferably done in five. This will see you hiking into Aguas Calientes / Machu Picchu Pueblo on the fourth day. The following morning, you will ride or take the bus up to Machu Picchu. There is also an alternative that includes hiking part of the Inca Trail. An Inca Trail permit and seven days are required for this.
Dressing approably is urgent due to the changing terrain that there will be. Layered dressing is always advised when in the highlands. Walking will obviously warm you up quite a bit as well. But the temperature changes can be extreme on this trek in particular.
The first night, for example, as you are near the ice-capped Salkantay mountain, is bone chillingly cold. The trek's highest point will be reached during this morning when you get your hiking boots back on. After that you will be going basically down into warmer climates although the trail will be rolling up and down.
Santa Teresa is home to some wonderful hot springs, and this is something to enjoy on the third day of your trek. These are still being rebuilt after the floods of 2010 but at least some of the pools have been reopened. There are also some inexpensive lodges in the area that can make a nice change from sleeping in a tent.
On the final day of hiking, you are well and truly into the jungle part of the trek as you make your way to Aguas Calientes. With a great range of fruits, flowers, coffee beans, orchids and bananas; the vegetation tends to be a reflection on the climate. Despite the heat and humidity, it's a lovely end to the trek and makes it hard to believe that you were shivering the first night.
The best way to see Machu Picchu is before the crowds arrive, so when you get up before it is light on the fifth morning be sure to take advantage. I'd suggest taking the bus up rather than walking so you do not have to get up quite so early. If you're interested in hiking Huayna Picchu while you're there, be sure that you mention this at the time of booking your trek. Access to the peak has to be bought, and this ticket is purchased when your are buying your Machu Picchu ticket.