Climbing Huayna Picchu (the mountain in THAT photo)
This short, sharp ascent on narrow paths and stairs is both hair-raising and exhausting. But this is all forgotten when you stand at the top and look down on the wonder that is Machu Picchu.
What is Huayna Picchu?
Day visitors to Machu Picchu can choose between a regular entry ticket or a ticket that includes hiking to either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. Huayna Picchu is the dramatic cone-shaped peak which towers above Machu Picchu in all the photos…you know the one. Machu Picchu means ‘old mountain’ in Quechua and Huayna Picchu means ‘young mountain’. At 8,920ft, it’s the second highest point in the ruins precinct (Machu Picchu Mountain is higher) but it still enjoys great views.
Huayna Picchu versus Machu Picchu Mountain
If your legs allow it, hiking up one of these two peaks is highly recommended. But which one will it be?
Huayna Picchu is much more popular among visitors, and despite the fact that only 400 visitors are allowed to hike the trail every day (in two batches of 200) it can get rather busy. Although the ascent is shorter (about one hour) it is much steeper and scarier than Macchu Picchu Mountain, and it’s definitely not recommended for people who’re afraid of heights.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most people agree that the views from Huayna Picchu aren’t quite as good as those from Machu Picchu Mountain…mainly because you can’t get a photo of Huayna Picchu looming above the ruins if you’re standing right on top of it! But, Hikers with a Huayna Picchu ticket also get to visit the Temple of the Moon – more about that later.
Machu Picchu Mountain is not as busy, so it’s perfect for people who’re after a more intimate experience in nature. Although the trail is not as steep as the Huayna Picchu trail it still involves walking up fairly steep steps, at altitude, for between 3 and 4 hours. The views from the top of Macchu Picchu Mountain are hard to beat.
The nitty gritty
Only 400 visitors are allowed to hike Huayna Picchu every day. The first batch are let in at 7am and the second batch are allowed in at 10am. Booking in advance is essential but your Destination Expert will take care of this before your trip.
Regardless of your fitness levels, hiking up Huayna Picchu will definitely get your heart rate up. We’d advise getting a good night’s rest before embarking on the hike, and doing a fairly thorough stretch at the trailhead. Your guide will accompany you every step of the way, and he’ll walk at a pace that suits you/your group. Some people complete the ascent in only 30 minutes while others require an hour-and-a-half.
In some places the pathway is extremely steep and/or narrow and some sections involve using chains or ladders. The notorious ‘Death Stairs’ are float on the edge of a stone wall and at another point there’s a short tunnel through the rocks. In spite of all the hype, the hike is not overly technical or dangerous, but you do need to keep your eyes on the trail.
The ascent is more challenging between November and April because the path up the mountain becomes slippery in the rainy season. Better conditions for climbing can be expected during the dry season, which runs from May to September.
An added bonus
Your Huayna Picchu ticket also allows you to visit the Temple of the Moon, which is located about 1,200ft below the summit of Huayna Picchu. The name is misleading – rather than being a temple, it’s actually a natural cave featuring incredible stone constructions within the cave. Nobody knows why it was built, but experts believe it was either a place of worship or a royal tomb. There’s no evidence that any lunar rituals took place here – like many sites at Machu Picchu the name was arbitrarily assigned when it was discovered in the 20th century.
What to bring
Bring the same kind of stuff you’d bring on any strenuous dayhike. Water, snacks, sun-cream, some warm clothing and a rain-jacket. Don’t forget your camera, and be sure to pack spare batteries and memory cards.
While the view from the top is most likely your main reason for doing the hike, you’d be foolish not to enjoy the hike itself. Instead of focusing on how exhausted you are, why not think about how tiring it would have been to carve the steps out of the rock using only hand tools!
Watch the videos
What better way to get a feel for the hike than to watch a video of real people doing it? Try to ignore the jarring soundtrack (or turn the volume down completely) and focus on the experience itself…Unless you’re a fan of Progressive House that is…
If you have ten minutes to spare here’s another pretty good video which includes a tip on how to have the summit to yourself for 15 minutes.
We would highly recommend Huayna Picchu to anyone who is fit enough for the challenge. It’s perfect for people who have only one day at the ruins as you can be up and down Huayna Picchu by mid-morning and then still have the rest of the day to explore Machu Picchu. The views from the top are pretty special and the extreme nature of the trail makes the hike an experience in itself.