After spending almost two weeks exploring Peru, the hike to Huayna Picchu (aka Wayna Picchu), the iconic mountain located behind Machu Picchu, was definitely one of the highlights of our trip! For many, visiting Machu Picchu, the hidden fortress shrouded in mystery, is a bucket list experience. But if you’re planning on visiting Machu Picchu, don’t miss out on the hike to Huayna Picchu, for the best views of the ancient ruins nestled high in the Andes mountains! In the article below, we’ve provided all the information you need to prepare for the hike up Huayna Picchu.
About the Huayna Picchu hike
Most people are familiar with Machu Picchu, the mysterious Incan fortress perched high in the Andean mountains. However, fewer people are probably familiar with Huayna Picchu, the mountain peak seen towering above the lost city of the Inca.
In fact, you’ve likely already seen a picture Huayna Picchu and not even realized it! If you look at almost any photograph of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu can be seen in the background, looming above the ruins.
But if you look at those pictures, you’ll probably wonder how in the world is it even possible to get all way up there!?
Don’t underestimate the Incas! Of course, the people who built a massive complex of stone structures high in the Andes would devise a way to reach the top of the taller and steeper peak just next door.
During our visit to Machu Picchu, our favorite part of the day was the hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu. Not only does the summit provide the absolute best views of Machu Picchu, but you’ll be able to escape some of the crowds, get your heart pumping while climbing some of the steepest stairs we’ve ever seen, and explore a whole separate set of ruins that people who only visit Machu Picchu never get to experience!
Huayna Picchu versus Machu Picchu: What’s the difference?
Machu Picchu is the main tourist attraction in Peru – the hidden fortress, tucked away high in the mountains (re)discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Huayna Pichu is the mountain peak behind Machu Picchu. When visiting Machu Picchu, you have the opportunity to hike up to the top of Huayna Picchu.
In order to hike Huayna Picchu, you’ll need to first walk through the magical ruins of Machu Picchu. If Machu Picchu is like the perfect dinner at a fancy restaurant, Huayna Picchu is the even better dessert. You could go to Machu Picchu without hiking to the top of Huayna Picchu, but you’d be missing out on the best part!
How did the Inca use Huayna Picchu?
Like the rest of Machu Picchu, the exact origins of the structures on Huayna Picchu are unknown. But the best guess is that the ruins were originally used to house the priest or spiritual leader of the community, as well as for performing some religious ceremonies.
In addition to a handful of house-like structures, there are also a number of terraces, presumably used for agricultural purposes.
Looking for more to do in Peru? We’ve compiled an epic 10 day itinerary complete with all the best adventures in the Sacred Valley:
Huayna Picchu Hike overview
- Hike distance | 2.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 1,000 feet
- Epicness rating | 9
- Time | 2 – 3 hours (plus an additional 1 – 2 hours to explore Machu Picchu)
- Difficulty | Hard
As you can imagine from the pictures of the mountain, the hike up to Huayna Picchu is steep! The trail up to Huayna Picchu and back is about 2.5 miles and includes over 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
But don’t let that deter you! For most of the route, you’ll have epic views of the surrounding mountains and jungle. Once you start approaching the summit, you’ll also hike through ruins clinging to the side of the mountain.
Along the way, you’ll climb up many flights of stairs, often called the “Stairs of Death” for their grueling and relentless steepness!
Even though exploring the ancient ruins hanging off the side of the mountain was super fun, the best part of the hike to Huayna Picchu is the summit, with a bird’s-eye-view, nearly unimpeded in every direction, of Machu Picchu below.
- The absolute best views overlooking Machu Picchu
- A fun, but difficult, hike up the mountain through more ruins to reach the peak
- Tickets are fairly expensive.
- Getting to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu from Cusco is also confusing and expensive (but still worth it!)
- Machu Picchu in general is pretty crowded, despite the attempts at crowd control.
Getting to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu from Cusco
As we mentioned above, to hike Huayna Picchu, you first need to get to Machu Picchu. And if you’re visiting Machu Picchu, you’ll almost certainly be coming from Cusco.
The journey from Cusco to Machu Picchu can be rather confusing but luckily, we wrote an entire guide on the many different options to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu. Check it out for more details:
When is the best time to hike Huayna Picchu?
The best time to hike Huayna Picchu is during the fall, winter and spring, from April through November. The summer months, December through March, are Peru’s rainy season, so it’s best to avoid visiting during this time for the best shot at clear weather.
We visited Peru in May and the weather at Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu was perfect.
If you’ve read anything about visiting Peru, you’ve likely heard a bit about the altitude. While you absolutely need time to acclimate in Cusco before heading out to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu, the good news is that both Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu are actually at a lower elevation than Cusco.
Cusco sits at an altitude of 11,152 feet above sea level, while Machu Picchu is located at 7,972 feet.
That being said, even at 8,000 feet, you can still feel the effects of altitude sickness and you should spend at least a day resting and acclimating in Cusco before trying to tackle the hike to Huayna Picchu.
If you start to feel any symptoms of altitude sickness, such as nausea, light-headedness, headache, dizziness, or shortness of breath (without being able to catch it), it’s important to take a break and drink plenty of water. If the symptoms aren’t going away, turn back and head towards lower elevation. Altitude sickness can quickly become dangerous, and rapid descent is the only real cure.
Which circuit should I book to visit Huayna Picchu?
Recently, Peruvian authorities implemented a ticketed entry system aimed at better managing the Machu Picchu crowds. As a result, when purchasing your ticket to Machu Picchu, you’ll need to choose one of four different circuits. Each circuit brings you to different areas of the ruins.
You can read more about each of the circuits here but, most importantly, if you want to complete the hike to Huayna Picchu, you will need to purchase a ticket for Circuit 4. This is the only circuit that includes access to Huayna Picchu.
In addition to Huayna Picchu, the Circuit 4 ticket also gives you access to the lower area of the Machu Picchu ruins. It does not include access to the upper area of the park (where you can find that classic Machu Picchu view).
Which entrance time should I choose?
When you purchase your ticket to Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu, you’ll also need to select an entrance time. The time you select is the hour you’ll be allowed to begin your hike to Wayna Picchu. Remember that you’ll need to enter and cross Machu Picchu before you get to Huayna Picchu.
There are 4 entrance options for Huayna Picchu:
- 7:00-8:00 AM
- 8:00-9:00 AM
- 9:00-10:00 AM
- 10:00-11:00 AM
There will be people checking your ticket both at the entrance to Machu Picchu and the start of the hike up to Huayna Picchu.
It’s also important to know that you’ll only be allowed to enter Machu Picchu one hour before your selected entrance time to Huayna Picchu. For instance, if you choose the 7:00 AM entrance time for Huayna Picchu, you’ll be able to enter Machu Picchu at 6:00 AM, which is the earliest possible entrance to the ruins. If you time it right, you can catch the remnants of the sunrise if you arrive right at 6:00 AM.
Where and when to buy tickets
When you do a quick search on the old Google machine for “Machu Picchu tickets,” you’ll find a ton of different websites selling tickets. However, most of these website are second-hand vendors who tack on an up-charge to each ticket.
The official website for purchasing tickets is here.
It’s also important to mention that the whole ticket-buying process seems to constantly be changing. When we visited, the entrance times to Huayna Picchu were different. Even more so, there doesn’t seem to be an exact date when the tickets are released.
However, the Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu route is the most popular circuit so should try to book at least three or so months in advance.
At the time this article was written (August 2022), tickets cost S/ 200.00, or $51.24 USD.
Huayna Picchu hike details
In the sections below, we give a quick rundown of our experience doing the Huayna Picchu hike so you can get a sense for what it’s actually like!
Getting to Machu Picchu
Like most people who visit Machu Picchu, we spent the night prior to our Huayna Picchu hike in the small tourist town of Aguas Calientes. We also booked the earliest ticket for the day, which allowed us to enter Machu Picchu at 6:00 AM and begin the Huayna Picchu hike at 7:00 AM.
While we’d definitely recommend going for the earliest time slot as it allows you to enjoy some of the last few moments of sunrise and gives you more time to explore everything and get back to Cusco, it does require a very early wake-up call.
You’ll need to catch a bus from Aguas Calientes up to Machu Picchu, which takes about 30 minutes. The first bus leaves at 5:30 and people start lining up well before then to be first in line for the ruins.
We arrived at the bus pick-up spot around before 5:00 AM and the line was already up the street. There were a ton of buses lined up to start taking people up the mountain so we didn’t have to wait too long. However, we definitely weren’t the first people to enter the park that morning as we had hoped.
Entering Machu Picchu
After getting off the bus, we still had to wait around 20 minutes before the gates to enter Machu Picchu were opened. The time between getting off the bus and entering the ruins is your last chance to use the restroom as there are no bathrooms in Machu Picchu! Also remember that tripods, selfie sticks, and all food is prohibited in the protected area.
Once we passed through the ticket counter, you’ll walk a few more steps and then BOOM, you turn a bend and the magical, mysterious ruins will be spread out in front of you, dramatically perched among a background of sharp peaks and dense jungle, including Huayna Picchu! The first glimpse of Machu Picchu is definitely an unforgettable experience.
Exploring Machu Picchu
After a few moments savoring that first view, it’s time to explore the ruins and start making your way to the entrance for the Huayna Picchu hike. The path for circuit 4 is extremely well-marked. Not only is it physically difficult to get off the route, but you’re constantly under the watchful eyes of the many staff members patrolling the ruins to make sure everyone is adhering to the rules and respecting the ancient structures.
It took us about 1 hour to walk across the lower section of the Machu Picchu ruins, stopping along the way to enjoy the epic scenery, awesome views, and unique history. And of course we took tons of photos!
Huayna Picchu hike entry point
Eventually, you’ll reach the entry point for the Huayna Picchu hike. There will be a small little hut on the right-hand side of the trail, where someone will check your entrance tickets and you’ll need to sign the trail log book.
The hike up Huayna Picchu
Once you pass through the entrance station, you’ll continue along the trail as it twists to the left-side of the mountain (looking from Machu Picchu), before beginning the steep and relentless ascent.
We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again, the trail is short but very tough due to the insane elevation gain. It’s steep!
Despite the lung-busting, leg-burning incline, we found the hike up Huayna Picchu to still be enjoyable as you have views almost the entire way and soon enough, the trail travels up and through another set of ruins clinging to the side of the mountain.
We had a ton of fun exploring and taking pictures in these ruins!
Including stops to catch our breath and take pictures, it took us about 2 hours to hike up to the summit of Huayna Picchu.
From the peak, you’ll have unimpeded views across the Urubamba River Valley, including the best view of the entire Machu Picchu complex. These views were hands-down some of the best views we saw in all of Peru!
There isn’t a ton of space at the peak, but we still hung out for probably 30 minutes, as we just couldn’t pull ourselves away from the views.
Once you’ve taken in every last bit of the view from the summit of Huayna Picchu, it’s time to head back down the mountain. The trail around the summit is a loop and there is a sign pointing you in the right direction. Eventually, you’ll meet back up with the same trail you used to hike up the mountain.
Make sure to sign the trail log book on the way out and then make your way back across Machu Picchu. At this point, we knew our time at Machu Picchu was coming to an end and we didn’t want to leave so we took our time hiking back across the ruins. It truly is a magical place!
Once you arrive back at the entrance area, hop on the next bus going back down to Aguas Calientes.
Tips for a great trip
Here are few tips to make sure your hike up Huayna Picchu is smooth and stress-free!
- Plan and book early: Don’t wait until you’re in Cusco to book your trip to Machu Picchu. The journey from Cusco to Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu to Huayna Picchu and back is logistically complicated and you’ll need to plan everything and book tickets months in advance.
- Have patience. Even with the attempts at crowd control, Machu Picchu is still a very busy place. While you will have plenty of moments with out people around, there will also be many times when you find yourself rubbing elbows with other tourists.
- Go to the bathroom before you enter. There are no bathrooms in Machu Picchu or on the hike to Huayna Picchu. You will be spending at least 4 hours without access to a restroom. Go before you enter the park!
- Eat before you enter, too. As mentioned before, food is not allowed in the park so make sure you fill up before you go!
- Bring plenty of water. There are no concessions in the ruins either so make sure you bring some water for the hike!
- Children younger than 12 are not permitted to hike Huayna Picchu.
Other Peru resources
Looking for more to do while visiting Cusco? Check out the resources below for more inspiration!
- Huchuy Qosqo: the Best Day Hike from Cusco
- Maras & Moray: Incan Ruins & Salt Mines in Peru
- How to Visit Laguna Humantay: Day Trip from Cusco
- How to Get From Cusco to Machu Picchu: Everything You Need to Know
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For all things Peru: Peru Travel Guide
Questions about hiking Huayna Picchu? Drop us a comment below and we’ll do our best to help!