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Lina Fuller ©

Huayna Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain: a brief explanation

Machu Picchu is the name given to the famous ruins, as well as a peak to the south overlooking them. Huayna Picchu is another peak on the opposite side of the ruins from Machu Picchu Mountain, offering similarly stunning views, and is commonly shown in the classic shot of Machu Picchu.

machupicchullama

Huayna Picchu is the angular peak to the right of this background.

Why do the Machu Picchu ruins and the mountain share a name?

While everyone today knows Machu Picchu as being the name of Peru’s world-famous ruins, the original name given to the structure by the Incas has never been uncovered. There were no written records (the Incas had no written language) and it is thought the site was deserted before the Spanish could find it. So, by the time it was “discovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911, all knowledge of the location’s name had been lost. He therefore named the wonder after the mountain that towers above it to the south - Machu meaning ‘old’ and Picchu meaning ‘peak or mountain’, in Quechua.

 

Which peak has the better view?

To help you decide, here are some photos from each peak:

Machu Picchu Mountain:

Huayna Picchu:

One thing to note about Machu Picchu Mountain is that it will give you a similar view to Inti Punku (the Sun Gate), the point from which you’ll get your first sight of Machu Picchu when hiking the Inca Trail.

 

Which one is best for watching the sun rise/ set?

At the time of writing, the park only opens at sunrise and closes at sunset, meaning that viewing either from atop the peaks is currently not possible.

In theory, both offer similar views of the sun rise as you’ll be facing it from either the north or south. It therefore won’t quite be a golden orb slowly rising over the ruins, but it is still stunning to watch as the sun’s rays gradually illuminate the various walls and temples as they scale the surrounding peaks.

In practice, mornings tend to be the cloudiest part of the day in this portion of the Andes, so it can prove tricky to catch unrestricted views of the sun emerging from its slumber. However, the brisk winds will often provide momentary breaks, offering up magical photo opportunities of the ruins emerging from the mist. Generally, afternoons offer up the best chances of blue skies, particularly in the dry season between April and October.

Lina Fuller ©

How long does each trek take?

Machu Picchu Mountain takes roughly 5 to 6 hours while Huayna Picchu takes 3 to 4 hours. A lot of this will depend on how often you stop to take in the views.

Note that these times do not include your visit to the ruins themselves.

 

Which one is busier?

Huayna Picchu Mountain tends to be busier, partially because it is the more established trail, but mostly because there are more tickets made available for the climb than on Machu Picchu Mountain.

Furthermore, as the path is narrower on Huayna Picchu Mountain, getting around other visitors will be a little trickier in places.

 

How difficult is the terrain?

Getting to the top of Huayna Picchu is quite a steep climb, with several sections covered by narrow stone staircases with an incline of up to 60 degrees, so it can be tough on your knees, especially when coming down.

Machu Picchu is comparatively more gentle, with a gradient of around 30-35 degrees along most of the path. You should still expect steep sections though, especially towards the summit. Machu Picchu is the longer hike and the peak is over 300 metres higher than Huayna Picchu (it stands at 3,082 masl), but the technical challenge posed by Huayna Picchu means it is often considered the harder ascent.

Both trails primarily follow old stone paths laid by the Incas themselves. On either one, be sure to bring sturdy hiking shoes. Gloves are also recommended as there may be sections where you want to use your hands for grip and balance.

Lina Fuller ©

Do I need a permit for either?

Yes. A visit to the ruins, while nothing short of spectacular, comes with a lot of red tape nowadays – though a lot of this is due to its sheer popularity and a desire to preserve the site's integrity.

There are different circuits one can take around the ruins, and whichever one you get a ticket for must be stuck to, at your allocated time, in accordance with a one-way system. Rangers are stationed all over, and with a large volume of tourists to supervise, they seldom gift any flexibility.

Huayna Picchu can only be climbed as part of a special ticket that combines Circuit 4 and the peak itself. Daily visitor caps for these tickets are limited to 300 per day, and these tend to sell out several months in advance. Permits are spread across hourly entry slots, beginning at 7am and ending at 10am.

Machu Picchu can only be climbed as part of a similar ticket that combines Circuit 3 and the peak. The daily cap for Machu Picchu Mountain is even lower, at 100 people per day and the hike must begin at either 7 or 8 am.

While visits to the ruins are only permitted with an official guide, both mountain hikes can be tackled alone if desired. Due to the early start times, an overnight stay in Aguas Calientes (the town located at the base of the mountains and from where buses will transfer you to the start of the hikes) is generally required.

INKATERRA ©

Machu Picchu’s popularity has led to a lot of excellent-quality accommodation in Aguas Calientes.

 

Can I visit the ruins themselves too?

While your ticket will allow you guided access to the ruins, it is important to note that neither of the circuits available when climbing one of these peaks (circuits 3 or 4) will allow you the classic view of Machu Picchu (pictured below), since both trails enter the citadel at a much lower point.

For this reason, we recommend that anyone doing either of the mountain treks purchases a second ticket to do circuit 2 either the day before or the morning after. This is the most complete circuit and includes access to the classic viewpoint.

All of the circuits around the ruins themselves are relatively easy walks for anyone with moderate mobility and require only a base level of fitness.

 

Would we recommend Huayna or Machu Picchu Mountain?

Both mountains provide breath-taking vistas of the surrounding emerald peaks and the ruins below, giving you an idea of what a feat it must have been to construct a citadel this high up.

Both are also a good alternative to the Inca Trail if you enjoy hiking but haven’t the time or if permits aren’t available.

For families, it is more advisable to tackle Machu Picchu Mountain as, despite having a longer duration, the hike has wider paths and a gentler gradient.

Which one is better for you will largely depend on your experience hiking other mountains and your level of health and fitness, but you must also consider which views will most appeal to you, remembering of course that fog will occasionally obscure the ruins completely.

If you would like to discuss your options further, simply give one of our travel specialists a call.

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    Juliet Ellwood - Travel Expert

    After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and History and having been fascinated by Latin America since childhood by the book featuring photos of Nazca, Juliet first visited the region in 2003. Since then, Juliet has visited the majority of countries in Latin America but has particularly extensive experience with Peru, a country she loves for many reasons but not least, its incredible archaeological richness and delicious food!

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    A former Journey Latin America tour leader, Sally spent 7 years working, travelling and living throughout Latin America before returning to the UK to help people arrange their own adventures to this wonderful destination.

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    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.

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    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

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    Sophie lived in Chile before joining us and has travelled extensively across Latin America, from Mexico to the furthest tip of Patagonia and beyond to Antarctica.

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    Lina Fuller - Travel Expert

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

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