Huayna Picchu (Spanish), Wayna Picchu (Quechua)
Updated March 4, 2019
In Quechua “Machu Picchu” means roughly “Old Peak,” whereas “Wayna Picchu” means “Young Peak. In the picture, Wayna Picchu is the tallest peak visible in the background behind the citadel (Machu Picchu). The citadel is located on a step below the peak of the mountain by the same name. When I took the picture to the left I was near the summit of Machu Picchu looking down on the citadel and Wayna Picchu.
On our second day in the area, I will lead a group to the summit of Wayna Picchu (8,924 feet). That is roughly 1000 feet higher than the citadel (7,970 feet). No special equipment is needed since the ancient residents of the area built steps up the side of Wayna Picchu, and we will take our time, so the climb will be manageable for anyone of average fitness.
On the way up, we will see ancient Inca structures that may have been houses, guards’ quarters, or storage facilities. The view from the top is spectacular. Many say that this is the point from which to take the best pictures of Machu Picchu.
After reaching the summit, some may choose to return directly to Machu Picchu to continue their visit. I plan to descend the far side of Wayna Picchu—a descent of 1,280 feet (390 meters)—to visit again a place with the finest stonework on the mountain. This descent will be the most challenging part of this optional tour for those who want to join me. It will take about an hour, and a few spots along the way can be slippery if the weather is moist.
Hyrum Bingham dubbed this spot the “Temple of the Moon,” and that name has stuck even though there is no real evidence that the site had any relation to moon worship. Still, it obviously had a very important function, because this quality of stonework was reserved for royal residences and religious sites. In the picture you can see trapezoidal niches in the wall, the largest of which have the typical double jammed framing of the most important inca sites.
In this picture from 2004 my two sons and I sit inside the cave. The last time I was there, the entrance was roped off because of restoration work in progress, but you could still see the stonework from the entrance. There is no mortar. Each stone fits exactly those around it, and the structure has survived for a very long time.
Outside the cave there is a terrace overlooking the valley below. In 2004 when Cristóbal, Benjamín, and I took this picture there appeared to be nothing down there to justify the presence of this impressive site. Now, however, several more terraces have been uncovered and there is plenty of room for debate about the function of this site in relation to the work that must have gone on below it.
Restoration work has been done on some of the surrounding structures which were piles of rubble on my first visit to the mountain. It is now possible to visit these structures.
The route back to Machu Picchu from the cave can be exhilarating or terrifying depending on your relationship to heights. You will get first hand experience of what walking on the edge of the mountain must have been like for many in the Inca Empire. At no point will you be in real danger, but if you are not used to extreme elevations you may feel like you are!
The hike back will take about 45 minutes, and will be mostly up-hill.
The price for climbing Wayna Picchu is relatively low ($18), but it requires a ticket to Machu Picchu, and that costs $78. So… to add this option to your visit will cost a total of $96, but it will include a second day at Machu Picchu, and there is plenty more to see there than you will have seen on the first day.
I look forward to a fabulous experience. I hope you will join me!