Humantay Lake Hike: The Perfect One-Day Trip from Cusco
Hiking to Humantay Lake is undoubtedly one of the best one-day trips you can do from Cusco, Peru. Read our guide on how to get to Laguna Humantay (with a tour or independently), how to deal with the altitude, what to pack and where to stay, so your the only task will be trekking the moderately-difficult hike and enjoying the incredible scenery.
It is not possible to walk around the city center of Cusco and was not offered a tour to Humantay Lake.
So even if you've never heard about the turquoise lake high in the mountains where the fog and clouds keep rolling all day long, you do not have a chance to escape. We wanted to hike to Humantay Lake since we arrived in Peru, and couldn't wait for the trek to start. We will share several best ways on how to get to Humantay Lake later, but here we can tell our trek was included in multi-day Salkantay Trek which took us nowhere else than to the mysterious Inca city, Machu Picchu.
As we were backpacking around Peru for almost two months, we had seen our share of fantastic blue glacial lakes surrounded by green hills and towering peaks covered with snow all year round such as Laguna 69 or Laguna Paron only to name a few, but Humantay Lake was yet another place where we stood in awe for a while when we reached the edge from where we could see the beauty for the very first time.
If you do not have a hike to Humantay Lake on your bucket list, you should put it right immediately.
HIKE TO HUMANTAY LAKE
Unlike tours leaving Cusco early in the morning, we could sleep a bit longer, because we stayed in privately owned accommodation as our hike to Humantay Lake was a part of Salkantay Trek.
If you want to travel independently to the lake (more about it later) or you plan on hiking the Salkantay without a guide, you can stay for example in this family guesthouse. The first section of the hike is flat, we passed several campgrounds, with nowadays too popular glass tents.
When the weather allows, you can see snowy peaks and green hills with cows and horses in front of you.
We were quite lucky when the hike started, but later the clouds started to roll in.
We continued for a short while when we arrived at the intersection where the path was turning left a bit. Here we passed the last houses where local people live (this is the last point where you can use the bathroom for one sol), and from this point, the trail started to climb up unmercifully.
The trail is easily visible from distance, so we walked slowly and stopped frequently because we started to feel the altitude, and it was harder to catch a breath.
We chewed some coca leaves our guide gave us and continued straight up.
Thankfully, we felt quite fine that day, but some people from our group struggled with breathing and headaches.
When we had a feeling that the hike takes longer than it should, we crossed the edge, and all of a sudden, we stood at the lake's shore. For a couple of minutes, we stood by the lake, which was that early in the morning peaceful, the mountains around us were silent, and we were savoring the moment.
During our travels, it did not happen to us often that a group of young people would be quietly sitting by an insanely beautiful lake rather than taking selfies, but it happened here, at Humantay Lake.
Later, when we started to feel cold, we set off for the way back, which was easy now, going downhill all the time.
Only now, we started to meet other people climbing up to see the lake.
HOW TO GET TO HUMANTAY LAKE FROM CUSCO
Because of the beauty of blue lake of Humantay and the incredible scenery, this one-day hike quickly became one of the most popular activities among travelers, for some, it is even one of the main reasons why to arrive in Cusco (except for Machu Picchu, of course).
Before you book the trip, there is one thing you should know though. It takes three hours to get to the trailhead by either taxi or standard minivan, so you will spend six hours in transport that day.
You have several options on how to get to Humantay Lake, and we will list all the options below.
Tour | At the moment, the most popular way how to get to Humantay Lake is with a guided tour. The tour starts early in the morning (around 3 AM or 4 AM) when a van picks you up at the hotel and includes the entrance fee to the lagoon, guide, transfer, breakfast, and lunch. The day usually goes smoothly, but as with every organized tour, you need to wait for the slowest person in your group, plus you will never be alone by the lake (but we think it is a rare luxury anyway).
Private Transport | For many people, traveling with a group of strangers is not exactly the way they want to enjoy a place. We totally get it. Thankfully, there is still a way how to get to Humantay Lake (because unfortunately, traveling by public transport is not possible here). You can try to shop around Cusco and find a taxi driver who will take you to the lake - there is a small chance to find a driver available on the day of your planned trek (or the price will be higher), so reserve the car at least one day before you want to go. The advantage of private transport is that you can travel to Humantay Lake at what time you choose, so you can avoid groups. Round trip costs around 250 soles (without 10 soles entrance fee, obviously), so this trip is worth when traveling with a group of friends or with a family.
Salkantay Trek | It is possible to visit Humantay Lake as a part of Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu, and this is what we did. Check out travel agencies in Cusco, some of them for sure offer Salkantay Trek with Humantay Lake in their tour, but ask in advance, because it is not a standard. If you plan on hiking Salkantay Trek anyway, we think this is a great option as it saves you time and money. It depends on which travel agency you choose you will hike to the lake either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Both times are perfect because you will get to Humantay Lake either before all the groups arrive or when they are already gone.
Rental Car | It is not very common, but if you prefer freedom and want to plan your day as you please, you can rent a car in Cusco, and travel to the trailhead of Humantay Lake on own. The drive takes around three hours, and be ready that the road is pretty bendy, so drive carefully in case you set off early when it is still dark outside. From Cusco, take road 3S and later turn to smaller road 109. There is no official parking lot, but you should be able to park your car at the end of the road. But again, this is the least popular option on how to get to Humantay Lake. When traveling by rental car, you need to pay the rental fee, fuel and 10 soles entrance (payable in Mollepata) admission to the lake.
WATER AND SNACKS ALONG THE HIKE TO HUMANTAY LAKE
When traveling with a tour or hiking to Humantay Lake is a part of Salkantay Trek, you are all covered, and you do not need to worry about food and water. When traveling on own, either by rental car or public transport, you need to bring own food and water unless you want to buy an expensive refreshment in one of a few houses at the beginning of the trail.
HUMANTAY LAKE HIKE DIFFICULTY
We would evaluate Humantay Lake trek like a moderately-difficult hike and think that anyone who does some sport from time to time should not have major trouble to reach the top.
Yes, the trail leads steeply uphill, but the trip itself is not that long. You should be able to reach the lake within an hour or and an hour and a half while the way back will take you less.
What can make the trip more difficult is the altitude sickness.
In case you run out of energy, you can use horse service local people offer along the way. First, you should negotiate the price, though.
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HUMANTAY LAKE ALTITUDE & HOW TO DEAL WITH IT
The tricky part is that nothing and no one can prepare you for altitude sickness.
The trek itself starts 3800 meters above sea level, and you must gain another 400 meters to reach Humantay Lake which sits at 4200 meters. When hiking up to the lake, we felt fine, but we were already staying in Cusco (3400 meters) for a couple of days. This is the key to your success - do not underestimate proper acclimatization, and stay in Cusco for at least two days.
You can explore the city and the other day travel around Sacred Valley.
We cannot stress enough how important is acclimatization before you do the trek, because the altitude sickness is no joke and you can ruin your entire stay in Cusco or Peru overall.
Although you can never know how the altitude will affect you (it has nothing to do with physical ability or how your body reacted to altitude previously), there are several simple rules you should follow to maximize your chances to enjoy the trek. Drink enough water, do not eat heavy meals and try to do some light physical activity when in Cusco.
Do not forget that health and safety always go first, so in case you start feeling dizzy or a headache gets stronger during the hike, do not continue and get back to a lower altitude as quickly as you can.
If you make it to Humantay Lake, the next step could be another rewarding one-day trip from Cusco, Rainbow Mountain.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HUMANTAY ONE-DAY HIKE
Weather in the Peruvian mountains is very unpredictable. It is often cold and windy when hiking in the altitude, plus the fact that you will be leaving Cusco in the death of night means you will have to pack layers and warm clothes even when the weather forecast promises hot sunny day.
Here are seven essential things you should pack for a one-day trip to Humantay Lake.
Hiking Poles | No matter you've never used hiking poles before, we think it is a must-have when in the mountains.
Herbal Essence | For dealing with high altitude, we recommend you to buy in any pharmacy in Cusco a special herbal essence which should give you relief from headache and overall sickness.
Rain Poncho | When the rain is stronger, use rain poncho to cover yourself and your backpack as well.
We've also written an in-depth South America packing list where you will find more useful tips and advice on what to pack.
WHERE TO STAY IN CUSCO BEFORE HIKING TO HUMANTAY LAKE
Cusco offers a large network of reasonably priced hotels in the historical part of the city, and you don't need to stay anywhere on the outskirt to save money when traveling on a budget.
Budget | Cusco Bed and Breakfast - Spacious and clean rooms, comfortable beds, very quiet at night, excellent location.
Mid-range | Tierra Viva Cusco Centro - Providing a tranquil environment, beautiful rooms and also has one of the top-rated locations in Cusco.
Luxury | JW Marriott El Convento Cusco - The hotel features impressive interiors, has a charming colonial courtyard, luxury rooms and Cusco’s cathedral or main square are only 3 blocks away.
HOW TO GET TO CUSCO
Cusco is Peruvian destination number one, and it does not matter from where you want to reach Cusco, you can be sure you'll get there. The most common way for backpackers how to get to Cusco is by bus - we took an uncountable number of night buses, and the quality and service were quite fine.
Cusco also has the airport, in case you are traveling to Peru only for two or three weeks and you need to travel around the country quickly and efficiently.
When looking for flight tickets you can search Skyscanner to find the best price.
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