For many trips to South America or Peru, Machu Picchu is the true highlight of the trip. This enigmatic “lost city” in the Andes was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. In those days the whole site was covered in vegetation and one could hardly make out the buildings it was made out of. This Inca city was hidden in the jungle and never discovered by the Spanish after the conquest. This enigmatic lost city in the Andes nowadays is a lot easier to reach but still takes some effort as it is only reachable by train or hiking an original Inca Trail taking you to the famous Sun Gate or Inti Punku.
Machu Picchu is an unforgettable place to see but for a lot of people there is another highlight within the actual site of Machu Picchu; Huayna Picchu Mountain (also spelled Wayna Picchu). This is the granite like rock / mountain overlooking the the city of the Incas and which is a protagonist on a lot of famous Machu Picchu pictures. In contrary to what it looks like on first sight, it is actually possible to make it to the top of this mountain during your visit to Machu Picchu. - one can hardly imagine a path running up this solid mountain, let alone built actual stone staircases and terraces on it.
In order to do so you you first of all need to be able to book your entrance tickets to Machu Picchu quite some time in advance. There are only 400 Machu Picchu + Huayna Picchu entrance tickets available daily and these do sell out for almost every day in the year. These 400 Huayna Picchu + Machu Picchu entrance tickets are divided in two groups of 200 tickets each. The two groups have two different time slots; the first group can start from anywhere between 7.00 and 8.00am and the second group anywhere between 10.00 and 11.00am. There is not really a time limit on how long one can take or stay on top but from about noon the guards will ask visitors to start descending Huayna Picchu Mountain.
The hike starts on the far northern end of the site where there is a checkpoint to check if you have the right ticket and to register. Please make sure to carry your passport with you when entering Machu Picchu as well as the Huayna Picchu checkpoint. The start of the hike is located at about 20-25 min from the the official entrance to Machu Picchu - keep this in mind when planning your day. The hike itself takes (this is a very rough estimate) on average about 1.5 hours to ascend and about 1 hour to come back down. Once goes up and comes down following basically the same path so it is impossible to get lost. The first part of the hike is not that steep and the path a little wider. The last 20-30 minutes of the hike you will have to go over some steep and high Inca staircases that can be quite challenging for the body as well as the nerves. There are also ao couple of deep drops on one side during the hike so not advisable for those with fear of heights. If you would have fear of heights but still would like to see Machu Picchu from above, the hike to Machu Picchu Mountain may be more up your ally.
Both time slots have their advantage. The earlier one enjoys a nicer climate and temperature for the hike as the sun is not that hot yet as well as allow you to spend more time hiking and enjoying the views. The later slot however in general has somewhat better visibility due to lesser clouds but you will be hiking both ways with people on the paths going up and down making it slightly more challenging.
A question we often hear is “am I able to hike Huayna Picchu”. This however is a very personal question as this depends on your level of fitness, your perseverance and how your body deals with the altitude - all factors hard to predict of course. Therefore we mostly recommend those who have an interest in doing the hike to purchase the Huayna Picchu + Machu Picchu entrance ticket and try to complete the hike. If you would in the end not be able to complete the hike, from halfway already you have some amazing views of Machu Picchu and whenever you would be too tired you can just turn around and come the same way down. The difference in price is US$15 and you would be surprised how many people, on contrary to what they thought, were able to complete the famous hike to Huayna Picchu during their Machu Picchu visit.
Finally we would also like to clarify that for those interested in hiking Huayna Picchu it is important that you spend the night before in Aguas Calientes. This means either having a two day visit to the site or arriving the night before so you can head up to Machu Picchu with the earlier buses. If you would be arriving via train on the same day as you would have your Huayna Picchu + Machu Picchu ticket you will most likely not be able to get to Machu Picchu on time.
So is it worth it? This would be a definite Yes. Not only does Huayna Picchu offer a once in a lifetime type of hike over original Inca staircases, it will also allow you to see some of the most amazing Inca constructions built on death defying locations with what must be some of the best views on the planet. In case you would have missed out on getting tickets for Huayna Picchu or you would not be too much into altitudes the alternative Machu Picchu Mountain is a great alternative also offering birds-eye-perspective of Machu Picchu but with lesser steep climbs and wider paths to walk on. This hike takes slightly longer than Huayna Picchu as it will also take you several hundreds of meters higher. Views are equally (some say even more) amazing. It's definitely a feat to say that you have climbed either huayna picchu or machu picchu mountain.