Huayna Picchu, which in Quechua roughly translates to “Young Peak,” is the majestic sugarloaf mountain that rests behind the northern side of Machu Picchu. Its dramatic shape and backdrop against the ruins are, in part, why Machu Picchu is so striking in appearance.
Originally, Huayna Picchu is thought to have been occupied by Incan high priests. Each morning they would travel to and from Machu Picchu on a mountainside path. Today, visitors can hike to the top of Huayna Picchu via parts of this original Inca trail. The mountain’s proximity to the Inca city affords hikers with exceptional aerial views of the ruins.
The Huayna Picchu hike is one of Peru’s most sought after tourist activities. It is challenging yet rewarding. To ensure that your experience is a success, we’ve shared essential facts and expert recommendations on how to conquer this mountain.
*Cover photo by Daniella Beccaria.
Table of Contents:
- Huayna Picchu Tickets
- The Best Time to Hike Huayna Picchu
- How to Arrive
- What to See at Huayna Picchu
- Hike Difficulty
- Huayna Picchu vs. Machu Picchu Mountain
- What to Pack
- Start Planning
Huayna Picchu Tickets
The Peruvian government allots 400 tickets each day for the Huayna Picchu hike. These tickets are divided into three entrances:
|Entrance Tickets||Machu Picchu Entrance Time||Huayna Picchu Entrance Time||Private Machu Picchu Tour*|
|Option 1||After 6:00 am||7:00–8:00 am||After the hike|
|Option 2||After 7:00 am||7:00–8:00 am||After the hike|
|Option 3||After 8:00 am||10:00–11:00 am||Before the hike|
Tickets for Machu Picchu typically do not sell out more than 2–3 weeks in advance. However, tickets for the Huayna Picchu hike can sell out several months in advance. Therefore, make sure to decide as soon as possible if you would like to do the hike.
*Visitors can both hike Huayna Picchu and take the Machu Picchu tour on the same day. For a more relaxed pace, you can also split the two activities between two days. Spending two days at Machu Picchu is especially recommended during the rainy season when inclement weather is likelier.
Huayna Picchu Ticket Regulations
To preserve the archaeological ruins and prevent overtourism, the Peruvian government has imposed stricter regulations at Machu Picchu in recent years. Below are some key points to keep in mind for your visit to the ruins and for the Huayna Picchu hike:
- The Huayna Picchu ticket allows entry to both Machu Picchu (for the tour) and Huayna Picchu (for the hike).
- The ticket is valid for a total of six hours, beginning from the time you enter Machu Picchu. (The Machu Picchu guided tour lasts about 2.5 hours whereas the Huayna Picchu hike takes about 3 hours). Visitors can spend a maximum of 4 hours on the Huayna Picchu hike.
- With the regular Machu Picchu entrance ticket, visitors cannot reenter the site after exiting. However, the Huayna Picchu ticket allows travelers to exit Machu Picchu and reenter once. This is convenient as the snack stand, lockers, and restrooms are located outside of the Machu Picchu entrance.
- Backpacks with the following dimensions are permitted into Machu Picchu and on the Huayna Picchu hike: 9.8 x 8.6 x 19.6 in (25 x 22 x 50 cm).
- Only elderly and disabled travelers may use hiking poles (must have rubber tips).
- Photography is permitted, however tripods and drones are not.
- Travelers may bring water into the site and on the hike, however, food is not permitted inside Machu Picchu. Instead, you can store a boxed lunch in a locker outside of Machu Picchu’s entrance. There is also a snack stand and buffet outside of the ruins.
The Best Time to Hike Huayna Picchu
Machu Picchu is a year-round destination. However, there are both advantages and disadvantages to traveling at certain times.
The Best Time of Day
Below we have illustrated the advantages and disadvantages of each hiking ticket:
|Options 1 & 2 (first hiking entrance)||•Cooler temperatures|
•Hikers only traveling in one direction
•Slight chance to catch the sunrise in winter months (option 1 only)
|•Greater chance of mist and cloudy skies|
•Must meet your tour guide at a specific time after the hike (you may feel rushed to finish the hike)
|Option 3 (second hiking entrance)||•Greater chance of clear skies|
•Machu Picchu tour before the hike (no rush to finish the hike)
•Hikers from the first slot descend while second slot hikers ascend
In general, options 1 & 2 are ideal for travelers who prioritize comfort over views. During the 7:00 am–8:00 am Huayna Picchu entrance time, temperatures are cooler and travelers will, for the most part, be traveling one way. Hikers with the 6:00 am Machu Picchu entrance (option 1) also have a slight chance of catching the sunrise during the Southern hemisphere’s winter months (depending on the weather). Throughout the year, the sun rises over Machu Picchu between 5:21 am (December 21) and 6:11 am (June 20).
Option 3 is recommended for travelers who want excellent views of Machu Picchu and are not bothered by crowds. During this shift, there is a greater chance that the morning mist will have subsided. Also, with the later entrance, the Machu Picchu tour is before the hike. Therefore, you will not be rushed to finish your hike to meet your guide at the tour’s designated start time. Instead, you will have more time to enjoy the stunning views from above.
*Inca Trail trekkers (2-day and 4-day) must choose option 3 if they would like to take the group Machu Picchu tour included with their trek.
The Best Time of Year
There are two distinct seasons at Machu Picchu: rainy season (December through March) and dry season (June through September). The months that lie in between are shoulder seasons.
Even during the rainy season, it does not usually pour all day at Machu Picchu. However, you should expect to experience some showers. It is also likely to be quite cloudy. While this can sometimes add a sense of mystique, abundant cloud cover and mist can obstruct the views of the ruins.
Contrarily, during the dry season, rain is less likely and sunny skies are typical. Crowds at Machu Picchu are much more common during the dry season. However, due to Huayna Picchu’s popularity, hiking tickets usually sell out months in advance throughout the year. As a result, the number of hikers does not vary between the two seasons.
How to Arrive
Follow these steps to get from the town of Aguas Calientes to the Huayna Picchu summit:
Step 1: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
After waking early, enjoy breakfast and check out of your Aguas Calientes hotel. (The front desk will gladly store your luggage while you are at Machu Picchu). Walk to the bus station where you may wait up to 1 hour to board the bus. Buses depart every 15 minutes. However, the length of the line varies according to the season.
Reminder: Make sure to bring your original passport with you. You will need this to enter both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu.
Step 2: Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu
After the 20 to 25-minute winding bus ride up the mountain, follow one of the next steps according to your Huayna Picchu time:
If you have a 7:00–8:00 am Huayna Picchu entrance time:
- Enter Machu Picchu and follow Circuit 2 to the Huayna Picchu trailhead. Each walking path at Machu Picchu is one-way. There are signs indicating the correct direction, as well as friendly guards should you have any questions. Allow for about 20 minutes to walk from the Machu Picchu entrance to the Huayna Picchu trailhead.
If you have a 10:00–11:00 am Huayna Picchu entrance time:
- Meet your Machu Picchu tour guide outside of the entrance to the site at your designated tour time. They will be to the left of the gate by a large map of the ruins. Keep an eye out for a sign with your group name.
- You will continue with your expert guide on a 2.5-hour tour through the ancient citadel. At the end of your tour, your guide will leave you at the Huayna Picchu trailhead.
At the trailhead, you will have to show your original passport at the hike’s entrance gate. There is also a sign-in/out sheet. From here you will begin the hike!
*Hikers with the early time slot cannot start the hike after 8:00 am and those with the later time slot cannot begin after 11:00 am. Therefore, we recommend that you arrive at the trailhead early.
What to See at Huayna Picchu
Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich cultural and natural wonders. Below are some highlights of the Huayna Picchu hike.
Most of Huayna Picchu mountain is under forest cover; however, the views from the peak make the hike up well worth it. At the top, hikers can enjoy phenomenal aerial views of Machu Picchu, as well as astounding mountain vistas. It is the perfect place to take a moment to reflect on your journey thus far.
Temple of the Moon
After reaching Huayna Picchu’s summit, hikers have the choice of two trails for their return to Machu Picchu. The first option is to descend along the same path that they took up to the summit. The second option is to hike to the Temple of the Moon.
The Temple of the Moon is a 1,500-year old temple built within two caverns. Although its purpose is unknown, scholars theorize that it was a ceremonial site used for worship, royal burials, or sacrifices. Despite its name, most experts do not believe that the moon was symbolically relevant to this site. However, others have suggested that the name is the result of the way moonlight illuminates the cavern.
This temple is particularly intriguing due to its impressive Inca stonework and eight-meter high false doors cut into the walls. You will also find representations of the condor, puma, and snake, which in Incan beliefs represent the heavens, earth, and underworld, respectively.
To reach the temple, hikers must descend the side of the mountain that does not face Machu Picchu. As you must cross the mountain and circle back before catching up with the main path back to Machu Picchu, the hike to/from the Temple of the Moon requires an additional 1–1.5 hours.
Warning: The trail leading to the Temple of the Moon can be very slippery, especially during the rainy season. Overall, the trail is very steep, and extreme caution should be taken.
Stairs of Death
You may have heard about Huayna Picchu’s “Stairs of Death.” Off the main path are diagonal rows of Inca steps that perpendicularly jut from the side of the mountain. The Stairs of Death are also referred to as Huayna Picchu’s “floating steps” as there is a deep abyss beneath them. Only air separates them from the Utcubamba River over 1,000 feet below.
These stone steps allowed the Incas to reach their terraces on Huayna Picchu without crushing their crops. They also deterred access to animals like llamas and alpacas.
Due to the risk of falling, the stairs are roped off from the public. Instead, continue on the main path and snap a photo of these iconic steps during your ascent.
Flora & Fauna
In addition to its fascinating archaeological ruins, Machu Picchu and its surrounding cloud forests are inhabited by a variety of plant and animal species. In fact, this part of Peru is particularly popular with bird-watchers. Here are just some of the species that you may encounter during your visit to this region of Peru:
- Amphibians (16 species): Abra Malaga toad, Chilca marsupial frog, gray toad
- Reptiles (26 species): Andean lancehead, Ochoa iguana, Peru slender snake
- Mammals (77 species): Andean bear (spectacled bear), dwarf brocket, puma
- Birds (443 species): cock-of-the-rock, Andean condor, green-and-white hummingbird
- Orchids (423 species): Epidendrum birostratum, Masdevallia veitchiana, Vasqueziella boliviana
- Butterflies (377 species): Bell’s longtail, gold-bordered hairstreak, Plötz’s sootywing
Although it only takes about 3 hours roundtrip to hike Huayna Picchu, the trail’s steep incline makes it all the more challenging. Hikers encounter many stone steps throughout the hike. However, the steep stairs at the top and the sharp drop-offs are particularly frightening for some travelers.
While some areas of the hike are equipped with steel hand cables, in most sections there are no handrails whatsoever. Similar to the Temple of the Moon, the stairs are very slippery when wet.
With this in mind, the Huayna Picchu hike is not recommended for travelers who experience vertigo or acrophobia. Likewise, young children (<6 years old) are not advised to hike this mountain. Children should only hike Huayna Picchu if they have experience hiking.
Huayna Picchu Hike Details:
- Highest point: 8,924 ft (2,720 m)
- Elevation gain: 952 ft (290 m)
- Trail distance: 1.2 mi (1.9 km) each way
- Duration: ~3 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
Although commonly thought to be higher in elevation than Cusco and the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu is actually located at a lower elevation. Machu Picchu is situated at 7,972 ft (2,430 m) whereas the summit of Huayna Picchu is at 8,924 ft (2,720 m). However, as altitude sickness (acute mountain sickness) can affect people at elevations as low as 6,600 ft (2,500 m) above sea level, it should not be disregarded on a trip to the ruins.
There are precautions that you can take before and during your trip to decrease your chance of developing altitude sickness. Click here for more information about altitude sickness and preventative suggestions. Be sure to also speak with your physician before traveling to Peru.
Physical Training Recommendations
As with any hike, prior physical training will make the experience more enjoyable. We recommend that you start your training at least two months prior to your trip. After all, a trip to Machu Picchu is a once in a lifetime experience!
If possible, combine stretching, squats and lunges, core work, jogging, and practice hikes. Check out the following training guide for expert tips on how to physically prepare for hiking:
Huayna Picchu vs. Machu Picchu Mountain
While Huayna Picchu is Machu Picchu’s most iconic hike, it is not the only option. A second mountain, Machu Picchu Mountain, is located on the opposite side of the ruins and also offers splendid vistas.
Rising to 10,007 ft (3,050 m) above sea level, Machu Picchu Mountain is 1,083 ft (330 m) taller than Huayna Picchu. Therefore, it is physically more challenging. However, the path is less steep and is a recommended alternative for travelers who are uncomfortable with heights. It takes about 4 hours to complete.
Unlike Huayna Picchu, this gentler path winds around the mountain resulting in several viewpoints along the way. For this reason, Machu Picchu Mountain is an excellent choice for families and travelers who only wish to do a partial hike. There are no archaeological ruins or terraces on Machu Picchu Mountain.
Due to its proximity to the ruins, Huayna Picchu has incredible aerial views of Machu Picchu. In comparison, Machu Picchu’s main ruins are not as visible from the Machu Picchu Mountain summit because of the greater distance. However, the views of the landscapes are phenomenal!
Machu Picchu Mountain Hike Details:
- Highest point: 9,934 ft (3,028 m)
- Elevation gain: 1,962 ft (598 m)
- Trail distance: 1.2 mi (1.9 km) each way
- Duration: ~4 hours
- Difficulty: Moderate
*Tickets for Machu Picchu Mountain also sell out months in advance. Make sure to book early to avoid missing out!
What to Pack
The weather and temperature at Machu Picchu are variable, no matter the season. We recommend to wear layers as the mornings at Machu Picchu can be quite cool. You’ll warm up quickly under the sun and during the hike. Below are a few recommended items to bring with you to Machu Picchu:
- Daypack no larger than 9.8 x 8.6 x 19.6 in (25 x 22 x 50 cm)
- 1+ liters of water
- Insect repellent
- Sunscreen (the high elevation sun is intense!)
- Sun hat
- Rain jacket
- Hiking boots/shoes with a good tread
- Camera (batteries consume energy faster at high elevations, so consider bringing extra)
- Roundtrip bus tickets
- Machu Picchu/Huayna Picchu combination ticket
- Original passport
To simplify your planning, we’ve also compiled this comprehensive list of what you’ll need during the rest of your journey in Peru.
If you are in search of an adventure, experience Machu Picchu to the maximum by adding the Huayna Picchu hike to your itinerary. You’ll be amazed by its magnificent views of both the ruins and the surrounding landscapes. It is an excellent way to extend your visit to Machu Picchu, and for many travelers, it is the highlight of their trip.
Contact us to begin planning this extraordinary adventure!