Machu Picchu is one of the most dramatically located ancient sites I’ve ever been privileged to visit. While that is obvious from anywhere in the ruined city, a 2km walk up the Inca trail brings you to the Sun Gate where it’s possible to get the view of the city that those who walk the Inca trail get when they first sight the city.
But for a birds-eye-view of the city, the surrounding mountains and valleys there’s nothing for it but to climb up the near vertical Wayna Picchu mountain, at the top of which another audacious Inca citadel awaits.
The walk to the Sun Gate is a pleasant 40 minutes and every step seems to deliver yet more views of the beautiful surrounding mountains and valleys.
The view once you reach the Sun Gate is nothing short of spectacular. I could have spent an hour drinking in the view but I had an appointment with the big hill on the right of the photo below so cut my stay short and set off back down the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
I know walking up big hills isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I enjoy it. So I figured a walk up Wayna Picchu would be good for body and soul and also provide some respite from the crowds that would inevitably be marauding around Machu Picchu by mid-morning.
I hadn’t factored in that the climb is lung-burstingly vertical for much of the route, that at 10am the heat would be severe, or that there would be little in the way of safety features on the route – with sheer drops off the side of the trail, vertical stairways and very worn and slippery steps you need to be mountain goat-like sure footed. Reaching the top though is another exercise in finding yet more superlatives (and the odd expletive). This time I did spend an hour drinking in the views and getting my breath back.
There are quite a number of buildings on Wayna Picchu literally built into the near-vertical mountainside, and of course there is more agricultural terracing. It is mind-boggling how the Inca built such an extraordinary site in such an extraordinary place.
Even if the Spanish had found Machu Picchu, it is inconceivable that they would have been able to capture the fortifications on Wayna Picchu. At one point I was crawling on my hands and knees up through a stairway cut into the rock about 20 feet beneath the summit of Wayna Picchu.
It is difficult to describe the sensation of reaching the top of the mountain. Apart from a security guard at the top I was alone with my thoughts and the view for the best part of an hour. Chatting to the security guard (who had been doing this job for 15 years) turned out to be a big mistake; people have died on Wayna Picchu, including one person who was hit by lightening right in front of him.
With that sobering thought, I set off down the stairway of doom back to Machu Picchu. The views were spectacular but it’s not wise to to take your eyes of the steps when walking down an incline so steep it seems like you are hovering over the edge of a giant precipice.
With trembling knees I made it down to the base of the mountain, encouraging everyone I met on their way up with the words, “It gets much worse further up.” Strangely this didn’t seem to have the invigorating effect I’d expected.
Regardless, if you are visiting Machu Picchu the climb up Wayna Picchu is worth it for the spectacular views, but book early, they only allow 400 people to attempt the climb each day.