You’ve come all the way to Peru and landed in Cusco, and it’s almost time to finally see that famous Wonder of the Modern World! You’re about to be super impressed by the centuries-old structures of a time long past, precisely carved and built in stone high up in the mountaintops. It’s time for exploration and adventure, for discovering a new culture and new vistas. The ancient city is your gateway to wide-open mountain views across glaciers and forests. This is Machu Picchu!
Did you know that inside the citadel, there are 3 extra hikes you can do to see the site from a different perspective and explore its surroundings? They are Machu Picchu Mountain, Huayna Picchu Mountain (the one this blog’s about), and Huchuy Picchu Mountain!
Why Huayna Picchu Mountain?
Huayna Picchu (also written Wayna Picchu or Waynapicchu and pronounced why-Nah peek-choo) is a hike for fit thrill-seekers and adventurous wanderers. It’s the tall, pointy, green mountain in the backdrop of any classic picture of the citadel of Machu Picchu, and its name means “young mountain” in the native language of Quechua. Did you know that the Incas also constructed on those steep slopes? Visitors (who make reservations WAY in advance) can hike to the top of this mountain and around its base, enjoying both the ancient structures of the Incas and the breathtaking, rugged scenery surrounding it.
It’s the steepest and most challenging of the 3 trails within the national park – there are some parts where you have to climb upwards using both hands and feet, namely on the famed “stairs of death.” Everyone who’s experienced it is raving! …and posting a picture of their day as conqueror!
So here’s everything you need to know about Huayna Picchu Mountain!
Buying the Ticket
For all the detailed information about national park reservations, here’s how to buy your Machu Picchu ticket with entrance to Huayna Picchu Mountain. In short, you need to get the ticket for “Circuito 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu”.
- You’ll choose either the 7-8 AM, 8-9 AM, 9-10 AM, or 10-11 AM entrance time (which means you’ll enter the trail either between 8-9 AM, 9-10 AM, 10-11 AM or 11 AM-12 PM respectively). It will be printed on the upper lefthand corner of your ticket.
- Only 200 of these tickets are available per day, 50 for each time slot. You should make a reservation at least 4 months in advance and, if possible, longer.
- It includes entrance to visitation circuit 4 of the citadel (see below).
- It costs 200 soles for an adult, 125 soles for a student with ISIC, and 118 soles for a child between 12-17. (prices for foreigners). This hike is only available for ages 12 and older.
- The total time limit for your visit to Machu Picchu, in general, is 6 hours.
- You must bring a printed copy of your ticket to the entrance gate.
Note: If you’re hiking the Inca Trail, you’ll need to buy a second Machu Picchu ticket in order to hike Huayna Picchu Mountain. Inca Trail hikers are only allowed entrance to circuit 5 of the citadel.
If you need more specifics on any of these points, read this detailed guide.
Getting to the Trailhead
The time slot for entrance to the trail is designated for 1 hour after your entrance time slot to the National Park. For example, if you enter Machu Picchu between 7-8 AM, you’ll need to enter the trail between 8-9 AM, so it’s better to arrive at the beginning of your 60-minute time slot (7 AM) rather than at the end (8 AM).
First, you’ll pass through the entrance gate for circuits 3 & 4. Go straight forward, following the wooden signs toward Huayna Picchu Mountain. As you make your way to the trail from the Machu Picchu entrance, take advantage of touring the sites you’re passing as you won’t pass them again. You’ll be on a circular loop and see different sites as you leave from the trailhead toward the park’s exit. Once you get to the control point for the trail (behind the Sacred Rock, the same entrance as Huchuy Picchu), you’ll check in and show your passport and entrance ticket. After the hike, you’ll exit the park by continuing the looped path of circuit 4 of the citadel.
To take full advantage, you could enter at the earliest time of your ticket (for example, 7 AM) and then spend 1 hour and 45 minutes enjoying the citadel between the Machu Picchu entrance and the trailhead to then begin your hike at 8:45 AM. Just make sure you pass the mountain’s checkpoint before your time slot ends (in this case, 9 AM).
The trail starts on a slight incline, using the same path as those going to Huchuy Picchu Mountain. There will be a fork in the road to separate the two trails, and you’ll follow the path to the right toward Wayna Picchu (there’s a wooden sign). This mountain was a place for surveillance, religious rites, and possibly the home of the Inca (the empire’s king). Once you reach the base of Huayna Picchu Mountain, the steep climb on the original stone stairs of the Incas begins and continues along about 750 grueling steps. Some spots have ropes and cables for safety. The stones do get slippery in the rainy season (November-March). When it’s sunny, there is a bit of shade cover along the way, but you should still come prepared to protect yourself from those strong rays.
There are platforms along the way to rest and take some amazing pictures of the scenery. You’ll enjoy seeing the impressive architecture of the Incas up close, including both structures and farming terraces. At the same time, Machu Picchu will get further and further away. On the way up, just before reaching the summit, you’ll climb the “stairs of death” and pass through a narrow tunnel before being rewarded with one of the best views of your life. It’s surreal to see vast, untamed wilderness on all sides, accompanied by the obviously once-inhabited and thoughtfully designed Machu Picchu jutting up in the middle of it.
At the top, you can either choose the short trail (out and back) or the long trail (loop).
Return (carefully) down the mountain the same way you came.
**It’s unclear if the long trail to the Temple of the Moon has re-opened yet since the covid-19 pandemic.**
At the summit, you’ll see a sign pointing to the “Grand Cavern.” That’s the Temple of the Moon, an impressive religious structure of the Incas built flawlessly into a cave. Not everyone takes this route, so there may be fewer crowds on this part of the path! The trail goes sharply down stone steps on the backside of the mountain and then continues downhill less steeply, curving with the landscape. It goes to a lower elevation than Machu Picchu, passes the Temple of the Moon, and then heads back up and out to Machu Picchu. You’ll be walking through the lush vegetation of the cloud forest along stone and earth paths.
The Stairs of Death
This name is a little dramatic. Despite the rumors, no one has died climbing these stairs, and they’re not actually dangerous (unless you have vertigo). This part of the trail has won its name because the steps are incredibly steep and seem to be on the edge of the universe. There are cables to help you pull yourself up, or you can trudge up with your hands and feet. If you were to lose your balance and fall over the side, there are platforms you would land on before rolling off any cliff. Of course, they give a dizzying sensation to anyone, especially on the way down! But they’re not actually going to kill you.
Here are some stats:
- Max elevation: 2,693 MASL / 8,835 FASL
- Elevation gain: 353 meters / 1158 feet
- Short trail hiking distance: 2 km / 1.2 mi
- Short trail hiking time: 2 hours round trip
- Long trail hiking distance: 5 km / 3.1 miles
- Long trail hiking time: 3.5 hours round trip
- Difficulty level: Challenging
Exploring Circuit 4
There are 5 established visitation circuits to traverse the Historical Sanctuary of Machu Picchu. You can find maps of each on Peru’s official Machu Picchu website. Here’s a map with the 4 main circuits shown together. Each is designed to cater to different schedules (ex: allowing time to hike an extra mountain) and activity levels (ex: those who walk/hike well VS those who have limited mobility).
When you buy a ticket including Huayna Picchu Mountain, you’re only allowed to enter circuit 4. The route takes about 2.5 hours to explore. It’s a longer circuit but only visits the lower portions of the citadel. The attractions you’ll pass are:
Qolqas (Granaries) → Agricultural Zone → Water Canal → Dry Well → Temple of the Sun → House of the Inka → Water Fountains → Sacred Rock → Twelve Openings → Eastern Qolqas → Water Mirrors → Temple of the Condor → Pisonay Plaza → Archeological Reserve
The best option is to do a guided tour in order to understand what you’re seeing! You can visit with a tour from Cusco, do a multi-day hike to Machu Picchu or hire a guide outside the entrance gate if you arrive on your own.
Very Important: You’ll need to hire a guide that will do the first part of the tour on your way to the trailhead from the Machu Picchu entrance, wait for you while you do the hike and then complete the tour as you finish the looped circuit between the trailhead and the exit gate. You won’t be allowed to re-enter the citadel of Machu Picchu once you’ve reached the end of the circuit.
Note: The Temple of the Condor is only open for visits from 10 AM – 1 PM. The Temple of the Sun is only open for visits from 1-4 PM.
The Best Time to Go + Weather
In the Peruvian Andes, the rainy season is from November to March, and the dry season is from April to October. The high tourism season coincides with the dry season.
Machu Picchu is in the cloud forest of the Andes and, therefore, the weather is always warm and humid with lots of mosquitoes and biting sand flies.
The rainy season is considered summer, while the dry season is considered winter. Temperatures year-round range from 7°C to 28°C (44°F to 83°F). I can say from personal experience that it feels hotter than that! It’s just a few degrees warmer in the rainy season and a few degrees cooler in the dry season.
Humidity is, on average, 50% in the dry season and 90% in the rainy season.
Dry season pros:
- Less foggy in the mornings (better views)
- No need for a raincoat
- Less humidity
- Not as many bugs
- Stones aren’t slippery
Rainy season pros:
- Less crowded in the citadel (same amount of people on the Huayna Picchu hike)
- Easier to get tickets on shorter notice
- Rain will cool you off
- Cheaper plane tickets to Peru
So when’s the best time to visit? Try the shoulder months in September/October or March/April for the best of both worlds!
Note: The two busiest months of the high tourism season are June and July.
What to Wear & Pack
- Breathable activewear (long pants and long sleeves to avoid sunburn and mosquito bites; shorts and tank if you prefer)
- A hat, preferably a wide one that covers your ears and neck
- Bug spray
- Water in a zero-waste bottle(s)
- Zero-waste snacks
- Raincoat and extra socks (in the rainy season)
- Sturdy walking/hiking shoes
- Camera and extra batteries
- Printed entrance ticket
- Physical or virtual covid-19 vaccination card (3 vaccines) OR negative PCR test
- Cash for the bathroom (costs 2 soles, located outside of the entrance gate)
- Cash for the bus ticket from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu and back
Note: Trekking poles aren’t allowed in Machu Picchu except for the disabled and elderly and with prior permission from the governing authorities. If you do get permission, they must be rubber-tipped.
Ok, you’re all set for your hike up Huayna Picchu Mountain! Get your reservation made ASAP!
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably pretty into hiking. For the full experience, why not arrive at Machu Picchu by foot?
After that, just keep going: plan some hiking trips in other parts of the beautiful and wild South American continent!
Now THAT’S the trip of a lifetime!
Written by: Bethany Iversen Marrou