Laura Pattara | 16 November 2017
Machu's Equally Outstanding Sister-peak
A thrilling addition to an unforgettable day spent at Machu Picchu: here’s all you need to know about climbing Huayna Picchu.
For those who visit the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru, the option of additional hike up to the peak of Huayna Picchu is both dreaded and immensely enticing. Offering a completely different viewpoint, as well as a climbing challenge, Huayna Picchu is the ultimate cherry on top of a most delightful Machu Picchu experience. You certainly don’t have to scale it in order to be overawed by a visit to this most mystical of archaeological sites. But if you are willing, and able, your overall Machu Picchu experience will be infinitely enhanced.
Where is Huayna Picchu?
Even if you’ve never heard of Huayna Picchu before, you’ve no-doubt seen it in countless photos: this is Machu Picchu’s most picturesque frame and backdrop, that one landscape feature which makes the whole site an absolutely stunning visual feast. The peak sits at just over 2700m in altitude, rising 350m above the Inca citadel.
CIRCLE HUAYNA PICCHU ‘HERE’
How difficult is a climb up Huayna Picchu?
Hiking Huayna Picchu is not all that difficult. BUT…
If you’re fit and adventurous, and especially if you’re acclimatised to the altitude, you shouldn’t have any problems conquering the peak. Having said that, this is no place for vertigo-sufferers. Whilst the climb is not all that hard it can be hair-raising, with some precipitous drops and narrow paths presenting challenges for those who suffer heights easily.
You’ll also need a fair amount of agility to conquer the peak, with narrow tunnels (best tackled on all fours) and exposed stone-steps calling for physical confidence (on the way up) and steely nerves (on the way down). The exposed rock paths – which boast handrails only on some sections – can be quite slippery when wet, so a climb is best attempted during the driest months, between June and September.
Why climb Huayna Picchu at all?
The top of Huayna Picchu boasts arguably the most incredible views of the whole Machu Picchu complex, not only of the citadel from an unusual angle but also of agricultural terraces in the valley below and of the snakey Urubamba River. Moreover, the climb is exhilarating, challenging and totally insane, making the journey as unforgettable as the final destination.
If you decide to tackle the challenge of Huayna Picchu, the rewards are immense. You’ll gain access to lesser-visited Great Cave (Gran Caverna) and Moon Temple (Templo de la Luna) and will have the honour of meandering your way along an ancient path initially craved by the Incas. If you’re skipping the Inca Trail and plan on visiting Machu Picchu on a day trip, this could certainly be a wonderful ‘been there, hiked that’ alternative adrenaline rush.
Tips for hiking Huayna Picchu
The hiking trail to Huayna Picchu starts behind the Sacred Rock on the northern end of Machu Picchu complex, directly opposite the main gate. It is well signposted and getting lost is just about impossible.
But please don’t take this as a challenge…
After leaving your details at the warden’s kiosk, follow the winding path for about 20 minutes, before coming to a fork on the road. Here, you can take the trail to the right for the steep but shorter hike to the peak, or take the one to the left which snakes its way around the western flank of Huayna Picchu along a much longer path to the peak, passing the spectacular Templo de la Luna, or Moon Temple.
The SHORT ascent should take you about 1.5 hours (return, starting from the warden’s kiosk)
The LONG ascent takes about 3,5 hours (return, starting from the warden’s kiosk AND including the Moon Temple)
The long ascent around the mountain, down to the Moon Temple and back up to the peak is much more difficult and not only because your hiking time is tripled. All up, you’ll have to ascend more than 2000 steps and face some of the steepest and most exposed trail sections of the whole stretch.
Is the long ascent worth the extra time and energy? This is a question we field often but one that’s very difficult to answer. Generally speaking, the extra effort and time will be worthwhile if you enjoy physical challenges and have plenty of time, but don’t fear that you’ll have a ‘lesser’ experience if you only tackle the short trail to the peak of Huayna Picchu.
The experience of climbing Huayna Picchu is simply SPECTACULAR no matter which option you choose!
Years ago, one could hike up Huayna Picchu at will, but restrictions have been introduced in the last decade to help decreasetrail wear and avoid any possible accidents. Nowadays, only 400 people a day are allowed access to Huayna Picchu, with 200 allowed through between 7am and 8am, and 200 again between 10am and 11am. At the height of tourist season, in August, the trail can get congested, presenting an extra challenge for hikers who need to make way for one another as they pass. Quite the challenge in the narrowest sections! Officially, the first group should return to base by 10am so as not to overcrowd the trail but in effect, this hardly ever happens. If you wish to encounter the least amount of co-hikers, then do choose to enter at 7am.
If you wish to tackle the long trail, it’s recommended you also aim for the 7-8am entry window. That way, you’ll minimize your chances of encountering the low cloud cover which is so common in the early afternoon hours. Then, on your return, you can spend some hours exploring Machu Picchu at leisure.
If you encounter morning fog (which is not unusual) enter the trail as late as possible on your time-slot and take your time with the first section of the hike. Morning clouds at Machu Picchu usually lift by 10.30am and your experience will likely not be hampered at all. Just walk slowly and give the clouds a chance to lift away.
The peak of Huayna Picchu is arguably the most magnificent part of the hike yet even those who don’t easily suffer heights claim to feel a bit uneasy at the exposedness of it all. So don’t allow the excitement at having MADE.IT. cloud your judgement up the top and keep a firm footing as you meander your way around the peak to take in the magnificent 360-degree views.
Feeling a tad nervous? Go with a guide! Your confidence will be boosted by having an experienced local guide with you along the way. This is especially true if you and your hiking partner/s are all feeling equally hesitant. Taking a guide could well make the difference between a successful bucket-list experience and a nerve-wrecking failed attempt.
Make sure you pack 2lt of drinking water per person and wear comfortable and sturdy walking shoes.
Don’t forget you passport! This will be checked at the warden’s kiosk.
Please note that children, under the age of 12, will not be admitted to Huayna Picchu.
Although entry tickets to Machu Picchu DO NOT include access to Huayna Picchu, tickets to Huayna Picchu include entry to Machu Picchu. Let your travel agent know if you wish to hike the additional peak and you can avoid a double-ticketing to the Inca citadel.
Excited at the prospect of climbing Huayna Picchu? You can do it! Add this incredible option on your tour of Peru and you can ensure your ancient Inca immersion experience will be as comprehensive and awe-inspiring as can be. For help with securing tickets, guides and transport, and for all things Peru-tour related…just contact us! We’ll get you to the top of Huayna Picchu, and beyond, safely and easily.