Most photos of Machu Picchu include the rhino horn-shaped peak of Huayna Picchu, making this peak almost as iconic as the archeological zone itself.
Maybe this is why many visitors to Machu Picchu eagerly queue every morning to be one of the 400 people who are permitted to ascend the 8,920 ft. peak per day. Between 7-8 a.m., 200 people sign in and hike the 45 min – 1 hour hike to the top, then another round is allowed to sign in and ascend between 10-11 a.m.
The hike to the peak of Huayna Picchu is about 1.2 miles and has an altitude gain of about 1,000 vertical feet. The path is steep enough in sections that hand ropes are necessary to balance as you haul yourself up the narrow and sometimes vertigo-inducing trail.
An excellent and far less popular alternative is hiking Machu Picchu Mountain, the peak on the opposite side of the archaeological area which can be reached along the same trail that takes you to the Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate.
The Machu Picchu Mountain hike also has a maximum of 400 people per day, but unlike Huayna Picchu it hardly ever reaches its maximum.
The day I hiked Machu Picchu Mountain only 144 people had signed in between 7 a.m. and the 11 a.m. cutoff. This meant I had long stretches of time without seeing anyone else, a rarity in the Machu Picchu area, and passed only a handful of people on the way up.
Machu Picchu Mountain is greener than the Huayna Picchu trail and has many kinds of wild orchids and birds that highlight the path.
It is higher than Huayna Picchu, topping out at 10,104 feet. The path gains twice as much elevation as Huayna Picchu, a little over 2,000 vertical feet. Therefore, even though the trail is about the same distance (1.2 miles) the hike up takes longer and will require about 90 minutes to the top.
The path is an impressive example of how the Inca built and maintained their road system. Not every Inca trail is lined with stones, only when it was necessary to prevent natural damage, such as mudslides during the rainy season.
The path up Machu Picchu Mountain is lined with large stones which have kept the trail in place for half a millenium. Some of the steeper sections are built with narrow stones where you can only put about half of your foot on the step at once, but in general the path is wider than Huayna Picchu and there are no hand ropes needed for balance.
Although the summit is more physically challenging to reach than Huayna Picchu, the trail up Machu Picchu Mountain rewards your effort very early on. If you do not feel like hiking all the way to the top you can hike the first 30-45 minutes of the trail and arrive at several viewing platforms with excellent vistas of the citadel and the iconic peak, Huaynu Picchu. If you bring binoculars you might be able to see the hordes of climbers making their way up that peak from your tranquil perch on Machu Picchu Mountain.
If you would like to include the hike to either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain talk to us about how we can incorporate this experience into your itinerary to Peru.