Part of what makes planning a trip somewhere new so fun is finding and researching things to do that you had no idea existed. When my brother and I started discussing a trip to Peru the conversation was initially anchored around visiting Machu Picchu.
To be honest, I knew very little about Peru other than the fact that it was home to this Modern World Wonder.
Once we had set our eyes set on Machu Picchu, that's when the real fun started.
Our discussions about how to best experience Machu Picchu led into conversations about hitting the Inca Trail.
Those conversations led us to discover the Salkantay Trek (which we pulled the trigger on) and our Salkantay Trek research would lead us to discover Humantay Lake.
Rain or shine - read on to learn why a visit to Laguna Humantay should be on your Peruvian bucket list! If you're looking for a more comprehensive list of what to do in the area, don't forget to check out my Peru Travel Guide after you're done here!
How do I get to Humantay Lake?
In order to reach Humantay Lake you'll first need to reach Soraypampa. Reaching Soraypampa is NOT entirely easy. The journey from Cusco to Soraypampa requires over 3 hours of driving. A large portion of the trip involves driving up steep one lane dirt mountain roads.
To give you an idea of how tricky this road was - near the ascent to Soraypampa we had to wait over 30 minutes for crews to clear the road. They were actively working to clean up a landslide that had recently damaged a section of the path up.
When we visited Humantay Lake we did so as part of our Salkantay Trek. Given its proximity to Salkantay Pass I highly recommend making this brief detour if you're doing Salkantay.
Looking for tips to save on airfare? Check out a full post I wrote on the subject here!
We booked our Salkantay Trek through Alpaca Expeditions so they were responsible for getting us to Soraypampa. After driving to Soraypampa I'm very happy we went with a tour operator and Alpaca was excellent.
There are numerous tour operators that have excursions to Humantay from Cusco so finding one shouldn't be difficult if you choose to go with someone else. If you take a stroll around Plaza De Armas (the main square) in Cusco you'll likely have locals swarm you offering up tours of Humantay and many other destinations.
Given how long and difficult the trip to Soraypampa is I would suggest visiting Humantay through a tour operator.
What to expect when visiting Humantay Lake?
Keep in mind that if you're visiting Humantay Lake as a day trip it will be a full day endeavor. You're looking at about 7 hours driving round trip which means a lot of time in a car along bumpy roads. If you get car sick easily, mentally prepare yourself!
Once you've reached the trailhead it will take about 2 hours of hiking to reach the beautiful teal lake. You'll begin around 12,700 feet (3,870 meters) and ascend about 1,200 feet (nearly 400 meters) as you climb a rather steep hill to the lake.
Is the Hike to Humantay Lake Hard?
The terrain is fairly steep and slightly rocky but anyone in moderate shape should make easy work of this hike. The only caveat is the altitude. Ideally you've spent a couple days in Cusco on less strenuous activities before making your way to Humantay.
Be sure to pace yourself on the way up to avoid falling victim to altitude sickness.
My brother was overzealous here and ended up with altitude sickness as we approached Salkantay Pass later in the day. It can set on quickly even for those in good shape and once it arrives it can be hard to get rid of. He spent a good portion of his afternoon throwing up off the side of a horse. Ultimately he was okay, but it made for an exceptionally miserable day!
Once you've reached the lake I'd budget at least an hour for taking in the turquoise waters and mountain backdrop. Can you swim in Humantay Lake? Unfortunately not.
Some locals rely on the lake for drinking water and there have been issues with tourists polluting the surrounding area. While you can't swim in the lake or go out on it, you can walk up close enough to dip your toes or fingers in the water.
Interested in learning more about Peru? Be sure to check out my YouTube guide which highlights some of the best activities we did during my trip!
The hike back down is substantially easier and will probably take you one hour or less. Altitude doesn't slow your pace going down like it does on the way up. If you have them, trekking poles are extremely helpful for the way down.
As a reminder the terrain is extremely steep so these will help you keep your footing and more importantly save your knees!
If you end up doing the Salkantay Trek with Alpaca Expeditions you'll be picked up and driven to the Soraypampa area the night before starting your hike. They have exclusive cabin accommodations near Humantay Lake.
They are basic, not much more than a mattress and a toilet, but offered a nice transition from our AirBnB back in Cusco to tent camping which we started the following night.
Arriving the night before allowed us to start hiking for Humantay Lake before the sun rose. Once we arrived we had the entire lake area to ourselves and we didn't pass any other hikers until we were halfway back down. If you book a tour option that arrives later in the day, you may have to contend with crowds.
Can You Swim in Humantay Lake?
Visitors are not permitted to swim in Humantay Lake. While the water looks tempting, locals use it as source for drinking water and farming.
The potential for litter and pollution means the local communities are highly concerned with preserving the beauty of Humantay Lake for generations to come.
Don't be the person who ruins Humantay Lake for everyone else. Respect the rules here and ensure the laguna is around for others to enjoy for many years to come!
What should I pack for Humantay Lake?
The most important thing to remember when hiking in the mountains is that the weather can be unpredictable. During our visit we continued on from Humantay Lake through the Salkantay Pass and down the other side to our eventual campsite.
The whole day kept us exposed to the elements for nearly 12 hours. And it rained.. the entire day. Luckily I had plenty of water proof gear handy. It held up quite well, although around the 9-10 hour mark I started losing the battle with staying dry.
At minimum being wet during your hike will make you miserable, but at these elevations and on colder days it can be dangerous, be sure to stay dry!
Don't be surprised if you encounter rain during your hike, even if you visit during the dry season. The dry season in Peru runs from May to September.
We visited near the end of May but still encountered substantial rain during our hike to Humantay Lake. Fortunately, the next four days ended up being quite nice!
With that in mind here is a list of essentials to pack for your hike to Humantay Lake:
Water resistant hiking boots - You definitely want good hiking boots given the steepness and terrain. It can be cold at this elevation especially if it rains. You don't want wet feet and you especially don't want feet that are wet and cold.
Moisture wicking hiking socks - See earlier comments on avoiding wet and cold feet. While I am an Amazon Affiliate that may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you I'd highly recommend FEIDEER hiking socks which I've included an Amazon link to for your convenience. I wore this brand for the entire 5-day Salkantay Trek and they held up extremely well.
Trekking poles - Can you make it back down without them? Sure. Will your knees appreciate that decision? Absolutely not. If you're doing a lot of hiking in the region then these are a must.
Hydration backpack - Whenever you're doing a lot of hiking be sure to bring plenty of water. You'll want one of these to keep your hands free (especially for trekking poles on the way down!). If you previously read my post on hydration backpacks (here) then you already know how much I love these things. You're also going to need somewhere to put your layers!
Waterproof layers - Wet is bad, wet and cold is worse. Ideally you'll have water-resistant hiking apparel (jacket, pants, gloves, poncho, backpack cover) at your disposal. Reminder - we were caught in rain (which turned to snow and ice) for 12 hours during our visit to the area.
Sunscreen - If it doesn't rain there's a good chance you'll be facing the high mountain sun instead. For those of you with fair skin like myself, you can fry quite easily at these elevations so come prepared.
Layers - speaking of all this unpredictable weather, getting your body temperature right during this type of activity can be difficult. It can be very cold in the mornings and hot later in the day when the sun is out. Make sure you dress in layers to account for the temperature swings.
Snacks - whenever I'm doing even a moderate hike I like to bring snacks for energy. Epic makes a really delicious Chicken Sriracha protein bar that I rarely hike without.
Cash - like many places in rural Peru you'll want to have cash handy. You'll also need 10 soles in order to cover the entrance fee. There are restrooms near the base of the hike (which require a small fee). Cash will come in handy if you need to purchase water or snacks on your way in or out of the area.
Camera - Duh! For all the awesome photos you'll take at the lake!
Plastic Baggies - I always have some extra zip-lock baggies in my hiking bag when I go places. They're super useful for collecting trash, holding on to things like your cash or ID and come in really handy when it starts raining. Considering it was raining heavily for most of our day I had to keep my phone and digital camera tucked away in plastic bags.
Toilet paper - while you're at it, toss some toilet paper in one of those plastic baggies. This stuff is like gold in Peru. You'll thank me later.
Packing correctly for Humantay Lake will help make your experience more enjoyable and mitigate the risks associated with inclement weather.
Looking for additional Peru travel ideas?
Most people have heard of Machu Picchu, it's considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But if you ask those same people about it's significance, history or location many will be less familiar.
This is fair - in part because Machu Picchu is relatively hard to reach unless you're a native of Peru. On top of this remoteness, we've had to infer much of Machu Picchu's history and significance since the Inca didn't have a written language.
No trip to Peru is complete without setting foot on these ancient Inca ruins. Follow the link here to learn what to expect during your visit!
I hope you found this guide helpful. I love hearing from readers so don't forget to drop a comment below!