Julie Peru 35 Comments

There are several ways to get to Machu Picchu.  For people short on time or for those with no desire to hike their way to the Sun Gate there is the option of arriving in Aguas Calientes by train and then taking a bus up to the main gate of Machu Picchu.  But for those who desire a little more adventure there is the option to hike the Inca trail to the Sun Gate. This is the original main gate of Machu Picchu when it was used by the Incans.

The Inca Trail

The standard four day trek involves hiking for three days and then descending down into Machu Picchu on the fourth day. This is all arranged by tour companies as solo trekkers are not allowed to hike without a guide.

The shorter option is a full day hike from kilometer 104 of the Inca trail, ending at the Sun Gate in the afternoon. After spending the night in Aguas Calientes, you take a bus up the Machu Picchu and spend the day exploring this magical place. Tim and I chose the second, shorter option. There were several other places we wanted to see in Peru and our time was limited.

Reviews of the one day tour are mixed.  Some people said the hike was mediocre and not worth the time. Apparently the scenery during the first two days of the four day trek are phenomenal and we would be missing this. Tim and I took our chances, scheduled the one day hike, and hoped for the best.

We made a great decision. Hiking the Inca trail, even the little we did, was awesome and remains one of our favorite travel memories.

Hiking the One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Our first day started in Ollantaytambo. Here we met the other couple we would be hiking with, Lies and Mauro. Lies was Italian, Mauro was Brazilian, but they both were living in Washington DC at the time. They could speak English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. Wow! Tim and I really enjoyed hiking with them.

The train to Machu Picchu

We took a one and a half hour train ride to km 104 to start our hike to Machu Picchu.  This hike would take us from the Urabamba River Valley 15 kilometers up and over several mountains to our final destination of Machu Picchu.

Getting Off Train

Camino Sagrado Inca Trail


Tim and I each had a backpack filled with our bare essentials:  camera, rain jackets, some toiletries, umbrella, clean clothes, and lots of water.  Whatever we needed for the next two days we had to carry on our backs, so we brought the bare minimum.

Inca Trail


For almost three hours we hiked up Winay Wayna, an Incan site high above the valley floor.  The sun was out and it was very hot.  It was also all uphill.  The hike was a lot of fun but a little more strenuous than we were expecting.

Tim on Inca Trail

Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Winay Wayna

Finally, we reached Winay Wayna. This was a rest point for us. We all found a comfy rock and ate the lunch provided by Pie Experiences (our tour company). The food, surprisingly, was very good (chicken, quinoa, fruit, and chocolate covered coca leaves). Clouds were rolling in which cooled things off a lot. From here the hike got easier and by now we were only two hours from Machu Picchu.

Winay Wayna

Tim and Julie

After lunch at Winay Wayna the hike continued.  Now we were hiking though a rainforest, we occasionally were sprinkled on by a rain shower, and we were even lucky enough to see a rainbow.

Now we were really getting close.  These are called the Monkey Steps, because you have to use your hands to climb them…unless you are Tim.

Monkey Steps

Intipunku sign

After a long ascent up yet another stone staircase and hiking along these trails the Incans make hundreds of years ago, we arrived at Intipunku (Sun Gate in Quechua).  This was the moment we had been waiting for…our first view of Machu Picchu.

Peru Travel Guide

First View of Machu Picchu

And there it was, off in the distance, more beautiful and more awesome than any photo or video could ever show it.  And to have hiked all day through these amazing mountains to this viewpoint made it even more rewarding.  Machu Picchu!

Machu Picchu from Sun Gate

Tim and Julie at Machu Picchu

We took a break here (and a lot of photos) to just chill out and enjoy one of world’s most awesome sights. Tim and I called home to the kids (who knew that we would have excellent phone service at the Incan Sun Gate) and it was so nice to hear their voices. Tyler, always very polite, wanted to know how our hike was. I knew this trip would have been a little too much for them at their ages but I still really wished Tyler and Kara were here to see this.

Julie Rivenbark at Machu Picchu


It was a forty minute walk from Intipunku down into Machu Picchu. Here we took the “postcard photo” of  Machu Picchu and then it was time to go. By now it was 4:30, almost closing time. We would have all day tomorrow to explore.

Machu Picchu flower

Guardhouse Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Orchid

More Information for Your Trip to Peru

PLACES TO GO IN PERU: Explore the Sacred Valley near Cusco, go shopping in the Pisac Market, spend the day exploring Machu Picchu, and venture into the Amazon rainforest. Learn how to put all of this together in our 10 day Peru Itinerary.

ADVENTURES IN PERU: Venture into the Amazon, go mountain biking near Ollantaytambo, and go rock climbing and zip lining in the Urabamba River Valley.

GREAT HIKES FROM AROUND THE WORLD: For more great hikes, check out our article listing the 20 Best Day Hikes in the World. See our full list in our Hiking Guide.

ADVENTURE TRAVEL: Here are 50 adventures to turn your next trip into an epic travel experience.

Read all of our articles about Peru in our Peru Travel Guide.


One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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Comments 35

  1. Avatar for Nicole

    Julie –

    Love all your posts! My husband and I did the 3 (or 4?) night hike to Machu Picchu 20 years ago. My dream is to take our boys and do it all over again. What minimum age do you recommend if we take a private guide? For reference, our boys are in multiple sports and used to endurance training. That being said, we have never done a multi-day hike. Our most aggressive hike with them was in Thorsmork Iceland where we hiked for 4 hrs on what was called the “challenging route” when the boys were 9 and 11. They were faster than us parents 🙂 We are thinking of going to Peru when they turn 11 and 13 y/o.

    Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Nicole. That sounds like an excellent trip to repeat with your kids. We didn’t take Tyler and Kara with us on our first trip to Peru and I kind of regret it. Since your kids are active, adventurous, and have hiking experience, I think you could take them to Peru and do the trek now. Tyler and Kara trekked to Everest Base Camp when they were 10 and 11 and handled it very well (in some ways also better than their parents). Guiding companies may have a minimum age (for Everest I believe its 8 or 9) so that could actually be your bigger deciding factor, if the minimum age is 10, 11, or 12. But some guiding companies will also make exceptions. So, you could start reaching out to guiding companies now. An advantage of waiting until they are 11 and 13 is that they might remember it better later. We did the around the world trip when Kara was 9/10 and her memory is now a little hazy for some parts of the trip, which is unfortunate, but Tyler, who was 11/12, remembers it very clearly. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Nicole
  2. Avatar for Indie

    HI Julie –
    Nice article ! So looks like you reached Sun gate around 3 pm Day1. Then you walked down to Machu Picchu and then left to go to your hotel. Did you tour guide arrange the trip to the hotel that evening and the bus ride the next day ? The same tour guide was with you on Day 2 as well and acted as a guide to show the citadel ?

    If we do the 1 day hike with a tour guide, we would reach at 3 and would not have enough time to explore the citadel. In that case, what would you recommend we do ? We will have to book tickets to Machu Picchu for the next day, right ? Now we are only allowed a 4 hr visit. Where do you recommend we stay the night? If we want to hike to Machu Picchu, I read its a 90 min hike from Aguas Calientes. Do you know how strenuous it is ? Is the path well marked ?

    Thanks !

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      Hello Indie. Yes, the next day book tickets to visit Machu Picchu in the morning. That may be enough time. I think you could book two time slots if you want to stay all day. We stayed in Aguas Calientes and took a bus to and from Machu Picchu, which our guide helped us out with. It’s nice having a guide for everything because we did not have to work out all of those logistics. On the afternoon of the second day, we rode the train back to Ollantaytambo and stayed here for the night. We have not walked from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu so I don’t know what that trail is like. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Indie

        Julie- did your Pie Excursion tour guide pick you up from Ollantaytambo and travelled on the train with you to the 104 KM starting point ? Thanks !

        1. Avatar for Julie Post

          Yes, that’s how it worked out for us. And we rode back to Ollantaytambo on our own (after Machu Picchu) without the guide.

          1. Avatar for Indie

            What did you do with your luggage for the 1-2 days you were doing the hike and the visit ? Thanks

            PS- do you travel with just a carry on/backpack ? We try to travel with a carry on and a backpack each.

          2. Avatar for Julie Post

            We left our luggage at the hotel in Ollantaytambo and only had a daypack each for the two days we visited Machu Picchu. We typically each have a backpack/suitcase and sometimes a small carryon suitcase but it really depends on the trip (where we are going and how long we are traveling for). Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Julia

    Hello! Great article, this helped me a lot when trying to decide whether I could handle this hike. We are regular hikers but I was worried with the elevation. Do you know how much elevation gain this trip is? I know you went so long ago! it looks to be ~1,700 feet gain and ~9 miles

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      It was a long time ago (2012…wow, that’s 10 years!) and we didn’t carry the GPS tracking devices like we do now. Based on what I can remember, that sounds about right for the distance and elevation gain. Since you are at a higher altitude, it will feel harder, but it’s not too bad. There are a couple of short climbs that took our breath away, especially those Monkey Steps. But what a great experience, hiking to that viewpoint of Machu Picchu. If you are regular hikers, you should be just fine on this hike. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Aparna Godse
    Aparna Godse

    Hi Julie,

    We are planning to visit Peru next May or June 2021 and planning to do the 2 day hike (1 night overnight) – Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu. Please can you advise on how to book them. I have read plenty of site including your blog but bit confused. Thank you.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post

      That’s very exciting! I recommend that you reach out to several tour companies to get prices and availability for your dates. We used Pie Peru and were happy with them but it has been almost 10 years since our visit. To find reputable tour companies, you can look on Trip Advisor and then reach out to the top reviewed companies. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Prinzo.worldwide

        Good day Julie, I enjoyed reading your story. I did the classic inca 4 day trail.
        Just a question. I am curious to know why you took 8 to 10 years to share this brilliant experience.? Better late then never. Keep up the great work

        1. Avatar for Julie Post

          This article has been published for 6 years. 😊 I frequently update our posts to keep them current…the date of the post is the most recent update. Congrats on hiking the 4 day Inca Trail…we’d love to so that someday! Cheers, Julie

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