Climbing Machu Picchu’s Huayna Picchu was no easy task!

Climbing Machu Picchu’s Huayna Picchu was no easy task!

 View of Huayna Picchu mountain at Machu Picchu, in Urubamba Province, Peru.

Over a quick breakfast in Agua Calientes, Bob and I debated whether or not to actually tackle climbing up Huayna Picchu Mountain, which sits overlooking Machu Picchu. The hiking trail up this mountain follows another ancient Inca path with an ascent up steep stony pathways, through tunnels, and along sheer cliff edges that offer no protection for hikers. We both decided that it would be an exhilarating and challenging trek, but I was unsure if I would have the courage. I have to tell you that I am very afraid of heights.

Huayna Picchu mountain at Machu Picchu, in Urubamba Province, Peru.

The previous day, it had been evident from far below that climbing Huayna Picchu was going to be a very precipitous and possibly dangerous climb. In the end, I agreed with Bob that I just couldn’t let this opportunity of a lifetime pass me by. We would at least try to climb the mountain.

Entrance gate and map at Huayna Picchu mountain at Machu Picchu, in Urubamba Province, Peru.

Arriving early at the Huayna Picchu checkpoint was key. We had to enter our names on a list and then wait for a ticket to be issued giving us permission to climb the mountain. Only 400 people are allowed to ascend the mountain each day, and yet over 1,000 people come to Machu Picchu most days. Consequently, because of the restriction, many people are not able to fulfill their desire to climb the mountain. After getting our tickets, we took time to study the map at the entrance to gain insight into the route we would be climbing.

Stone steps on the hiking trail at Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu

By 9:30 a.m., our climb was underway, and Bob and I were grateful that this side of the mountain was presently shaded.

Bob on the hiking trail up Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu, Peru

For the most part, the trail wasn’t much different from that traveled the other day except that it was much steeper. Thankfully, steel cables are provided at the riskier sections of the climb so that we could help pull ourselves up the larger stone steps. The Inca people would have had no such assistance.

Stone steps on the hiking trail up Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

Sections of the ancient stone walls could be seen where the Inca built them to support the trail and prevent erosion. It is amazing to me that these steps, that these Inca trails, still exist in good condition after all these centuries.

View of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu

As we ascended Huayna Picchu, Bob and I stopped periodically to take in the panoramic view. Far below us, the ruins of Machu Picchu lay spread before us, and we could also see Huchuy Picchu (in the lower right corner of this picture), the little mountain that we surmounted the day before.

A mountain terrace and buildings on Huayna Picchu mountain, at Machu Picchu

At one point, the trail brought us out onto a terrace constructed by the Inca to provide a view of Machu Picchu far below, but the panoramic mountain landscape was no less impressive.

Bob and Jean standing on the summit of Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

As Bob and I took a break on an upper terrace, I was surprised to hear a number of the climbers admitting that they, too, are afraid of heights. Both of us were sure to keep well back from the edge, and even at this height, we were still a long ways from the top!

Entrance to a tunnel on hiking trail up Huayna Picchu mountain, Machu Picchu

In order to reach the last section of the trail leading to the peak, it was necessary to climb from the upper terrace through a short tunnel carved into the bottom of and under a monolithic granite boulder. This tunnel was used by the Inca as a control point to stop invading forces from gaining access to the top of the mountain.

Bob inside the tunnel on hiking trail up Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

Bob soon discovered that the narrow tunnel provided an excellent means of guarding access to the next section of the trail. Despite the blistering hot day, cool water dripped from the walls as we both crouched low to make our way through the passage.

Jean standing inside the tunnel on hiking trail up Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

Adequate head space existed at one spot in the tunnel so I could stand up, and the chilly air within its confines was a welcome reprieve from the burning rays of the sun on the exposed side of the mountain.

Jean exits the tunnel on the hiking trail up Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu

I found it a tight fit at certain points, making it necessary to focus on the placement of each footstep as we moved forward.

View of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu

Jean sitting at the top of Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

Upon exiting the tunnel, a wooden ladder came into view. The ladder was an aid to hikers who now had to scale the same huge boulder that topped the tunnel. Once this obstacle was surmounted, the reward was a lookout from atop a tumble of over-sized granite rocks.

Bob sitting near the top of Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

View of terrace and buildings on the side of Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

Photo opportunities existed everywhere. I couldn’t believe that here, on top of this narrow mountain, the Inca actually built terraces and temples. The work that went into this construction is defies belief.

People sitting on rocks at the top of Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu

Near the top, we joined a small group of people appreciating the amazing scenery and also awaiting turns to climb the final stretch onto the single colossal boulder that rests at the pinnacle of the mountain.

Jean sitting on the pinnacle of Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

After waiting my turn, I finally mustered the courage to climb up to the summit of Huayna Picchu. What a moving experience to sit at the top of the world. I was proud of myself for mastering my fear and felt blessed to be looking out over such stunning scenery as the Andes Mountains provided.

Bob standing on the pinnacle of Huayna Picchu, at Machu Picchu

Bob and I achieved the highest point on Huayna Picchu mountain, and it seemed we were level with the nearby snow-capped peaks.

Jean sitting on the pinnacle of Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu

Only 15 to 20 minutes could be spent at the crest because of other hikers arriving from below. Space was limited there at the top, and we had a timetable to stick to. A 1 o’clock train departing Agua Calientes would be our ride back to Cuzco.

View of Huayna Picchu mountain at Machu Picchu, Peru

After descending back to the plateau of Machu Picchu, Bob and I could see colorful specks ascending the narrow paths etched into the side of Huayna Picchu. The specks were, of course, the hikers making their way up the rustic stone steps of the trail in pursuit of their own goals.

Bob and Jean standing on a ridge above Machu Picchu

It was always my dream to visit Machu Picchu, and both Bob and I were not disappointed. It was an incredible and, at times, mystical experience. The Inca Trail hike was unforgettable in that world of cloud forest, warm rain, tropical flowers, and endless narrow footpaths.

Overview of Machu Picchu, in Peru

Machu Picchu should not be missed. Scaling the mountains at Machu Picchu was certainly demanding, but it was well worth both the time and the energy. Having a chance to look out over the citadel of Machu Picchu from on high was a view I will not soon forget.

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  • Hello,
    My husband and I will be going to Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in October. I have a terrible fear of heights and experience vertigo. But I want to try to ascend Huayna Picchu as far as I can. IF I am able to make it to the top of Huayna Picchu, MUST I descend on the Stairs of Death? Or can I come back down the way I came up? Thanks in advance for your advice!

    • Hi LeeAnn. Thank you for contacting us. As you know, from reading our blog, I have a fear of heights. I also experience vertigo occasionally. Bob reminded me that, when it was time to descend from the top of Huayna Picchu, the trail actually leads from the peak around the backside of the mountain. For some time, we utilized that section of trail, which is different from the one that we followed up the mountain, but it later reconnects to the trail on the front side of the mountain. You do not have to descend the “Stairs of Death” as you put it, and yes, you will be retracing your steps on some sections. Hope this helps.

  • Jill, you said the switchbacks up to the entrance gates were scary. which was worse, the hike or the road up in the bus? My mom has a fear of heights, but she has a calling to see the ruins. We will be leaving in 54 days, and I am excited beyond belief. We will also be traveling to Colca Canyon, Puno, Cusco, basically a 17 day trek thru Peru. Thanks for all your wonderful photos. I think I will try the hike, since we will be in Aguas Calientes 3 days. Heather

    • Hi Heather. We did not hike up to the ruins from Aguas Calientes. We hiked to the ruins along the Inca Trail the day before, and then took the bus down to the village from the ruins. The next day, we rode back up to Machu Picchu on the bus, so I can’t really comment about the hiking trail between Aguas Calientes and the ruins. As when driving any road that entails countless sharp switchbacks, it is a bit unnerving. As for the hike on the Inca Trail, there were no sections that really put the fear in me. I hope you have a marvelous trip.

  • Hi – I don’t mind steep but is the hike dangerous? If you misstep a little on the left or right, will you fall off a cliff?

    • No, the trail is not dangerous or we would have turned back. You have to be careful, but at no point, did I feel at risk. Thank you for your interest in our story.

  • I am terrible afraid of heights, even in glass balconies. My husband is very adventurous and I feel bad that I can’t do things with him. You stated that you are afraid of heights. I wonder if it is as bad as mine. It will give me an idea if I could make it…maybe not to the very top of the huayna picchu but somewhere in between.

    • Hi Jill. Everything is relative, and not knowing the depth of your fear of heights, it is hard for me to give an answer to your question. I do not fear heights if I am protected by any kind of barrier such as a glass balcony or a handrail. If I am totally out in the open, at risk if beset by a sudden onset of vertigo or a strong wind came up, then I am more nervous. You, for sure, could give the trail a try because you could turn around and come back down at any point if need be. Good luck. I hope you can muster the courage to at least go part way up.

  • Thank you for sharing your amazing experience. I will be going with my family in June this year. Could you tell me if you think ts possible to climb up Huayna Picchu with my 5 year old? I am so looking forward to this trip but abit afraid of the physical demands on myself and my son.

    • I am pleased that you enjoyed reading the account of our experience. In my opinion, I think that it would be too challenging and risky to hike up Huayna Picchu with a five year old but you can judge for yourself once on site. I hope you have a wonderful trip. Machu Picchu is truly awe-inspiring.

  • amazing experience! not only mountains, landscape, but the mysterious presence of a lost civilization!

    • your comment sums it up nicely. When exploring such rare and unique historical remains, I always feel that past civilizations are walking along beside me.

      • It is a great experience…how long does it take to the top of the mountain? Do you have to climb with a guided tour? Trang

        • Hi. Thank you for your interest. Bob and I entered onto the trail around 9 a.m.and were back at the start by about 12:30-12:45 p.m. Keep in mind that climbers are only admitted onto that trail up until 1 o’clock each day. We only allowed ourselves about 20 minutes at the top of Huayna Picchu because there was a constant stream of hikers wanting to experience the topmost view. Also, we had to catch the bus from Machu Picchu back to Aguas Calientes for a 1:30 connection on the train. No guide is necessary as there is only one trail to follow, and given the location, there are no other options. I hope you find this information helpful.

  • I am going to MaPi in April to do the same; I too am afraid of heights but I will give it my best. Thanks,ca

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