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Huayna Picchu: How Fit Must You Be To Climb?

So you've made it up to Machu Picchu. After months of planning, a flight to another continent, a few buses and a train or perhaps a 4-day trek... you're here. The end of the line. Or wait - is it? Looking down over the ruins of Machu Picchu, taking in the vista's otherworldly beauty, you see a mountain's peak just off in the distance. "What is that?" you ask yourself. Well, my friend, that's Huayna Picchu. And yes, folks do climb it from time to time! 

Machu Picchu

Huayna Picchu partly shrouded in cloud in the background

Before you make your decision to climb Huayna Picchu, however, there are some things that you'll want to think about. First of all, there are logistical concerns: only 400 visitors are given permission to climb Huayna Picchu daily and, since July of 2011, these groups are broken down into two well-defined time slots--200 visitors leave at 7 AM and 200 more leave at 10 AM. These two groups must return from the peak of Huayna Picchu by 10 AM and 1 PM, respectively.

So before you reserve your time slot, what else must you take into consideration? Take another look at the photo of Huayna Picchu. It's pretty steep, isn't it?  It's a short hike, but with the altitude gain it can be somewhat gruelling. So before you head out on your climb, it's necessary to consider your physical condition.

Huayna Picchu Fitness

Let's be clear: climbing Huayna Picchu is physically challenging. The peak of the mountain is about 2,720 meters (8,920 feet) above sea level, and about 360 meters (1,180 feet) above Machu Picchu, where you will begin your climb. This can be difficult for the less-in-shape among us, but don't let it scare you away--even if you're a bit overweight or on the older side, plenty of people just like you have climbed Huayna Picchu successfully. The most important tip is to simply take your time and, if necessary, to stop and allow others to pass you without getting flustered.

There are two sections of the Huayna Picchu hike that are generally considered the most difficult. We'll show them to you now, and if you think you're up for them, you should be good to go!

Huayna Picchu Tunnel

Nearing the summit of Huayna Picchu, there is a narrow tunnel you must navigate through that looks something like the picture below.  Apparently, this feature was built into the path by the Incas; the idea was that it would act as something of a "choke point" for any invading forces attempting to make their way up the mountain.  We imagine that it would have worked quite well - it's a small space, and there are points where some people find it necessary to crawl on their hands and knees. This can be especially difficult if it's raining or shortly after a rainfall, as water is known to drop through the cave's roof and run down its walls. This can make the cave portion of the trip significantly more slippery.  

Huayna Picchu and its So-Called "Death Stairs"

Also found near the summit of Huayna Picchu, the peak's famous "death stairs" are not quite as scary as some might have you think. That being said, they're no walk in the park either. Most visitors assume that the climb will be more intense going up, and the presence of this staircase at the start of the descent throws many for a loop. It's quite an extreme set of stairs, reaching an angle of over 60 degrees at some points. There's also no railing to hold on to, so we recommend a lot of caution when navigating this section of the Huayna Picchu descent.

Stairs of death

Image courtesy of

Despite the impressive nature of this stair set, they're actually less difficult than some stairs going up. What can be overwhelming for visitors regarding the "death stairs" is the sense of vulnerability created by a lack of railing coupled with the view in front of them, which can create the sensation that a misstep could result in a never-ending free fall to the valley floor below. But don't worry, thousands of visitors have navigated the stairs at Huayna Picchu before you without problems, and you can do the same.

Huayna Picchu stairs

Image courtesy of

A Final Note

This brings us to our last, and perhaps most important note regarding the Huayna Picchu climb. A large part of the climb's difficulty is psychological - the idea that one is relatively exposed on the face of a mountain high above the valley below. If you experience an extreme fear of heights or a condition that can cause loss of balance such as vertigo, it is strongly suggested that you do not take part in the Huayna Picchu climb. Though rare, sufferers of these conditions have experienced problems climbing Huayna Picchu and, in recent years more than 20 deaths have occurred on its slopes. In light of this and in the interests of our guests' safety, Active Adventures currently do not offer the option of hiking to Huayna Picchu on any Machu Picchu itineraries.  

Related Content:

History of Machu Picchu

The 7 Peruvian Drinks You Can't Miss on Your Trip

Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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