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Humantay Lake – Cusco’s Exquisite Gem Of The Mountains

Alison Macallister

Humantay Lake (pronounced Uman-tie) is one of the most famous alpine lakes in the Peruvian Andes. Humantay stands out as a blue-green gem amongst the mountains and is only a few hours away from Cusco.

Hiking to Humantay Lake requires a challenging trek uphill. When you reach the top, you will be rewarded with sparkling green waters framed by snowy peaks. Pictures of this surreal landscape lure hundreds of visitors up the slopes each day.

This article covers everything you need to know about Peru’s Humantay Lake. You will find detailed info on day trips from Cusco and advice for getting to the lake on your own.

After trekking to Humantay Lake myself, I hope this provides valuable insight to other travellers. If you have any questions or input, drop us a comment at the end of the article.

Looking for a day tour? Here are my 5 favourite Humantay Lake and Rainbow Mountain day tours: 

See more Cusco day tours

Humantay Lake - Cusco's Gem of the Mountains

Humantay Lake Facts: Things to Know Before You Go

Below are some short and interesting facts about Humantay Lake to help you get better acquainted with this stunning location in Peru. 

humantay-lake

Humantay Lake Altitude and Acclimatization

Humantay Lake is situated 4,200m / 13, 780ft above sea level. It is in the Cusco Region of southern Peru in the Vilcabamba mountain range.

See more in our guide on hiking the Vilcabamba trail.

The trail to Humantay Lake starts at Soraypampa, which is at an altitude of 3,900m / 12795 ft. You will gain around 300m / 1000 ft in elevation during your hike.

You need to acclimatize to the altitude before visiting Humantay Lake. I recommend spending at least two days in Cusco before your hike. This is usually enough time to adjust to the lower oxygen levels.

humantay-lake-acclimitisation

Please Note: If you don't take the time to acclimatize before hiking, you put yourself at risk for altitude sickness. Prevention is always better than cure.

Why Humantay Lake Is So Blue

The lake waters are fed by glaciers. As the ice melts, it releases minerals that give Humantay Lake its vivid shades of blue and green.

You will find these stunning blue lakes all through the Andes range. The exact tone of blue varies from lake to lake. Temperatures and weather also affect the color of the water.

Humantay Is A Sacred Lake

Humantay Lake was a sacred site to the Incan people. The lake still has huge significance to locals. Shamans and spiritual leaders often visit this lake and small ceremonies are conducted here.

It is customary to leave a small offering or Apacheta to Pachamama, the goddess of fertility in Incan mythology. Usually, some coca leaves are placed beneath a stone on the Lakeside.

Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options in Cusco: 

See more Cusco accommodation options.

How to get to Humantay lake

Humantay Lake is about 121km / 75 miles northwest of Cusco. The lake is tucked below Mount Humantay, which is very close to Salkantay Mountain. From Cusco, you can reach Humantay lake in one day by car trip and a short hike.

The closest town to Humantay Lake is Soraypampa. It is a three-hour drive to get to Soraypampa from Cusco. After driving, you will need to walk up the trail to Humantay Lake. This is a short walk over steep sandy terrain and takes between 45-90 minutes. You can also hire a horse to take you up most of the slope.

Soraypampa has many camps that are used by hikers on the first night of the Salkantay Trek. If you do this trek, you will make a detour to Lake Humantay on the first day of the trail.

For a fun combined tour, check out our guide on Humantay Lake and Rainbow Mountain

soraypampa-campsite

Is Humantay Lake Worth It?

Humantay Lake is the most accessible alpine lake from Cusco. This also means it is one of the busiest natural attractions in the area.

If you have a free day and don't mind a bit of exercise, it is worth the effort to visit Humantay Lake. The sparkling blue waters are exceptionally beautiful, even if you are sharing the site with a crowd. On the other hand, there are much prettier and quieter lakes in Peru.

The town of Huaraz, north of Lima, is a hiker's paradise. The surrounding mountains have endless trails and are riddled with montane lakes. Huaraz is also much less touristy. I had many of these stunning lakes completely to myself while visiting Huaraz.

If you have visited (or will get to visit) Huaraz, I wouldn’t bother with Humantay Lake though; the lakes in Huaraz are far prettier and have less foot traffic. However, if you have limited time in Peru, Humantay Lake is worth the day trip.

humantay-lake-tour

What to Expect on a Humantay Lake Tour

You can see Humantay Lake on a full-day hike from Cusco. Numerous operators sell this tour with a near-identical itinerary with group sizes for these trips ranging from 8-16 people.

Booking Your Tour to Humantay Lake

Like most day trips from Cusco, there is no need to book Humantay Lake in advance. It's easier and cheaper to book this tour when you arrive in town. Dozens of tour operators are located around the Plaza de Armas.

Please Note: What tour operators offer seem very similar at first but be careful. Cheap tours usually have some hidden costs. Make sure you know exactly what's included and what you still have to pay. Don't be afraid to negotiate on the price. Most day tours cost around 80 soles / $24.

Humantay Lake Day Trip - Itinerary

Humantay Lake hike is a full day trip with a duration of 12-13 hours of hiking.

The meeting time or pick-up from your hotel is between 4-5 am. Transport is usually in a minivan and it is a 2-hour drive to the town of Mollepata. Most companies have breakfast here while other tours continue on to Soraypampa.

humantay-hike

Steep climb up to Humantay Lake

From Soraypampa, the trek up to the lake is between 45-90 minutes. The first few hundred meters are relatively flat. After that, it is pretty much straight up a steep and sandy slope.

You should reach Humantay Lake around 11am. You will have 40-60 minutes to relax, snap pictures and enjoy the view. Afterwards, you will walk back down to Soraypampa and have lunch in a small restaurant in this camp.

Once lunch is over, you climb back in the van to return to Cusco.

Please Note: Some companies offer earlier tours to Humantay Lake to beat the crowds. These early tours often start at 3:00 am, so make sure you go to sleep early the night before.

Humantay Lake Tours - What’s Included and What’s Excluded

If you book a Humantay Lake tour, your ticket price should include the following:

  • Transport to and from the Lake
  • Breakfast and Lunch
  • English Speaking Guide
  • First aid kit and oxygen
  • Trekking poles (depending on the company)

Generally, the entrance price of 20 soles is not included. These proceeds go directly to the community.

Please Note: Trekking poles are included by more expensive operators. For budget tours, you can rent poles, which usually cost 15 soles. I didn’t use poles for this hike, but they will make it easier on your knees when trekking up Humantay Lake.

Humantay Lake Without a Guide

You don’t need a guide to get to Humantay Lake. You can take a taxi to reach the start of the trail at Soraypampa.

Why Hike Humantay Lake on Your Own?

The biggest motivation for going to Humantay Lake yourself is that you can sleep in. If you take a taxi, you will not have to wake up at 4am. Honestly, you will enjoy the lake more if you get better rest. A private taxi ride is also more comfortable than a shared minivan or colectivo.

There is a second reason to visit Humantay Lake without a tour. All companies leave Cusco at the same time in the morning. If you leave a bit later, you will miss the main crowds. Most tour groups have left the lake by 12 pm.

For more ideas on great unguided treks in Peru, check out our guide on hiking the Salkantay solo

soraypampa-minivans

Minivans at Soraypampa

Where does the Humantay Lake trail start?

The trail up to the lake begins just past the main parking lot at Soraypampa camp. At the place where you are dropped off, follow the dirt road a bit further and over a bridge.

In 5-10 minutes, you should see the start of the narrow hiking trail. Don't worry, there will be other people around to point you in the right direction if you get a little lost.

humantay-trail

Cost Of Visiting Humantay Lake Without a Tour

A taxi costs around $75-$85 / 250-350 soles. This depends on your negotiating skills and how well you speak Spanish! This price is to take you there and wait for you to come down again.

If you split the cost between two people, you will pay $37 / 150 soles per person. If you share a taxi between 3-4 people, it is more economical.

What Is the Best Time to Visit Humantay Lake?

To avoid a wet and cold trek up the mountain, you should visit Humantay Lake in the dry season. May through to September is generally the best time for trekking in Peru. The evenings are cold, but rain is rare. Most days over these months are sunny and warm.

What To Pack for a Humantay Lake Trek

Here are the most important things to pack for a Humantay Lake trek: 

  • Sun protection
  • Rain gear
  • Water
  • Snacks
  • Camera

Sun protection

The sun is that much closer and especially harsh at high altitudes. Bring a good hat and your sunglasses. High-protection SPF sunscreen is also an essential.

Rain Gear

Even if you are traveling in the dry season, always be prepared! The weather in the Andes is unpredictable. It is worth buying a cheap plastic poncho and keeping it in your daypack for rainy days.

Water and Snacks

Take around 1.5 litres of drinking water per person. It's always good to pack fruit and a few energy bars to keep your sugar levels up.

It's best to also buy food in Cusco. You can buy snacks and water from the campsite at Soraypampa but they are very overpriced. A litre of water here will cost about 10 soles.

If you are doing the Humantay Lake trek without a guide, take lunch with you. The slope beside the lake is the perfect spot for a picnic.

Camera

You are going to want to take a lot of pictures, so don't forget to charge your smartphone or camera.

See more in our guides on packing essentials for the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu

Looking for a day tour? Here are my 5 favourite Humantay Lake and Rainbow Mountain day tours: 

See more Cusco day tours

Humantay Lake FAQs

Can you get to Humantay Lake without hiking?

You can rent a mule or horse to go most of the way up the path. You will still need to hike the final steep slope to Humantay Lake.

How Far is Humantay Lake from Cusco?

Humantay Lake is 120km / 75 miles by road from Cusco.

Can you swim in Humantay Lake?

You can swim in Humantay Lake but it’s very cold. During the day, temperatures can be as low as 5°C / 41°F. If you do decide to take the plunge, bring a towel and warm layers for wearing afterwards.

What is the price of a day trip to Humantay Lake?

Tour prices vary widely between operators. Generally, you will pay around 80 soles / $20 if you book with a local operator. If you book online, you will pay around $40 for a day trip to Humantay Lake.

See more in our guides on:

Alison Macallister

With a degree in Nature Conservation and experience working with wildlife including the Big 5, Alison works as a guide for a 5-star reserve. She enjoys sharing her passion for all things nature-related. She enjoys hiking, horseriding, 4x4 driving and kayaking.

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