Huayna Picchu – the mountain behind Machu Picchu
You’ve seen it before: The classic panorama of Machu Picchu. Behind the magical Inca ruins stands a majestic mountain creating the unique atmosphere of the picture. The Mountain is called Huayna Picchu (or Wayna Picchu) and you can climb it. Here is all you need to know about the unique mountain.
- Height: 2,720 meters
- Difference in altitude: 360 meters
- Skill level: challenging / advanced hikers
- Time needed: 2h 30 min
>> Here is an overview of more Machu Picchu facts.
Climbing Huayna Picchu
At the far end of Machu Picchu, right behind the site generally known as the ‘Sacred Stone’ lies a little checkpoint. The simple straw-thatched hut is the entrance point for climbing Huayna Picchu. The impressive Huyana Picchu is one of the major highlights inside the Inca ruins (check out this personal account from a good friend about Hiking Huanya Picchu. He graciously allowed me to use his pictures). From its peak you will be granted the most impressive view on the whole site, feeling much like one of the Condors the Inca venerated so much.
Only visitors holding a special ticket (see below for more details) are allowed to enter. Every hiker has to register at the start of the climb and check out on his way out again. There is sometimes a little queue, but nothing you need to worry about.
Once you passed through the wicker gate, the path leads to a pleasant decline to the foot of Huayna Picchu. After about 100 meters you can option to hike Huchuy Picchu instead, which is the little mountain left to Huayna Picchu (an option for travelers short on time or not as sure footed).
Most hikers will want to climb all to the top of Huyana Picchu, though. Be prepared for a very steep hike, though. The path up to the top of the mountain is sometimes almost vertical. There are almost no hand rails or ropes – just the stairs the Incas once built into the sheer rock.
There are two choke-points where you will have to pass through a tunnel, so don’t bring a large backpack (too big backpacks are not allowed inside Machu Picchu in general).
That being said the path is well maintained and no special hiking techniques are required. Anyone who can walk up a stair (a steep one with many, many steps that is), will manage to climb Huayna Picchu. If you suffer from vertigo, this hike is nothing for you. There are many places where you will be facing a vertical drop of more than 500 meters down into the gorge below.
Below the peak of Huayna Picchu, you will find many terraces from the Incan times. Use them to rest a bit, drink a bit, enjoy the stunning view and of course take as many pictures as you want (be careful when taking selfies!). The very peak is rather stony, with only limited space and not the best place to spend prolonged amounts of times.
The vertical stairs at Huayna Picchu
The path downwards loops around the peak. It is the most dangerous part of the hike, which is why it is often called the stairs of death. People have died here, much like on any other challenging mountain hike in the world. Mountains and the mountain weather is nothing you should joke about. Most reports in the media about the Huayna Picchu death toll are exaggerated and/or not based on facts. A reasonable fit and sure-footed hiker will face no serious problems here.
It remains a fact, though, that the stairs leading down are almost vertical and you will face that abyss right in front of you. They are very narrow and there is almost no way you can overtake a slower hiker in front of you. That stretch is roughly 100 meters long. After these vertical stairs, the path joins the one you climbed up. Depending on the time you choose to climb, you will probably meet some people making their way up.
The Temple of the Moon
On your way down you also got the choice to see the temple of the Moon. Inside a cave at the far back of Huayna Picchu are located the remains of some scared Inca site. No written records exist hinting towards it true purpose. The layout and the extremely quality of the masonry gave it the byname “Temple of the Moon”.
Very few people option to see this mystic structure. Time certainly is an issue when hiking within the sanctuary of Machu Picchu. The Path itself is more or less level and not very challenging (nothing in the way of the stairs of death).
Tickets for Huayna Picchu
Tickets for Huayna Picchu can be bought on the official website of Machu Picchu. The website is only in Spanish and a bit old-fashioned, but will get you through easily. There are tour agencies offering tickets as well – none of them cheaper or faster. If you book a tour they usually don’t charge extra for it.
Because of conservative concerns, but also out of safety reasons only 400 people are allowed to climb Huayna Picchu per day. Tickets are sold for two slots.
- An early morning slot starting at 7am, with last entry at 8 am
- And a late morning slot from 10 to 11 am
Both slots for Climbing Huayna Picchu are limited to 200 tickets. You cannot buy tickets only for climbing Huayna Picchu. You NEED entrance tickets for Machu Picchu because the starting point of the treacherous hike is actually within the ancient Inca ruins.
Combined tickets for Huyana Picchu and Machu Picchu currently cost 150 PEN (soles). Holders of a valid international student card pay half the price. Locals get a rebate as well.
The Huayna Picchu trail closes at 3pm in the afternoon. By then you have to be back and deregister at the entrance. The official story is that the climbers in the early morning group will have to be back by 10 am. Usually, hikers coming in later are facing no problems, though.
The summit of Huayna Picchu will definitely close around 12:30 pm. All climbers reaching the top later will be asked to turn around. The trail to the Temple of the Moon will close even before (12am). If you plan to see it all, it is recommended to book the early morning tour.
There is an age limit for climbing Huayna Picchu. Only children above 12 years are allowed to do the trek.
Important notice: Tickets for Huayna Picchu usually sell out fast, especially in the high season. It is highly recommended to book these tickets way in advance.
Also, remember to bring your Passport. Tickets for both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu are only valid together with a valid ID. They will check both at the entrance.
How long does it take to climb Huayna Picchu?
For fit hikers climbing Huayna Picchu takes approximately 60 minutes to the top and 45 minutes down again. Plan some time to take pictures and a little rest at the top. The pathway up (and down) is very narrow, so also plan on fellow hikers which are not as fast and nimble as you might be.
All in all, you will probably need 2 and half hours to do the full circuit.
If you are planning to visit the Temple of the Moon at the backside of Huayna Picchu, you will have to take the long circuit. This will take you roughly additional 60 minutes, again for a fit hiker.
It is also possible to make a detour to Huchuy Picchu (which is the smaller mountain before Huayna Picchu) which will take another 45 minutes round trip. The peak is way smaller but offers a nice view on the Inca ruins as well.
When to climb Huayna Picchu? 7 am or 10 am?
This is a tough question because both slots have their merits. Generally speaking, Huayna Picchu will be less crowded in the morning and quieter. The climb will be also cooler (especially during the hot dry season). Also, for taking pictures the light will be much better in the morning.
Generally speaking, it will be better to climb Huayna Picchu in the late morning, though. People not taking the Inca trail or having stayed overnight down in Aguas Calientes usually arrive Machu Picchu a bit before noon. So if you take the morning slot you will return from the peak of Huayna Picchu just in time to meet the tourist hordes coming in from Cusco. It is recommended to tour the ruins of Machu Picchu either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Also, there is a high chance of morning fog in Machu Picchu. It usually dissipates around noon. So in the early morning slot, you run the risk of not actually seeing anything from above. Also, the trek can be a bit slippery in the morning (due to dew and the fog).
That being said, both slots (7 am and 10 am) hold their merits and both can be fun.
What to pack for Huayna Picchu
There is actually not a lot to Pack for Huayna Picchu. The only item you really need is very good walking shoes (ideally something that will stabilize your ankles). Appart from that make sure to bring the following items:
- Your passport and the print out of the tickets
- A light rain jacket
- A water canteen (1,5 l per person)
- Light weighted, fast drying shirt or t-shirt
- Light weighted, fast drying pants (if you are scared of the bugs or falling, option for long pants. Temperature allow for short hiking pants though)
- A small day pack
- Bug repellant (there are nasty gnats inside Machu Picchu)
- A camera with a good telephoto lens
- Some energy bars to still the hunger (food is actually prohibited in Machu Picchu; make sure to take back your garbage!!)
Walking sticks are not allowed on the trek, and, generally speaking, the trek is nothing for people needing them.
Will altitude sickness be an issue?
Huayna Picchu is only 2,720 meters high. Altitude sickness really shouldn’t be an issue for most travelers. The same applies to Machu Picchu in general (only people taking the Inca trail will reach higher terrains). The ruins are located, however, inside a tropical mountain rain forest. You will be facing very high humidity on a very steep hike. So you will most likely sweat a lot, but this will have to do little with the actual height of the mountain.
Huayna Picchu facts
- Huayna Picchu means young peak (as opposed to Macchu Picchu meaning old mountain).
- Huyana Picchu is the Hispanicized spelling. The proper Quechua spelling is Wayna Pikchu.
- The peak reaches a total height of 2,720 meters. It thus stands roughly 360 meters above Machu Picchu.
- No one knows what the buildings on top of Huayna Picchu were for. It is believed that some priests were living on this elevated spot to greet the coming of each day.
- Only 400 people are allowed to climb it each day.
- People have died climbing Huayna Picchu. It is often referred to as the stairs of death.
- There are a couple of natural caves on the back side of Huayna Picchu. One of them is home to the Temple of the Moon
- The climb up to Huayna Picchu is closed during the height of the rainy season.