If you’re headed to Peru, but don’t have time to hike the iconic Inca Trail, Machu Picchu Mountain is a breathtaking alternative trek that can be completed as part of a day visit to Machu Picchu. From its towering peak, high above the ancient citadel, this unforgettable hike promises views of Machu Picchu like you’ve never seen before.
But this is no walk in the park. Incan stone stairways, a non-stop ascent, and altitude sickness all add to the sense of adventure! So before you grab your hiking boots, here’s everything you need to know about hiking Machu Picchu Mountain.
Please note: This visit took place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Please check all current travel advice before planning your visit and travel responsibly.
Book early to avoid disappointment
Machu Picchu is extremely popular (this is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, after all!), so it’s not uncommon for tickets to sell out weeks, or even months, in advance – especially during high season (May to September). It’s essential that you pre-book your visit, especially if you’re planning to hike Machu Picchu Mountain, as visitors are now limited to just 400 per day.
Combination tickets, including general admission to Machu Picchu, are available via the official government website. Once you have selected your date of travel, you will have several ticket types to choose from and you’ll want to select Machu Picchu Ticket + Mountain. Tickets allow access to Machu Picchu from 6am and entry to the hike within one of two time-slots: from 7-8am or 9-10am. The hike takes about 3.5-4 hours to complete and you can set off any time within your allocated slot.
Read more: How to plan a day visit to Machu Picchu
We booked the 9-10am entry slot (taking the 6.10am train from Ollantaytambo) and toured the main grounds after completing our hike (around 12.30pm). But if you choose to arrive for sunrise, you could tour Machu Picchu first and then end with the mountain hike. Either way, re-admittance to Machu Picchu is not allowed.
Don’t forget, you must bring your passport and customs stamp with you, along with your booking confirmation to gain entry to Machu Picchu and the hiking trail.
Be prepared for a tough climb up
Machu Picchu Mountain is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a steep and sweaty climb up Incan stone stairways, whilst the sheer drop-offs to the side (guard-rails don’t seem to be much of a thing around here!) are sure to get the adrenaline pumping. You can also expect to be hit by altitude sickness, which if you’ve never experienced before can be quite alarming. We were luckily saved from the headaches and nausea, which are common symptoms, but had to stop every few steps, just to catch our breath.
But don’t let any of that put you off – yes it’s a challenging hike, but the pay-off is so worth it. The views keep getting better and better and when you reach the final viewpoint, it really does feel like you’re on top of the world.
Be prepared for all kinds of weather
The morning we arrived at Machu Picchu, the heavens opened and we shuffled our way along the slippery trail, barely able to see a metre ahead of us. But it’s very common to experience a mixed bag of weather in this region, and sure enough the clouds soon parted, making the ‘big reveal’ of Machu Picchu all the more magical. Make sure to layer up and bring your waterproofs and a good pair of hiking shoes!
The views are phenomenal
At 3000m, the peak of Machu Picchu Mountain is twice as high as the ancient citadel, so you’ll be greeted with unobstructed panoramic views of the entire ancient valley. The ‘Lost City’, as we’re so used to seeing it, suddenly seems dwarfed by towering mountainous peaks, whilst the slithering Urubamba River is an unexpected and beautiful surprise. You won’t want to peel your eyes away, so allow yourself plenty of time to soak it all in, before making your descent back down.
The Machu Picchu Mountain hike is accessible, yet challenging enough to feel like a real trekking achievement, and the views from the top are such a worthy reward. This was by far one of the most memorable parts of our South America travels and felt like a unique way to experience this magnificent world-wonder.