Previous Post: Walking In The Inca Heartland – Cusco and the Sacred Valley
To walk down from the Gateway of the Sun (Inti Punku) to the site of Machu Picchu is one incredible experience. Having been on the Inca Trail for three days you are now rewarded with the stunning ruins of a site built for the Sapa Inca Pachacuti in the mid-1400’s as his private retreat from the bustle of the Inca capital at Cuzco- and then abandoned when the next emperor did not share the same desire to get away from it all. Abandoned and forgotten by all except those who lived nearby for almost 500 years, it would be “discovered” by an American archeologist (Hiram Bingham III) from Yale University in 1911.
If you want to see Machu Picchu, it should be noted right away that you do not need to hike the Inca Trail to do so. The easiest way to see it is by a day visit by train from Cuzco to the ruins via Pueblo Machu Picchu (aka Aguas Calientes). The town is at 2000 meters; the ruins themselves sit on a saddle between two mountain peaks at about 2400 meters. A bus ride up the switchback road to the ruins and you’re there.
You could make it a bit more enjoyable by getting to Pueblo Machu Picchu the day before and staying at a guesthouse overnight; that way you would get up to the ruins long before the tour groups from Cuzco arrive. Or you could get a room at the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, located not far from the entrance to the site. This way you could be sure of getting to the ruins even before the tourists started arriving from the town below! Check this link to see how much it will cost you!
The nice thing about getting to Machu Picchu via the so-called Inca Trail is that walking past a number of other remarkable Inca ruins provides a context as well as a build-up for the ruins of Machu Picchu. Here is a graphic that I’ve “borrowed” from the SAS Travel site because it very neatly and quickly encapsulates the entirety of the trek. (I hope they are okay with my use of it!)
You also get to experience the various ecological zones as you move up or down in altitude. And while you don’t have to be an elite athlete to do the hike, there are moments when you may wonder why you didn’t just take the train. Stopping for a moment to catch your breath and registering another WOW vista will give you the answer!
To make different parts of the post easier to find, i’ve divided it into “pages”. Just click on the blue title of the page you’d like to go to or make use of the page links at the bottom of the page.
1 – introduction (this page)
2 – Day One – The Adventure Begins!
3 – Day Two – Up And Over The Highest Points of the Hike!
4 – Day Three – Mostly Downhill Past Some Incredible Ruins
5 – Day Four – Inti Punku and Machu Picchu – Wow!