While at Machu Picchu, you can’t avoid noticing Huayna Picchu, the huge mountain overlooking the ruins. The ruins actually sit between two mountains – Mount Machu Picchu and Mount Huaynu Picchu. Interestingly, in all the photos you see of the ruins, the mountain in the background is actually Huaynu Picchu, not the namesake mountain.
We had planned on climbing Huaynu Picchu (an option which is only available to the first 400 visitors to Machu Picchu each day I believe), but as I looked at how high and steep the mountain was, I started to panic. I didn’t want to climb it anymore, screw the $15 ticket I already paid for, I’d rather relax at the ruins and meditate on my own.
But of course the rest of the group talked me into it. Damn peer pressure. As we stood in line to “enter” Huayna Picchu, the panic was back. The fact that two paramedics ran past us with a stretcher just as we entered did not help.
The climb up is exhausting and crazy steep at times. The entire time, you are following a narrow dirt path interspersed with stone steps. At certain points, you are literally climbing the mountain with your hands and feet – like real mountain climbing! Or by holding onto a rope at super steep passes.
I don’t know how some of the older people going up did it. Being so high up was nerve-wracking but I kept going. At the risk of sounding repetitive, we were ridiculously high up. Perhaps I should mention that I’m a bit afraid of heights.
Finally, we had to climb through a tiny tunnel to reach the top. All we reached was a pile of rocks! The top of Huaynu Picchu is literally a mountain peak. No platform, or rest area, or guardrails. Just a couple boulders you can climb at your own peril to take photos. I don’t know if my words are making this clear – but we were literally at the very top of a huge mountain. No security, no handrails, no ropes even! I was freaking out. There was nowhere to go. I ask our guide, Alex, how we get down, and he points over the side of the boulder I’m leaning against. To me, it looks like he’s pointing to nothing. I see nothing beyond the edge of this boulder. You might as well just ask me to jump off the mountain and kill myself.
At this point, my paralyzing fear turns into genuine panic. There’s no way I can get down from here or move at all. I read my breaking point and the tears come. Clearly, I’m just going to die on Huayna Picchu. The paramedics weren’t going to make it up here with a stretcher. Goodbye, cruel world.
Ok, I know it sounds a little melodramatic, and I can kind of look back and laugh on the situation, but it really was quite traumatic at the time!
Finally, Alex somehow convinced me to move and inch my way across this boulder, so I could see that there were actual rocks to climb down on. This was barely a consolation, to get to climb down a steep pile of rocks thousands of feet up in the air. But somehow, I made it. There were tears and Alex literally had to hold my hand the entire way down, but I made it. I should have listened to my intuition and stayed at Machu Picchu instead of climbing that mountain!
I would encourage travelers not to take that adventure lightly, it was truly challenging. But, of course the views from the top are gorgeous, and Machu Picchu looks tiny from up top. And then I felt like a jerk when my cousin told me she took her seven-year-old son up Huayna Picchu. Although, in my defense, he’s much more fearless than I am, which I also discovered when I freaked out in the middle of a much less high obstacle course in Poland last year while he sped through it with no problem.
Anyways, once that little adventure was over, I was about done. I needed a drink. So I treated myself to a nice frozen passion fruit pisco cocktail. And a coke. Hey, I earned both!