Julie Peru 26 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.

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

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

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One Day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

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Comments 26

  1. 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

  2. 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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