Lake Humantay: Cusco’s Secret Hidden Treasure

Lake Humantay: Cusco’s Secret Hidden Treasure

Have you ever been to Lake Humantay in Peru? Just a quick trip from Cusco is a lovely glacier-filled lake hidden in the Andes Mountains, that is too beautiful for words to describe.

Bright and Early

The trip starts with an early morning pick up around 5 am in Cusco. The drive takes about 3 hours and on the way, there are beautiful views and landscapes. We had spent most of our time in the Chinchero district, so it was nice to travel in a new direction. The trip winds through the towns of Izcuchaca, Inquipata, Huertahuayco, and Limatambo (an important Inca point) with a quick stop in the village of Mollepata for a bathroom break. In Peru, you pay for the privilege of using a bathroom and toilet paper.

The roads are full of switchbacks, and about an hour and a half into the trip, the paved roads turn to gravel. The roads became thinner until they narrow down to one lane. VW vans honk as they approach the corners to let other drivers know they are there. At times, it feels like the road isn’t wide enough for the vehicles to drive on as we drive on the edge of a cliff.

Narrow winding road on a cliff

This isn’t the best picture, but it shows the narrow winding road.

Soraypampa

Finally, we reached Soraypampa, the starting point of the hike towards Lake Humantay. This is the last place to find a bathroom. There is a gated area, and the trail starts on the other side. Here the elevation is 3858 m (12,660 feet). Since I struggled on the Inca Trail, having to quit when we reached 3840 m (12,598 ft) we played it safe and rode horses up the mountain.

We didn’t actually ride the horses as much as sat on them while Marco, the owner, walked in front and Eddy, our guide, walked as well. At first, it seemed silly because the path was flat and we rode through pastures, but then the path becomes rocky, uneven, and steep. Hiking boots and walking sticks are a must. If you have the chance to buy or borrow walking sticks do it, they are so useful in Peru.

Spectacular view of Soraypampa. Meadows and glacier.

The Salkantay Glacier is visible first. 

Salkantay Glacier

Soraypampa is also the start of the Salkantay trek to Machu Picchu. We saw several groups, guides, and porters preparing for their hike. The Salkantay Trail runs between the Salkantay and Humantay glaciers, part of the Vilcabamba mountain range all the way to Machu Picchu. Access is only available via hiking. Hikers usually stay there a day or two to acclimatize before beginning the hike at base camp (after acclimatizing in Cusco).

Salkantay Glacier close up

Image by WaSZI from Pixabay.

Luxury Camping

There is luxury camping at Soraypampa, and a brand new lodge. Eddy our guide did not like the new structures because he felt that the area was becoming commercialized and it spoiled the view. Instagram is partially responsible for the popularity of places like Humantay Lake and Rainbow Mountain. The photos on Instagram exploded tourism in this area (pre-Covid 19).

In fact, adding horses to the area was also a fresh addition. There are also homes scattered here and there.

Luxury camping at Lake Humantay

The Climb

While the mountain does not look that steep, it is very deceiving. It is much steeper than the hike on Rainbow Mountain. Marco started in a winter coat but by the top had stripped to a tee shirt. So did we, in Peru, you are taking clothes off or putting them on depending on the altitude.

It normally takes 1 to 2 hours to hike to the top, and we did it in about half the time. We passed several hikers practicing mini-hikes before hiking the Salkantay trail and others hiking to Humantay.

Lake Humantay

The horses only go to a certain point and then you have to walk the rest of the way. We had gotten ahead of Eddy but continued on the well-worn path knowing he would catch up. At first, all we could see was the beautiful blue green glacier fed lake. Then the fog parted, and the glacier appeared, standing majestically in all its glory. It was stunningly beautiful. The pictures we took did not do it justice.

Because we had taken horses, we were alone at the lake with only one other small group, so we felt like we had the place to ourselves. We stayed a long time taking pictures and soaking in the beauty. The altitude at Lake Humantay is 4200 m (13,779 feet).

The Descent

On the way back down, we kept stopping and turning backward to take in the view. At one point, you can see both Glaciers at the same time. I am not a religious person, but I felt very spiritual looking at the Glaciers.

There were so many people struggling with the altitude on the trail up. In fact, the locals have horses half way up for people to rent if they are struggling. Altitude is not a joke. At this height, your body can only use 60% of the oxygen you use at sea level. Don’t even attempt this hike if you haven’t acclimated for three days. Even Eddy commented when he saw the locals playing soccer that he didn’t know how they did it.

Locals wait with horses

Back to Cusco

We got to see several Mother’s Day festivities in the towns we passed through on the way back to Cusco. (Mother’s Day is a huge celebration in Peru). The entire trip is normally a fourteen-hour day, but because of the horses, we could do it in less time. That gave us the evening to spend in Cusco after we enjoyed a meal at the Hotel Novotel.

Final Thoughts

If you are ever are in Cusco don’t miss this hidden gem. Just make sure to acclimatize first. Are you interested in taking this trip? Let me know in the comments.

 

Until next time,

Frankie

 

Feature image by by WaSZI from Pixabay. All other images copyright Frankie Cameron Writes except where noted.