With its vibrant cerulean waters framed by the imposing, snow-covered Humantay Mountain, Laguna Humantay near Cusco, Peru is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes we’ve ever seen! Located over 3 hours from Cusco, visiting Laguna Humantay takes a bit of effort and is typically done as part of a day-long tour. The hike to reach the lake is only about 4 miles roundtrip, but packs a serious punch with nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain at high altitude (13,900 feet above sea level). In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know to visit Laguna Humantay and help you decide whether it’s worth the effort!
- Laguna Humantay overview
- How to get to Laguna Humantay from Cusco?
- Laguna Humantay hike details
Laguna Humantay is one of the most popular attractions near Cusco, Peru and is know for its unbelievably blue waters and epic view of the enormous Humantay Lake towering overhead. The trailhead for the lake is loacted in the Mollepata District of southern Peru is a 3 hours bus ride from Cusco.
If you’re thinking that a natural lake couldn’t possibly be that blue you aren’t alone. We didn’t believe the pictures we saw either! But when you come up over the last hill and lay eyes on the teal water, massive glaciers, and staggering Humantay Mountain, your disbelief will turn into reality.
Standing tall behind the lake is Humantay Mountain, often referred to as “Apu” Humantay by the Incans who view the mountain as a god, spiritual guardian, protector of the surrounding lands. In fact, the lake gets its color from the minerals carried into the water from the glaciers melting down from the mountain.
Many of the stacked rocks or cairns around the lake are actually offerings to Apu Humantay, so please leave them intact. Our tour guide had us perform a brief spiritual ritual offering up coca leaves to Pachamama, the goddess of the Andes, and Apu Humantay.
Our experience visiting Laguna Humantay
To be frank, we have extremely mixed feelings about our visit to Humantay Lake. In this article, we’ll provide a completely honest review of our experience so you know what to expect and can make the best decision about whether you want to visit or not.
If you know us, you’ll know that we are “do it yourself” kind of people. We tend to avoid joining tour groups, as we enjoy the flexibility of traveling independently, and quite frankly, don’t have the patience that traveling with a group of tourists demands.
That being said, we decided to visit Laguna Humantay with a tour group for 2 reasons. First, visiting independently required hiring a taxi for the full day which would end up being more expensive than taking a tour. Second, we found ourselves looking for something to do in Cusco at the last minute, and didn’t have the time or energy to plan the logistics of our own trip.
We’ll be honest, we didn’t love the Laguna Humantay tour. The lake was extremely crowded (like hundreds of people along the bank), and you could tell the entire experience was setup to quickly cycle hoards of people through the area.
The saving grace is that Laguna Humantay was absolutely beautiful and even more beautiful than the pictures show. It’s definitely one of the most beautiful lakes we’ve ever seen!
With that background in mind, we’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it’s worth battling the crowds to visit Humantay Lake with your own eyes.
A word about overtourism
Laguna Humantay is a prime example of social media (Instagram) driving overtourism, and we want to take a moment to acknowledge it and encourage you to treat the area with the respect it deserves.
Our tour guide literally told us that the lake started to become popular in 2015, when people started tagging the area on Instagram. Since then, countless tour operators have latched onto the surging popularity, offering guided trips to the lake from Cusco and hundreds of hikers visit the lake each day.
And while this boom in popularity has boosted the local economy and provided extra income to local Peruvians, we can’t help but feel conflicted about taking part in such a tour. The effect of overtourism on the environment surrounding the lake is clear.
Hikers and horses wandering off trail and creating new paths has contributed to erosion of the steep mountain leading up to the lake. Trash is left along the shores. Horses are overworked carrying tourists up and down the steep path all day.
If you decide to embark on the journey to Humantay Lake, we beg you: please treat the area with respect and help preserve this stunning lake for generations to come!
Always stay on previously established trails, acclimate to the altitude before your trip and be prepared for a steep hike (we encourage you to skip out on the horse ride), pack out any trash you bring with you, and do not swim or wade into the lake. It’s always a good idea to brush up on the 7 principals of Leave No Trace.
Laguna Humantay hike overview
- Location | 3 hours from Cusco
- Mileage | 4 miles
- Elevation gain | 1,500 feet
- Epicness rating | 7.5 (we’re subtracting probably 2 epicness points due to the crowds!)
- Time | 2 – 3 hours hiking, 12 hours full day trip
- Cost | $30 – $40 one day tour; 20 soles entrance fee if visiting independently
- Difficulty | Moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Laguna Humantay
How difficult is the hike to Laguna Humantay?
Although the hike to Laguna Humantay is only 4 miles roundtrip, it is very steep, gaining nearly 1,500 feet in just 2 miles up to the lake. As such, we’d rate the hike as moderately difficult.
In addition to the steep trail, the high altitude adds an extra layer of difficulty. The trail begins at about 12,500 feet and reaches just under 14,000 feet along the shores of the lake. Your lungs and legs will definitely be burning by the time you reach the lake! We’d recommend spending a few days in Cusco to acclimate to the altitude before attempting this hike to avoid getting altitude sickness.
Option to ride a horse
At the base of the mountain near the trailhead, the locals offer horse rides up and/or down the mountain to Laguna Humantay for 80 soles ($22 USD) each way. While such an offering is beneficial for the locals who make money from it, we personally would encourage you not to use the horses as they seemed overworked and exhausted to us. The hike is steep, but short so take it slow, rest often, and you’ll make it up just fine!
- Stunning blue alpine lake!
- Incredible views of Humantay Mountain and Salkantay Mountain.
- Extremely overcrowded. Don’t expect solitude at the lake.
- Long drive from Cusco.
- Logistically complicated to visit independently
- If you go with a tour group, you won’t be able to move at your own pace.
When is the best time of year to visit?
The best time to visit Laguna Humantay 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. During the rainy season, clouds blocking the view over the lake are not uncommon.
Tips for a great trip
- Make sure that you are acclimated to the altitude before attempting this hike. Laguna Humantay sits at an altitude of nearly 14,000 feet. We’d recommend spending at least 2 or 3 days in Cusco before the hike.
- Be sure to pack plenty of water for the hike, not only to stay hydrated but also to fight off altitude sickness. Our tour did NOT provide water, but there are several markets near the trailhead where you can buy a bottle if necessary.
Laguna Humantay packing list
Below are a few essentials for your Laguna Humantay hike:
- Hiking backpack and water bladder
- Water and snacks (not provided by tour)
- Sun protection, including sunshirt, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses, as there is no shade for the majority of the hike.
- Hiking poles | If you visit with a tour group, you will be providing with one walking stick but if you prefer a set of hiking poles, you’ll need to bring them yourself.
- Hiking boots | Because the hike to the lake is so steep, we’d recommend a pair of boots or shoes with good traction.
- Cash | For purchasing snacks or water at the markets and tipping your guide.
- Camera or GoPro to capture your experience.
P.S. For a complete list of gear to pack for a day hike, we’ve compiled all our favorite essentials here:
Where is Laguna Humantay?
Laguna Humantay is located in southern Peru, nestled among the Vilcamaba Mountain Range, about an hour from Mollepata and 3 to 4 hours from Cusco. Cusco is the closest major city to Laguna Humantay, and the starting point of most tours to the area. Please be aware that visiting Laguna Humantay as a day trip from Cusco involves a lot of time in the car, between 6 and 8 hours total, for a relatively short hike.
Laguna Humantay is also located just off the trail for the Salkantay Trek, one of several multi-day hikes that lead to Machu Picchu.
How to get to Laguna Humantay from Cusco
There are a few different ways that you can visit Laguna Humantay:
- Take a day trip from Cusco to Laguna Humantay with a tour group
- Visit independently by hiring a taxi from Cusco
- Take a detour as part of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
- Stay in a lodge near the trailhead
In the sections below, we’ll provide all the details about each option so you can decide which is best for you.
1. Full day Laguna Humantay tour from Cusco
- Cost | $30 – $40 per person (includes transportation, a guide, breakfast and lunch)
- Time | 10 – 12 hours
- Book Laguna Humantay tour online
The easiest and most popular way to visit Laguna Humantay is as a full day tour from Cusco. There are tons of tour operators in Cusco, all offering a very similar experience and price point. We booked a trip the day before our hike without a problem. You can book more in advance but there are so many tour operators that it doesn’t really matter.
The tour guide will pick you up from your hotel in Cusco very early in the morning, usually between 4:00am and 5:00am.
You’ll hop on a small bus and drive about 2.5 hours to Mollepata, where you’ll make a quick pit stop for a buffet breakfast. Next, you’ll drive another hour on a bumpy dirt road until you reach the trailhead.
From here, it’s a 2 mile hike up to the lake. The hike will take about 1.5 – 2 hours depending on your fitness level (and assuming you didn’t pay for a horse). You’ll probably have somewhere between 30 minutes to an hour to relax at the lake before making the return trek back to the bus.
On the way back to Cusco, you’ll stop again for another buffet lunch at the same place you had breakfast. Expect to arrive back in Cusco around 5pm, making for a long and tiring day!
2. How to visit Laguna Humantay independently
- Cost | $75 – $100 per taxi
- Time | 10 – 12 hours
If taking a tour isn’t your style, it’s also possible to visit Laguna Humantay independently. And while we’re generally all for independent adventures, we have to admit that in this case, we think it makes more sense to take a tour.
Because Laguna Humantay is so far from Cusco, getting there on your own is logistically complicated. You’ll need to hire a taxi for the entire day to drive you to the trailhead, wait for you, and then drive you back to Cusco.
A benefit of visiting independently is that you could time your journey to avoid the hoards of tour groups that arrive in the morning.
Typically, you can expect such a trip to cost between 300 and 400 soles ($75 to $100 USD). For two people, it’s actually less expensive to just visit with a tour group. Plus, breakfast and lunch are included in the tour.
3. Visit Laguna Humantay as part of the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
- Cost | $500 – $700 per person
- Time | 4 – 5 days
- Book the Salkantay Trek online here
The Salkantay Trek is a 4 or 5 day hiking trip that starts in Soray, near the trailhead for Humantay Lake, and ends at Machu Picchu. While the traditional trek does not pass by Laguna Humantay, you’ll have the option to take the short 1.5-mile detour up to the lake.
4. Stay at a lodge near the Laguna Humantay trailhead
- Cost | $50 per night, plus $75 – $100 for transportation
- Time | 1 night
- Book online here: Salkantay Hostel
For the chance to experience Laguna Humantay without the crowds, you could stay in one of several rustic lodges offering yurts and sky lodges near the trailhead. These lodges are frequently used by hikers starting the Salkantay trek. Due to the remote location, you’d need to arrange for transportation if visiting independently.
Wake up early and hike up to Laguna Humantay at dawn, or wait until the late afternoon, to beat the tour group crowds and experience the stunning views in peace and quiet.
Laguna Humantay hike details
In this section, we’ll provide more detail about each part of the hike so you know what to expect.
Starting the hike
After a total of 3 to 4 hours of driving from Cusco, including about an hour on winding, dirt road, you’ll finally arrive at the trailhead for Laguna Humantay! From the parking area, you’ll continue along the dirt road for about 1 mile, with very mild elevation gain.
Along the way, you’ll pass by two different markets selling snacks and water. There are restrooms available both at the trailhead and at these markets. However, be prepared to pay a small fee to use the restrooms (maybe 1 or 2 soles).
As you make your way towards Laguna Humantay, you’ll be immediately treated to incredible views of the Andes and the imposing snow-covered Salkantay and Humantay Mountains.
Climbing up to Laguna Humantay
After about 1 mile, you’ll pass the second market and take a left, following the trail directly up the mountain. If you wish to ride a horse up, this is the spot to get one. Laguna Humantay is not visible at this point, tucked away behind the lower mountain straight ahead.
The trail is easy to follow, and immediately begins to gain elevation! Over the next mile, you’ll gain about 1,000 feet before climbing over one last hump and finally arriving at Laguna Humantay.
As the air continues to get thinner and your legs are tired from the elevation gain, you’ll begging for any sign that the lake is near!
Again, the trail is very steep and the elevation is no joke. But sooner than you think, you’ll arrive at the amazing Humantay Lake!
After a steep climb, your hard work is rewarded when you finally catch your first glimpse of the stunning teals waters of Humantay Lake! We know the color of the water looks unreal in pictures, but we promise the photos you see on this page are an accurate representation of what you’ll see in real life.
When we arrived at Laguna Humantay around 9:30am, we were one of the first groups at the lake. There were a handful of people hanging around, but generally it was pretty peaceful. We were beginning to think that we had overestimated how crowded the lake would get!
However, within a matter of minutes, more and more hikers began to flow in, flooding the banks of the lake. By the time we left, the shores of the lake and the trails up were completely overwhelmed with people.
If you’re visiting without a tour group, try to arrive either early in the morning or later in the afternoon for the best shot at avoiding the crowds!
Once you’ve spent enough time soaking in the beauty of Humantay Lake, make your way back down the steep trail and return the way you came to the parking area. If you’re visiting with a tour, they’ll let you know when it’s time to head back down to the shuttle bus.
Other Peru resources
Looking for more to do in Peru? Check out the resources below for more inspiration!
- Peru Itinerary | 10 Days in Peru: the Best of the Sacred Valley
- Machu Picchu | Hike to Huayna Picchu: Machu Picchu’s Mountain
- Machu Picchu | How to Get to Machu Picchu from Cusco: Everything You Need to Know
- Cusco | Complete Guide to the Huchuy Qosqo Trek
- Sacred Valley | Maras & Moray: Incredible Incan Ruins and Salt Mines
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For all things Peru: Peru Travel Guide
Questions about visiting Laguna Humantay from Cusco? Drop us a comment below!