Laguna Humantay is a stunning glacial lake surrounded by dramatic mountain peaks that can be visited on day trips from Cusco or as part of the very challenging Salkantay trek. The Laguna Humantay is famed for its bright turquoise color with a backdrop of often snow capped mountains, and easily one of the most breathtaking places to visit in Peru.
If you like hiking and enjoy a bit of a challenge, this one is definitely for you! Curious to find out more? Continue reading because here is your complete guide to visiting the Laguna Humantay.
The Hike To Laguna Humantay – Essential Info
The hike to the Laguna Humantay is an out and return on the same path. The total distance is approximately 7.5 km (4.7 miles) and the elevation gain is 400 meters (1,312 feet).
This hike is considered moderate but because of the effects of the high altitude it can actually be quite difficult. The hike starts at an elevation of 3800 meters above sea level (12,467 feet) and finishes at 4,200 meters (13,780 feet). The terrain features uneven yet clearly marked paths.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Hikes In Peru.
What To Expect When Hiking To Laguna Humantay
Overall walking time to Laguna Humantay
Depending on your level of fitness it will take you around 1.5 hours to reach the lake and less than an hour to descend. Most people can hike up to the Laguna Humantay in 2 hours or less. This means that you can expect to walk for 3.5 hours – there and back – as a minimum. If you are doing this as part of a group, your pace will be determined by the slowest member of the group, so the overall time would be more.
The path to Laguna Humantay starts from the small village of Soraypampa. The path takes a left from the main Salkantay trek path up into the valley. As you leave Soraypampa, you will notice bathrooms. These will be the only toilets throughout the hike, from here on out the only option is a ‘nature toilet’. The toilets are simple but cost 2 Peruvian Soles (that’s around $0,50 USD).
Paying for toilets is actually quite standards in Peru, so make sure you always carry some spare change for when you need to go!
The path from Soraypampa starts relatively flat and gives time to really take in the landscapes within the valley. You also get a view of the path up to the lake and it can seem quite intimidating. It is steep and is consistently ascending.
There are some switchbacks but it is a steady climb up the valley. The path is rocky and can be uneven underfoot so I highly recommend wearing a pair of good hiking boots that will support your ankles.
Towards the end of the ascent, the path bends to the left; avoiding a rocky formation. Afterwards, the path turns right and the Laguna almost appears as a bit of a surprise. It is truly beautiful view and you can take advantage of this spot to catch your breath here while snapping some photos.
There are some paths around the lake that take you up to viewpoints of the Laguna Humantay. Some people will be fit enough to go around, whereas others will feel the effects of altitude and will prefer to take it easy – it’s completely up to you and how you feel.
On the way back down to Soraypampa you will follow the same trail you took to walk up to the Laguna. It is a great feeling coming back down as you can feel the effects of the high-altitude gradually ease up.
The sights along the trail to Laguna Humantay
The altitude of the hike to Laguna Humantay means that it is above the treeline giving you an uninterrupted view of the Vilcabamba mountain range. As you walk up the valley to the Laguna, you have a fantastic view across both the valley as well as the Salkantay and Humantay mountains.
The Laguna Humantay has a backdrop of Humantay Mountain, whose peak reaches 5,473 meters (17,956 feet). Expect to see some high altitude plants such as the beautiful purple Lupin.
Altitude at Laguna Humantay
The effects of altitude during a hike to the Laguna Humantay must not be overlooked. The whole hike is within the ‘very high-altitude zone’ and gets up to a height of 4,200 meters (13,780 feet) above sea level. I highly discourage doing this hike if you have not spent at least 3 days in Cusco, which is at 3,399 meters (11,152 feet) above sea level, to acclimate to the altitude.
The effects of altitude can be very severe and should not be underestimated. If you choose to do the hike with a tour agency, all the most reputable agencies have oxygen bottles in their vehicles. and the guide will have a satellite phone to contact the emergency services should you have any issues. The area is remote and does not have cell service.
The symptoms of altitude sickness can include dizziness, severe headaches and vomiting. To try and prevent this, make sure to drink lots of water and slow down your pace of walking. Coca leaves or coca tea also help to reduce the symptoms. Even if you do hikes like this in your home country, expect to do it slower than normal simply because of the altitude. And remember, altitude sickness may hit you no matter how fit you are!
Crowds at Humantay Lake
Laguna Humantay has become very well-known and the fact that it can be so easily accessed from Cusco means that you can expect to see many people on the trail. As all the tour buses leave Cusco at around the same time, this really adds to the crowds on the trail especially in the morning.
If you are looking for a remote location where you are unlikely to see other hikers, this is not for you. If you are looking for a chance to experience the beautiful Peruvian mountains and you are short on time, a day trip to Laguna Humantay is perfect.
Practical Information To Hike Laguna Humantay
How to get to Laguna Humantay from Cusco
There are 2 main ways to visit Laguna Humantay: either as a day trip from Cusco or as part of a multi-day trek such as the Salkantay trek. Either way, the trail starts in the village of Soraypampa, which is a 3 hour drive from the center of Cusco. The road is mountainous and can be very bendy at times.
Personally, I visited the Laguna Humantay on the first day of a 5-day Salkantay Trek that took me to Machu Picchu.
Hiking to Laguna Humantay as a day trip with a tour agency
There are many tourist agencies in Cusco that offer a hike to the Laguna Humantay as a day trip. There is no need to book far in advance as most agencies in Cusco offer this tour. Booking the day before is usually fine.
Choosing to hike the Laguna Humantay as a day trip from Cusco with a tour agency is the simplest way to do it. There is a small variation of cost between agencies but expect to pay between 80-100 Peruvian Soles (approximately $20 to $25 USD). Most tours include breakfast and lunch as well as transport. They also have a guide that makes sure that the group knows where to go and is alright during the hike.
There is an entrance fee of 10 Peruvian Soles (around $2.50) per person to hike to the Laguna Humantay. This is collected at Mollepata and you must pass this checkpoint before 12:00 pm. This fee is typically included in the price for most tours – make sure to double check upon booking the tour – but you may want to make a note of it and bring some change in case you want to go independently.
If you book online in advance, you will pay slightly more – but you will also have the chance to read reviews written by people that have taken the tour.
The tour buses begin collecting participants from Plaza Del Armas in Cusco at 4:00 am, so it is a very early morning. As all of the tours leave at the same time. This means that everyone arrives and starts the hike at the same time. It is a long day with at least 6 hours of driving in total. On average, the size of the tour group is 15-20 people.
Hiking to Laguna Humantay independently
A way to avoid the crowds on the hike to Laguna Humantay is to go without a tour, but this requires for you to organize transportation yourself. Some taxis in Cusco offer full day rentals for 250 Peruvian Soles per day (around $65 USD). The final price will need to be negotiated with the driver, but if you are traveling with one or two friends, it’ll end up being about the same price of a guided tour.
If you leave Cusco after 6:00 am this means that most of the tour groups have started their descent by the time you begin your hike. If you are lucky, you might even get the view of the whole lake to yourself!
The taxi does not include food or the entrance fee so financially it only works out if you can share the costs. It also takes away from the comfort of having a guide in case of any altitude sickness. In any case, the path to Humantay is clearly marked from Soraypampa so there is not much risk of getting lost.
There are some cabins and campsites in Soraypampa that cater to those doing the Salkantay trek. If you want to spend a night there to do the hike to avoid driving 6 hours in one day this is possible – but keep in mind this might cost a lot more than hiring a taxi.
Hiking to Laguna Humantay as part of the Salkantay Trek
The Salkantay trek is a 5-day hike that is often offered as an alternative hike to Machu Picchu – though it reaches the site via the village of Aguas Calientes (from where you can hike or take the bus up) and not via the Inti Punku (Sun Gate).
The Salkantay trek starts at Soraypampa too, and the Laguna Humantay is usually included as part of this trek – basically you will be on the Salkantay trek after about 5 km (little over 3 miles) from the beginning of the Laguna Humantay trek.
Many travelers pick this hike as it is a cheaper alternative to the Inca trail as it does not require a permit. The Inca trail is also limited to 200 tourists per day so if the Inca Trail is unavailable this is a great alternative. However, keep in mind that as most Salkantay treks include a ticket to Machu Picchu on the final day, you will still need to book well in advance to secure your visit, especially if you are visiting Peru in the high season, between May and September.
Riding horses to Laguna Humantay
If you are not up to completing the hike but still want to see the Laguna Humantay, there are horses for hire from Soraypampa. You must agree to the price with the owner of the horse but expect to pay around 80 Peruvian Soles (about $21 USD).
These horses are not an official service and are owned and cared for by the local population. This means they may not be in the best conditions. I saw the consistent use of a whip to get the horses up the hill. Use your own judgment and caution before choosing this option – but all in all, I do not recommend it.
Other useful information
Finally, here are some more things you may want to know before you set out to hike.
Toilets along the trail
There are no toilets along the route of the hike. The last toilets you will find are in Soraypampa and cost 2 Peruvian Soles ($0.50 USD). They should have toilet paper but bring some with you just in case.
Swimming in Laguna Humantay
It is forbidden to swim in the Laguna Humantay. As well as the freezing temperature of the water, it contains a lot of bacteria that could make you sick.
You can definitely take photos along the hike and at the lake, but you cannot fly a drone unless you have written permission to do so. Flying a drone is prohibited to protect the environment around the Laguna Humantay.
Can children and dogs hike the Laguna Humantay trail?
In principle, children can do the Laguna Humantay hike. Make sure that your child can hike for at least 2 hours on a steady uphill trail. However, I recommend a lot of caution when taking children to Laguna Humantay because of the risk of altitude sickness. By all means, do not take babies!
Dogs can do the Laguna Humantay trek. If you are traveling to Peru with a dog and want to do a tour, make sure to check with the tour operator to see if dogs are allowed on the tour. I met someone that did the whole Salkantay trek with her Border Collie!
What to wear when hiking to Laguna Humantay
You need to ready for all types of weather when hiking to Laguna Humantay. When I did the hike, it changed between sunny and rainy very quickly. This is the way when in the mountains so make sure you are ready for it!
A great pair of hiking boots is a must for the Laguna Humantay hike, as well as a comfortable daypack. I love Osprey daypacks and I find them really comfortable.
The ascent is a good workout so breathable clothes that you can easily move in are highly recommended. I also recommend bringing an extra warm sweater to wear when enjoying the view of the Laguna Humantay as you can quickly become cold once you stop. You should also wear a waterproof jacket that you can take off if you get too warm, and quick-dry hiking pants.
Don’t forget to also read my post What To Pack For The Inca Trail.
What to bring along your Laguna Humantay hike
Make sure to bring lots of food and drink to hike to Laguna Humantay. If you are doing a tour, they will provide breakfast and lunch but no snacks in between. One of the best ways to combat altitude sickness is to drink a lot of water. I recommend bringing at least 2 liters of water with you.
Do not forget sunscreen and protective lip balm. When at high altitude the sun can be a lot stronger so make sure to protect yourself. There are no shaded sections of the Laguna Humantay as it is above the tree line. A sun hat and sunglasses are also a great idea for this hike.
Of course, you want to take lots of photos of this beautiful spot. Don’t forget your camera or phone! Not all of the tour buses have USB chargers so bring a battery pack to keep your phone charged for the long journey.
The water in the Laguna can have some bacteria in it from the glacier. Bring some anti-bacterial hand gel to use in case you put your hand in the water.
Have you been to Laguna Humantay? How did you find the hike? Let me know in the comments!
These other posts will be useful when planning your visit to the Cusco area:
- The Best Cusco Travel Tips
- A Guide To The Rainbow Mountain Hike
- The Best Things To Do In Cusco
- How To Hike Huayna Picchu
- Where To Stay In Cusco
- A Complete Guide To The Sacred Valley
- How To Get To Machu Picchu
This post was contributed by Elen Hindley of El On The Move.