Everyday, thousands of people flock to see Machu Picchu, the well-known ancient Inca citadel. Many combine the tour with a hike up the Huayna Picchu (a summit presiding over the site of the classical view of Machu Picchu). The hike is really popular and when I visited Machu Picchu in the middle of May, the trip was sold out until August. Only 400 people can enter the mountain per day.
Out of the thousands, only a few climb the actual Machu Picchu Mountain (3062 meters), located opposite side of the ruins. The mountain is twice as tall as Huayna Picchu, the views are magnificent (overlooking the citadel and the surrounding mountain range) and due to being an overlooked summit, you’ll have much of the mountain for yourself. The mountain is also limited to 400 people per day, but it is much easier to secure your ticket than the one to Huayna Picchu.
I am warning you though, the climb up is one hell of a calves workout, in the Inca style!
Getting to Machu Picchu
Before arriving to Aguas Calientes, small town near the entrance to the citadel and the gateway to the Machu Picchu, I had been hiking for three days on the original Inca trail. My legs were sore and wobbly from a 18 km hike I did the day before. And they had no idea what was about to come.
It is extremely important to leave to Machu Picchu as early as possible. I left my guesthouse in Aguas Calientes at 4:30 A.M. and arrived to the bridge, leading to the Inca steps, at 4:50 A.M. It is around one hour hike up the old Inca steps, actually 2400 of them. It is also possible to take a bus (12 US$) but due to my competitive nature (!), I wanted to be one of the first to reach Machu Picchu that morning.
The park rangers opened the bridge at 5:00 A.M., signalling to the hundreds of hikers to start the race up to the citadel. Since it felt like my calves were about to rip through my skin, I rushed through the stairs as quickly as possible.
Sunrise in Machu Picchu is unforgettable. Not only is it absolutely breathtaking to see the first sun rays lighting the citadel, but also there is practically no one there. The crowds show up two hours afterwards. It is definitely worth the early wakeup call.
I had around 1.5 hour tour around the ruins. By the end of it, the citadel was getting extremely packed. Dodging the selfie sticks and straw fedoras, I started my hike up the mountain.
Hiking Machu Picchu Mountain
The hike up Machu Picchu Mountain starts at the wardens hut on the same path leading to the Sun Gate (Inti Punku). It takes around 20 minutes from Machu Picchu to the wardens hut. After signing in and showing my prepurchased ticket (10 US$), I started hiking the steep stairs.
As I was going up, the steps became steeper, the path narrower and the hike more challenging. There were multiple viewpoints along the way, where I admired the beauty of the natural scenery, but also waited for the blood taste to fade away in my mouth.
The last part is a tough one. The trail passes through a small gateway, before following a really narrow mountain ridge up to the summit. This is where the hike turns into a climb. Legs shaking, I made my way up the final pair of stairs. Swearing in Finnish, to the amusement of my fellow hikers, I made it to the top!
The view point on the top offers beautiful panoramic views of Machu Picchu, Huayna Picchu and the surrounding mountain range. The trek is not for people with a fear of heights since all the way to the top you have huge drop offs, especially on the top!
It took me around 1 hour and 40 minutes to reach the summit and eventually, when I ascended, it was a bit quicker, 1 hour and 10 minutes. I left Machu Picchu at 12:00 A.M, just in time before the midday rush!
Tips and Advice
- Go to Machu Picchu as early in the morning as possible! The bridge opens at 5:00 A.M. and the climb takes around an hour.
- Buy your ticket to Machu Picchu Mountain in advance (limited to 400 per day).
- Take a tour around the ruins and start the hike to Machu Picchu Mountain at 9:00 A.M. Avoid midday since it gets too hot for hiking!
- Use the toilets before entering Machu Picchu. If you have to use the toilets while inside Machu Picchu, you have to go back to the entrance and line up again.
- Take with you:
- Light weight hiking boots
- Rain poncho in case it rains
- Sunscreen and insect repellent
- 1.5 – 2 liters of water
- Passport and the entrance ticket
- Avoid bringing tripods or other heavy equipment. The less, the better.
Beautiful but Tough
The hike up to Machu Picchu Mountain is a moderate to challenging hike and for the steep accent (652 meters), a good level of fitness is recommended.
I enjoyed the hike despite my legs telling me to go back to Aguas Calientes, hop in a nice hot spring and order a cold beer. Seeing Machu Picchu from the top of the summit, you can realize how the city was situated in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow topped mountains and lush flowing rivers. The Incas were some tough folk, building the thousands of stairs and walkways around the citadel area. Also, they must have had calves of steel!