If you are in the historic town of Cusco in Peru and looking for a day-trip adventure like I was, you need to check out the Humantay Lake hike (also known as Laguna Humantay). The steep but short 1-hour hike leads you to an unbelievably blue lake at the bottom of an enormous glacier. At 4000 meters altitude, it is literally breath-taking!
HIRING A TAXI TO HUMANTAY LAKE FROM CUSCO, PERU
I get it. I am a photographer too of course and you are wanting to avoid being confined by a group atmosphere. Sometimes group trips and guides can limit you and on this trip, I would say it is 50/50. I could have used another hour or two at the summit/lake.
That was a long lead-up paragraph to my point. I don’t think you need a taxi as the group was fine. However, if you do it will cost about $75-100 from Cusco and back but you will need to find a driver willing to take a full day out there. It is a pretty wild road but you will find a driver in Cusco. If there are a couple of you it may be okay price-wise. The hike itself doesn’t really need a guide as the route up is pretty straightforward. The main benefit of a taxi might be leaving much later than 3 am like the group tours and being up at the lake in the late afternoon. You would get home later but you would be up there by yourself just before the golden hour. That could be a play.
HUMANTAY LAKE ENTRY FEE
If you do go it solo/DIY from Cusco with a taxi or a car you will still need to pay the $10 entry fee for the hike. All of a sudden the tour with transfer and lunch is starting to look pretty good!
HUMANTAY LAKE HIKE DIFFICULTY AND ALTITUDE
The Humantay Lake hike is short. It actually took me only an hour to reach the lake. However, I will throw some caution to the wind. It is steep. Very steep in fact and you are starting at around 3,800 meters above sea-level and finishing at 4,200 meters above sea-level. This matters because you may encounter altitude sickness or at the very least become light-headed or short of breath very easily. I struggled a little bit for breath but overall I was okay and took several breaks on the way up to ease through it. Many people (who looked as though they didn’t hike much) seemed to be struggling on the way up.
Locals wait about halfway up with horses for those who have hit a wall. It’s actually pretty funny (not for the horses). It’s a moment of realization for many that they have made a grave mistake and are in need of a miracle to make it to the top. That miracle is, unfortunately, a horse that has to haul them up.
If you have walked your way around Machu Picchu, you will be fine on this hike. I didn’t say it would be easy but you WILL make it to the lake.
MY EXPERIENCE HIKING TO HUMANTAY LAKE
The drive took three hours and we were the first van in the parking lot. At that stage, I actually thought we may be the only ones doing the hike. Here we had breakfast, which was a ham and cheese sandwich and a coffee. The hot drink helped warm us up as we waited it out in the chilly morning. You can buy snacks here if you need but the guide gave us all a paper bag with lots of chocolates, fruit, juice box and other bites to eat for the hike.
After the quick breakfast, we began the hike. The fog was still rolling off the sides of the mountains as we strolled towards the start of the hike. Along the way, you will pass many accommodations that offer dome/camping options. It would be an incredibly scenic spot to stay the night and do the hike and would eliminate the 6 hours of driving to and from Cusco. I am unsure of the pricing but my guide seemed to think more than $200 per night for the fancy dome homes.
After fifteen minutes we made it to the base of the hill. This is where the hike really begins and it hits quickly, waking you up with a wall of incline and thin oxygen. Every couple of minutes the girls would stop for a break and, to be honest, I wasn’t mad about it. I was breathing heavy also. The incline and the altitude combine to make it a slow ascent.
After a while though, I broke away and headed up the hill with a consistent pace. I stopped only to investigate flowers or to spin around and take in the view, although it was still quite a foggy morning. I wondered whether we would have a view at the lake. I knew it didn’t matter too much because this trek was an adventure in itself. The view would be a bonus.
After about an hour, I made it to the lake. It surprised me a little as it appeared when I made my way over the lip of the hill. With my guide and group half an hour behind, it was just myself and a herd of shaggy cows sitting on the edge of the lake. Every now and again the clouds would thin, and the huge glacier mountain would peek out, almost as if letting me know that it was indeed there.
When the group arrived half an hour later, it was still foggy but it was clearing up slowly. We all tucked into our snacks as our guide began to share with us the brief history and culture of the Incas and Humantay Lake. He had carried up laminated maps and images to help tell his story. This was something only our group did. We also did a coca tea-leaf ceremony as our guide led us through. It was great to have that moment to slow down and connect with Humantay Lake before the other groups began to roll in.
Almost as if our coca ceremony was a prayer, the clouds dissipated and the landscape turned into an unbelievable scene. The sun had the lake glowing bright blue. The color of the lake comes from the minerals and algae within. Swimming is forbidden to protect the algae and color of the lake. The huge glacier mountain towers over the lake with waterfalls streaming into the lake. It is beyond impressive and nothing like I had ever seen before.
With more tour groups arriving now, I headed up onto the ridges to explore and the views only got better. Most tourists stay at the base of the lake but several people joined me up on the ridge for a new perspective of the lake. As we were up on the ridge we heard several cracks in the ice followed by mini avalanches, which was an amazing sight to behold with the snow cascading down the steep mountain. The lake continued to get even more vibrant as the sun swung higher.
I was truly amazed by this spot and told my group to head on down and I would catch them on the way. I sent the drone up for a quick look. I’m unsure of the rules with the drone here as some guides wanted me to bring it down although others had said it’s okay. You may want to ask although it seems that it depends on who you talk to as to whether you will be granted permission to fly. Either way, the scene didn’t get any less incredible from the air.
After my quick flight over Humantay Lake, I started the jog down the hill and caught my group half-way down. We made our way back to the van and then traveled 20-minutes to a small local home where they had prepared an epic spread of food for lunch. Guacamole, different meats, pasta, quinoa, fruits, vegetables, coca tea and more. It was exactly what we needed and the view from our lunch table was almost as good as the hike itself.
After lunch, it was the fun part. The three-hour drive home. Everyone slept but I struggled to get comfortable in the van as usual and just watched out of the window at the stunning views and local life as we neared back to Cusco.
St. Marquez #321 Cusco – Peru
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