An analysis of all reported deaths and accidents of people trying to climb Huayna Picchu.
Huayna Picchu is the impressive mountain behind the near mythical Machu Picchu in Peru. Millions of people come to visit the lost city of the Incas each year but only the most experienced hikers option to see the full beauty of Machu Picchu from above (here is a comprehensive guide to Machu Picchu which explains all the wonderful sites you will be able to see). Huayna Picchu (or sometimes spelled Wayna Picchu) is often named one of the most dangerous hikes on this planet, and ubiquitous are the reports of people having died climbing the imposing mountain. But is the Huayna Picchu death toll real or just an urban myth? Here is my analysis:
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I have faced other travelers confronting me with these rumors during my stays in Machu Picchu. I have read some references to possible deaths in guide books and I have heard some rumors directly from the rangers. Above all it left me quite..shall we say worried before my first planned hike to the summit of Huayna Picchu (read all the details how I braved the stairs of death here ). Here is a video for you to get a good feeling of what i am talking about.
If you love grizzly details, I also wrote a little article about the Dark Side of Machu Picchu, I am sure you will find entertaining.
Sadly I could not find a single source with any authority or comprehensive research to answer all those worrying questions I was asking myself before making the decision whether I should or should not climb Huayna Picchu. Personally speaking, I love facts and hate rumors. Which is why I really enjoyed reading Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time! That book is just marvelous. Either way, I really felt obliged to close the gap or at least uh..die trying (sorry for the bad pun, I just couldn’t resist).
The spoiler ahead: People have died in Macchu Picchu and on the Inca trail, but I could only find 2 confirmed deaths for climbing Huayna Picchu. That’s a fact and I will share some official sources below. But with a tourist hotspot seeing a million visitors each year, the chances are statistically very high for people to die – none of these reasons would necessarily have to be related to the site itself. It also remains a fact that the hike upon Huayna Picchu IS scary and dangerous as hell.
It also might be possible that not all deaths are fully disclosed, and reports in Peruvian media are discouraged. Naturally, not all sources are available in English, so I will not be able to give a full answer either way (In case you got more information, feel free to contact me and I shall add your details below!).
Quick facts about Huayna Picchu & the stairs of death
- Huayna Picchu is 2.693 meters high; 260 meters higher than Machu Picchu (read more about altitude sickness & it’s risks here)
- Only 400 pre-registered people are allowed to climb it each day.
- Tickets are only sold together with your official entrance tickets for Machu Picchu
- There are virtually no hand rails along the hike and only a couple of safety lines
- The stairs are almost vertical & date back to the times of the Inca
- There is a very high humidity in Machu Picchu, making them oftentimes slippery
– especially during the late rainy season and early in the morning (here’s a weather diagram you might find useful.)
- Also, there is quite some traffic, despite the daily limitations. Above all, the climb is almost vertical, making it theoretically possible to drop some 700 meters down into the gorge where the town of Aguas Calientes is located.
The most important fact maybe: Every tourist has to register before he or she starts the climb and will have to report back to an official after the climb. These lists are getting checked each day for missing people. There are also some rangers scattered throughout the climb, but not as many as in Machu Picchu proper. These are there to prevent accidents (and will keep an eye on the ruins as well).
Known accidents and deaths on Huayna Picchu
I want to be honest with you: If Huayna Picchu was located in Germany, the hike would have been closed decades ago. Not because of the death toll, but rather because it is so very unsafe. There are dangerous hikes in the Alps as well, but these hikes are not attracting 400 more or less suitable travelers looking for their perfect selfie each day. That being said, I found almost no media coverage of deaths in Huayna Picchu. I mostly found some for Machu Picchu in general. Here is the list:
- In July 2016 a German tourist died in Machu Picchu trying to take a photo
- In 2013 an American tourist called Rachel Cecilia Ianni died at age 26, falling into a ravine. This, however, did not happen on the climb to Wayna Picchu, but on the Intipunco trail towards the Gate of the sun.
- Werner Jobst Grimpen also died in 2013 on the Inca trail
- A British tourist died of an altitude sickness induced heart attack while in Machu Picchu.
- In 1998, a guide named Luis died according to Peru’s El Comerico. Could only find this online source (dead link now pointed towards http://www.andrys.com/peru28.html ), which also reports of a 70-year-old woman dying while climbing Huayna Picchu.
- In 2015, a landscape worker at the site was killed in a fall.
- In 2008, a British banker died on the Inca trail under dubious circumstances.
- A 24 years old Israeli tourist died on a zip line near Machu Picchu
- In 2010 mudslides occurred in Machu Picchu, trapping in more than a thousand travelers in Aguas Calientes. 2 People are reported to have died – again on the Inca trail.
- In October 2013 there was a fatal bus accident in the area around Machu Picchu, claiming 51 lives.
- In 2006, a British millionairess survived a 640ft fall on the Inca Trail.
- On May 2nd 2014 a man had died according to a verfied user comment here on my blog (see below). Couldn’t find any offical media reporting.
Myths about the Huayna Picchu death toll
Researching for this blog post I found an incredible amount of other blog posts and newspaper articles about Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. The pictures and depths of information sometimes left me speechless. But I also found a lot of casual information without sources. I am not sure what to do with these. I am sure the respective authors believed them to be true, but I am quite unsure whether anyone planning hiking Huayna Picchu should value them all too much. Here is my myth list:
- A Peruvian is believed to have died on the climb but might have faked his death.
- I found one blogger claiming that the Peruvian government is not liable for these deaths, hence no official statistics. There is some corruption going on in Peru, and its most important tourist hotspot could be in the center of it all.
- I heard the rumor that one guy was hit by a lighting climbing Huayna Picchu and died. I found this guy here acknowledging that rumor. Apparently, other people have heard the same rumor – probably from the same ranger.
- Also, one guy reportedly was killed crossing the Inca bridge (not on the way to Huayna Picchu)
- This site claims that ”more than 20 deaths have occurred on Wayna Picchu in recent years”. No source, though.
- This guy allegedly knows that over 23 people have died climbing Wayna Picchu in recent years.
I found some more sites and details, more or less regurgitating the same information, so I did not bother to mention them a second time. None of them were authority sites or newspapers anyway.
Still, I want to include a thought experiment. Let’s assume 20 people have died climbing Huayna Picchu in the last 10 years. With 400 people climbing the mountain 9 months a year that would result in a calculated chance of 0,00002 percent among all climbers. The traffic-related death rate per inhabitant in the US is almost hundred fold higher.
Combining myths and facts
So what can I say: I did experience the so-called stairs of deaths and I really have to admit: It was scary. One misstep would have you tumbling down a couple of hundred meters. I have also seen people with bad shoes and equipment. Some people were also clearly not in a physical adequate shape to master this hike.
But I also grew up in the German Alps and I am very aware that any mountain is to be approached with respect. During the summer months of my childhood, it was a rare day we did not see the rescue helicopter flying around the area. Accidents, can, will and do happen – especially after sudden changes of the weather. Huayna Picchu is and cannot be any different. So if you are a fit and experienced hiker, Huayna Picchu will be a challenge, but one that you can master.
If you suffer from vertigo or got an unsure footing, it is very much recommended to skip this part of Machu Picchu. You can have a wonderful view of Machu Picchu from the Gate of the Sun – without that hazardous hike.
As for the reports about people dying climbing Huayna Picchu: Well clearly people have died in Machu Picchu. People also die climbing Mount Everest, the Kilimanjaro or a ladder to change that light bulb in the living room. If you are scared of these things, it is best to stay at home. But it is also quite impossible to see the world without facing some risks. I have been traveling the world for more than 30 years. Thanks to a lot of luck and some common sense I never had any serious accidents, never experienced any thefts or lost luggage, and never really regretted visiting any country. So there you have it: The world is no safe haven and Wayna Picchu is no exceptions. There is a risk attached to enjoying the beautiful view, but if you prepare well enough, you will be able to handle it.
I believe that Huayna Picchu is one of the very few places in the world, where inexperienced hikers are faced in a very direct way with the dangers of high mountains and hiking. I believe that and not actual facts, led to a lot of myth making. But again, do not underestimate this hike.
Oh and before you go, here are some more articles I wrote about Macchu Picchu.
- My ultimate guide to Machu Picchu
- The dark side of Machu Picchu
- The fabulous luxury hotel inside Machu Picchu
- All you need to know about climbing Huayna Picchu
- Also, check out my detailed Peru packing list
Last, but not least a disclaimer: I do not claim to have any insider information on deaths or accidents on Wayna Picchu nor did I witness any accidents first hand. I merely compiled a list of official and unofficial sources to clear up some facts about the Huayna Picchu death toll.
I climbed mount Machupichu last week and while at the very top, there was a fatality. A guy taking a picture slipped and fell to his death
Oh my gosh! That sounds soo tragic! I hope you did not see it :(
I inserted your information into this article. Thx for pointing it out to me, even tho it is so sad!
My friend died there. He was attacked by bees. He tried to swat them away but lost his footing and fell to his death.
Hey Prince Bashin,
I’m sorry to hear that and thank you for sharing here.
I once got a bee into my polo shirt in Peru and kinda freaked outmyself – luckily in a less dangerous situation.
My Australian ex husband died on the ruins in 2011. Did you not find any evidence of his death?
i am very sorry to hear that :(
Sadly I did not find anything on the internet, but if you have something and want me to include it, do send any further details to me!
In the past there were many victims who got infarct during hiking Huayna Picchu in 2014 there were two european guys with infarct in the middle of the way.
Em 2016 estive em Machu Picchu que era uns dos meus sonhos e na verdade subi a montanha Hunaya Picchu sem saber ao certo qual montanha era, a subida foi difícil mas tranquila, às vezes precisamos parar pois o ar vai ficando rarefeito e a dificuldade em respirar vai aumentando devido a altura. Mas lá no topo a visão que temos de Machu Picchu é espetacular. Só fiquei sabendo qual era a montanha que subi quando desci. Nem acreditei que estive lá em cima. Durante o trajeto o guia comentou sobre mortes devido a distração em momentos de fotos. Amei Machu Picchu e Águas Calientes.
Climbed Huayna Picchu at the age of 60 with my son (26) on 31st October 2016 (a very hot day) directly after completing the Inca Trail. Quite a stiff climb; found the support/safety wires very helpful in several places. Most of the path was two-way up and down, which was annoying at times when having to wait for other people coming in the opposite direction, especially upon the narrow sections. The route of the one-way section near the summit has been changed, so one now climbs/scrambles up the Stairs of Death on the way up to the top (which felt safer than climbing down them as previously routed) and then climbs down through the pinch-point cave (instead of climbing up it). Well worth the climb for the amazing views and photo opportunities from the summit. We did not take our walking poles in to the Machu Picchu site, since the tickets stated that only elderly or infirm could take walking sticks with them, but we saw plenty of people who appeared neither elderly nor infirm walking around the site and up on Huayna Picchu with walking poles; the poles would have been extremely useful on the Huayna Picchu climb.
The beauty of Machu Picchu has always fascinated me, but haven’t quite been able to get there yet. Im very interested on what you are fortunate to do for a living. I dream of traveling extensively but not wishing to wait to retire for the opportunity. Thank you!
Can anyone confirm whether there was another hiking trail to Huayna Picchu back in 1990. I did it with 3 other travellers as soon as we arrived at M.P. after 3.5 days hiking the Inca Trail. I seriously don’t recall it being as dangerous as shown these days that’s why I’m wondering have they made a different climb.
There has always been just this trail, as the top half is basically ancient ruins. BUT the trail takes a loop around the top, on only the second leg is so jaw-droppingly scary.
If you are facing Huanya Picchu, the approach leads up on the right side, and this approach is fairly moderate. You then reach the top and it loops back on the left and this is where the “stairs of death” are located. Maybe you walked back the same way you went up?
I climbed in the 1980’s and I don’t recall any stairs of death or it being overly dangerous. We went up the side facing Machu Picchu. The path went through dense smallish trees. If you slipped you would have fallen into the trees and been able to grab hold. That’s how I remember it now anyway
well there are two climbs: Wayna Picchu and Montana Picchu. Maybe you climbed the latter?
That being said, the climb changed a couple of times. Only recently they actually rerouted the tour so you don’t actually get to pass the stairs of death anymore.
Yes definitely made it to the top. We have photos sitting on a stone slab seat
Rene- I did Macchu Pitchu in 1986, when you had to buy a drawing in Cusco of where the water was to be found en route! We did Huyana Pichu straight after we had explored the ruins of MP. As I recall, we simply strolled across to the far side of the site, and scrambled up a scrappy path, pulling on vines and creepers as required. We saw no scary steep steps; just kicked through undergrowth to the top, took some photos of MP from the opposing side, then scrambled back to MP, and down from there to Agua Calientes. Sounds like you did same as us.
IF your fear of heights is so much, it is difficult for you to casually walk down stadium steps. I have two words of advice:
The inca trail is nothing but steep very steep/narrow slopes. You will be miserable, and worse could loose your balance and your worse fears come true.
This is not worth the money or the time. Go to a flat, ample destination like a beach instead. Your brain will feel more like a vacation than a torture.
Thank you for your input!
Hi, i just came across your blog whilst looking for a picture of wayna picchu. I fell down the mountain in October 2008, i fell about 20ft whilst 3/4 of the way up the mountain as part of the ground gave way. I cracked my head open and have a beautiful scar now from mid-way down my forehead which curves up and around to my ear! I have videos of being stretchered down the mountain from someone in my trek group which are on youtube somewhere.
Oh my gosh Hannah, this sounds horrible. So glad you lived to tell the tale! All the best for the future and hope there’s no lasting damage!
Search “Kenneth Kahn, obituary” and you will find an article from the LA times. He died while hiking at Machu Picchu. I believe he was climbing Huayana Picchu, but haven’t found it reported anywhere else.
damn that is a LOT of text for a very small amount of facts. Well done.
My husband, 15 year old daughter and I climbed Huayana Picchu last week. I never hiked before. Bought the tickets because my husband wanted to hike. It wasn’t bad, even though I regretted while climbing up and down. Considered quitting half way through several times. Looking back, I am glad I did it. But the entire climb I was very worried about my accident prone daughter. But we all made it safely and took a guide with us who helped us pick the right spots to take short breaks when we were tired. I will go to Machu Picchu again. But will not climb Huayana Picchu again!!
And also there was a 6 year old who did the hike!
In July 1988 on a private tour, my son and I climbed Huayana Picchu after signing in at no cost. On the way down as my son turned a switchback, he saw a leg, heard screams as a Japanese women fell backwards. Their group was attempting to get a great photo. He “raced” down (as only a 15 year old would do) to alert people at the hut. A rappelling rescue team was sent up but we were told later that she had been found dead. Of course there were no newspapers or internet back then to verify any details. But our information came from people working the site as my son was the one who reported the incident.
thank you for adding this story!
I and two friends walked into MachuPicchu in 1971 from many miles away taking three days and three nights to get there over some very challenging terrain. We heard on the narrow guage steam train that several (6?) French tourists had died earlier that summer being driven over a cliff by attacking bees. Same day after beginning the hike we were told by an “official” of the district that there had been several (6?) Europeans killed by bandits in the same area earlier in the summer. Something happened for sure that summer. When we finally got to Machu Picchu the exhaustion of our extremely poorly equiped adventure convinced us to not proceed up to Huayna Picchu, because it would have been trivial after what we had just experienced. Youth is marvelous and a deceptive excuse for courage.
thank you for sharing your story. That sounds..uh..quite grizzly!
The power developed by a person with conviction is greater than the one who only has interest