If you’ve seen photos of Machu Picchu, then you’ve certainly noticed the one peak towering in the background of the ruins. This is Huayna Picchu. Huayna Picchu, meaning “young mountain” in Quechua, rises over the majority of the ruins of Machu Picchu, while also hosting some of it’s own (including the Temple of the Moon). At 2,720 meters (8,920 feet) above sea level, it sits 360 meters (1,180 feet) above the rest of Machu Picchu.
While Huayna Picchu is a mystery just as the rest of Machu Picchu, the trail leading up to it’s peak and ruins on top of it have led to many ideas about what it’s unique role in the site was. Local guides believe the top of the mountain was the residence for a high priest and local virgins, and that the high priest would lead a group to Machu Picchu each day to signal the start of a new day.
The Temple of the Moon (one of the three major temples of Machu Picchu) can be found nestled on the side of Huayna Picchu, adjacent to the Great Cavern (another sacred temple known for it’s impressive masonry).
Visiting Huayna Picchu
Because it is essentially a peak, Huayna Picchu is not as accessible as the rest of Machu Picchu’s terrain. To access it, visitors must buy tickets in advance to hike the steep trail to the top and capacity is limited.
Huayna Picchu Tickets
Tickets for Huayna Picchu must be added onto your general admission to Machu Picchu: It is not possible to simply choose to visit the day of. The daily capacity for the Huayna Picchu hike is 400 people, and the tickets to Huayna Picchu usually sell out far in advance.
They can easily be purchased online, through your tour, or at any of the locations that sell Machu Picchu tickets in Cusco or Aguas Calientes. When buying your general admission ticket to Machu Picchu, you simply add Huayna Picchu as an additional feature. It only costs a couple dollars more- the main issue is getting them before they are gone. Plan to book at least a month or two in advance!
Huayna Picchu Hike
As stated before, Huayna Picchu can only be accessed by hiking the steep trail on it’s side built by the Incas. Hiking Huayna Picchu can only be done in the morning, in good weather, and visitors must be in good physical condition to climb up. The one-hour climb offers cables for support, but has some notoriously slippery sections. If visiting in the rainy season (November-March), keep in mind that it can close at any time. The climb overall is safe, yet can be very dangerous if attempted by someone who is not in the proper condition for a steep mountain hike so make sure to buy tickets only if you are up for the physical challenge.
Due to the slippery slope of the trail, the best time to visit Huayna Picchu is during the dry season (April-October). However, crowds are much bigger during this time, so you will need to book possibly a few months in advance.
What Happens When Huayna Picchu is Sold Out?
Sadly, there’s no way around it. If the maximum capacity has been reached and Huayna Picchu is sold out for when you want to go, you can either rethink the dates you’ll visit or choose another optional trek atop Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu Mountain
Machu Picchu Mountain is the next best trek atop Machu Picchu. Across from the famous peak of Huayna Picchu is the more subtle (but larger) mountain of Machu Picchu, and tickets for this hardly ever sell out. Like Huayna Picchu, it is an add on when you buy your tickets for Machu Picchu, but tickets are almost always available and the larger space leads to thinner crowds which is always a plus. It also has the daily limit of 400 visitors, but never sells out. The walk up Machu Picchu Mountain is a bit more strenuous than the Huayna Picchu hike (and takes about three to five hours round trip, depending on the person), but isn’t as steep. Unlike Huayna Picchu, you can hike it at any time of day, so there is also greater flexibility there.
Read more:Cusco, Exploring the four suyos of the Inca Empire
Whether you have the chance to scale Huayna Picchu or not, you will certainly be able to appreciate it’s role in the setting from the main terraces of Machu Picchu, and it will be an unmistakable feature in the photos you take while visiting the ruins. As the popularity of Machu Picchu and each of it’s treks increases, selling out will always be a problem, but it’s a great opportunity for visitors to begin explore the other equally important trails that haven’t gained the same star fame yet. Whichever path you take, your day at Machu Picchu will feel incredibly full by the end.