Huayna Picchu: Machu Picchu’s magnificent “Young Mountain”
30 November 2019
You see it in most photographs of Machu Picchu. The imposing mountain that soars above the Incas’ most famous site is a beautiful semi-pyramid of stone, partly covered in vegetation. It is the iconic symbol of the ancient citadel, and certainly one of the most famous mountains in the world.
Huayna Picchu rises to an altitude of 8,835 ft. above sea level (2,667 m.). It is part of a huge massif that extends from snowcapped Mt. Salcantay (20,574 ft./ 6,264 m.a.s.l.).
Ancient meaning and significance
For the Incas of Machu Picchu, sunlight reaching the mountain top signaled the beginning of each day. It is possible that Inca high priests resided at the top of the mountain. However, much about the purpose of Machu Picchu and the daily life of its inhabitants of is unknown, since the site, even though just a day or two of travel from Cusco at that time, only became known to the outside world in 1911.
Huayna Picchu’s name comes from Quechua: huayna is “young”, and picchu is “mountain”. This contrasts with the Sanctuary’s other taller, but less visually spectacular mountain, Machu Picchu, which in Quechua is the “old mountain”.
Both mountains can be summited on hikes from the citadel itself, but Huayna Picchu is a more difficult climb, and its access is more limited, requiring reservations a few months in advance.
An amazing view
From Huayna Picchu’s summit, views are as astonishing as anywhere in the world. Down 300 meters below, the Machu Picchu citadel clings to the ridge top. It’s a magical sight of stone buildings, terraces and stairways- from above it appears as if in miniature.
The steep surrounding mountains are covered with deep green cloud forest, and the roaring Urubamba River is seen and heard far below as it winds its way around the mountain. On a clear day, towering above in the distance is the top of Salcantay, in perfect alignment with Huayna Picchu and the citadel below.
Being atop Huayna Picchu is such a breathtaking experience, words fail to capture the beauty; you must be up there to fully experience it. Upon reaching the top, you will surely feel young, elated, and in awe of the magnificence of the Andes.
A challenging climb
Although it’s not a technical climb, the way to the top of Huayna Picchu is a rather steep hike. From the start, the trail rises sharply and has some slippery parts and cliff edges, so good physical shape, good boots and steady footing are definitely required. Steel cables for handholds help along some of the steeper stretches. Many parts of the trail are Inca stairways.
There are, in fact, two trails to the top, and the usual route takes, depending on your speed, about 45 minutes to an hour of hiking. Definitely, the dry season (from May to October) is best for climbing Huayna Picchu safely and to see more of the impressive landscape.
Along the way up and on the way back down you see small buildings and terraces, built of perfectly-shaped stone blocks. It is hard to imagine the effort and skill it took the Incas to build these constructions high up on a steep mountain.
As mentioned, Huayna Picchu’s popularity and resulting overcrowding has made it less easily accessible than it was in years past. Naturally, such an impressive mountain is a real magnet for hikers, and to avoid overcrowding the Sanctuary’s authorities have had to establish limits.
Now, there are two daily shifts of 200 people each allowed for climbing the peak, at 7 am and 10 am. Thus, reserving your spot to do the Huayna Picchu climb some months in advance during your time in Machu Picchu is now necessary.
The alternate trail is less traveled; it takes you in a loop to the back side of the mountain, to the complex of caves of the Temple of the Moon and the Great Cavern (the real purpose of this site is not determined, although use as a burial site is probable). It features ornamental walls and niches built into the rocks. The alternate trail is longer, and it takes 3 hours to reach the summit.
The amazing Young Mountain and the Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a wonder of the ancient world, are waiting for you. Contact us at andeanlodges.com or andeanexcursions.travel, and we’ll help you arrange an outstanding acclimatization trip to Cusco, including a visit to legendary Machu Picchu.