Peru & Chile in 11 Days – Part 7 – Hiking to Machu Picchu’s Intipunku Sun Gate

Our Itinerary:

Ready, Set, Go!

Like a scene from an epic adventure movie, our first glimpse of Machu Picchu was shrouded in mist.  Past the turnstiles, we were greeted with a narrow, non-nondescript trail that turned a sharp corner several hundred yards in the distance.  Beyond that lay Machu Picchu.

Slowly, the three of us made our way up the path, anxious for our first sighting of the legendary Lost City of the Incas and at the same time cognizant of a sudden need to savor these first few moments before the epic reveal.

We were not disappointed.

Our first glimpse of Machu Picchu silenced any residual chatter from our lips as we breathed in the beauty of the dream-like painting before us.  Lush green mountains and streams of sunlight that seemed to dance through the morning mist.  And in the middle of it all lay the crown jewel, Machu Picchu.

Trail leading to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

For once, Mr. Travelbypoints seemed at a loss for words.

“What do you think?” I whispered, expecting him to echo my sense of awe.

“Not bad,” he replied and whipped out his phone to check on the time. “If we start the Intipunku hike right now, we should have time to squeeze in two hikes and a thorough tour of the ruins before the last bus leaves.”

Upon hearing this,  mom turned to me, her backpack seeming to weigh even more heavily on her shoulders than a moment ago.

“Just how much walking do we intend to do here today?” she asked suspiciously.

 I graced her with what I hoped was my most winning smile.  “Let’s not take the mystery out of it and surprise ourselves, shall we?”

Hiking to the Sun Gate

In lieu of signing up for the popular (and strenuous) hike up Huayna Picchu, the three of us opted to hike up to the Sun Gate or Intipunku for our own epic view of the ancient city.  The Sun Gate is the point at which ancient travelers of the Inca Trail (bearing the Incan Ruler and his entourage on their backs) would have caught their first sight of Machu Picchu.  Today, modern day adventurers can hike the approximately 30-mile trail in 4 days through a government approved travel outfit.  Given our limited time, a hike from the grounds to the Sun Gate would have to suffice.

With Mr. Travelbypoints leading the way, the three of us slowly made our way up the steep mountain trail.  This pace afforded us the chance to adjust ourselves to the higher altitude and also enjoy the glorious epic beauty of our surroundings.

Trail head to the Sun Gate or Intipunku

Narrow Cobblestone Path to the Intipunku Sun Gate

Mr. Travelbypoints doing what he does best…

Mist shrouded valley surrounding Machu Picchu

Halfway point of Sun Gate hike

Walking through clouds…

Machu Picchu appeared smaller and smaller as we neared the Sun Gate

One of dozens of photo ops along the trail…

Mom is stopped by curious European tourists who ask if they can take a picture of her shoes…

Approaching the Sun Gate

Destination Reached! Intipunku or Sun Gate (end of Inca Trail)

First view of Machu Picchu for hikers of the Inca Trail

As luck would have it, once we reached the Sun Gate we were afforded a full 10 minutes of sun-kissed views before the clouds began to shower us with a light sprinkle.  No amount of water could dampen the joy we felt to be standing at the top of the Sun Gate together, however.  Shielded by overhanging trees, we witnessed firsthand the ever changing weather Machu Picchu is famous for – sunny one minute, raining the next.

“Oh, did you remember to bring the leaves?” my mom asked, referring to the small bag of dried coca leaves and green tea balls I had carefully packed the night before.

While at the airport waiting for our flight from Los Angeles to Lima, I happened to stumble across an interesting quote regarding the importance of leaving offerings at sacred sites as a way of paying respect and giving thanks to the spiritual energies protecting the land.

Reaching into the side pocket of my backpack, I pulled out a small sachet containing the dried leaves and distributed a handful among the three of us.  Silently, we each said a prayer of thanks and I collected the leaves and climbed to a small cave off to the side of the Sun Gate and left our group offering.

As quickly as it had come, the rain subsided and the sun peaked out from behind the shifting clouds, indicating that it was time for us to begin our descent down the mountain and onward to the Inca Bridge.

Coming up – Hiking to the Inca Bridge

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