Why should you go to Huayna Picchu?
What is Huayna Picchu?
Ever since UNESCO chose Machu Picchu as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, everyone has heard of the ancient ‘lost city of the Incas’. But what is the hype behind the other ‘Picchu’: Huayna Picchu (also known as Huaynapicchu or Wayna Picchu as is known in the local Quechua language)?
While Machu Picchu means ‘old mountain’ in Quechua, Huayna Picchu is the neighbouring ‘young mountain’. It is the scarped, rocky peak in the background of all the iconic Machu Picchu photographs.
With an elevation of 2667 meters (8750ft), Huayna Picchu is smaller than its neighboring Mount Machu Picchu, who gave its name to the famous city. According to Andean mythology, all things of nature like the sun, moon, stars, and mountains were also living things with a consciousness, and so both juxtaposed mountains represented the ‘young’ and the ‘old’ of the universe.
A climb not for the feint-hearted
Only 400 lucky thrill-seekers per day have been lucky enough to hike up its roughly 300 meters (1000 ft) of scarped trails leading to the top. There are steep staircases with hundreds of steps carved into rock with nothing but thin air separating you from the void, so this is not for the feint-heated.
Although steel cables have been added for aid, it is still a scary ascent, and naturally an even scarier descent. Despite all its hype, ‘the stairs of death’ and the entire trail are not considered dangerous and no one has ever died or been seriously injured while taking this route.
Being an ‘official’ route implies that safety is taken into account, and the trail would be closed in case it is deemed dangerous. Nevertheless, it is preferable to visit Huayna Picchu during the ‘dry’ season between May and September since it increases the chance of avoiding bad weather during the climb.
The Temple of the Moon
Near the top of Huayna Picchu lies a large overhanging cave opening containing a carefully-built stone temple. Typically of Inca engineering, the rocks in the Temple of the Moon would fit the curves of the cave’s edges with clinical precision, making this another masterpiece of Inca architecture that cannot be missed.
Despite scientists insisting its naming is arbitrary, it is worth mentioning that like all imposing things of nature, the moon was worshipped by the Incas and the people of the Andes. Mother Moon (or ‘Mama Killa’ in the local Quechua language) was the goddess and protector of all women and represented all feminine things in the universe.
The jaw-dropping views
The steep climb from from the ruins of Machu Picchu to the top of Huayna Picchu takes the average walker one hour, but reaps its best rewards at the end. A series of step-like terraces called ‘Andenes’ suddenly ‘grow’ out of the underlying jagged rock and cover the top of the mountain. This extreme domestication of vertical slopes shows how the Incas dominated their environment with grace, allowing visitors of the 21st century to admire the awe-inspiring views from the top on a clear day.
The void is so uninterrupted, and the air so thin, that you can hear the roaring of the Vilcanota river flowing 500m (1400 ft) below. This vantage point also allows towering views of Machu Picchu from the top, and is quickly becoming one of the most photogenic spots of the citadel.
The Incas being perfectionists, the sacred glaciated mountain Salkantay is located precisely behind Machu Picchu as seen from this vantage point, forming a perfect alignment between these three sacred places.
How do I visit?
Tickets have to be bought as an add-on to the Machu Picchu ticket. These can be bought online, but are so sought-after that they must be typically ordered a couple of months in advance of your visit.
One way to avoid the hassle is to book Casa del Sol’s Machu Picchu and Huaynapicchu Package. It includes two nights of lodging at the boutique hotel, all the transfers and entrance tickets, an Andean Banquet and Spa treatment as well as scientific guides to both the citadel and the elusive Huayna Picchu.