Machu Picchu: the Sun Gate and Wayna Picchu

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.

Machu Picchu with Wayna Picchu looming in the background
Fortification on the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu, Peru
City planning Inca style, Machu Picchu from the Inca Trail, Peru

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.

Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu from the Sun Gate, Peru

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.

Inca buildings on Wayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Peru

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.

Stairway up through the rock on Wayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Peru
View of Machu Picchu and valley almost from the top of Wayna Picchu, Peru

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.

Looking straight down Wayna Picchu past Inca buildings, Machu Picchu, Peru
Steps down Wayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Peru
Steps coming down Wayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Peru
The way down Wayna Picchu, Machu Picchu, Peru

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.

Wayna Picchu pokes above buildings on the Sacred Plaza, Machu Picchu, Peru

14 thoughts on “Machu Picchu: the Sun Gate and Wayna Picchu

  1. I really enjoyed seeing your pictures taken from Wayna Picchu. I have a fear of heights and didn’t even consider attempting Wayna Picchu! But I did complete the classic Inca Trail, which will forever be one of my personal great achievements. I think both experiences offer something that the hordes of tourists arriving at Machu Picchu daily miss out on.

    1. I’m envious, really wish I’d had the chance to do the full trail. It must have been extraordinary. Wayna Picchu was wonderful, but the climb (and it is a climb) hard work. Coming back down far worse because it is so steep and the stairs are small and worn. The views though…will live with me forever.

  2. One of the places i want to visit 🙂

  3. jalal michael sabbagh. February 17, 2013 — 4:06 am

    Amazing engineering .Unsolved mystery .Great post.l appreciate your time to visit my blog.Regards.jalal

  4. I’ve read several traveller accounts and seen many, many images of this amazing place. (we all have, its so famous of course) But yours above stood out however. Really excellent write-up, and super, super photographs, I feel I have a better understanding of the place now, of the site itself, and of the local geography. Your account of climbing the nearby peak also made me feel dizzy with vertigo! and I even wondered if I’d be fit enough (or even brave enough!) to take on a climb like that anymore. Anyway, well done for geting there (early too) and taking all that on. Great piece. 🙂 Thanks for posting.

    1. Thank you, that is much appreciated. It is an amazing place to visit, it is very possible to do the walk up, but probably not advisable for people with vertigo. I really hope you get to the top, the views are spectacular.

  5. Great post, your comments on Huayna Picchu are funny as I have just designed a “I survived Huayna Picchu” shirt for people that have made the hike.

    1. Ha, that’s a great idea and very appropriate for the hike. I can’t imagine doing it in the rainy season, those stairs are just too steep!

  6. It`s amazing place, with religious importance for Inca civilization. Hope to get there one day!

    1. It is a must see place – beautiful and amazing, but it can get a little overwhelming with all the tourists!

  7. This is amazing place, with religious importance to the Inca culture.

  8. Wow! Such dramatic images, and I am glad you got to see it all before the swarms of tourists arrived. Reading about the stairs made my knees tremble–still, I think I’d do it too… Excellent post.

    1. Thanks. Knee trembling is compulsory on the climb up, heart trembling on the way back down!

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