Huayna Picchu: The Hike of Death

By: Tom Malone - Summer 2017

Cusco, Peru - Machu Picchu is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World; the profound weight of history and adventure comes to any adventurer who enters the city and explores its ancient ruins. But there’s more to Machu Picchu than just the center of the famous lost city.

High above the well-known portion of Machu Picchu stands the mountain of Huayna Picchu (the peak that’s in almost every Machu Picchu photo). The Inca who lived in Machu Picchu also constructed homes, farms, and religious sites atop this mountain. And these sites are still there today, and you can reach them by accomplishing a short-yet-difficult hike.

The hike to the top of Huayna Picchu, however, does come with a set of serious risks. In fact, Outside Magazine called it the “Hike of Death” and named it as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.

Climbing to the top of Huayna Picchu takes adventurers along an ancient Incan stone trail. As the mountain becomes more vertical, so do the stone steps. Eventually, the trail becomes so vertical that it forces trekkers to treat it as more of a stone ladder.

The kicker: sheer vertical cliffs. Every so often, you’ll look to the side and see a 1,000-foot drop-off. These cliffs claim the lives of a few hikers each year. (Before I climbed Huayna Picchu, my trekking guide warned me that the record for the fastest ascent was 22 minutes, and the record for the fastest descent was five seconds.)

Plan your trek up Huayna Picchu early. The Peruvian government only allows 400 people per day to summit this mountain because the trail is so narrow and for historical preservation purposes. Reserve your spot when you purchase your tickets to Machu Picchu (four to six month in advance).

Once the top of Huayna Picchu gets closer, ancient Incan homes and ruins appear in more detail. I walked through a full building with windows that overlooked Machu Picchu city itself.

The view from the top of Huayna Picchu was breathtaking. A 360-degree, panoramic view of the entire valley that surrounds Machu Picchu, along with a bird’s eye view of the city itself. This view made the entire dangerous climb worth it.

The descent can get a little tricky. You’ll pass through some small caves, stone steps that seem to float, and nearly vertical stone staircases. Take your time and enjoy the view.

Huayna Picchu is an awesome bonus addition to an already-incredible journey to Machu Picchu. If you thrive on exploration and love the thrill of a dangerous hike, reserve your spot to climb Huayna Picchu as soon as you can.