Alternatives for hiking Huayna Picchu
Machu Picchu is one of the best known and most impressive archaeological sites in Peru and perhaps South America. You can visit this crown jewel of the Inca Empire by train or on foot via the original Inca Trail to machu Picchu. Machu Picchu comprehends the lost city of the Incas discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 but also includes the mountain top of Huayna Picchu, famous for the Temple of the Moon on top of the mountain. Huayna Picchu has become one of the highlights for many people visiting Machu Picchu.
Before Huayna Picchu (also written Wayna Picchu) could be hiked all day through and could be entered with the normal entrance ticket. Nevertheless since 2012 it has been established that the number of people climbing Huayna Picchu in one day cannot surpass 400 people and that this would only be allowed in the morning. Furthermore two time slots for the hike were implemented; 7.00am and 10.00am. Since 2019 the second time slot has changed to 10.30am. The hike takes about one hour to an hour and 30 minutes to get up there and about one hour to come back down.
With only 400 tickets available daily it is destined for a lot of people not being able to get tickets for this hike. The tickets for Huayna Picchu sell out for 90% of the year but especially in the high season from May through September these tickets can sell out several months in advance. Therefore if you have decided to do the hike to Huayna Picchu it is best to book this ticket as soon as possible. Nevertheless for those who would not be lucky to still get tickets for Huayna Picchu, we are glad to inform you that there are several alternatives to hiking Huayna Picchu. Basically there are three other hikes one can do from Machu Picchu for a couple of hours; hike Machu Picchu Mountain, hike to the Sun Gate or hike to the Inca Bridge.
Machu Picchu Mountain
Machu Picchu Mountain refers to the mountain on the south side of Machu Picchu (Huayna Picchu is located north) and is probably the best alternative to Huayna Picchu. This mountain is the highest one of the two with the top at 3,082m (10,100ft) above sea level. The hike became more popular after the number of daily visitors Huayna Picchu got limited to 400 daily. So popular actually that nowadays the hike of Machu Picchu Mountain also only allows 400 people daily.
The good thing is that these tickets do not sell out for most days of the year and therefore provide a great alternative for those not lucky to get tickets for Huayna Picchu. It is not fair to compare both hikes as both have their characteristics but when it comes to the views Machu Picchu Mountain has nothing to envy Huayna Picchu for. According some the views, since you are almost 300 meters higher than Huayna Picchu, are actually better. You do get to see Machu Picchu with the enigmatic shape of Huayna Picchu on the background and the higher altitude make that you have an even better view of the surroundings.
For those with fear of heights, Machu Picchu Mountain may also be a better option. Compared to Huayna Picchu the path leading to the top is a lot wider and there are hardly any of the infamous sheer drops one has to encounter when climbing Huayna Picchu. The costs for the ticket with Machu Picchu Mountain is the same as the ticket with Huayna Picchu Mountain. There are two time slots each with 200 spaces. The first slot allows you to start the hike between 7.00 and 8.00am and the second between 9.00 and 10.00am.
The Sun Gate
The Sun Gate or Inti Punku in Quechua is the actual and original entrance to Machu Picchu. It is here that the Inca Trail coming from Cusco and which can still be hiked till the day of today enters Machu Picchu. If you would like to enjoy this awe inspiring moment on the trail to Machu Picchu as the Incas envisioned but are a little reluctant to hike for 2 or 4 days to get there, hiking backwards from the entrance to the Sun Gate may be your best option.
From the entrance you will have to take a left turn and from here steadily head uphill for about one hour. The hike is mostly uphill there but not very steep. In the early morning and late afternoon it is best not to undertake the hike as the hikers from the 2 and 4 day Inca Trail are coming down around these hours. There is not additional cost for doing this hike from the entrance.
The Inca Bridge
Located West from the main part of the site, the Inca Bridge is the start of another Inca Trail leading towards the jungle. The bridge can be reached by a 20 minute walk to the West. You initially follow the route to the Sun Gate and before the climb head to the right. The route is clearly signaled.
The bridge is constructed against a sheer cliff and uses an ingenious method of stacking stones against the mountain wall in order to gain altitude to continue the Inca Trail. Unfortunately it is no longer allowed to cross the bridge but you can walk to the foot of the bridge. The way there is the same as the way back and is mostly flat.
Therefore as you can read, climbing Huayna Picchu may be an extra when visiting the lost city of Machu Picchu, if you would not be able to get tickets, there is no reason to postpone your visit as there are several alternatives available. With the new entrance rules however, in general it is recommended to plan for a two day visit to Machu Picchu if you would be looking to climb either Huayna or Machu Picchu Mountain. The visit to the Sun Gate or the Inca bridge can be done during a one day trip if needed.