Hiking Cerro Mandango
Cerro Mandango is the most well trodden hike around Vilcabamba. Taking you up and over the face of the infamous “Sleeping Inca” and offering 360 degree views of the surrounding valleys, this four hour loop makes the perfect half day excursion - but it does come with some caveats.
Any local (and the maps.me app) will be able to point you in the right direction to start. The entrance is well sign posted, but that’s where the signs stop. The ascent is very clear up to the cross on the hill, and if you’re only up for 60-90 minutes of exercise a return journey to the cross is a fair accomplishment.
Continuing on, the path, which is quite overgrown in places, winds behind the famous face and after a bit of scrambling takes you right up and onto the Inca’s nose, one of the highest points of the track.
From this point you’ll be walking along a very narrow ridge. It’s up to you which of the many tracks to take on the descent as the ridgeline goes on for quite some time. In my case our hand was forced due to extreme winds and it was surprisingly easy to get off track in the scrub below forcing us to do a good bit of bush whacking! My advice would be stick to the paths and go back if you’re unsure.
Despite its popularity, this is a hike you should definitely do with a friend or a guide for four reasons: safety, navigation, unpredictable weather and uneven terrain. Popular travel forums tell of muggings and as parts of the track have steep drop offs it’s important to drop the hakuna matata attitude in this instance. This sentiment is amplified if there are strong winds.
Don’t let these factors deter you. It’s a great hike if done sensibly!