Machu Picchu Mountain Hike: The Hardest I’ve Ever Done

Planning my visit to the iconic Machu Picchu, which was elected the best-rated landmark in the world by TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Awards, I decided to spice it up a bit and add some adventure.

There are two mountains that you can climb when visiting Machu Picchu: Huayna Picchu (located behind the citadel and commonly seen in pictures as the background of the ruins) and Montaña Machu Picchu (on the opposite side of Huayna Picchu).

I wanted to do the most famous and popular: the Huayna Picchu hike. But the problem is only 400 people are allowed to climb this mountain daily and tickets have to be purchased way in advance.

Therefore, I decided to do the Machu Picchu Mountain hike, but I didn’t know anything about it (elevation, time, difficulty…). As a result, it was surprisingly extraordinary, but also the hardest hike I’ve ever done.

If you’re planning to hike Machu Picchu Mountain? You’d better read it carefully!

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Machu Picchu Mountain Hike: What to Know Before You Go

Machu Picchu Mountain is one of the most challenging yet spectacular hikes available at Machu Picchu and provides unparalleled and breathtaking views of the Inca sanctuary and the mountains surrounding it.

Where’s Machu Picchu Mountain located?

Machu Picchu Mountain is located southwest of the citadel, around a 30-min walk from Machu Picchu’s main entrance (check the exact location here).


Machu Picchu Moutain is towering 3,061m (10,042 feet) above sea level.

Elevation gain

631 meters (2070 feet) higher than Machu Picchu.


Inca Trail stone steps and gravel path.

Where does the Machu Picchu Mountain hike start?

To get to the trailhead you need to walk towards the Sun Gate and follow the signs to Machu Picchu Mountain.

After seeing the sign of the guardhouse, you walk for around 15min and will see a wanders hut, where you need to show your ticket, passport and register.

Two wooden signs: one for Machu Picchu Moutain and Sungate and the other written on black Guardhouse and Inka Bridge.

How long does it take to walk up Machu Picchu Mountain?

It takes between 1h30min and 2h. It all depends on your fitness level and pace. 

The descent is a bit faster, around 1h and 1h30. So, the whole hike should take from 3h to 4h.

How difficult is it to hike Montaña Machu Picchu?

The Machu Picchu Mountain hike is moderate to challenging. The path is made up of some Inca stones and you will ceaselessly ascend to the summit.

On top of that, the altitude makes everything harder, particularly if you are overweight, smoke and don’t exercise regularly.

During the wet season, the trail can become slippery and even more challenging.

When is the best time to do this hike?

The period to visit Machu Picchu is very important because it’s located up on the mountains covered with a tropical forest of the upper Amazon.

From May to September is the dry season and from November to March the rainy one.

Considering that July and August are the busiest periods, the best time to visit Machu Picchu is the shoulder season (from May/June and September/October).

What to wear/bring for the hike?

Ultralight hiking pants, shorts and t-shirts on warm days, and tights, long sleeves and jackets on cold days.

Sunglasses and hats are highly recommended and avoid wearing rubber-based / plastic-based materials and denim clothes because they can be uncomfortable.

You should also wear hiking shoes, walking boots or trainers and bring a backpack along with water bottles, snacks, a sun blocker and a small towel.

How much does it cost?

To hike up Machu Picchu Mountain will cost you US$ 78 ( US$ 65 for Machu Picchu Ruins + US$ 13 for Machu Picchu Mountain).

How to get your ticket?

Only 800 people per day can climb Machu Picchu Mountain and the ticket need to be purchased as a combination ticket with the general entrance to Machu Picchu.

There are two different types of pricing for tickets: one for the Andean Community of Nations (Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Ecuador), and the other for foreigners.

You need to choose your ticket type (foreigner or a citizen of the Andean Community), one of the time slots, from 7:00 to 8:00 AM or 9:00 to 10:00 AM and provide your passport information.

You can buy your official ticket online in advance here.

Is it worth climbing Machu Picchu Mountain?

Hiking up Machu Picchu Mountain is very challenging, but totally worthwhile. You will be rewarded with the most breathtaking views of Machu Picchu.

View of Machu Picchu citadel and the mountains surrounding it, Peru
One of the best views of Machu Picchu

My Experience Hiking Machu Picchu Mountain

After visiting the citadel I headed to the upper trail and followed the path to Machu Picchu Mountain.

At the entrance, everyone has to present the ticket and register at the warden’s hut. There was a line but I didn’t wait too long.

I started hiking Machu Picchu Mountain at 9:45 AM and had limited time, one hour for each way because I still had to take the van back to Cusco in Hidroélectrica.

The only problem was that this hike takes at least 3h (1h30min accent and 1h30min descent).  So, I had to set my mind that I would not be able to finish it; otherwise, I would miss the van.

The trail is well-marked, easy to follow and made up of stones with terrain in some parts. If the trail isn’t difficult, the high altitude makes everything arduous.

After 10min hiking, I was already having a hard time breathing.

The sun was shining bright and the temperature was pleasant, but just in some parts of the trail, you find shade.

After a few minutes of hiking Machu Picchu Mountain, I was drenched and feeling very hot.

a woman walking on the gravel path of Machu Picchu Mountain  and the mountains surrounding Machu Picchu

My lack of preparation

I was so unprepared to climb Machu Picchu Mountain: I wore trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a sweater.

The big problem was that I woke up at 4:00 AM, hiked from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (two hours in total) and walked two more hours visiting the citadel. On top, I just had a bottle of water and my breakfast in a bag with me.

The ascent is constant in this hike and there isn’t any flat part. I was climbing the steps and hoping to find some horizontal parts to give my legs a break, but nothing…

I was sweating, stopping every other minute to catch my breath, asking myself why I was doing it and saying that this would not be worth it since I would not have enough time to reach the summit.

I’ve never felt like this during a hike… quite the opposite, I always feel empowered and proud doing any physical challenge.

But I noticed that I was not the only one feeling like that. Everyone seemed breathless, tired and was resting on some of the steps which were wide.

I was so exhausted and about to quit, but the views from the trail were unique and striking that I wondered how it would be from the top.

At one point I felt my blood pleasure going down and had to stop to eat something. My legs felt sluggish but my mind was hurrying me up because of the time.

The rewards

After 45 min hiking, I asked people coming down how far I was to the top. The answers were so mismatched (15, 20, 30, 50 min…), nevertheless, it motivated me to keep going.

Although I didn’t know what to expect, the last 30min was even harder. The trail got narrower, more dangerous and steeper. In some parts, I couldn’t look up and fixed my eyes only on the next step.

I finished one stairway, turned and finished another stairway… Hikers were cursing, stopping, supporting each other… I was in a rush running out of time.

After over an hour, I saw the summit and got excited. After a few more ascents and I reached the top of Machu Picchu Mountain and felt exhilarated.

The panoramic vista is from another world. The Inca ruins, Huayna Picchu and Putucusi Mountains looked so small behind the giant row of mountains that it made me wonder if it was true what I was seeing. I was astonished!

The awe-inspiring view was still composed of a bright blue sky, clouds and the Urubamba River snaking around colossal mountains covered with lush vegetation. What a gift from mother nature!

the surreal view of the Inca ruins, Huayna Picchu and Putucusi Mountains from the top of Machu Picchu Mountain
Surreal view!!

All the sacrifices paid off and I felt boastful for not giving up.

Finally, I sat down on a bench at a small round hut at the summit to have breakfast and rest. I took some pictures and videos and got ready to hike down.

Pericles Rosa at the summit of Montaña Machu Picchu
Very happy 🙂

The pain never ends

When I was about to go down, my legs started cramping. To make sure what was happening I stopped and my legs started trembling.

I was so worried if my legs got “frozen” and I couldn’t walk down.

I still needed to go all the way down to Machu Picchu, then Aguas Calientes, then two more hours walking on the train tracks to Hidroélectrica.

Without knowing what to do, I stretched out a little but wasn’t sure if it was helping. And also, I couldn’t rest properly because I didn’t have time…

I saw myself in a pitfall, running out of water, time and money (my wallet was stolen the day before) and my legs were hurting. Thank God I found kind people who gave me some water and even a banana.

I don’t know how I finished the hike in two hours (1:15 up and 45min down) and arrived in Hidroélectrica right on time to take the van back to Cusco.

a man seating on the train tracks from Hidroeléctrica to Águas Calientes
On the train tracks from Hidroeléctrica to Machu Picchu Pueblo the day before.

Planning my trip to Peru I couldn’t imagine that all those things would happen.

Yet Machu Picchu is a must-visit landmark and the Machu Picchu Mountain hike is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Safe travel and have fun in Peru.

Don’t forget to buy travel insurance, which can literally be your lifeline if something happens to you and if your luggage is lost or stolen.

I always use World Nomads Travel Insurance for independent travellers. It’s easy to buy, extend & claim online, even after you’ve left home.

Get your travel insurance here.

Watch the video: Montaña Machu Picchu Hike

More Machu Picchu posts to help you plan your trip:

Extra Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu

How to get to Machu Picchu?

From Cusco

Basically, there are just two ways to get into Aguas Calientes (aka Machu Picchu town) from Cusco:

By train

This is the most common and fastest way. It takes around three and a half hours and the cheapest ticket costs around US$ 190.

You can take the Vistadome Train, from US$ 186 (roundtrip tickets) per person. If you prefer you can book this Machupicchu Private Tour with Luxury Train Hiram Bingham.

By car, van or minibus

It is much cheaper than the train but longer. It costs 60 soles (US$16) each way and takes around 6h. But you have to walk at least 2 more hours on the train tracks.

From Ollantaytambo

You can take the Expedition Train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes for US$ 55 (each way) or the Vistadome Train for US$ 194 (both ways).

Where to stay?

I stayed at Hatun Wasi Hostel and if you’re looking for accommodation I also suggest:

In Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo)

In Cusco

Book your tours & transfer online in advance here 


* For more information about Peru:
* To buy train tickets:
* To buy tickets to Machu Picchu:

Extra tips for your hike

  • The hike is at your own risk, so be careful because you can easily sprain your ankle on the steps.
  • Watch out for the time, especially if you’re returning to Cusco on the same day.
  • Enjoy the surreal views.
Travel Planning Resources For every booking made through my site I donate US$ 1 for a charitable organization.Safe travels ☺

22 thoughts on “Machu Picchu Mountain Hike: The Hardest I’ve Ever Done”

  1. What a good experience you lived in. I am also blessed for having been in, I booked my machu picchu tour with Inka Challenge Peru and their services provided to me were fantastic.

  2. What did you think of the Machu Picchu Mountain hike? Great view of the mountains behind Machu Picchu! Looks like you got there and it was a really nice day.

    How did you get to Machu Picchu? Train or one of the treks?

    • I think it’s a really nice hike that provides a fantastic view.
      The day was beautiful, but I didn’t have too much time though.
      I took a van from Cusco. There’s even a pictures I’m seating on the tracks in the end of the post 😉

    • Hello.
      Yes, it does. It was exactly what I did.
      I just had to rush because I had to take the van back to Cusco at the same day. Otherwise I could’ve stayed at the citadel longer.
      Cheers and safe hike.

    • Hello Gabriel.
      I updated the post because there are some new rules implemented this year.
      Since January of 2019 visitors must have to choose the time slot they want to start visiting Machu Picchu. The first is at 6:00 AM and the last entrance is at 2:00 PM. The visit now is limited to only 4 hours but for those who are hiking Machu Picchu Montaña the limit is 8h (5h for the hike and 3 for the citadel).
      If you still have any doubt let me know.

  3. What a journey! Loved reading about your hike – impressive that you made it in such a short time! I’m planning a trip to Peru in the summer and have a few questions. Thought you might be able to help!
    I am curious how entry into Machu Picchu works – is a ticket’s entrance time specific to the citadel or to the mountain hike?
    Also, did you have a guide for your time in the Machu Picchu citadel? I’ve seen different things and can’t figure out if a guide is required, or if it’s possible to explore Machu Picchu independently with just an entrance ticket.
    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Hello Paula.
      You’re welcome 🙂
      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m sorry if I wasn’t that the clear but your question made me find a really good information though.
      Since January of 2019 visitors must have to choose the time slot they want to start visiting Machu Picchu. The first is at 6:00 AM and the last entrance is at 2:00 PM. The visit now is limited to only 4 hours but for those who are hiking Machu Picchu Montaña the limit is 8h (5h for the hike and 3 for the citadel).
      To hike Machu Picchu Mountain you can do it only in two different time slots, as I mention in the post: you can start anytime from 7:00 to 8:00 or from 9:00 to 10:00.
      So, in order to visit both you need to buy your ticket to enter Machu Picchu at 6 or 7 to start the hike between 7 to 8, or enter at 8 to start the hike between 9 to 10.
      I hope it’s all clear now.
      Cheers and have fun in Machu Picchu.

  4. Hello,

    Thank you for the post, I thought of giving up on the hike there – but you have showed me that is so wonderful… now I am confused what to do. 😀 I am overall fitt, but I tend to have fear on narrow steeps and so on if there is no wall or some ‘nature’ next to me, and after watching a video about Huayna Picchu, I thought no way – unfortunately I can’t do it as it seems very scary for me.
    What do you think, Mountana would be a better option for me? Is there always a ‘wall’ on one side of the road? 🙂

    Thnak you,

    • Hi there.
      Thank you for commenting 🙂
      I believe you can do it. I’ve seen a video of Huayna Picchu and I was also terrified. Machu Picchu Montaña isn’t like that.
      Did you watch my video?
      Yes, there are some kind o protection (trees or walls) basically the entire trail.
      What I did while hiking was I wasn’t looking up but just straight and right to the next step that I was climbing. I didn’t want to see how tall the whole thing was… It helped me a lot!
      Cheers S and good luck with everything 😉

  5. Hi,

    I’ve been to Macchu Picchu but didn’t hike (which I regret).

    I remember I had to go up some light stairs to enter and I could barely breathe. I wonder how people don’t get heart attacks climbing?! Or probably it’s just me who doesn’t do well in high attitude 🙂

  6. Hello! Congrats on reaching the summit on time! It looks amazing from up there. I have a question regarding the citadel + hike time slots and I’ve read conflicting information online. Are you required to tour the citadel before the hike, or can you do the hike and then tour the citadel when you come down from the mountain? I read online that you had to tour the citadel BEFORE the hike, which would only leave about 1-2 hours to tour if choosing the 8am entry time with entrance to the hike between 9-10.

    I’m not familiar with the layout of the trail to MP mountain. Do you exit the citadel to do the hike? If so, do they let you back into the citadel afterwards?

    Thank you.

  7. Hello Karen.
    I will give some information based on what I found online. But if you want I can also contact a travel agent in Cusco and ask these questions for you. Just let me know.
    So, they have implemented new rules twice since my visit to Machu Picchu. The last one was this year and it might be the reason there some misunderstandings.
    On the official website they don’t mention what time you have to visit the citadel. They just say that the total time is 6h and the hike takes approximately 4h. So, you would have two more to visit the citadel.
    And yes, the access to the hike is through the citadel. It mean that you will be there before and after hiking Machu Picchu Mountain.
    Now, there are three different tickets to visit Machu Picchu + Machu Picchu Mountain: from 6h and starting the hike between 7 and 8h (I believe in this case you have to see one part of the citadel before starting the hike and another afterwards – or doing it in 1h30min – which I think is enough – and start hiking between 7:30 and 8h).
    The other two tickets are from 7h (you would hike first and visit the citadel once you finish it) and from 8h and starting hike at 9h.
    If you still have questions let me know please.
    Enjoy it cuz it’s beyond magical.
    Cheers and best of luck in your visit Karen.

  8. Hi! Really enjoyed reading your post! I’m going in a couple of weeks and have not found great answers to my questions anywhere. If you just have the citadel ticket, are you still able to get to a high enough point for the typical view of the ruins that is in every picture, or is that only for those who are doing the mountain hike? I’m also going rainy season and after watching this it is giving me a little pause. Is the hike that steep where it would be dangerous in the pouring rain? Also, based on your experience, if it were done in the rain, would the view(s) be worth it? Thanks again for the great post!

    • Hey Matt.
      Thank you so much for your comment!! I’m really glad to hear that 🙂
      So, the iconic Machu Picchu photo you can take during your visit to the citadel. Your guide probably will show you after the tour finishes. No worries 😉
      The Inca trail is closed in February because of the heavy rain and for maintenance. I believe if the rain is too strong they won’t let anyone access the trails (there is another gate for the Machu Picchu Mouton hike). If it’s not, you will be fine hiking the mountain up. However, you won’t be able to see anything buddy because of the mist. Remember that Machu Picchu is surrounded by peaks and dense vegetation.
      I know people who went there during the raining season and it didn’t rain during their visit.
      Fingers crossed Matt.
      Cheers and all the best of your next adventures.

  9. II was lucky enough to do both climbs, we spent 3 nights in Agua Caliente and 3 days exploring Machu Picchu climbing Machu Picchu was the more difficult physically, Huayna Picchu was mentally harder especially in the rain. Those steep drops

    • Hey Val.
      You’re indeed lucky my friend.
      I can’t wait to go back to Peru to climb Huayna Picchu. I’ve seen some videos. It’s crazy.
      Safe travels and all the best in your new adventures.


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