Machu Picchu Deaths: Unveiling The Truth Behind The Trails

Machu Picchu’s ancient trails beckon thousands of adventurers every year, but with the thought of “Machu Picchu deaths” often surfacing, it’s crucial to distinguish fact from myth. 
At Skyhook, we’re setting the record straight with our best travel Machu Picchu tips. Let’s look into the deaths and dangers that may or may not lurk on these Peru tours.
5 day salkantay trek (machu picchu)

Machu Picchu Deaths Per Year: Myths and Realities

Let’s explore the myths and realities behind the deaths at Machu Picchu Mountain.

Timeline of Reported Fatalities: How Many People Died on this Trek?

A small number of fatalities have been reported, often due to unforeseen accidents rather than the trail’s inherent danger or Machu Picchu hike difficulty. These incidents serve as sobering reminders of the importance of vigilance and preparation when embarking on these historic trails.
  • Late 1990s: A guide died on the Inca Trail due to an accident influenced by poor weather conditions.

  • 2004: A Russian tourist was fatally struck by lightning atop Huayna Picchu.

  • 2008: A British banker was found with fatal head injuries near Aguas Calientes, with the exact cause of death remaining unresolved.

  • 2010: A landslide near the Winay Wayna campsite led to the deaths of a guide and an Argentinian tourist.

  • 2013: An American hiker fell into a ravine close to Machu Picchu. A German tourist suffered fatal injuries from a trail collapse near Winay Wayna.

  • 2016: A German tourist fell to his death at the Machu Picchu Ruins after crossing a safety barrier to take a photo.

Hiking the Inca Trail (7 days)

Distinguishing Between Trails and Associated Risks

The Inca Trail, Machu Picchu, and Huayna Picchu are often mentioned in the same breath. Yet, they present distinct experiences and risks to trekkers.
The Inca Trail is the classic route, taking four days to reach Machu Picchu. It’s revered for its historical significance and stunning vistas. 
However, the risks here on this famous Machu Picchu circuit predominantly revolves around altitude sickness and the potential for landslides, particularly during the rainy season. Proper acclimatisation and weather awareness are essential for safety on this journey.
Machu Picchu itself is generally less physically demanding but not without hazards. The main risk comes from the steep and uneven stone steps that can be slippery, especially in wet conditions. Staying on marked paths and using sturdy, non-slip footwear is crucial.
Huayna Picchu, known for the infamous ‘Stairs of Death,’ is a steeper and more challenging climb, offering breathtaking views for those who brave its heights. 
The risks here are more acute due to the steepness and exposure of the trail. Falls from the trail, while rare, have been fatal. Trekkers should be in good physical condition, have a head for heights, and never stray from the designated paths.
Pro tip: Learn more about Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain and training for Machu Picchu to choose the best experience for your adventure style.
salkantay hiking group

Altitude Sickness and Prevention

Machu Picchu altitude sickness, also known as Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), is a condition that can affect trekkers ascending to high elevations too rapidly. 
The reduced air pressure and lower oxygen levels at high altitudes can lead to symptoms like headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. 
It’s a significant risk factor on trails leading to Machu Picchu due to the high elevations reached, particularly over 2,500 meters (8,200 feet), where it most commonly occurs.
Acclimatisation is vital to prevent altitude sickness. This process involves spending several days at a moderate elevation to allow the body to adjust to decreased oxygen levels before ascending further. Here are some practical tips for acclimatisation and prevention of AMS:
  • Arrive Early: Give your body more time to adapt by arriving in Cusco a few days before starting the trek. There are plenty of things to do in Cusco while your body adjusts.

  • Ascend Slowly: Increase altitude gradually over several days to give your body time to adapt.

  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water to help acclimatisation.

  • Eat Carbohydrates: Eating foods rich in carbohydrates can aid in acclimatisation.

  • Avoid Alcohol and Sleeping Pills: These can make symptoms worse.

  • Coca Leaves: Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea, a traditional remedy, may help alleviate mild symptoms.

  • Recognise Symptoms: Be aware of altitude sickness symptoms and be prepared to descend if they worsen.

machu picchu trekking poles
Pack your trekking poles!
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Weather Conditions and Preparedness

When planning a trek to Machu Picchu, considering the seasonal weather patterns is crucial for a safe and enjoyable experience.
The best time to hike Machu Picchu is during the winter, from May to September, which is the driest time of year in Peru. This period offers the most stable Machu Picchu weather conditions for trekking. 
The summer season, from November to March, is the warmest but also the wettest, increasing the risks of landslides and slippery trails, making the trails more dangerous.
No matter the season, being prepared with the right gear is essential for dealing with the weather:
  • Footwear: Waterproof hiking boots with a good grip are necessary to navigate the uneven and potentially slick terrain.

  • Waterproof Clothing: A waterproof jacket and poncho are must-haves to stay dry during unexpected downpours.

  • Layers: Dressing in layers allows for adjustments to changing temperatures throughout the day.

  • Sun Protection: High-altitude sun can be intense, so sunscreen, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat are essential.

  • Water: Pack at least 1 litre per person to stay hydrated, more if trekking on warmer days.

  • Insect Repellent: Especially during the wet season, insect repellent can help prevent bites.

7-day inca trail hike

Trail Safety and Best Practices

Ensuring that you engage in safe Machu Picchu activities means being aware of common hazards and adhering to best practices for hiking on the trails.

Common Hazards

Here are some common hazards to look out for.
  • Landslides: Particularly during the rainy season, landslides can occur, posing serious risks. Stay informed about weather conditions and heed trail closures.

  • Narrow Paths: Some sections of the trail are narrow with steep drop-offs. Stay focused, especially when passing other trekkers or taking photographs.

Best Practises for Hiking Safely

Follow these best practices for hiking Machu Picchu and preparing your Inca Trail packing list:
  • Stay on Marked Trails: Always stick to the official paths to avoid getting lost and minimise environmental impact.

  • Use Appropriate Footwear: Wear sturdy hiking boots with good traction to prevent slips and falls.

  • Hike with a Buddy: It’s safer to trek with someone so you can keep an eye on each other and assist if someone is in trouble.

  • Inform Someone of Your Plans: Let a guide or someone at your accommodation know your expected return time.

  • Carry Essential Gear: A first-aid kit, whistle, flashlight, and a map or GPS device can be vital in an emergency.

  • Be Photo-Safe: When taking photos, avoid stepping back for a better angle, especially near edges or on narrow paths.

  • Use Trekking Poles: They can provide extra stability on uneven terrain, but learn how to use them properly to avoid tripping.

llamas on short inca trail

Wildlife and Environmental Considerations

Trekking to Machu Picchu isn’t just about navigating the physical path; it’s also about respecting and safely coexisting with the local wildlife and environment.
The Andean region is home to many Machu Picchu animals, including various bird species, alpacas and Machu Picchu llamas. While larger predators like pumas are present, they typically keep their distance from humans. Here are some considerations for a safe and respectful interaction with the environment:
  • Maintain a Safe Distance: Always observe wildlife from a distance. Do not attempt to feed or touch the animals, as this can disrupt their natural behaviour and diet.

  • Stay on Trails: Stick to the established trails to protect the environment and wildlife habitats.

  • Secure Your Food: Store all food items to avoid attracting animals to your camping area.

  • No Littering: Carry out all trash to keep the trails clean and protect the animals who live there.

  • Be Aware of Insects: While snakes and other potentially dangerous animals are rare, insect bites can be a concern. Use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants to prevent bites.

machu picchu steps

What About The Myth of the “Stairs of Death”?

The “Machu Picchu Stairs of Death” at Huayna Picchu are steep and narrow steps carved into the side of the mountain leading to the summit, which has become somewhat legendary among trekkers. 
The name is a dramatic moniker contributing to a mythos of peril surrounding this part of the trek.
In reality, while the stairs are indeed steep and can be daunting, they are not the harrowing deathtrap that the name might suggest. Safety incidents here are extremely rare. 
The stairs are part of a well-maintained and regulated path, with cable rails and additional supports in the steepest sections to aid climbers. The key to a safe climb is to take it slowly, use the provided handrails, and avoid venturing out in poor weather conditions when the steps become slippery.
hiking the lares trek

Statistics: Fact vs. Fiction

The facts about Machu Picchu show that while there have been fatalities associated with these treks, they are not as common as some tales suggest.
The number of reported deaths is relatively low, especially considering the tens of thousands of visitors each year. 
Most incidents resulted from uncommon accidents or disregard for safety guidelines rather than the trail itself being exceedingly dangerous. 
Many reported cases involve external factors such as weather conditions, ignoring safety barriers for photographs, or pre-existing health conditions.
It’s important to note that the Peruvian authorities and tour operators enforce strict safety measures and provide guidelines to ensure the well-being of hikers. 
Our vetted guides at Skyhook Adventure are well-trained in first aid and emergency response, and regulating trail use helps prevent overcrowding and reduce accidents.
5 day salkantay trek


Embarking on a trek to the iconic Machu Picchu is an adventure of a lifetime, filled with awe-inspiring landscapes and rich history. 
While the journey is marked by tales and statistics that may give pause, with informed planning, respect for the guidelines and the right Machu Picchu travel insurance from World Nomads, it remains an overwhelmingly safe and enriching experience.

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