Inti Punku – The Sun Gate of Machu Picchu
- Altitude: 2,720 meters
- Elevation above Machu Picchu: 290 meters
- Time to hike from Machu Picchu: 90 minutes round trip
- Distance from Sun Gate to Machu Picchu: 1,5 kilometers
- Opening times: General Machu Picchu opening times apply
- Tickets: no tickets required
- Difficulty of the hike: Normal/easy
The Sun Gate after sunrise
Location of the Inti Punku
Following the classic Inca Trail, which in ancient times has been the main route into Machu Picchu, the Inti Punku marks the very spot you will be able to set eye on the lost citadel for the first time. As such, the structure stands 2,720 meters above the sea level and some 300 meters above Machu Picchu. It will grant you a very nice bird’s eye view of the ruins.
Archeologist believes it likely that a small military garrison was once installed in the buildings of the Inti Punk. Unlike today, traveling was not allowed for the common population of the Inca empire. Only royalty, officials, messengers and military were allowed to move around freely. The Inti Punku located at a chokepoint and gave an excellent vantage on everyone coming to Machu Picchu or trying to leave it. The Inti Punku consists of various large rooms with many niches and windows, indicating that this was not a normal farm house (despite the fact that there are terraces all around it). But the structure might have been more than just a checkpoint.
Due to its strategic location, it is also the spot where every day the first rays of the rising sun will hit Machu Picchu. There are those who believe that the sun god inti was worshiped here. Since the masonry of the structure is somewhat crude, it is more likely that this has been a garrison. The Inca were renowned for locating even secular structures on auspicious spots (they even built their cities in the shape of mythological animals).
The spectacular view from the Sun Gate on Machu Picchu
The main reason to see the Sun Gate is enjoying the fabulous view of Machu Picchu. It is the only free option you got to see Machu Picchu from above. With its high elevation, it will give you the unique chance to shoot aerial pictures of the ruins. The distance from the sun gate to Machu Picchu is roughly 1,5 kilometers. If you plan to take pictures, do not forget your telephoto lens.
How to get to the Inti Punku
You don’t need any special tickets to hike to the Sun Gate. Standard Machu Picchu tickets are required, though because it is located within the sanctuary. There are two ways to reach the Inti Punku:
1) The easiest option to reach the Inti Punku starts from the Guardhouse inside Machu Picchu. From here you have to keep left and follow the paved trail leading upwards until you reach a large wall after a hundred meters or so. Follow the path straight ahead and don’t turn right (this trail leads up towards Machu Mountain). The path toward the Sun gate it kept in a very good condition and is paved all the way.
Unlike other trails within Machu Picchu, it has only a very moderate incline, save for the last 200 meters which are a bit more challenging. Fit hikers will need roughly 30 minutes to reach the top of the trail, where the Inti Punku is located. Were you to follow the path beyond the Sun Gate for another 2 hours, you’d reach the Winay Wayna ruins. You do need special Inca Trail permits to do this hike.
2) Those travelers hiking the Inca Trail (Camino Inca) will enter Machu Picchu through the Sun Gate. It marks the official end of the Inca Trail. As the Inca Trail can only be hiked on a guided tour, no directions are needed (and the Inca Trail runs straight without branching off anyway.) Usually, tours will start very early in the morning to reach the Sun Gate to see the Sunrise (more below).
Seeing the sunrise in Machu Picchu from the Intipunku
Sunrise in Machu Picchu will occur around 6 am in the morning. Since the horizon is actually hidden behind a huge mountain, the actual sunrise will be considerably later. Depending on the season the first rays of the sun will hit the Sun Gate around 7 to 7:30 am.
Machu Picchu is often hidden in fog early in the morning, so there is actually a very low chance to see the sunrise from the Sun Gate. If you want to take the chance, you absolutely have to be at the entrance of Machu Picchu at 6 am and walk straights up the Inti Punku.
What to pack for hiking the Inti Punku?
Basically, there are no special items you need to pack for hiking the Sun Gate trail. Comfortable, closed walking shoes are recommended, as are sun protection, a small snack, and some water.
As the weather in Machu Picchu can change very quickly, a light-weighted raincoat or a poncho will be your best friend. The trail leads through a section of very dense foliage. Bringing along insect repellent is a must. There are nasty gnats within Machu Picchu and they are thickest along the Inca Trail.
Due to the high humidity, light-weighted fast drying shirts and pants are recommended. Last but not least, walking sticks are not allowed in Machu Picchu, so there is no need to pack them.
When is the best time to hike to the Inti Punku?
Most people will hike to the Sun Gate first thing in the morning, trying to see the sunrise above Machu Picchu. As detailed above, this pretty much depends on the weather. If you notice very thick clouds above the ruins, it might be worth hiking to the Sun Gate later in the afternoon. The hike is not particularly challenging, but the high altitude and the high humidity will still take their toll. Around noon the trail will be at its hottest while morning and late afternoon offer some shade and better photography options. During the rainy season, the trail will not be closed but mostly very wet and slippery. Since the path is mostly level and not very steep or narrow this is usually no problem at all.