So you want to hike along Inca trails to Machu Picchu, but even the 1-day Inca Trail Trek seems a little too daunting or time consuming?
Consider one of two optional hikes that you can do right at Machu Picchu; either Cerro Machu Picchu (Machu Picchu Mountain) or Wayna Picchu (also spelled Huayna Picchu). Cerro Machu Picchu is great for families with younger children and both hikes are perfect for travelers who don't want to devote a full day to hiking; these Machu Picchu hikes still give you the thrill of an Andes trekking adventure to Incan ruins but can be done in less than half a day. Permits are required in advance for both of these options, so you can’t just wait till the day-of to decide. I've done both hikes and as Wildland's Peru Program Director, I'm happy to discuss the greater and lesser pros (we don’t believe in cons when it comes to hiking in the Andes) of each and help you decide what is best for your trip.
Meaning ‘Young Peak’ in Quechua, Wayna Picchu is the steeply sloping hill that serves as the backdrop against which most iconic shots of the Machu Picchu ruins are framed. Rugged terraces and temple remnants crown the mountain’s summit, which can be reached via a steep trail that climbs over 1,000 feet higher than the ruins, treating hikers to a fantastic Condor's-eye view of the temple complex below. The hike to the summit is very doable, taking most fit travelers about 2 hours roundtrip, though parts of the trail are exposed with unguarded drop-offs. Caution is a must, so this trail isn’t recommended for children (under 12 are not permitted by the government), travelers in poor physical condition or those with a fear of heights or vertigo. As of 2011 the ability to hike Wayna Picchu has been governed by a permit system and permits are limited to 400 people per day, with half receiving an early morning hiking window commencing at 7 AM and the other half receiving a 10 AM entrance time. Permits must be confirmed at the time that entrance fees to Machu Picchu are purchased and cost approximately $15 per person additional.
If you are interested in hiking Wayna Picchu, we highly suggest that you consider this during your second day at Machu Picchu when you have time to visit the ruins on your own. Travelers electing to hike Wayna Picchu on the day that the guided tour of the citadel occurs may have to miss part of the tour, especially if traveling as part of a group (Inca Trail Trek for example) or as part of a trip with non-hikers but only one lead guide. Due to the permit availability and limited numbers, Wildland can’t always confirm the preferred time slot for hiking but with at least three months advance notice, we generally can secure your first choice.
Hikers going up to Wayna Picchu can also extend their exploration with a visit to the Temple of the Moon which is best accessed on the way back down from Wayna Picchu.
Machu Picchu Mountain is the largest hill that rises out of the Machu Picchu Sanctuary complex and sits directly across the ruins from Wayna Picchu. Almost twice as high, Cerro Machu Picchu takes most travelers three or four hours to hike to the summit (a 1,850’ climb) and back. What it lacks in Incan ruins (aside from an ancient stone pathway) it more than makes up for with the lush forest surrounding the hike, lining the trail with orchids, beautiful lichens and exotic birds. The views from the top are magnificent, though from a gentler angle than viewing the ruins from Wayna Picchu. Permits must be purchased in advance though numbers aren’t limited and entries are not timed. The trail is generally less crowded than the Wayna Picchu trail and is appropriate for family travel with younger, active children. Various caves that once contained skeletons upon rediscovery Hiram Bingham’s expedition are located at the base of Cerro Machu Picchu, leading to the area being called the ‘Upper Cemetery.’
Your friendly Peru trekker,
Want a real Andes hiking adventure? Join me on an Escorted Trek to Machu Picchu