November 20, 2019

6 Things to Know about Machu Picchu’s Best Hikes

Nestled high in the Andes, Machu Picchu is home to some of the most mysterious and fascinating ruins in South America. It’s also filled with hiking trails and stunning peaks, earning its spot as one of the world’s premier trekking sites.

Here’s what you need to know about the area’s two best hiking trails, Huayna Picchu and the Gate of the Sun, including trek details, challenges and what the view from the summit is like!

Huayna Picchu

The Chan family stands at the summit of Huayna Picchu. “You had a 360-degree view of the entire valley, down to the Urubamba river that carved it,” Edward said. “The kids thoroughly enjoyed the hike.”

Huayna Picchu is the unrivaled choice of hikers coming to Peru, and it’s easy to see why. This trail traverses an old Incan path winding up the side of the mountain for a nearly 1,000-foot elevation gain. The rocky summit is a sacred site, home to altars, narrow staircases and terraces that overlook Machu Picchu. The trail is steep and you must pass through a rock tunnel just before reaching the summit, but the views are the most extraordinary in the area.

  1. Elevation: 8,924 feet
  2. Total Elevation Gain: 952 feet
  3. Total Hiking Time (Average Round-trip): 3-4 hours
  4. Difficulty: Moderate: no technical skills or climbing tools are required, though you should plan to use your hands as you climb. Expect narrow trails, switchbacks and steep drops. Once at the top, the path passes through a narrow rock tunnel where you may need to get on your hands and knees to pass through. Some sections include railings and cables for support. This hike is not recommended for people with vertigo or a fear of heights.

“Looking up at the steep summit before embarking on the trek, it’s hard to believe there is even a navigable way to get up there,” Thomson traveler Edward Chan said. “The trail itself was spectacular in its scenery, steep, narrow and thoroughly enjoyable.”

  1. How’s the view? Unbelievable: during the construction of Machu Picchu, guards stationed atop Huayna Picchu could watch the site being built – it’s the perfect spot to see the finished product! The ruin’s complex layout and ingenious design are endlessly fascinating from this height. The climb itself provides brilliant panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountains from various angles.

“You had a 360-degree view of the entire valley, down to the Urubamba river that carved it,” Edward said. “The kids thoroughly enjoyed the hike.”

  1. Hike this trail on the Machu Picchu & Cuzco family adventure or the Peru Family Trek.

The Gate of the Sun (Inti Punku)

The Gate of the Sun, Machu Picchu.

This moderately challenging trek to the Gate of the Sun (Inti Punku in Quechua) was once the route the Inca used to enter Machu Picchu. It also served as the main checkpoint for all visitors to the city. Trekking this centuries-old trail means you’ll climb through Machu Picchu’s agricultural terraces south of the citadel and reach the summit to enjoy cloudy, majestic views from the southeast.

  1. Summit Elevation: 8,924 feet
  2. Total Elevation Gain: 951 feet
  3. Total Hiking Time (Average Round-trip): 3-4 hours
  4. Difficulty: Moderate: expect a gradual ascent for most of the hike, usually no steeper than 30 degrees. Dirt trails, grass and Inca stone walkways make up the terrain. The path is wider and less rugged than other Machu Picchu hikes but still requires a solid footing. As you approach the Gate of the Sun, the trail becomes more inclined and a little tougher.
  5. How’s the View? Thomson staffer Maria DiCenso reached the Gate of the Sun and remembers it vividly.

“After climbing nearly 1,000 feet through cloud forest, I got to watch the sunset twinkling through the cracks of the ruins below,” DiCenso said. “To walk in the same footsteps as the ancient Inca puts you back in a different time and place.”

  1. Hike this trail on the Machu Picchu & Cuzco family adventure or the Peru Family Trek.
“There were flowers, birds, lots of clouds,” Thomson staffer Maria DiCenso said about the Gate of the Sun hike. “My guide pointed out a plant that is used as a natural ingredient in insect repellent.” Pictured: the view from the path leading up to the Gate of the Sun.

A Few Tips to Prevent Altitude Sickness

Whenever you hike at high elevations, altitude sickness becomes a factor. Here are some key insights that will help you make the most of your time at Machu Picchu.

  • Give your body time to acclimatize.

One of the best ways to avoid the symptoms of altitude sickness is to spend time at elevation before taking on strenuous activity. Enjoy leisure time in high altitude areas, such as Cusco (11,152 feet) and Ollantaytambo (9,160 feet), so your body can prepare for the rigors of hiking.

The Machu Picchu & Cuzco family adventure and Peru Family Trek spend time in these elevated cities before heading to Machu Picchu – and your body will thank you for it!

  • Eat carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pasta, bananas, quinoa, bread and potatoes.

Aside from improving physical performance, eating carbohydrates can reduce the onset and severity of altitude sickness.

  • Avoid alcohol and sleeping pills.

Alcoholic drinks and sleeping pills can worsen the symptoms of altitude sickness.

  • Drink lots of water.

Hydration before and throughout your hike is crucial to ensuring peak performance. The safest bet is to start hydrating 24 hours before strenuous activity.

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