Humantay Lake: Hiking to the Beautiful Laguna Humantay

Discover everything you need to know about Humantay Lake and how to get there with this comprehensive hiking guide to Cusco's beautiful emerald lake.
Glaciers feed minerals to Humantay Lake to give it its emerald and blue color.
Snow-capped mountains loom over the blue-green waters of Humantay Lake. Photo by Giacomo Buzzao on Unsplash.

Humantay Lake, or Laguna Humantay, sparkles in the Andes mountain range like an emerald jewel. Its brilliant green and blue water makes it one of the most well-known lakes in Peru, as well as one of the top day trips from Cusco. Below you will find all the information you need to visit this hidden gem.

About Humantay Lake
How to Get There
Trail Information
Add a Spiritual Experience
Packing Tips
Start Hiking!

About Humantay Lake

This extremely photogenic lake is located about 75 miles to the northwest of Cusco and just south of Machu Picchu. Humantay sits snugly between Humantay Mountain and Salkantay Mountain. In fact, it is a popular branch-off hike when trekking along the Salkantay Trail, an incredibly scenic alternative to the Inca Trail. Humantay falls along the Vilcabamba mountain range.

Humantay Lake is most well known for its insanely bright blue and green water and its snow-capped mountain backdrop. These fantastic colors come from the mineral-filled runoff from the melting glaciers around the Humantay and Salkantay Mountains. 

Rocks are visible through the crystal clear water by the shore while the middle of Humantay Lake is a deep blue-green.

Mineral runoff from the surrounding glaciers is responsible for the lake’s vivid color. Photo by Apollo on Flickr.

How to Get There

Short Guided Hikes

The easiest way to visit Humantay Lake is to join a tour. For a short hike, you can either do a day hike or an overnight hike.

With a full day Humantay Lake tour, you will be picked up from your hotel before dawn and driven about 3 hours out to the trailhead in Soraypampa, the closest village to the lake. The road there is a pretty bumpy, winding path through the tall mountains, so be sure you’re up for the adventure! From Soraypampa, you will hike up to the lake and take a break there to enjoy the scenery. Afterward, you will return to the start point and drive back to Cusco, arriving at your hotel before dinner time.

Virtually bare mountains surround the already high altitude village of Soraypampa, a popular spot for camping.

The high altitude campsite of Soraypampa serves Humantay Lake and Salkantay trail hikers. Photo by Brenda Paredes of Peru For Less.

For an overnight trip, this hike will be coupled with a stay in one of the campsites next to Soraypampa. With several options to choose from, you can opt for basic tent camping, or you can try something a little different and stay in one of the many glass dome huts in the area. From your transparent hut, you can watch the stars all night long.

Note: If booking a tour, check what meals and snacks are included before you go!

Long Guided Hike

If you’re looking for more of a challenge, you can see Humantay Lake while hiking the Salkantay Trail. This trek involves 4 full days of hiking, starting in the little Andean village of Mollepata and ending in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu. It’s a fairly difficult trek, with altitudes reaching 14,700 feet when going through the Salkantay Pass. However, the remote mountain scenery is definitely worth it if you have the time during your vacation.

Note: Tour operators for multi-treks will usually include meals. Be sure to notify the operator if you have any dietary restrictions.

Self-Guided Hike

If you’re more of an independent traveler, it is also possible to get to the lake on your own. From Cusco, you will need to hire a taxi for the entire day. (Not just one-way or you’ll have to hike all the way back)! The driver will take you to the trailhead and wait for you to return and bring you back to your hotel. A taxi for the whole day may cost about 300-400 soles (about USD $85-120) depending on your Spanish and haggling abilities.

Three hikers on the flat part of the Humantay trail with snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Hikers on the trail to Humantay Lake with breathtaking views of snow-capped mountains. Photo by Daniella Beccaria.

A benefit of going on your own is that you can sleep in. Also, you can get there after most other tour groups are heading back to the trailhead since most tour operators start at the same time in the early morning.

However, like any other hiking excursion, be sure to let others know where you are going and what time to expect you back. The trail is pretty well frequented, but it’s always good to have someone to check in on you just in case.

Note: Pack your own snacks and lunch before setting out. Snacks are available at the trailhead but are much pricier than in Cusco.

Trail Information

Overview
  • Trailhead: 12,630 feet
  • Highest point: 13,780 feet
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Hike time (roundtrip): approx. 4 hours
  • Terrain: rocky
Description

The trailhead for Humantay Lake is already located at a high altitude at 12,630 feet. For this reason,  it is very important to acclimate before going out on the hike. Staying two full days in Cusco (11,200 feet) should be the minimum before going on any hike in the area.

The trail starting at Soraypampa is a pretty flat dirt path that passes by various campsites. The trail remains flat for the first 30-40 minutes of the hike. After this, the trail opens up to the side of a mountain. It is a straight ascent up a mountainside covered in loose rocks. For anyone with sensitive ankle or knee joints, this can be a tough climb. In this case, it’s recommended to bring trekking poles to help take some of the weight off. Toward the top of the ascent, the trail narrows to a switchback path through the rocky hillside.

View from the Humantay trail of surrounding mountains, puffy white clouds, and the rocky path leading to the lake.

Loose rocks cover the mountainside leading up to Humantay Lake. Photo by Brenda Paredes of Peru For Less.

After about an hour or so, you will reach a mildly undulating path that will take you to the lake. This last part is short, only taking about 10-20 minutes. The bright aquamarine and emerald lake will suddenly appear as you turn the last corner. Here the altitude is 13,780 feet, a gain of 1,150 feet.

After spending some time enjoying the breathtaking landscape of Humantay Lake and its surrounding mountains, it will be time to descend again. Keep in mind that the descent can be just as hard, if not harder, on the joints than the ascent. Be careful with your footing and continue to use your trekking poles. Once you reach the bottom of the open-faced mountainside, it will be smooth sailing back to your transportation.

Mule rental

For those with more limited mobility or new to hiking, there is the possibility to rent mules or horses at the beginning of the hike. Just note that because of the rocky terrain, the mules and horses can only go about halfway up the trail. Also, Peruvian mules and horses tend to be on the smaller side, so there is often a weight limit of about 180 lbs.

Weather

The weather you have while hiking can definitely make or break your experience to this beautifully colored Peruvian lake. Many people will tell you that the best time to go to Cusco is during the dry season from May to September. The same goes for hiking to Lake Humantay, or any other hike in the Peruvian Andes. Hiking during the dry season will give you the highest chance of sunshine and perfect lake photos.

Clouds hang over the mountain glaciers of Humantay while the green lake is still visible below.

Rainy season hikes risk bad weather, like rain, snow, and hail. Photo by Jan Kronies on Unsplash.

Contrarily, hiking during the rainy and shoulder seasons (October-April), especially at that altitude, increases the likelihood of rain, snow, and/or hail during your hike. Such poor weather can obscure views of the lake and make nice travel photos nearly impossible.

Add a Spiritual Experience

You will hear many locals refer to the mountains throughout the Andes as “apus.” Apu in Quechua literally means “lord.” The Incas used the term to refer to the god-like spirits that inhabited the towering mountains of their territory and often made offerings to appease them. To this day, local Andean people will make offerings to the apus, usually of coca leaves.

To make your own offering to the apus and gain favor for the rest of your trip, be sure to bring some coca leaves with you on the hike. Once at the lake, make a small hole in the ground. Choose several coca leaves that are in the best condition and place them in the hole. Next, find a few flat rocks nearby and build a little tower, or hito de piedra, over the leaves.

A stack of flat rocks make an "hito de piedra" along the shores of Lake Humantay near Cusco.

A carefully stacked “hito de piedra” next to Humantay Lake, Cusco. Photo by Apollo on Flickr.

This is a perfectly accepted practice for visitors to the lake. However, if you were thinking about taking a dip in the lake, think again. Humantay Lake is a sacred place just like the mountains. Swimming in the lake would be considered a rude act by the locals, as well as the mountain spirits. Guards at the top of the trail will whistle at anyone who tries to get in the water. (Besides, the water is freezing cold)!

Packing Tips

  • Bring a hat and/or sunglasses to protect yourself from the high altitude UV rays.
  • Always wear sunscreen when outdoors in Peru as the sun is very strong.
  • Wear light and warm layers. It will be cold when you start in the morning but will warm up as you hike up to the lake.
  • Wear a good pair of hiking boots for good traction on the rocky trail.
  • Use trekking poles to take some weight off your joints and help you balance.
  • Bring a water bottle or CamelBak to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • Bring snacks for extra energy.
  • Motion sickness medication for the ride to and from the trailhead. The road is pretty bumpy!
  • Bring your camera or smartphone to take photos of the stunning scenery.

Start hiking!

For anyone looking to add some high energy activity to their Peru itinerary, a hike to this crystalline mountain lagoon is definitely a must. Whether you’re looking for a fantastic day trip hike from Cusco or something a bit more rugged, you are sure to enjoy the spectacular scenery of Humantay Lake!

Be sure to check out all the amazing treks in Peru.