The Basics - Huayna Picchu, which means “young mountain” in Quechua, is the massive mountain overlooking Machu Picchu itself, as seen in the background of all the classic photos of Machu Picchu.
Many people, including ourselves, view the stonework and engineering at Huayna Picchu to be some of the very finest in the whole Incan empire. There is a route, carved into the sheer face of a granite wall by the Incans, that goes up to the top of the mountain, where there is a whole complex of Incan buildings, overlooking Machu Picchu as well as sightlines in all other directions. Huayna Picchu is technically part of the park of Machu Picchu, but requires its’ own separate entrance fee.
The Details - This trail has become famous in its own right, and has been progressively more controlled each year by the park authorities, due at least in part to legitimate safety concerns: The path is very narrow and on the edge of a very long fall, and there are many places where a single slip would be fatal.
In the past, the queue for waiting to enter Huayna Picchu was a first come, first served affair, there is now a new system that allows (basically requires) the ticket be pre-purchased on the internet at www.MachuPicchu.gob.pe note that when you purchase the entrance ticket for Huayna Picchu that it also includes entrance to Machu Picchu itself as well. The cost for this ticket for non-Peruvians is s/152 soles, as opposed to the s/128 soles to enter Machu Picchu itself but not Huayna Picchu. Unfortunately, the Peruvian governments website does not accept most credit cards, specifically those that are not in the “Verified by VIsa” program. Its all a bit of a hassle, and the only way to get the tickets in advance is by booking a tour with a company (like us!) or finding a travel agency in Cusco via Google that will handle the process for you. We apologize, but we do not book Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu tickets unless it is part of a tour or package. We also don’t have at this time a particular agency we can recommend with confidence. We do believe they are all safe, in that they will not just take your money and disappear. Again, the further in advance the better !
You basically have only 2 options to get a ticket to Huayna Picchu: Try to email the list of approved agencies on the Machu Picchu website home page of www.MachuPicchu.gob.pe. Unfortunately, you may not have much luck getting a response, much less in English, but keep trying. Let us know if you find a good one ! The second option is to wait until you arrive to Cusco and it is pretty easy to buy them then. It is however quite possible it will be sold out by then. To check availablity, go to the website noted above. Click the UK flag in the upper right corner of the website for English language. Click “close” if there is a notice superimposed over the home page, as there often is. Go to the upper left hand corner and, under “Book Online” click the “Lugar a visitar” dropdown. Select “Machu Picchu” then under “Seleccione La Ruta” scroll down and select either the Huayna Picchu ticket from 7am to 8am or else the 10am slot. Now, just select your desired date from the calendar below.
It is not easy to get an entrance ticket to Huayna Picchu and should be done as far in advance as possible. They are still using the two entry time system, and only 400 people are allowed per day, 200 in the morning and 200 in the afternoon. Two different departure times are available: 7am and 10am. The staggered entry times in theory allow the morning group to descend the steep staircases in the same direction without encountering other people hiking upwards. Most people want to go in the morning. Our opinion is the later time slot is better – the morning is typically a mad rush of people, most of whom are young backpackers trying to make their way up as fast as possible and it can make for a bit stressfull of a hike up. We like to go in the afternoon and take our time, having seen the rest of Machu Picchu before starting up Huayna Picchu, you don’t have to be any rush to get up or down.
The hike takes between 1 to 2 hours each way, approximately 4 hours in total, depending on your speed and how much time you wish to spend exploring the site on top. We recommend taking your time, spend a few moments up top looking at the underpinnings and foundations of the buildings there. The way the Incas built these structures directly into the face of a mountain peak, belies a civil engineering project that is truly one of the most magnificent anywhere. Take plenty of water as the environment is very warm and humid. Use care in both climbing and descending the stairs and use the provided hand rails. There can be a fair amount of jockeying for position by those in better condition, we recommend letting them pass so as not to risk any incidents on this one-in-a-million staircase !
Alternate Hikes - There are several excellent alternatives to hiking up Huayna Picchu if you aren’t able to obtain the ticket or don’t fancy crowded, narrow paths alongside of sheer falls of hundreds of feet or more. The other hikes we recommend are Machu Picchu Mountain, the Inca Bridge, and the Sun Gate (“Inti Punku” in Quechua) Machu Picchu Mountain is probably the next side hike out of Machu Picchu to become really popular. First of all, from it’s peak one is treated to the same type of aerial view of Machu Picchu that the hike to the top of Huayna Picchu affords. It is, at least for the moment, infinitely less crowded. Up until July 2011 there was no extra charge or permit necessary to go up here, however that has recently changed with the new rules put into place during the summer of 2011. Currently, the entrance ticket that includes this hike is the same cost as the general admission ticket to Machu Picchu, s/126 soles, and so technically the hike is free. It, like the other hikes here, is a steep and by no means easy route. It takes between 1 to 2 hours and has more than its share of narrow precipices, so it is not recommended as an alternative to the Huayna Picchu climb for those suffering from a fear of heights.
The best hike for those with vertigo, aversion to crowds, or looking for a hike less strenuous than Huayna Picchu is walking backwards from Machu Picchu up to the Sun Gate, which allows you to stand at the very spot that those who hike the classic Inca Trail are greeted with their first view of the historic Lost City of the Incas. The Inca Trail trekkers are usually there at sunrise, so by 9a.m. this site, origin of the most famous view of Machu Picchu, is nearly empty. The hike takes between 1 to 1.5 hours up and about an hour or so down. You are not technically allowed to hike backward up the Inca Trail any further up the trail than the Sun Gate, but the odds are decent that if you went up the path a mile or two just to see one of the most famous trails in the world, no one is likely to notice nor come down too hard on you should they finding you wandering a little “lost” on the trail
Another excellent side hike is the walk to the Inca Bridge, around the western side of Machu Picchu mountain and with great views down valley, to the HydroElectric plant and the jungle beyond. The path takes you to a view of one of the Inca’s many marvelous civil engineer mountain projects – a path carved out of a sheer, granite face of the mountain, passable only by a wooden log that spans the gap in the path. Below it is a sheer drop of thousands of feet of vertical, down to the river below. By simply removing the bridge, the Incas had ultimate control over who entered the sanctuary. Naturally, an over zealous visitor a few years back fell to their death, so access to the actual bridge area is no longer allowed, however the view from the end of the path is quite sufficent to appreciate this mini-wonder, and the hike is a pleasant one and not quite as exposed as the others.