It’s all uphill. 2,100 steps, give or take a few. With lungs clamoring for air, it’s hard to remember to count. Downhill isn’t any easier. After your legs propel you up the narrow, stone steps, mercifully on the shady side of the mountain, they pull a second shift supporting your weight on the equally steep downhill trek. The last 300 or so steps towards the entrance gate are uphill, again. I’m describing the 1,000’ elevation gain hike to the top of Huayna Picchu (El 8,835’) overlooking Machu Picchu.
Trudging the half mile back to the bus loading zone adjacent the Sanctuary Lodge, my weary knees complain, my leg muscles beg for mercy. A feeling of relief comes over me as we motor down the switchback to Aguas Calientes. “Adventure fulfilled”, I write in my diary.
Not quite yet, however. I discover there is another uphill walk, several hundred steps, to the PeruRail station. “Will it ever end?”, I mutter under my breath. Salvation arrives as the train pulls in. I thankfully slip into my seat for the three hour return trip to Cusco, and a deep night’s sleep.
Oh, yes, the view? Out of this world, and worth all your effort. Only a few of the thousands of people who visit the Inca citadel annually make the climb. Don't miss doing it.
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Bird's Eye View of Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu
If Machu Picchu is not on your bucket list, you need to add it! It is one of the most spectacular and magical places that I have visited. Thus, there are thousands of eager tourists buzzing over the grounds.
Although you can avoid the crowds by going for the sunrise or late afternoon, it is still a very busy place. My suggestion is to sign up for the 400 person a day hike of Huayna Picchu, which is the mountain that you see behind all of the Machu Picchu landscape shots. It is a route that takes about 1+hr up and 1hr down through various ups and not many downs with countless stairs. Finally, you reach the top terrace where there are amazing overlooks of Machu Picchu below as well as an "Indiana Jones" obstacle course of caves to crawl, ladders to climb, and boulders to shimmy across.
Tips: bring lots of water and snacks. Also, be prepared, there are no bathrooms. There are only two times to hike 7 am and 10 am. Afterwards, continue to the Sun Gate for another perspective of the site.
While most people head to Machu Picchu to wander around the famous ruins, it's well worth a trip up the mountain. Climbing Huayna Picchu is an incredible experience, and while the hike is tough the views are second to none. This is truly where to get the best-and unobstructed-views of Machu Picchu!
The most sought-after ticket for Machu Picchu is the add-on to hike Huayna Picchu mountain, the charismatic backdrop to nearly every photograph of the ruins. Only 400 hikers are allowed per day and tickets may sell out months in advance. The hike takes you away from the main ruin complex toward the north and up to the very summit of the “Young Peak”. A ruin complex sits at the apex and excellent photographs of the Machu Picchu ruins are there for the taking. Hikers are only allowed in at either 7:00 or 10:00 am, so you end up hiking as a group. There is a nice community spirit with everyone encouraging each other through the huffing and puffing of hiking up at altitude. Buy your tickets early and make this 3-4 hour hike part of your Machu Picchu visit.