As Peru was going to be the next country on my itinerary in South America, I read the Buckettripper account of my colleague Grace Lichtenstein about climbing the Huayna Picchu, one of the mountains at the famous Machu Picchu ruins, with specific interest. As a result, I immediately put the activity on my list.
A crucial difference between Grace’s and my experience was the season: she visited Machu Picchu around Christmas (during the rainy season) whereas I arrived in June, the start of the dry and tourist season. To me, a rule of thumb when traveling is not to plan too much; however, there are moments that it may be wise to do so. For example, when wanting to visit Machu Picchu in the busiest season (June-September)…
Buying Tickets for Machu Picchu
I learned there are three types of tickets:
- The Machu Picchu ruins.
- The ruins combined with Huayna Picchu, the lower mountain on the north side.
- The ruins combined with Mountain Machu Picchu, the higher mountain on the south side.
Number 2, Grace’s choice, was sold out for the next 10 days as they allow only 400 people per day to climb Huayna Picchu. I could forget Grace’s adventurous climb. Now what? To me, visiting Machu Picchu was more about taking in the setting than learning all the details of this Inca settlement, so ‘just’ visiting the ruins was not enough. Unsurprisingly, I chose option 3 so I would have a view of these extraordinary ruins from high above.
Having said that, I had heard about this climb. It was time to exercise my muscles and I wished I had spent more time getting fit for this venture.
In Your Bucket Because…
- Mountain Machu Picchu is the top of the top (3080 meters) and offers the highest views of the Machu Picchu ruins.
- You love climbing stairs.
- Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Good for people in good condition, hikers and climbers, or people with a strong sense of perseverance.
Exploring the Ruins
At five thirty my partner Coen and I took the first bus up to Machu Picchu, which lies some eight kilometers above Agua Calientes – the gateway to the ruins. We were among hundreds of visitors, with one bus following the other, but as the site is vast it didn’t feel crowded at all. We spent the morning hours waiting for the sun (largely in vain because of the clouds) and for a couple of hours wandered among the ruins, exploring and admiring remnants of temples, houses and depots.
Yes, there are a lot of visitors and, yes, you have to bring a bag of gold to pay the entrance fee and the transportation to get to Machu Picchu, but don’t let anybody tell you not to go: ruins can’t be more scenic than here, at 2,430 meters amidst mountains covered in tropical vegetation.
Climbing Mountain Machu Picchu
At ten the masses arrived by train from Cusco. The hundreds of visitors grew into more than 2,000 (there is a maximum of 2,500 visitors per day). It was time to hike up Mountain Machu Picchu, which is still a little-visited place and thus far doesn’t have a limited number of visitors per day (there simply aren’t that many interested in climbing it).
- Climbing stairs for 1,5 hours.
- Then: Transform those stairs into uneven steps.
- Add: Sharp points, slanted stretches, steps very high while others very low, and some as narrow as half a foot while others are two-feet deep.
I had wished for a sunny day before going to Machu Picchu, but now I was grateful for the clouds and the shade they provided. It was tough. Incredibly tough as it’s only going up, step by step by step by step. Panting, sweating, trying to find a rhythm, failing miserably, taking another sip of water. Bless my partner Coen with his sense of humor. As people were coming down he asked if the bar still was open.
“A bar? There is no bar.”
“Sure there is, at the top. They serve Pisco Sour. Didn’t you see it?”
The smiles on people’s faces helped to keep us plod on.
Okay, no Pisco Sour or beer, but we did get a major reward: the views.
Which brings me to an important point: You don’t have to climb all the way to the top to get a fantastic view. After a climb of some twenty minutes you will already have a view that’s worth the effort, which may be a good enough option for those who don’t have the strength or energy for the full climb.
It took us 1,5 hours to reach top, which lies at 3080 meters (some 400 meters higher than Huayna Picchu). Was it worth it? Decide for yourself:
- Bring sun protection gear and rain gear (cheap ponchos for sale in Agua Calientes) because weather can change instantly.
- Bring enough water and snacks. You can’t buy anything at the ruins. According to leaflets you can’t bring food to Machu Picchu, but in fact everybody does and nobody checks.
- Wear sturdy shoes.
- You can climb the mountain between 7 and 11am and you have to be back before 2pm. Leaving at 10 proved a perfect time to avoid the crowds. During early morning and late afternoon there are a lot fewer visitors, making this a good time to visit the ruins themselves.
All photos by Coen Wubbels.