Humantay Lake, Peru is arguably the most beautiful turquoise lake you'll encounter in the Peruvian Andes. Between the colorful rocks and seemingly photoshopped teal water, this is one of the most photogenic places I've encountered so far in my travels.
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 began discussing a trip to Peru, our conversation initially focused on 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. And I wouldn't be surprised if many readers are in the same boat.
But once we had set our eyes 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 one of Peru's most beautiful lakes.
Rain or shine, read on to learn why a visit to Humantay Lake should be on your Peruvian bucket list!
Also, once you're done reading this post be sure to check out my Peru Video Travel Guide that will highlight some of my favorite activities to do around the Cusco area.
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
How do I get to Humantay Lake?
In order to reach Humantay Lake Peru 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 from a landslide that had recently damaged a section of road.
When we visited the 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.
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 day trips from Cusco to Humantay Lake so finding a reputable one shouldn't be difficult.
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 Laguna Humantay and many other destinations. The area surrounding Plaza De Armas is a great location to book accommodations in Cusco, despite how busy it can be.
Given how long and difficult the trip to Soraypampa is I would suggest visiting the lake from Cusco through a reputable tour guide operator rather than trying to get there yourself.
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 and pack some meds.
Once you've reached the trailhead it will take about two hours of hiking to reach the beautiful turquoise 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 up to 4,200 meters above sea level where the lake resides.
How hard is the hike to Humantay Lake?
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 acclimating on less strenuous activities before making your way to the lake. If you're looking for ideas on what to do around Cusco while acclimating be sure to check out my posts covering my visits to Sacsayhuaman which overlooks Cusco, the hills of Pisac, Maras Salt Mines and the ancient ruins of Moray.
Be sure to pace yourself on the way up to avoid falling victim to altitude sickness.
My brother was overzealous and ended up with altitude sickness as we approached Salkantay Pass later in the day.
Altitude sickness 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.
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 a source for drinking water and farming.
The potential for litter and pollution means the local communities are highly concerned with preserving the beauty of this lake for generations to come.
Don't be the person who ruins this area 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?
At minimum you'll want to pack plenty of snacks and water, wear hiking boots with good traction, bring water proof layers and I'd also suggest trekking poles to help with the steep terrain.
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 which runs from May to September in Peru.
Packing correctly for for this activity will help make your experience more enjoyable and mitigate the risks associated with inclement weather.
For your convenience I've put together a complete day hike packing checklist that is perfect for an activity like this. If you read that I guarantee you won't forget any essential gear for this hike.
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 to learn all about the legendary ruins of Machu Picchu.
I hope this post covering what to expect when visiting Humantay Lake Peru proves useful to you during your travels!