The Inca Trail is a historic hiking trail in Peru that ends at one of the country’s most important ancient Incan sites, Machu Picchu. This site is about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Cusco and Huayna Picchu Mountain (also referred to as Wayna Picchu) is the peak that towers above it. The Huayna Picchu hike (or Wayna Picchu hike) offers one of the most impressive views over Machu Picchu and is one of the most exhilarating in Peru.
The word Huayna is a Quechua word meaning “young” while Picchu means “mountain”. While the name translates to Young Mountain in English, the ruins of Huayna Picchu are certainly not young because they date back to the 1400s.
Although Machu Picchu gets all the attention, Huayna Picchu is actually quite popular. Perhaps it’s because of the views, or the need for a heart-pounding adventure, or the desire to keep going beyond the Inca Trail’s official end. Whatever the reason, many people climb Huayna Picchu each year. Scenery, wildflowers, temples, ancient ruins, and the chance to walk along the same path as the Incas make this trail a must-do.
I did this hike myself and loved it. If you are looking for information about the Huayna Picchu trek you are in the right place. I am about to share everything you need to know to best prepare for it.
Make sure to also read my posts The Most Impressive Ruins In Peru, How To Get To Machu Picchu and A Complete Guide To The Inca Trail To Machu Picchu.
Why You Should Do The Huayna Picchu Hike
To say that Huayna Picchu is spectacular is an understatement. Many visitors prefer it to Machu Picchu, while many say you can’t see one without seeing the other. Either way, if you choose to do it, you might be left exhausted but you won’t be left disappointed!
The views from the top of this mountain are amazing and will take your breath away (that, and the altitude). However, it’s the adventure of the climb that makes this hike so popular – ups and downs and turns and crawl spaces and ledges looking over a seemingly bottomless ravine. On your way to the top, you’ll also see pretty wildflowers, the Great Cavern, and Incan ruins, including an astronomical observatory and the Temple of the Moon.
At the top, you’ll see Machu Picchu from a whole new angle and the views are out of this world!
Head over to my post The Best Hikes In Peru.
Technical Aspects Of The Wayna Picchu Hike
Overall distance and duration of the hike
Huayna Picchu is a loop trail that’s about five kilometers long (3.1 miles) and the average time it takes to complete the trail is around four hours there and back, but that includes plenty of stops. The trail starts with an altitude of 2,430 meters (7,972 feet) and ends at 2,720 meters (8,920 feet) above sea level. The total elevation gain is around 353 meters (1,158 feet).
Huayna Picchu tickets
You need to get Huayna Picchu tickets in advance if you wish to do the Huayna Picchu Hike. The trail works on time slot system – you need to book one and stick to that: you can’t simply show up for the hike whenever you wish. The reason for this is to limit the number of people starting the hike at the same time.
Only 200 people are allowed on the trail every day and visitors are grouped into four time slots with 50 people in each one. All time slots are in the morning at either 8.00, 9:00, 10:00 or 11:00 am – this means you will be accessing Machu Picchu at 7:00, 8:00. 9:00 or 10:00 am.
Once inside Machu Picchu, signs will guide you to the trail head to Huayna Picchu. You’ll need to present your registration at a checkpoint and walk along a trail for about ten minutes before reaching the Huayna Picchu Trail.
Huayna Picchu tickets are sold for 200 Peruvian Soles for foreigners (that’s around $52 USD), and 118 Peruvian Soles (about $31 USD) for children between 12 and 17 (only kids from 12 years old up can do the hike). Tickets include admission to Machu Picchu, where you will be allowed to wander around Circuit 4. Huayna Picchu tickets can be purchased on the official website of Machu Picchu here. The site is actually only in Spanish, but it’s quite self explanatory so you shouldn’t have issues making your reservations.
These combined tickets to Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu are also available to book on Viator. For more information, click here.
If you are hiking the Inca Trail, you will actually need to get separate tickets to access the Huayna Picchu trail. This is mainly because Inca Trail hikers are normally only allowed along Circuit 5 in Machu Picchu, and because in any case by the time you visit the site, it will be too late to make it to any of the time slots.
Check out my post How To Get Machu Picchu Tickets.
How difficult is the Huayna Picchu Hike?
The Huayna Picchu Hike is difficult. But how challenging you’ll find it depends on a number of factors. This is a breathtaking hike, but the trail is also very narrow and it can be dangerous in places!
For avid hikers who are used to hiking on rough, steep terrain, and who are in good shape, the hike isn’t so bad. For visitors who don’t hike often and are not in tip-top shape, the hike will be more challenging, but doable. The only people who shouldn’t attempt this hike are people who are afraid of heights, are prone to vertigo, or have a heart condition that puts them at higher risk for severe altitude sickness.
The hike itself is classified as moderate and involves a lot of steep inclines and declines. Much of the trail is quite narrow but there are steel cables in some places to help you navigate particularly difficult areas.
Two sections of the trail are the most difficult. The first area of concern is the narrow tunnel you have to go through. It’s a small space that may require you to crawl on your hands and knees for a short time. The other is the section known as the Death Stairs – a whopping 750 stairs. These stairs are quite steep and there’s no railing. It’s actually harder going down than up!
The best way to navigate the difficulties is to take your time, stop when you need to and let other hikers pass you so there’s no pressure for you to go at their pace.
Is the Huayna Picchu Hike dangerous?
Most visitors do this hike without any difficulties. I didn’t find it particularly challenging – or perhaps, I was just very motivated.
However, upon seeing Huayna Picchu Mountain and how steep it is, you’ll likely wonder if it’s even safe to do this hike. The answer is yes, it’s safe, but you need to be very cautious and aware of the dangers that are present to prevent any accidents.
There have been several incidents with falls over the years but most of these incidents involved hikers crossing the safety markings – which you should never do.
The trail itself runs along steep ravines that drop hundreds of meters with not much between you and the edge. That being said, if you take your time and stay within the safety markings, you’ll be fine. Taking selfies on the edge of the ravine isn’t recommended!
The other danger is slippery rocks. While much of the trail can be slippery very early in the morning and after heavy rains, shady areas or places underneath outcroppings may remain damp for some time after the sun comes out.
The signs of altitude sickness are headache, nausea, and shortness of breath. If you experience these symptoms, don’t press on and seek help from one of the guides that are present along the trail.
Despite the dangers, the things that are most likely to cause you any harm are dehydration and sunstroke. Make sure to drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen and a hat while on the trail.
When is the best time to hike Huayna Picchu?
Generally, the best time of year to do the Huayna Picchu hike is before or after the rainy season (which is January to beginning of April). June, July and August are the driest months, but this is also when the area will be most crowded. The weather also tends to be nice enough to hike in September and at the beginning of October.
Temperatures can vary between 7°C to 28°C (44°F to 83°F), depending on the season, and it’s also very humid – with 50% humidity in the dry season and 90% in the rainy season.
It has been said that May and October are the two best months to hike if you want the best weather and smallest crowds.
I hiked it in mid April and the day was nice and sunny, and it was quite hot! The last time I was in Machu Picchu, in mid October, it was raining heavily and the clouds surrounded the mountain, so we could not even see Huayna Picchu.
Late morning is the best time to hike for weather conditions, but if you want to be the first one on the mountain to get some nice pictures without the crowds, it’s best to try to book your hike for the first time slot of the day. However, many photographers claim that the early afternoon offers the best photo ops. So if time allows, it might be worth it to stick around on the mountain until the sun is high in the sky if you’re after some amazing shots of the area.
What should you wear for the Wayna Picchu hike?
As the hike is difficult and the weather is unpredictable, the most important thing you can do to ensure your comfort and safety on this hike is to dress appropriately.
First of all, hiking boots are necessary for the terrain. Make sure you wear socks that fit properly as there’s nothing worse than trying to climb the side of a mountain while your socks are slipping into your boots!
Temperatures vary in this area throughout the day and at various elevations. It can be cool on the mountain, especially early in the morning. However, once you start hiking, it won’t feel so cool. Dress in layers so you can add and remove items as needed.
Comfortable hiking pants or shorts are best to wear and because rain showers are common, having a light poncho will keep you dry. You should consider taking a hat with you because that mid-day sun gets very hot! Sunglasses are a good idea too.
What should you pack?
You will need to bring a small backpack with you. It shouldn’t be too big – just enough to hold the most important items you’ll need throughout the hike.
In your pack, you should have some healthy snacks, plenty of water, your cell phone and a camera. I can’t stress enough how important it is to wear sunscreen and to have extra to reapply mid-hike. When the sun is out, it gets hot and it doesn’t take long to get a painful and dangerous sunburn in those conditions. Insect repellent is another important item to take along as there are mosquitoes that carry diseases such as zika and yellow fever.
You should also read my post What To Pack For The Inca Trail.