One of the most in-demand additional hikes available; the Huayna Picchu trek leads to a view point overlooking the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. The trail loops around the very top of the mountain, where architectural vestiges such as altars, narrow staircases, tunnels and terraces can be found. The lower trail (often forgotten), follows the base of Huayna Picchu to the Great Cavern where the secluded and mysterious Moon Temple is located.
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Booking a tour including Huayna Picchu
To trek Huayna Picchu one must be in Machu Picchu with a specific combination ticket for both Machu Picchu itself and Huayna Picchu we will explain more in the content below. However if you wish to search options for tours to Machu Picchu right away take a look at this page on FindLocalTrips.com
Finding the Trail Head
From the main entrance of Machu Picchu you take the lower circuit around the site. The trail head is located far north of the Machu Picchu citadel behind the Sacred Rock. The entrance is clearly marked with a large sign at the warden’s hut. From the main entrance of Machu Picchu it takes 15-20 minutes to walk to the trail head.
After signing in at the warden’s hut (passport number and name required), the Huayna Picchu Trail follows an undulating path for 15 – 20 minutes until the trail splits. The upper path continues to the summit of Huayna Picchu, and the lower trail continues around the base of the mountain to the Great Cavern and the Moon Temple before climbing a steep incline to the summit.
Where the trail splits, you will see a wooden sign post clearly marking the direction to the summit of Huayna Picchu. The trail continues on for another 10 minutes or so before reaching the base of Huayna Picchu. Here the trail follows a set of steep and moderately challenging (and often slippery) switch backs for a further 20 – 30 minutes. Once at the top the trail passes through a narrow rock tunnel where you may need to get down on your hands and knees to pass. After just a few minutes you will arrive at the rocky summit, where you can appreciate panoramic views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding mountains. The trail continues around the top of the mountain, where you will come to a small store house and agricultural terracing. Here is a good place to rest and take photos. From the top, the trail descends sharply following a set of very narrow and steep steps, before meeting up with the original trail that ascended the mountain. The return time to warden’s hut takes about 60 minutes, but can be longer if the trail is congested.
Where the trail splits you can either follow the lower path around the base of Huayna Picchu to the Moon Temple and then ascend to the summit via a trail at the rear of the mountain. You can also take the upper trail straight to the summit and then descend the trail at the rear of Huayna Picchu to the Moon Temple, before returning to the wardens hut. Essentially, the full trail is a large loop, which can be done in either direction. The full trail is much more demanding and takes about 3h30m to complete. Including the Moon Temple is a wonderful addition to the standard Huayna Picchu trek, and only a handful of people take the time to do so (see the map below to get a better understanding of the route). Note that the trail from the summit of Huayna Picchu descending down to the Moon Temple is poorly marked and can easily be missed. If you are unsure, ask a park warden (sat at the top) where the trail starts.
The short Huayna Picchu trail is accessible to most people of all ages and requires that you have a reasonable level of fitness. The climb to the summit from the base of the mountain (about 40 mins) is more strenuous and you can expect to use your hands as well as your feet to navigate the trail. The full Huayna Picchu trail is a little more demanding due to the increased trekking time and steepness of the trail. From the summit to the Moon Temple (or vice-versa) there is a 1 story wooden ladder that you will also need to navigate.
Short Trail Difficulty: moderate
Full Trail Difficulty: moderate – challenging
Coping with Altitude Sickness
For the majority of travellers, especially those who take time to acclimatize, the effects of altitude will be limited to some shortness of breath and a mild headache. However, should any of these conditions become worse or fail to diminish after a few hours, it can be a very serious even life threatening issue, and should not be treated lightly.
Some additional planning should be made to ensure you protect your health.
The recommended approach to acclimatization is to ascend gradually spending at least 24 hours at every 2000ft. increase in altitude. Allowing time to acclimatize on your journey to Cusco and on to Machu Picchu. If travelling from Cusco to Lima we strongly recommend to follow Peru Hop‘s route along the coast and up to Cusco from the spectacular city of Arequipa. This route ascends gradually which will give you some important time to acclimatise to the thinner air and help prevent any issues when visiting the UNESCO heritage site. Travelling by bus is important as the slower ascent helps a lot compared to flying direct to altitude form sea level.
As you reach higher altitudes follow these simple steps:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Avoid alcohol.
- Eat small meals
- Restrict exercise (initially)
Plan wisely and don’t let that dream trip turn into a nightmare by having to fight altitude sickness.
- Minimum of 1 to 1.5 litres of water (2 – 3 personal bottles).
- Sun hat, sun glasses & sun block.
- Walking stick with rubber tip (if required).
- Strong insect repellent.
- Light weight rain coat or poncho.
- Small snacks.
- A change of t-shirt for the top.
Time needed (short trail): 1h 20m – 2 hours.
Time needed (full trail): 3h30 hours – 4 hours.
Altitude of summit: 2,693 meters (8,835 feet) above sea level.
Height to climb from Machu Picchu: 353 meters (1,158 feet).
Height to climb to summit from Moon Temple: 427 meters (1,401 feet).
Terrain: Inca Trail stone path steps and in places grass/dirt (long trail includes a wooden ladder).
Recommended footwear: Training shoes, light weight walking boots.
Entrance time: 7 – 8am & 10 – 11am.
Trail head: in the north of Machu Picchu citadel.
Tickets: Limited to 400 tickets per day with 200 tickets allocated for the 7-8 am entrance and 200 tickets for the 10 – 11 am entrance. Tickets need to be purchased as a combination ticket with general entrance to Machu Picchu. You can check tour prices on the operator comparison website Find Local Trips.
Best Time to Trek
Huayna Picchu is accessible all year round. During the wet season (November – April) there is a higher chance of heavy rainfall and the trail may become slippery and more challenging to traverse. The region has a sub-tropical feel throughout the year, with average daily temperatures of 18 °C (64 °F). During the dry season the humidity is around 40 – 45%, rising to 60 – 65% during the wet season. Early morning trekking offers cooler temperatures and better shade from the sun.
If you’re travelling in other parts of Peru and want to know more about the weather conditions in the different regions check out this page on Peruvian weather.
The weather in this region of Peru can often be un-predictable any time of the year, so you must be prepared with clothing for rain and sun. The trail is mainly stone steps so comfortable lightweight training or hiking shoes are recommended. A light weight rain coat or poncho and sun protection is advised.
The Huayna Picchu trek is not for people with a fear of heights. The trail is very steep in some places. This is particularly true immediately after the summit where the trail descends through a series of steep and narrow stone steps. If this doesn’t appeal to you maybe consider other treks such as the Choquequirao hike.