Humantay Lake: Cusco’s Emerald Gem
Humantay Lake is one of the many hidden gems of Peru’s highland region. The emerald waters and the hugely imposing glacier come together in flawless harmony for the truly incredible sight that you see. It truly is a hidden gem, as it is nestled between two different peaks and the only way to access it (safely) is from below. This means there are no tantalizing glances of the water to spur you on, simply the mystery of what is to come.
Where is Humantay Lake?
Sandwiched between the Salkantay Peak and the Humantay Mountain, this magnificent mountain lagoon is located 120 kilometers from Cusco, which makes it the perfect day trip into the mountains. The closest village to the Humantay lake is the village of Soraypampa, where you will have time to grab a bite to eat and have a quick break before you begin the ascent. Soraypampa is also where you will also eat lunch after you descend from the hill.
Getting to Humantay Lake
Humantay Lake is most commonly accessed with the Salkantay Trek, a four-day journey to Machu Picchu. The Salkantay Trek is widely considered to be the best, most scenic alternative to the Inca Trail, which is often sold out months in advance. You can find plenty of different options and operators on the comparison website FindLocalTrips.
If you want a faster option than the four-day hike, then there are one-day options available for visiting Humantay Lake, which depart from Cusco, you can check them out here. While the hike is considered easy to moderate, it is extremely important to be properly acclimatized before setting off in order to avoid any medical problems.
Humantay One Day Tours
One day tours and treks to Humantay Lake all begin in Cusco. Breakfast is enjoyed in a village along the way, before arriving at the campsite and at the base of the trail. It is then that the 1.5 to 2-hour walk to the lake begins. The walk adds 350 meters on to your existing height of 3850 meters, taking you to the staggering height of 4,200 meters above sea level. Once you arrive you can bask in the glory of your high-altitude achievements, take some photos and even take a little paddle (if you’re brave enough to face the glacial pool temperatures) before returning down the slope and back to Cusco for the evening.
Getting to Humantay Lake Alone
If tours aren’t really your speed, if you’re an independent traveler or if you simply don’t want to stick to the schedules of other people, then it is perfectly possible to make the trip alone, it just requires a little forethought and planning. To do this you will need to rent a taxi for the day, which will need to be arranged at least the day before. This will cost you usually around 300 Soles or maybe even more, depending on how well you haggle and how good your Spanish is. If you decide to make this journey alone then be aware that there is no food included. You can buy snacks and water from the bottom of the mountain but it can be very expensive (1 liter of water will cost you 8-12 soles).
BE AWARE: If you plan on going alone to Humantay Lake, you must ensure that you are fully acclimatized. We don’t recommend to go without a professional guide, in case you run into any trouble. We advise only the most seasoned of travelers and those who speak a high level of Spanish to go it alone, as there are many more things that have the potential to go wrong.
How Did Humantay Lake Get its Color?
The lake is runoff from the huge glacier that you see above the water. Minerals within the glacier are released into the water as it melts, which give the water its characteristic emerald color. All around Peru you can find beautifully colored mountainous lakes ranging from the brilliant greens of the Humantay Lake to incredible crystal blues. The shade of the colors can also be dependant on the time of year, the temperature, and the weather.
The Walk to the Lake
It’s possible for those who struggle to rent a horse to take them some of the ways up the mountain, however closer to the peak you will find that the terrain is not suitable for a horse, so you will need to get off and walk. The hill is steep and the terrain can be uneven, so be careful. It is a good idea to zig-zag up the mountain. This makes the walk longer, but the sleep inclines much more bearable and easier on your legs.
What To Do at the Humantay Lake
Once you arrive at the lake you can leave an offering for the Pachamama (the Inca Mother Earth), usually in the form of coca leaves. Alternatively, you can make an ‘el hito de Piedras’, a small stack of rocks made as an offering to the mountain. You can hike around the edges if you have the time, giving you 360° views of this incredible scene. It’s worth noting that if you plan to do a tour you won’t have time to hike around the outside of the lake, so if it’s something that you would want to do, it’s best to travel alone. You can make it part of the way around with the timing of a tour, but not the whole way around, so plan ahead and take a private tour or go it alone if that is what you would like to do.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, then you can even take a dip in the water but only if you’re brave enough to face the glacial pool temperatures! If you do decide to go in then make sure to have a towel and a warm change of clothes waiting for you on the side of the water, as the temperature of the water is very low and it is a long and uncomfortable journey for you to get home in wet socks.
It is important to note as well that you should not, under any circumstances, drink the water. The water is released as the glacier above melts, and so there can be hundreds of different kinds of bacteria in there which your body is unaccustomed to. This means that the water is completely unsafe for consumption. If you touch it then make sure to wash your hands before you eat anything.
Humantay Lake is a fantastic day trip or mini excursion for all travelers of Peru. Replete with natural beauty, Humantay Lake is an unforgettable location. But more then just the destination, the journey there will flaw you as well. Take this excursion into the Andes and wow yourself every single step of the way.