It’s no surprise that the majority of people touching down in Cusco (or Cuzco), Peru are generally there for one reason – visiting Machu Picchu. And as it is one of the seven wonders of the world, I don’t blame them (check out my post on visiting Machu Picchu)! But if you can squeeze out an extra day or two from your itinerary, I would highly recommend taking a day trip to Lake Humantay.
Getting to Lake Humantay will require a lengthy car ride (roughly 2.5 hours depending on your driver’s need for speed) starting early in the morning (5am or 6am), and you’ll get to witness several small local towns as you weave in and out of the Salkantay mountain ranges. Our private tour provider of choice was Evolution Treks Peru (TA Link / Company Website), who also helped organize our trek to Machu Picchu. *Pro-Tip* – Would highly recommend asking for Rosalio as your guide!
After making a quick stop at Limatambo (where the multi-day backpackers start their Salkantay treks), we continued driving up the steep mountainside, passing by teams of porter mules carrying the heavy equipment for the trekkers.
After another ~30 minutes, we finally arrived at the base of the mountain and began our hike up to Lake Humantay. Our guide provided us with walking sticks, which seemed a gimmick until we hit the steep inclines later on.
The hike was quite manageable for the most part, but as we neared the lake, we had to take a few breaks (some others on the trail opted to pay to ride a mule up the mountain instead ~60 sols / ~$18). In our defense, the city of Cusco is already at 3,400 meters (11,150 ft), and Lake Humantay is even higher at 2,430 meters (13,800 ft), so the thinner atmosphere presented quite the challenge. To help us overcome this, our guide gave us some coca leaves to chew on. As an aside, the coca leaves by themselves won’t have much effect, but when chewed together with an “ash activator”, the leaves begin releasing their “magic” and helps with the altitude-induced lethargy.
The uphill hike took us about an hour (maybe a bit more), and the weather gave us a scare as it began raining a bit. But by some miracle, once we got up to the lake itself, the clouds disappeared and left us with a breathtaking view of the lake and mountain vistas.
After taking time to admire the lake, we had our packed lunches and listened to our guide as he regaled us with Incan myths and stories. When we first got to the lake, there were about 20 other people who were part of an earlier day tour and/or the Salkantay trekkers. However, after about 3pm or so, everyone had left – and we were alone to enjoy the serenity in peace, and take as many photos as our hearts desired (and yes, we took full advantage).
There’s no question Machu Picchu will be one of the highlights of your trip to Cusco / Peru, but take my word and carve out some time to visit Lake Humantay. You won’t regret it!