Hiking to the peak of Machu or Huayna Picchu after a visit to the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is a perfect way to enjoy panoramic views of this unique historical wonder – but which hike is best?
With many passengers opting to spend a night at the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru during their holiday, the second day offers the opportunity to hike to the peak of either the Machu or Huayna Picchu mountains. Both hikes can be pretty hair-raising at times, with exposed areas and sheer drops adjacent to the trail, however each hike offers its own particular challenges and rewards for those brave enough to make the climb for sweeping vistas of the surrounding cloud forest and mountains.
Humboldt specialist Clara explains the main differences between these two spectacular hikes:
In each iconic image of Machu Picchu, the spindly peak of Huayna Picchu at 2720 metres above sea level, stands proudly in the background. By far the more popular of the two hikes, the trail to the summit of Huayna Picchu is only accessible via special permits (400 per day) which do tend to sell out rather early. The popularity of the route can also mean that during peak season, the summit of the mountain can feel a little crowded.
It is worth bearing in mind that Huayna Picchu is the steeper trail and perhaps not the right fit for the more faint-hearted. There are parts of the route where it is necessary to use your hands for balance and the summit of Huayna is not exactly flat. It can be difficult to move around when busy which can be disconcerting for those who are scared of heights. It could be argued that partly due to this irregularity, the Inca ruins, tunnels, and the infamous staircase leading up to the top, Huayna Picchu offers the more dramatic hike overall.
After a hiking time of between 1.5 and 2 hours in total, travellers who make it to the top can enjoy stunning views down onto the Machu Picchu ruins.
Few people initially realise that ‘Machu Picchu’, the name by which most of us around the world refer to the lost Inca city perched high up in the Peruvian Andes, is in fact the name of the mountainous peak upon which the city sits, rather than the name of the city itself – which has been lost to the ages.
Machu Picchu is a less crowded hike than that of Huayna Picchu, meaning that it is often easier to obtain a permit to hike this trail at shorter notice. Whilst not as steep as Huayna Picchu, the elevation gain during the hike to the peak of Machu (3051 metres above sea level) is double that of Huayna and so this hike could be argued to be more physically demanding overall.
The Machu Picchu hike takes around 2.5 – 3 hours in total but in contrast to Huayna Picchu, the summit of Machu is flat, offering 360-degree views of the citadel ruins and Huayna Picchu too (the smaller peak).
Both options are fairly challenging hikes and should only be taken on by people with a moderate level of fitness and who are not scared of heights. Although both are great options, for those deeply interested in the history of the Inca ruins, Huayna Picchu is the best option, as the route passes through fascinating hidden ruins and constructions left by the city’s former inhabitants. For hardy hikers looking for a sterner physical challenge, we recommend taking on Machu Picchu – the taller and more difficult peak.
Whichever you choose – the pictures will be incredible!