The Humantay Lake hike is one of the most popular day trips from Cusco, and for good reason. This stunning turquoise lake is one of Peru’s most unique natural wonders and a beautiful sight to see. The hike, while not long, can be challenging due to the altitude and elevation. 

While it may not be the easiest hike, trust me, it’s worth it. On a clear day, the views are stunning, with turquoise water surrounded by towering peaks and crisp, fresh air. But even if the weather doesn’t cooperate, which unfortunately was our experience, it was still worth doing the hike to Humantay Lake. 

If you’re thinking about doing the Humantay Lake hike, below we’ll cover everything you need to know about the hike, including what to expect on the trail, what to bring and how to get to Humantay Lake from Cusco.  

turquoise water of humantay lake surrounded by snow covered peaks of the Andes mountains
What Humantay Lake looks like in the dry season

About Humantay Lake

Humantay Lake, pronounced “ooh-man-tie”, is a stunning glacier-fed lake set high in the Andes Mountains, just north of Cusco. At an altitude of 4,200 meters (13, 779 feet) and surrounded by towering peaks, this beautiful turquoise lake is one of Peru’s most unique natural wonders. It’s also considered a sacred site by the local Quechua people and is home to Apu Humantay, the god who controls the weather and provides water for the area.   

Many people visit Humantay Lake as a day trip from Cusco, but it can also be visited on a longer hike, called the “Salkantay Trek”. This multi-day hike to Machu Picchu begins at Soraypampa and visits Humantay Lake on the first day. 

black icon of a hiker with a backpack and hiking pole

Humantay Lake Hike

Altitude: 3,800 meters (12,700 feet) to 4,200 meters (13,900 feet)
Distance: 2 km one way, 4km round trip
Time: 1 – 2 hours one way
Difficulty: Challenging
Entry Fee: 10 soles

What to Expect on the Humantay Lake Hike

  • The hike to Humantay Lake is 2 km and takes between one to two hours to complete. The first half of the hike is less of an incline but about halfway, the incline increases. Our guide said it was about a 40% incline for the first half and then a 65-70% incline for the second half of the hike. I’m not sure how accurate those numbers are, but I can tell you the second half is definitely much steeper. 
  • The trail is not a groomed trail, but a well-worn path through rocks and rugged terrain. It was very muddy in spots, and yes, we visited at the end of the rainy season, but our guide said it’s muddy year-round. There’s also plenty of horse droppings to keep an eye out for.  
  • The trail, although seemingly a short hike, is still challenging due to both the terrain, and altitude. Take your time and stop when needed to catch your breath. We stopped often, especially as we got closer to the lake, but tried to keep our stops short.
water rushing over the rocks down the side of a green mountain at humantay lake

Hiking to Humantay Lake

After driving down a very bumpy road (my watch registered 8,000 steps before I even started hiking – just from the bumps on the bus), you still have to walk a bit to get to the start of the hike. When we visited, we had to walk about 20 minutes along the road, as the road had been washed out and was inaccessible for buses and cars. 

The hike begins in the community of Soraypampa, and here there are a set of buildings where you can purchase water or snacks, or use the washroom facilities. These are the last restrooms until you finish the hike and cost 1 or 2 soles, depending on whether you want toilet paper or not. 

wooden platform with large heart in a grass field at the edge of Andes mountains. the mountains are shrouded in fog

The beginning of the hike is fairly flat, but with the altitude, it’s still not an easy walk. The trail follows beside a river for a bit, and as we went at the end of rainy season, the water was flowing pretty well. There were a few times when we had to walk across a log or step on rocks to cross the water. Hiking poles are helpful! 

man hiking on a narrow trail beside a river on the Humantay Lake hike

The trail then becomes steeper as it climbs the hill. I consider myself a fairly decent hiker, and as we had already spent a week in Cusco, I thought I was acclimatized to the altitude, but Humantay Lake is even higher than Cusco.

The altitude made it hard to hike more than a few minutes at a time, but our guide suggested frequent, but short breaks, and this definitely helped.

The scenery was gorgeous, even with the fog and mist, and I appreciated the frequent breaks to take in the views. 

view of the mountains while hiking to humantay lake

After about an hour and a half of hiking, we finally made it to Humantay Lake. Just before the lake came into view, we heard what sounded like thunder, which was the glacier calving, where blocks of ice break off the end of the glacier. 

humantay lake as seen through the fog - the shoreline can be seen with a few bushes at the edge of the water but the rest of the lake is not visible due to the fog
My first view of Humantay Lake

Unfortunately, it was so foggy that you could barely see the lake, and the turquoise water I had seen in photos was not visible. However, our guide suggested we wait, get our breath back and see if the weather would clear.

After about 30 minutes, the fog began to drift, and glimpses of the glacier-fed lake could be seen. While we didn’t get the full turquoise view I was hoping for, it was easy to see how beautiful it would be on a clear day. 

turquoise water of humantay lake as the fog begins to lift. the shoreline around the lake is rocks and dirt

Pro Tip: Many people head directly to the shore of the lake for photos. But it’s worth climbing up to a spot overlooking the lake where you can get a different vantage point. We went to the right and found a great spot where it wasn’t as crowded and we had this great view (when the fog had cooperated) of the lake. 

After taking a few photos, the fog began to obscure the lake once again and we decided it was time to start our descent back to the trailhead. We took a slightly different route back down, which was steeper but a bit shorter. While the way down was a bit easier on the lungs as we descended to lower altitudes, the steep descent was tough on the knees. About halfway down, the terrain starts to level out and the hiking becomes much easier. 

hikers going up a dirt trail that leads up a mountain to humantay lake

For those who find the hike too challenging or struggle with the altitude, there is an option to ride a horse most of the way to the lake. However, once at the lake, the horses are herded back down in large groups by locals.

When you’re hiking back down, it’s important to keep an eye out, not just on your footing, but also for the groups of horses that are being herded back down to the bottom of the hill. We had to stop and quickly move off the path a few times.

Important Things to Know Before Humantay Lake Hike

  • While it’s not a long hike, it’s definitely not the easiest hike. It only takes around 1.5 hours to reach the lake, but it’s a hard hike at a relatively high altitude, and several sections are pretty steep. The hike climbs over 400m, and hiking poles are recommended. For this reason, it’s not a great idea to try this hike until you’re acclimatized, even if you have hiking experience and good fitness level. 
  • Horses are available to take you most of the way up the trail, although you will still have to hike a short distance to the lake. It costs s/80 or $22 USD / $30 CAD for one way.
  • Wear layers. Because of the changes in altitude, and how quickly the fog moves in, the weather can change quickly. I started the hike wearing capris, a sweatshirt and a light rain jacket. I ended up taking the sweater and jacket off halfway to the lake, and then needed to put it back on when we reached the lake and it started raining. On the return hike, my hands were so cold that I wished I had mitts, but by the time we had come down to the start of the hike, we were all quite warm again. 
  • Prepare for a long day! Most tours leave Cusco around 4 or 5 in the morning, and it’s a 3 hour drive to the start of the hike. We didn’t get back to Cusco until around 4pm. 
  • Casa Salkantay Museo Restaurant is in the town of Mollepata, serves an excellent food and is a popular stop where most tours stop. We stopped there for both breakfast and lunch. Both were buffet meals, with warm food and tea that was perfect to warm up on a cool morning. Plus the views from the dining area were fantastic. 
  • Bring water. There are a few small stalls selling water, chips and other quick snacks before you start the climb to Humantay Lake, but there are no places to refill your bottles. 
  • Bring (and use) sunscreen. The sun is strong, especially at higher elevations, even if it’s hidden behind clouds. We didn’t see the sun at all on our hike, yet I still managed to get burned on my calves – the one place I didn’t think to apply sunscreen to.   
  • There is an entry fee if you go on your own. It’s s/20 ($6USD) for the hike and is paid in the town of Mollepata. If you go with an organized tour from Cusco, the entry fee is usually included in the tour price. 
  • Cash is a good idea to bring. You will need a few soles for the washrooms at the beginning and end of the hike, and you can also pay a few soles to get a stamp on your passport after completing the hike.
water flowing over the rocks at the top of the hike to humantay lake

How to Get to Humantay Lake

One of the most common (and easiest) ways to get to Humantay Lake is to take a tour from Cusco.

There are plenty of tour agencies in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, and the streets surrounding the square. Tours cost about 80 soles, or $24 USD. This includes your transportation from Cusco to Humantay Lake and most tours leave from Cusco around 4 am.   

This option on GetYourGuide is $30 USD/ $40 CAD per person and includes transportation from Cusco, as well as an excellent breakfast and lunch at a restaurant in Mollepata near Humantay Lake.

There are also similar tours on Viator, such as this one which includes transportation, breakfast and lunch, as well as the hike to Humantay Lake.

You can also hire a taxi and go on your own. This is a more expensive option, but it might be worth it as you can choose what time you leave and how much time you spend at Humantay Lake. We didn’t do this, as it was already included in our Cusco tour package, but it is an option. It’s not cheap – our guide suggested it would cost about 250 soles/ $75 USD for the day.

a woman in a white jacket and holding hiking poles standing front of the fog-covered humantay lake

When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Humantay Lake? 

Humantay Lake can be visited year-round and you do not need to purchase tickets ahead of time, like you do for the Inca Trail.

However, Humantay Lake weather is best during the dry season, which runs from May until mid-October. This is when you’re guaranteed to have better weather and more sunshine, and be able to see the brilliant turquoise colour of the lake that you see in photos.

We visited at the end of the rainy season, which is one of the quieter times to visit Humantay Lake, but also not the best weather to view the lake. 

What to Bring to Hike Lake Humantay, Peru

  • Comfortable shoes or hiking boots – sandals are not a great choice due to the terrain
  • Warm sweater and rain jacket, and even gloves as it can be chilly early in the hike
  • Water
  • Sunglasses
  • Snacks
  • Sunscreen – yes, even on cloudy days you will need sunscreen (speaking from experience here…)
  • Cocoa leaves or candies for altitude
as the fog starts to lift, you can start to see the turquoise water of humantay lake

FAQs: Lake Humantay, Peru

Is Humantay Lake suitable for young children? The hike to Humantay Lake can be challenging for young children – and anyone, really – due to the altitude and steep sections, but it is possible with proper preparation. It’s essential to make sure they are acclimatized and able to handle a challenging hike.  

Are the restroom facilities along the hike? There are washroom facilities at the beginning and end of the hike, but there are no facilities along the trail.

Can you swim in the water at Humantay Lake? No, it’s not permitted to swim in the lake. This is to protect the minerals and algae in the lake which gives it the incredible turquoise colour. 

Is it worth visiting Humantay Lake? Absolutely! The stunning beauty of Humantay Lake and the surrounding landscape make it worth visiting, even though it is a challenging hike. 

Conclusion: Why Humantay Lake is Worth visiting

The Humantay Lake hike offers an unforgettable experience for those willing to take on the challenge. With its stunning turquoise waters, beautiful mountain scenery and the sense of accomplishment that comes with such a challenging hike, it’s an unforgettable experience that you should not be missed while in Cusco.