No visit to Machu Picchu is complete without some mountain climbing!
Unfortunately, there aren’t many mountains you can climb around Machu Picchu. When I visited Machu Picchu 10 years ago, I could climb the Putukusi mountain and enjoy the view to the Machu Picchu ruins from another angle. But as far as I know, the path and huge wooden ladders on the cliffs have been totally neglected and are now totally unsafe to climb.
This basically leaves you with two remaining options: Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain. I am fortunate enough to have visited Machu Picchu three times and climbed both mountains; and I will explain here what to expect for each mountain and which one you might want to choose.
GPS (Huayna Picchu): Start of the trail 13°9'41.77"S, 72°32'44.98"W | Top 13°9'21.90"S, 72°32'41.96"W
GPS (MP Mountain): Start of the trail 13°9'59.7"S, 72°32'38.9"W | Top 13°10'28.6"S, 72°32'30.3"W
Entrance: 200 soles (62 USD) for Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu Mountain OR Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain
Duration of the hike: About 2 hours for Huayna Picchu | 2 hours up, 1.30 hour down for MP Mountain
Best season: May to September
Official link: MacchuPicchu.gob.pe
Hotel recommendation: Hostal Cusy Qoyllor, Aguas Calientes.
Huayna Picchu Hike: The Most Popular Hike at Machu Picchu
We have all seen these classic pictures of Machu Picchu, with the ruins and an elegant mountain in the background. This mountain is Huayna Picchu, “Young Peak” in Quechua, the language of the Incas. Who wouldn’t want to discover the view from up there, at 2720 m above sea level? I know I would, and did! And I am not alone, the Huayna Picchu hike is the most popular hike in Machu Picchu, apart from the ruins themselves.
Since climbing such a steep mountain can look pretty challenging, I will try to show you what everything looks like and give some advice from my own experience climbing the Huayna Picchu twice.
Unlike for my Machu Picchu Mountain hike, I had a glorious weather to climb the Huayna Picchu and could enjoy a perfectly clear view to the citadel and surrounding mountains, as you can see in the virtual tour below.
VIRTUAL TOUR - Huayna Picchu Trail
Climb the Huayna Picchu peak and get immersed in the natural beauty surrounding Machu Picchu (11 panoramas).
The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.
What To Expect?
Starting next to the Sacred Rock, the trail is at first quite easy to follow, until you reach the actual mountain, where things get much steeper! The same path is used for both going up and going down, except at the top of the mountain where it makes a loop.
Climbing the Huayna Picchu mountain can be quite challenging depending on how fit you are.
It is a rather short hike (it can be done in about 2 hours or a little more), but large parts of the trail is made of long stone stairways, with stairs varying a lot in size which is very tiring. In some parts, and particularly nearer to the top, the narrow stairs get really steep, so steep that most people use their hands to climb.
In addition to being steep, the trail and viewpoints are sometimes very exposed with big drop-offs. Most of the time, there is no protection preventing you from falling in the precipice. If you are afraid of heights, you might want to reconsider doing this hike!
Now that I have evacuated all the warning stuff, let’s talk more about the experience itself. Climbing the Huayna Picchu offers really fabulous views. You are totally immersed in the cloud forest environment. The views to the deep gorge of the Urubamba River, the Putukusi Mountain, the jungle-covered mountains all around, are spectacular.
A large part of the path is zigzagging up the mountain cliff, in the forest, with holes in the vegetation enabling you to spot the Machu Picchu citadel from above, with a totally new angle.
Nearer to the top, the Incas had built some terraces and houses, like privileged balconies to an exceptional scenery. The top of the mountain is made of large boulders that visitors have fun climbing.
From the top, starting to go down and before getting back on the main path, you will come across a couple of terraced viewpoints. I can tell you that the view from these viewpoints alone is worth the effort of climbing the mountain! It is definitely a highlight not only of your day at Machu Picchu, but of your whole trip in Peru.
How It is Organised: Group 1 or Group 2?
You can’t just show up anytime and climb the mountain just like you are visiting the ruins.
First of all, you need to buy a specific ticket the includes Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. At the time of my visit, this ticket cost 200 soles from the official website.
Secondly, there are only 400 persons allowed on the Huayna Picchu trail everyday, divided on two groups of 200 persons. Group 1 can start the hike between 7 and 8 am, and Group 2 can start between 10 and 11 am. So what group to choose?
Each group has its advantages and disadvantages, but my preference goes to Group 2. The first reason is the weather. On misty days, the earlier the more mist and on the later group you have higher chances to get clearer skies and enjoy a beautiful panorama.
A second reason is about the crowd. The Huayna Picchu is a very popular mountain and 200 persons is a lot. If you climb the mountain early with the first group, take your time at the top, there is a high chance to run into the Group 2 crowd going up while you are walking back down. You will need to share the same narrow path and it can quickly become annoying, and not great for your pictures either.
Of course, if you are climbing with the Group 2 you can also come across the Group 1 going down while you are going up, but then you will not have a big crowd at the top and when going down. The best is even to let the early Group 2 go ahead first and go at about 10.30, that’s what I did. But be careful, if you are late you will be denied entry!
Book your ticket early. As I said, the Huayna Picchu hike is very popular and in the high season, the 400 daily tickets can be sold out weeks or even months in advance. As soon as you know what day you will be at Machu Picchu, don’t hesitate to book.
TRAVEL MAP – Huayna Picchu
Visualize on the map the precise locations of panoramas in the virtual tour and places of interest to help you prepare your Huayna Picchu hike .
The map opens in a lightbox.
Machu Picchu Mountain Hike: The Alternative To Huayna Picchu
If the 400 tickets have already been sold or if you feel like doing something less popular and crowded, you might want to consider climbing the Machu Picchu mountain instead. The hike is a longer and the mountain is higher than Huayna Picchu, but the views are equally spectacular. The price is the same, but it is much less crowded.
Many people don’t realize that Machu Picchu is actually the name of the mountain the citadel was built on.
The Machu Picchu Mountain hike is a great opportunity to get a closer look at the cloud forest environment that surrounds Machu Picchu.
For this hike, I haven’t had much luck with the weather. I started the hike with the ruins engulfed in the mist, and on the way up I couldn’t enjoy the view for more than a few seconds, and at the top only the inside of the clouds was to be seen.
Fortunately, on the way down I had pretty nice weather windows enabling me to enjoy an unforgettable panorama to the ruins of Machu Picchu from above… only to be welcomed by the rain when I got back at the ruins.
Nonetheless, the hike is one of my best memories at Machu Picchu and regardless of the weather, I definitely recommend it if you are a hiking enthusiast. After all, in the cloud forest, clouds are part of the game!
VIRTUAL TOUR - Machu Picchu Mountain
Climb the Machu Picchu Mountain and enjoy the beautiful scenery and unique view to the Machu Picchu ruins (9 panoramas).
The virtual tour opens in a lightbox. Use your mouse to move around the 360° panoramas.
What to Expect?
So you are tempted to climb this mountain, that’s great! But what can you expect exactly? What will it look like? I will try answering this question the best I can.
What to expect, you ask? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is… steps! Lots of steps. Unequal, uneven, endless rocky steps. If you have already played with the virtual tour at the top of this page, you have probably already noticed that. Inca trails are quite famous to be made of crazy stairways and this one is not exception.
Another thing I want to point out that is maybe a little more important, is the presence of drop-offs. I already said that about the Huayna Picchu hike but it is the same for the Machu Picchu Mountain.
In some parts (more towards the upper part of the mountain), the narrow trail was built directly on the steep slope of the mountain, and there is nothing to prevent you from falling deep into the valley. If you are really afraid of heights, again, I suggest skipping this hike.
Since this trail is less popular (see next section), you can expect to have plenty of space and avoid the crowd. The views from the Machu Picchu Mountain are truly unrivaled. The citadel and the Huayna Picchu mountain that we see on all the pictures look dwarf from the Machu Picchu Mountain. The view is very extended and you can really appreciate what the whole area looks like.
Well before you reach the top, you are already rewarded by such views and it definitely encourages you to keep going even when you get tired of stairs!
If you are a nature and wildlife enthusiast, this trail is great to get in contact with the lush flora of the Peruvian cloud forest with large amounts of flowers, ferns and bromeliads. It is common to see beautiful orchids in bloom, making a great foreground for your pictures.
TRAVEL MAP - Machu Picchu Mountain
Visualize on the map the precise locations of panoramas in the virtual tour and places of interest to help you prepare your Machu Picchu Mountain hike.
The map opens in a lightbox. Zoom in to explore!
Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu?
It is now time to tackle this question, which is often asked by first-time vitors to Machu Picchu. Let’s see what are the differences between the two hikes.
The first key difference is the difference of popularity between the two mountains. There is a quota of 400 persons per day allowed for Huayna Picchu, and 800 for the Machu Picchu Mountain. There are specific time slots to start the hike. For the Machu Picchu Mountain you can start the hike between 7 and 8 am (Group 1) or between 9 and 10 am (Group 2). For the Huayna Picchu Mountain, it can be 7 to 8 am (Group 1) or 10 to 11 am (Group 2).
The iconic Huayna Picchu, towering above the ruins, is way more popular. As a result, the Huayna Picchu hike is often quite crowded and can be fully booked weeks in advance during the high season. Basically, it means that for any time slot, you will need to queue to start your hike with up to 200 persons. On the contrary, the Machu Picchu Mountain hike is much less famous, much less crowded and is rarely full.
As for the hike itself, the experience is also a little different. The Machu Picchu Mountain hike lasts around 3 hours, which is longer than the Huayna Picchu hike, that can be done in about 2 hours. Climbing the Machu Picchu mountain is a longer effort, with less steep parts than on the Huayna Picchu but longer set of stairs. From the ruins of Machu Picchu, the elevation gain to the top of the Machu Picchu Mountain is twice the one to the Huayna Picchu. Both trails have some serious drop-offs on the side.
Since the Machu Picchu Mountain hike is longer, it also means less time to explore the ruins, so it is important to manage your time well to avoid frustrations.
Now let’s talk about the view! Both mountains offer fabulous views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains covered with untouched cloud forest. However, the angle is totally different from a mountain to another and it’s difficult to tell which one is the best. For the view of the citadel, I personally prefer the view from the Machu Picchu Mountain because this mountain is well higher than the surrounding landscape. As a result, you get a really beautiful bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu, nested in the mountains, with the loop of the Urubamba River around.
We are now reaching the end of this article, I hope it was useful to you if you are preparing a trip to Machu Picchu.
In a nutshell, you have the choice between a shorter, famous but crowded hike and a longer, less popular and less crowded hike. It’s really not easy to choose. Maybe my best answer would be to do like me, go two days in a row to Machu Picchu and do both hikes! But I admit this was quite strenuous.
In any case, don’t hesitate to write any question or comment you have in the comments section below!