Permitted Hikes in Machu Picchu
There are two optional day hikes you can do within Machu Picchu that require permits: Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain. Both are located within Machu Picchu Citadel and can be done the same day as your tour, as long as it's coordinated ahead of time with your specialists.
Huayna Picchu is the most popular of the two and usually sells out, sometimes months in advance. If Huayna Picchu is sold out, then Machu Picchu Mountain is a great alternative. Both give a great birds-eye view of Machu Picchu.
Huayna Picchu: Machu Picchu's Most Popular Trek
Permit availability: 400 daily (often sells out months in advance)
Trailhead entry times:7-8 am (200 permits), 10-11 am (200 permits)
Duration: 1-2.5 hours
Difficulty: Challenging and steep. Requires using hands for balance at some points, narrow pathways.
Elevation gain: 952ft / 290m
Huayna Picchu is the iconic tooth-shaped mountain that rises above the main part of the Machu Picchu citadel, immensely popular as a day hike. At 8,923 feet (2720 m), it's about 850 feet higher than the Machu Picchu complex, and altitude sickness can be a factor for hikers even if they experienced no effects at the main ruins. Its name in Quechua is normally translated as 'young peak'.
The trailhead is obvious on the north side of the main complex, with a hut where you must sign in and out upon embarkation and return. The route passes through a section of Inca tunnel on the way up, and you will also encounter a ladder fixed to the cliff, an overhanging cave, and some patches of cloud forest during the ascent. A separate path on the ascent branches off to descend around the back of Huayna Picchu to the Temple of the Moon.
The hike appears very steep when seen from the main plaza below, but no technical climbing skills are required. However, the zigzag path does qualify as scrambling (needing to use hands as well as feet) at points and can become slippery in wet weather: take extreme care on ascent and descent.
Machu Picchu Montaña: Picturesque Hike with Valley Views
Permit availability: 400 daily
Trailhead entry times:7-8 am (400 permits), 9-10 am (200 permits)
Duration: 2.5-3 hours
Difficulty: Challenging. Not as steep as Huayna Picchu, with narrow pathways.
Elevation Gain: 2,038ft / 621m
A far easier trail than Huayna Picchu, the Machu Picchu Montaña (Machu Picchu Mountain) trek ascends more gradually and on a wider path. The benefits of this hike, as opposed to Huayna Picchu, is that it is less popular and so easier to get a permit for. A steady but nevertheless demanding climb up here brings you to a summit over 10,000 feet, dwarfing Huayna Picchu.
Additionally, the view from the summit is the area's finest and most far-ranging: as well as amazing panoramas of all the Machu Picchu complex, you can see all the way along the Inca Trail to the photogenic ruins of Wiñay Wayna. The trailhead is in the southern part of the Machu Picchu citadel.
In addition to the hikes requiring permits, a couple of other trails also offer some interesting perspectives on the ruins and surrounding scenery. These include Sun Gate and Inca Bridge, both within the citadel, and Putukusi, which is outside of the citadel.
Sun Gate: Original Entrance to Machu Picchu
Duration: 3-4 Hours
Difficulty: Moderate (dirt trail and Inca stone paths)
Elevation Gain: 952 ft/290 m
The Sun Gate, or Intipunku, was the original entrance to Machu Picchu for the Incas. Those hiking the 4-Day Inca Trail will enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. Travelers heading to Machu Picchu for the day can experience it, too—just start from the Machu Picchu Mountain trailhead in the southern part of the citadel, and follow the signs.
If you're interested in taking a multi-day hike to Machu Picchu, see this article.
Inca Bridge: Secret Entrance to Machu Picchu
Duration: 40 min-1 hour
Elevation Gain: Negligible
Known as the secret entrance to Machu Picchu, this trek is often forgotten but great to do if you have some extra time to explore. The trail leads to an alternate Machu Picchu entrance once used by the Incas.
Built into a spectacular path along a sheer mountainside, the simple plank bridge could quickly be removed to scupper the progress of any unwanted arrivals. You can only see the drawbridge from a distance, though: it is not deemed safe to cross. The trailhead is across from the Hut of the Caretaker at the Funerary Rock.
Putukusi: Another Perspective on Machu Picchu
Duration: 3 hours
Difficulty: Challenging. Involves scaling near-vertical ladders, steep slopes.
Elevation Gain: 1509 ft/460 m
Putukusi (or Phutuq K'usi) makes a good, free alternative to the vastly more crowded Machu Picchu complex. Allow three hours out and back. The route, on the other side of the valley from Machu Picchu, yields spectacular views across to the famous ruins.
Know that this challenging trail, which involves scaling several ladders, is not as maintained as Machu Picchu's trails and can get washed out after rain. The trailhead begins at a stairway a short walk west of central Aguas Calientes (along the railway tracks). This hike is recommended for those in good physical shape.