So, the Inca Trail is sold out and you have decided to hike one of the fantastic alternative treks, which don´t require Inca Trail permits. So why do all the agencies still encourage you to “book as soon as possible?” Didn´t we say that one of the benefits of the alternative treks is that they don´t require permits?
I suppose we should be more specific – the alternative treks don´t require Inca Trail permits. However, there are permits required to climb one of the mountains at Machu Picchu: Huayna Picchu Mountain or Machu Picchu Mountain.
All of our treks that visit Machu Picchu, with the exception of the Inca Trail treks, include the permit price to climb one of the two mountains. It is part of your Machu Picchu experience. However, it is more complicated than that. In general, Huayna Picchu is more popular than Machu Picchu Mountain. It is also limited to two groups per day of 200 hikers per group. If Huayna Picchu is sold out, your trek will include the ticket to climb Machu Picchu Mountain. Machu Picchu Mountain is also limited to 400 hikers per day. However, since Huayna Picchu is so much more popular, Machu Picchu Mountain is rarely sold out.
As of today, April 27, there is not a single permit left to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain in May. Additionally, there are many days in June that are already sold out for both Group 1 and Group 2. That is the reason for the rush in booking – to ensure you get the permit to climb your mountain of choice!
Let´s get down to the nuts and bolts –
Why is it preferable to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain instead of Machu Picchu mountain?
Hike duration! It takes 45 minutes to the top of Huayna Picchu Mountain (2,720 m /8,920 ft) and to hike to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain (3051 m /10009 ft) it takes a little over twice that amount of time
If you put aside the hike duration, Machu Picchu Mountain actually has some features that could make it preferable to Huayna Picchu! The hike to the top is less steep and less rocky. From the summit you can see the entire site (even parts of the slopes that cannot be seen from Huayna Picchu) and gasp down into the valleys on both sides of the site. So, Machu Picchu Mountain is definitely not a bad back up plan!
If I have the opportunity to climb Huayna Picchu Mountain, why do I want group 2 instead of group 1?
This is all about the timing. Group one begins hiking at 7 AM. This means that you won´t have your Machu Picchu tour until after the hike. The general experience is that people are then tired for their tour. Sometimes, this leads to wanting to rush through the tour or return to Aguas Calientes early because of fatigue. However, if you have lots of energy or aren´t worried about that, then Group 1 is equally good and usually less crowded.
If there are only group 1 Huayna Picchu permits available, would it be better to climb Machu Picchu Mountain so that I can have my Machu Picchu tour prior to climbing the mountain (as opposed to having the tour after climbing Huayna Picchu in group 1)?
This is personal preference. As stated before, the reason Huayna Picchu is so much more popular than Machu Picchu mountain is that Machu Picchu Mountain is a longer and more difficult hike. So you have a choice. Choose Huayna Picchu group one, which will happen before your Machu Picchu tour. Or you can choose Machu Picchu Mountain, which you can hike at your leisure after the Machu Picchu tour is finished. The positives and negatives for each are discussed in the answers above.
Other than asking an agency, is there a way I can check for myself how many permits are available?
Yes! Go to machupicchu.gob.pe for live permit status, 365 days per year.
Am I going to have the energy to climb one of the mountains after a multi day trek?
In general, this is not a problem. Of course every person is different and treks vary in length and difficulty. However, being too tired to hike one of the mountains has been rare in our experience. The way all the itineraries are designed incorporates an easier day on the day prior to the Machu Picchu tour and mountain hike! So fortunately most trekkers are well rested on the final day and can very much enjoy the climb