Visit Peru's Machu Picchu, and you know your senses are in for a veritable feast! From the misty mountain tops, to the expertly engineered and precisely positioned stones that make up the ruins of the citadel and main square, Machu Picchu and its surrounding area will keep you exploring and questioning its history and purpose, even long after your departure.
We all know Machu Picchu itself has an abundance of nooks, crannies, caves and tombs to explore, but what stands behind the citadel and terraces, holds an unforgettable adventure in itself. Huayna Picchu looks foreboding, towering above the citadel, as you stand at its base looking up at the sheer rock face, poking its craggy top up through the mist. Like the rest of the surrounding area, it has an ethereal quality, and for adventurous souls, one that just begs to be ascended to the top of its crown.
It is indeed possible to get to the top of Huayna Picchu, but the hike/climb is not for the faint hearted (or vertigo prone). It's not referred to as the "hike of Death" for nothing, and its only those people who have dared to make their way up the narrow rocky steps carved from and through the mountain sides that can understand why.
Through certain sections, trails are only a foot wide, with a sheer vertical drop on your side, and if you're hoping to bolster your confidence with hand rails - think again because you won't find them! Terraces near the top are absent of trees or safety nets, one misplaced foot equals... well it's better not to imagine. Descending down a sheer rock face, in some areas with no ropes to aid you, and only just enough space for a shoe hold, its a climb you won't forget!
It sounds menacing, but if you're brave enough to take on the one hour climb up to the top of this 2,720 m (8,920 ft) peak known as “Young Mountain”, you'll feel a unique sense of accomplishment. You'll appreciate the magnificent view on this one of a kind hike that only a small percentage of people ever get to experience. Huayna Picchu is said to have been home to the high priests of Machu Picchu, and boasts some fascinating architectural marvels of its own. Walking up its trails, you will find terraces and a building very much like those you'll see in the main citadel below, but it's the 360° view from the top that will really blow your mind.
Needless to say, this climb is not recommended for anyone in poor health, for example, if you suffer from bad knees. It's best to wear comfortable, layered clothing, sturdy boots, or shoes with grippy soles. Some of the intricate, winding stairs are often slippery and muddy. Close to the top, you'll need to crawl through a small cave, so anyone who is larger framed will find this difficult. Because there are no guide rails closer to the upper parts of the trail, you'll find guides wandering the Huayna Picchu trail regularly to assist people who have succumbed to their fear of the drops below, or who have run out of steam. At the very top you'll be ascending a small wooden ladder to reach the summit. The 'correct' way down is much steeper and narrower, so many people opt to go back down the way they came.
Obviously you need to reasonably nimble and fit to take on this walk. Now that we've given you a taste of what you're likely to encounter if you take this journey, believe us when we say that the rewards for taking it are worth every drop of sweat and momentary questioning of sanity! You'll get to explore more accessible sites like The Temple Of The Moon Cave, and of course, sit on top of Huyana Picchu with views down the valleys and terraces. Its worth taking the mental and physical challenge, but just make sure you are fit and well, and are prepared for your climb of a lifetime!
Now for some logistical information: 400 people make the Huayna Picchu climb each day, and most finish with no major problems. Along the way you will hear people encouraging each other, marvelling at their experience, and just generally sharing a sense of explorer camaraderie. You will need to buy tickets to climb the peak, and will need to book at least a month in advance if you are travelling during the busy season (June to September). Unless you are travelling with a tour company, in which case they will have everything sorted for you so you can just enjoy the experience.
The hiking passes are limited to 400 per day; 200 for the 7am group and 200 for the 10am group. Keep in mind that if you book for the 7am-8am time slot, the trail will be less crowded, because you won't be passing people from an earlier climb descending on their way back down. Booking the earlier session means you can take your time looking around as gates to Huayna Picchu are closed and locked at 1pm. Another consideration is that cloud cover often does not break until at least 9 or 10am, so views during your climb will be very limited during the morning session. If you take the earlier time slot, you are able to wait until the clouds break to enjoy your bird’s eye view of Machu Picchu, but you'll have to jostle with all the other visitors vying for a position while waiting. If you choose the 10am time slot, it will be warmer and clearer, and you'll be more likely to get that "condors' view of the valley and citadel.
If Huayna Picchu’s steep staircases sounds a little too intimidating, you'll likely opt to simply explore Machu Picchu. It's possibly not as exhilarating, but does offer equally stunning views via a more comfortable hour to an hour and a half walk each way.