A guide to climbing Huayna Picchu. What to expect and if it is worth it – pictures included.
You’ve seen it before: The awe-instilling classic view of Machu Picchu. Maybe you even read my ultimate guide to Machu Picchu (if not check it out here). But what would be a picture of the New World Wonder without the ominously looming mountain behind it? Huayna Picchu it is called, sometimes also written Wayna Picchu and is Quechua for Young Peak.
Now, this not only a pretty mountain with an altitude of 2.693 meters rising roughly 260 meters above the ruins; you can climb it as well! I’m going to show you what to expect on the nicknamed “Mountain of death”. I also created a little video to go you a good first-hand impression of what it’s like to climb Wayna Picchu:
The luxury side of Machu Picchu: Read my Review of the 5 star Belmond Sanctuary Lodge right inside the famous Inca Ruins.
Starting out at 8 o’ clock
There are a limited number of people who can climb Huayna Picchu each day: 200 in the morning and once again another 200 people close before noon. No ticket means no climb (I’ll speak more about that below). I had tickets for the morning, which entitled me to start anywhere between 7 am and 8 am. I choose to go as late as possible since it was quite foggy that day and really saw no point going earlier (I wrote about Machu Picchu’s dark side here).
I read people recommending you to start out as soon as the checkpoint opens. Their reasoning was to not have any not so fit climbers ahead. I found that worry to be unfounded. If you want to take your time taking pictures that really will be no issue anyhow. Also, if you just came down from the Inca Trail, you might want to relax your feet a bit, eh? 🙂
At the checkpoint, you will have to show your tickets and then write down your name, age and departure time inside a big book. Hence there usually will be a moderate queue that also helps to even out space in between the different traveler groups up the mountain.
And then you are set and ready to go. There is only one path leading upwards so you really can’t get lost. If in doubt, follow the signs.
Better be prepared: Check out my detailed Machu Picchu packing list.
Wayna Picchu: the Hike up
The approach to Wayna Picchu is treacherous. Right after the checkpoint, a nice and gentle semi-paved trail leads you through the dense foliage of the cloud forest and into believing: “This is quite the pleasant climb up”.
A couple of meters onward the path gets a bit steeper and opens up to the sides, offering you a wonderful vista of the valley with the meandering Urubamba river below. Even those people suffering from vertigo will still feel considerably safe since the path is wide and even.
The pleasant little interlude lasts approximately 10 minutes. Lulled into complacency this marks the last, non-sweaty moment of the ascent. What follows onwards is a very, very steep & rather scary hike. There are usually stairs and sometimes there is a handrail, but Huayna Picchu and the secrets of the Inca empire will not yield easily to you.
In fact, the mountain is so steep that at a few choke points there was literally no space for a trail. So the Incas built narrow tunnels you will have to squeeze through. And with squeezing, I mean squeezing. Backpack? Forget it! You will have to shove that in front of you. It certainly will make you feel a bit like Hiram Bingham on his first expedition to the lost city of the Inca.
And just because we are having so much fun: Here is another picture of the incline and yet another set of stairs. This is basically the way the upper half of Wayna Picchu looks like – buildings and a lot of stairs. How the Incas managed to build anything here is beyond my personal comprehension – but there it is and up you go.
Still looking for the perfect accommodation. Check out my list of the best hotels in Machu Picchu.
Enjoying the amazing view from Wayna Picchu
While the first part of the hike is hidden in the jungle, the upper part of Wayna Picchu will grant you a beautiful bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu. Do take your time taking pictures from early on, because of the farther up you go, the more distant the famous Peruvian ruins will get (but you will get a clearer view of the Andean mountain range instead)
Also, take into account that the weather can change rather quickly in Machu Picchu. Personally speaking clouds and mist does have their very own charm and should not be neglected! But obviously, you will want to have at least on perfect picture of the famous UNESCO World Heritage site from above
Either way, take your time around the 2.693 meters high summit of Huayna Picchu. There are a couple of platforms and landings that will give you a private moment. If you are wondering how high the other sites in and around Machu Picchu are, you should read this article (also covers the issue of altitude sickness!).
Don’t make the mistake and wait for the peak with all your pictures. First of all, it can be cloudy by the time you reach it (like in my case; that’s the highest point I am standing on). But more importantly, the peak itself is rather…shall we say cumbersome? While a couple of meters below you will have the comfort of stairs and well laid Inca terraces, the peak itself is only rocks.
These stones are in fact rather ugly to walk on (for inexperienced hikers, that is). So it’s not a place to dwell for long but rather something to move on. I can only imagine they would be very slippery in the rainy season.
Especially since on the one side, you will face a near vertical drop. Nothing I personally can stand for too long. I saw this one guy reading a book on a lower platform. Relaxing or stress? I guess that depends on how well you can handle extreme heights and if you want to feel a bit like a condor yourself.
Huayna Picchu: The vertical stairs of death
What went up, will come down again. Simple logic? Not with Huayna Picchu! Climbing down is, in fact, the worst part of the otherwise wonderful experience. The trail takes a loop around the top so you will not come the way you climbed up. Here your first impression of the stairs of death.
After your first meters, it will soon become apparent why exactly they are called stairs of death. The roughly hewn stonework follow an incline of 60 percent and more. They are so steep, it feels more like climbing a ladder. Looking to one side will offer a beautiful view of the near vertical drop and the impressive Urubamba valley below. Scary like hell!
Your whole concentration will be just on the stairs and only on the stairs. You’ll feel like one misstep and your dead. Okay not at once – How long does it take to fall down a slope of 700 meters?
Here is another picture of the stairs of death. At times the descend will be quite crowded with other trekkers, the stairs will be narrow, but if you take your time you will be just fine. And after all, stopping once every while to enjoy the breathtaking sacred valley of the Incas is its own reward.
How did I handle it? I did okay. I wouldn’t say I suffer from vertigo. It’s more like a healthy respect for extreme heights and dangers. That being said the heavy mist of the morning hours made the steps quite slippery. So, for the few minutes down the worst part of the incline, I held on to whatever purchase I found. (as you can see there was time to take pictures – so the stairs of death didn’t bring me to brink of death).
Last question: How many people have died on the stairs of Death in Wayna Picchu. Some. I tried to compile a list of all the myths and facts surrounding the stairs of death (read it here). One guy, for example, reportedly has been hit by a lighting. If you are looking to the side to the Wayna Picchu mountain it almost feels impossible to climb. That a way leads up, appears to be a World Wonder in itself.
Huchuy Picchu: After climbing Huayna Picchu
The lower half of the descent will be a piece of cake. Okay, never that. It will still be steep, and it will still be quite exhausting. You will already start cursing the stairs, the humidity, and the high altitude (again: roughly 2700 meters above sea level). But do not despair, but rather focus on the second highlight you should not miss: Huchuy Picchu.
Huchuy Picchu is the little mountain right behind Machu Picchu. It’s only 100 meters higher than the ruins (almost the same height as the temple of the sun) so quite easy to climb. Why do you need to see it? Quite simple: The view from Wayna Picchu is as staggering as the climb upwards. But for taking pictures Wayna is actually too high up (except you are carrying the biggest telephoto lens in history).
How do you climb Huchuy Picchu? At one point, quite close to the checkpoint, the path branches off. A little sign will tell you where to go (note: you will also frequently hear Wayna Picchu, it is the same as Huayna Picchu – just a different spelling of the original Quechua name). Expect some more stairs, the same kind of incline and the same kind of abyss to your sides.
The beauty of Huchuy Picchu is also, that you will probably be totally alone there. Most tourists focus on Wayna Picchu and then will be too exhausted for another climb. Time also is an issue, since you will need another 45 minutes for a round trip to Huchuy Picchu.
If you are looking for beautiful pictures of yourself and the ruins close-up, then this is the place to go. I found it to be worth the extra time, especially since it gave me the chance to enjoy Machu Picchu in solitude.
If you are looking for more special places in Machu Picchu, do read my review of the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge. The only place where you can enjoy the view of Machu Picchu sitting in a luxury hot tub.
How fit do I need to be to climb Wayna Picchu
This is probably a question you should ask before you decide to go and before you buy tickets. Generally speaking, you don’t need to be a mountaineer or professional archaeologist, and they certainly don’t check for six packs at the entrance. But you will have to climb roughly 400 meters, with high humidity and at considerably high altitudes.
That being said: nobody requires you to rush. You can take your time. In fact, you should. Okay, you need to be back by 4 am when they close the gate. Also take into account that you can opt for Huchuy Picchu, which will offer you a wonderful view as well, and be less strenuous. (But requires the same tickets. There are no extra tickets for Huchuy Picchu)
Despite that, you should have climbed a mountain before and you will need a sure footing. Any extra fitness will help you along. But even if you’ll break into a sweat nobody will fault you.
If you suffer from vertigo then you really shouldn’t go. The mountains are too steep for you to handle that. Just look at the picture and ask yourself: Will I be fine with that or not?
Personally speaking, I’d say: Anyone very familiar with hiking can and should go. There are no ropes or railings throughout the hard parts of the climb and I would class it as a grade 4 climb (out of 5).
Where is the entrance to Wayna Picchu
This is fairly a common question because Machu Picchu is quite large. Obviously, the mountain is in the back. But other than that there are no general direction signs in Machu Picchu. They are not really needed, though. Just follow the normal walk-around (clockwise). At the far end of Machu Picchu, you will see two straw-thatched huts. Behind those is the checkpoint. How long does it take to the entrance of Wayna Picchu? Roughly 15 to 20 minutes from the main entrance – depending on the crowd.
Where to buy Tickets for Huayna Picchu
Tickets for Wayna Picchu have to be bought in advance. The official story is, that there is an official ticket office down in Aguas Calientes and Cusco. But since there are only 400 people allowed to go, your chances of getting one of the coveted spots on the day of your tour is close to zero.
Why? Because you buy them in advance online! Here’s the link: http://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
Without the tickets for Wayna Picchu, you will not be allowed in. Tickets are valid only during a very narrow timeframe 7 to 8 am and 10 to 11 am and only for one day. You will also need an entrance ticket for Machu Picchu. That shouldn’t be a problem since you can’t buy them separately.
There is also a host of booking agencies littering the web. They’ll have nice and wonderful websites for lazy tourists (unlike the official website). Most importantly they are in English. But in 2017 the official website finally offered a translated mode, so there really is no need to go via the booking agencies.
How much do tickets for Wayna Picchu cost? They will charge ~20 more USD (48 soles), but you need the Machu Picchu main entrance ticket to get in, as I already detailed out above. As they did change their ticket policy starting from January 2018 (read about it here), you might consider getting both a morning and an afternoon ticket and maybe even go on a guided tour.
What to wear for Wayna Picchu
If you are an experienced hiker around the Andeans then you can probably skip this section. Just use your common sense. If you are inexperienced, you might want to check out my detailed guide on what to pack for Machu Picchu and the Inca trail. For the rest, here’s a short list:
- Comfortable walking/hiking shoes with a secure grip (ideally something that will stabilize your ankle). I am using the Adidas Terrex Swift (picture abovve)
- Sunscreen (sun + high altitude = easy sunburn; I use Neutrogena with high SPF as I got fair skin)
- Enough water (~1 liter per person)
- Fast drying clothes (you sweat + weather can change very quickly; Loving the Lundhags Baalka Pant; but not cheap; these are the ones u see on the pictures; there is a short version as well)
- bug repellent (quite a lot of mosquitos around)
- (optional) Maybe a small light cushion for sitting (ground can be wet and/or cold)
- No walking sticks! (they’ll be constantly in the way on the stairs + if you need walking sticks you really shouldn’t go)
- No food (prohibited throughout Machu Picchu; an energy bar should be fine, though)
- No big backpack (will get in the way & unbalance you)
(Side note: Just in case you were wondering; yes my backpack was rather big and no I did not have any real hiking boots. BUT I grew up high in the alps and I am a _very_ experienced hiker, so I really set a bad example.)
You might want to check out my article on the weather in Machu Picchu, to dress accordingly and find out about the best time to visit.
Summary of my Huayna Picchu experience
Machu Picchu is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful spots in South America. So naturally, Huayna Picchu cannot help but be an outstanding experience. It is quite inexpensive, even though tickets are hard to come by. The view from atop the mountain will be wonderful, but due to its sheer height, you will be considerably far away. Then there are the Stairs of Death – both an experience and a demand on your body & will.
Would I go again: a clear no! I absolutely enjoyed it once, but facing all those steep stairs again would be too much for me. I’m glad I survived the one time! How about you? Go or skip? Tell me in the comments below!
- The ultimate guide to Machu Picchu (loads of pretty pictures)
- The dark side of Machu Picchu
- Huayna Picchu death toll – Facts & Myths
Before you go, here are some other outstanding Inca sites I visited:
Last but not least, don’t forget to pin this article to your Pinterest board!
Free Cusco itinerary
Save yourself time and money: Get a detailed sample itinerary for Cusco straight into your e-mail box