On the Inca Trail, night number three was an early night. Not necessarily because we were all so tired (although we were), but because we planned on waking up extremely early on the morning of Day Four. At the beginning of the Day Four hike, you first have to pass through a gate where Peruvian officials check your Inca Trail tickets one final time with your guides before letting you pass. This gate opens at 5:30am, but the problem is that every person at campsite three with every possible Peruvian adventure company has to pass through this gate. Naturally, a ridiculous line forms.
On night number three we decided that our hiking group was going to be the first group at the checkpoint gate, no matter what it took. For this reason, we woke up at 3:00am, packed our gear, and ate a breakfast a fruit and cereal bars while waiting behind the locked gate for two hours. But as the line began to form behind us, we knew it was worth getting up early so that we didn’t waste our time in Machu Picchu standing in another line.
Day Four is “The Day We’ve All Been Waiting For:” Machu Picchu day. The hike starts (after the line at the gate) with many ups and downs, the hardest of the ups at the very end with a staircase known to Peruvian locals as the “Gringo Killers.” However, it is only a short 1-hour 45-minute hike to the Sun Gate (as seen in the first image above) where, if you’re lucky you can get your first glimpse of Machu Picchu below you. The Sun Gate is a small ruin positioned in the ridgeline of the mountains directly in front of where the sun rises over the mountains. When the sun rises, it looks as if the sun’s rays shoot down through the ruin directly onto Machu Picchu below, which is a very intriguing sight if you get to the Sun Gate early enough to watch it happen.
The problem with arriving at the Sun Gate early is that Machu Picchu will probably be completely covered in fog. When we first arrived at the Sun Gate we were no more than bitterly disappointed because we literally could not see 10ft in front of us down the cliff. This being said, if any of you are planning on doing the Inca Trail and the same thing happens to you, don’t necessarily worry just yet! We waited around the Sun Gate for no more than fifteen minutes, and as the sun rose over the mountains it immediately began burning off the fog and the entire view cleared. It was incredible to watch as Machu Picchu became more and more visible with every passing moment, and it was another one of those moments where I found I couldn’t stop snapping photographs because every minute the view looked that much better than the last.
From the Sun Gate, you still have a 45-minute hike down to Machu Picchu. This is an easy stroll compared to the rest of the Inca Trail. As you get closer to Machu Picchu, be prepared to run into some people who look at you strangely as you walk past them smelling pretty poorly and probably looking quite dirty. I did have one very nice lady ask me if I was a four-day hiker and congratulate me on making the journey. She said she took the four-hour train instead. I’m sure she had an unforgetable experience, and to each, their own, but I would never have taken the train. There’s something about doing exactly what the ancient civilization once did that really intrigues me.
We arrived in Machu Picchu and really couldn’t believe our eyes. It’s almost impossible to describe the feeling of actually standing right there. The photograph above is beautiful (not to pat myself on the back or anything!) but it really doesn’t do it justice. My in-person memory is something I will never forget.
You’ll arrive at Machu Picchu and all I can say is I hope you planned accordingly with your camera batteries. Plan on taking many photographs just like the one above, but from all different angles. At the time I couldn’t decide if I liked the photographs with the mountain peak visible or not (like the one above). I still can’t, but I like how the photograph I chose reveals a lot of the actual ruin. After you take a ton of photographs, you’ll be free to walk generally wherever you want within Machu Picchu, or follow your guides and listen to them talk about the different temples, construction, and living quarters throughout this ancient city. I listened to the guides, of course, but I never stopped taking photographs for a moment.
To this day scientists are still debating over the facts about Machu Picchu. For example, some estimate that up to 1,500 Incas could have lived in Machu Picchu, while others estimate up to 4,000 lived here. For this reason, don’t be surprised if you hear some conflicting stories from other tour guides as you walk around the ruins. Our guide was nice enough to tell us both sides of the story, so it was interesting to hear some of the debates that are going on over the facts. One thing that is certain though, as you walk through Machu Picchu you really get a feel for how big everything it is. Again, the photographs don’t do it justice.
In the background of the above photograph, Wayna Picchu, overlooks more housing areas in Machu Picchu. Although it doesn’t look like it, there is another ancient, and extremely steep trail that you can follow (for an additional fee) to the summit of Wayna Picchu. They limit the number of people who can do this, so if you’re interested, book this permit in advance! At many points, it is more like climbing than hiking, but I did this, and the summit allowed for some incredible opportunities to take photographs of Machu Picchu from 1,000 ft above…
But I’ll save those for my next post. I hope you enjoyed my photographs of Machu Picchu. I’ll also be uploading more as just photographs over the next few days.
Coming Soon: “Wayna Picchu: To the Summit and Beyond”