Within the majestic peaks of the Peruvian Andes is Machu Picchu, standing as a testament to the ingenuity of the Inca civilization. While the 15th-century citadel is a marvel to behold, ascending the iconic peak that towers above Machu Picchu is an adventure of a lifetime. This guide takes you through the enchanting experience of the Huayna Picchu circuit with the breathtaking vantage point of Machu Picchu.
Visiting One of the Seven Wonders of the World
Machu Picchu, located in the Peruvian cloud forest, was a self-sustaining city for roughly 100 years, built around 1450 AD, with amazing technological feats including underground and aboveground drainage systems, astronomical observatories, temples, and water collection systems that supplied the citadel with fresh spring water. Even more amazing is this engineered water system remains functional to this day. Although researchers have gathered many historical facts from the site, much still remains a mystery. The Incas did not write down their history but rather passed down stories from generation to generation.
When the Spanish first arrived in Peru in the 16th century, they conquered many sacred Inca sites, replacing them with Catholic influences. What makes Machu Picchu so incredible is that it was never discovered by the Spanish, allowing it to remain preserved. Visitors today can see roughly 40% of what Machu Picchu once was, with a large portion remaining covered by vegetation.
An adventure to Machu Picchu starts from the roaring town of Aguas Calientes, named after the several hot springs in the area. From here, visitors can either take the bus up the mountain to the entrance gate of Machu Picchu in a 30-minute ride or choose a strenuous 2-hour hike. I opted for the bus because I did not want to overdo it before I even arrived at Machu Picchu. The bus winds through the mountain, bringing you higher and higher with each hairpin turn. At every turn, I eagerly searched for a glimpse of the mysterious Incan construction, with more excitement building the closer we got to the top of the mountain. (Hint: Machu Picchu is tucked into the mountains, you won’t be able to spot it until after the entrance gates!)
When reaching the entrance gate, I scanned my ticket and set forth on Circuit 4. Only moments later was I welcomed with the breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. This route felt extra special because I was one of the only people here for nearly an hour. I purchased Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu with an entrance time between 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM and a Huayna Picchu entrance time between 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM. Only 75 people could purchase tickets for this time, with a 300-per-day max, which guarantees some amazing views without all the crowds you may run into on the typical circuit routes.
Machu Picchu displays the archeological brilliance of the Incan civilization, not only in its grand structures but also in its harmonious integration with the natural landscape. Meticulously crafted stone terraces, temples, and residential areas showcase the Inca’s engineering and construction capabilities. Each stone was scrupulously carved and fitted together with no mortar, a technique known as ashlar. Imagine even today constructing buildings without the “glue” – carving every stone to fit perfectly together. Yet the Incas were able to do this hundreds of years ago. This type of construction moves with the earth, allowing the carefully molded pieces to shift without collapsing, making the structures highly earthquake-resistant.
The Circuit 4 ticket brought me through the lower portion of Machu Picchu, known as the urban section. It’s in this section that the Sun Temple, House of the Inca, Sacred Plaza, Intihuatana Pyramid, Three Gates, Water Mirrors, Condor Temple, and more are located.
The Temple of the Sun is believed to have been a religious building to worship the sun. This is the only building in the citadel that has a circular shape. The building, made of granite, served as an astronomical observatory where the Icans could determine solstices and seasonal changes with the position of the windows.
The House of the Inca is the royal residence of Machu Picchu, designated for the Inca emperor and his family. The building has two large rooms with four walls, two small rooms with three walls, and a central patio. The home has water pipes, allowing fresh water from the mountain to be readily available.
At the political center of the urban sector is the Sacred Plaza, containing the Intihuatana Pyramid and the Temple of the Three Windows.
The Pyramid of Intihuatana has two sets of carved steps, leading to an outdoor chamber that contains a magnificent measuring device that was used for scientific purposes. This device provided the Inca civilization with the ability to analyze the sun during different seasons, creating a calendar and the ability to make essential weather predictions. The system has four vertices for each of the four cardinal points, North, South, East, and West. Along with the observatory purposes, researchers believe the building held religious ceremonies, trying astrological phenomena to the Inca gods.
The Temple of the Three Windows also called the Windows of the Universe, is located around the main courtyard of the citadel. The site has three symmetrical windows with different hypothesise as to what the temple’s purpose was. When excavating this area, researchers discovered ceremonial items such as jars and vases. Researchers believe ceremonies here were in worship of the mountains. There are several theories about the windows, with one being that each window represents a different world. The first window represents “Uku-Pacha,” or the underground with the carving of the Andean condor. The “Hanan-Pacha” window represents heaven, where all gods are, with the carving of a puma. And the “Kay-Pacha” window represents the world humans are in, with the carving of a serpent.
Next on the Circuit 4 route is the Sacred Rock, a large stone located in the lower part of the urban sector. This place has several theories behind it, with the most popular being its purpose as a shrine to carry out special rituals and offerings. The rock resembles the mountain peaks in the distance, leading researchers to believe it has a significant connection to the earth and was used as a spiritual area.
The Water Mirrors are two cylindrical creations for astronomical observatories and worship of the Incan gods. The “mirrors of the water” reflected the moon, known as the goddess Killa. The Incas were keen observers of the sky and these plate-like creations filled with water could reflect the stars.
Lastly, on the Circuit 4 route is the Temple of the Condor, a spectacular example of the Incan ability to carve stone. The temple is located on a natural cave with a formation mirroring the shape of a condor’s wings and head. Behind the temple are the remains of small niches and a network of underground dungeons which are believed to be Inca prisons. Theft, lust, and laziness are examples of crimes that condemned those to death with a sacrifice to the god, Condor.
Trekking Huayana Picchu
After exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu, I came across the entrance to Huayana Picchu, the famous mountain in the backdrop of nearly every Machu Picchu photo. The path starts like any other, but quickly turns steep and narrow, navigating through stone staircases and rugged terrain. This hike is named one of the best short hikes in the world, making it a highly sought-after adventure.
Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) comes from the Quechua language, meaning “young mountain” and is the iconic mountain behind Machu Picchu. The 2.5-mile round-trip climb brings you all the way to the top for jaw-dropping views over the famous site as well as views of the steep surrounding mountains. This hike has a striking 1,000-foot elevation gain, going as high as 8,835 feet above sea level. So hint – make sure you are acclimated to the higher elevation before attempting to hike!
The hike immediately starts with views of Putucusi Mountain and the Urubamba River which might distract you from the upcoming switchbacks. Although the switchbacks are well-shaded, they do get steeper and steeper, to where you have to hold onto a steel cable for balance. The stone steps are irregularly shaped, too, which can cause some missteps while hiking.
The hike leads to the first Inca building, believed to have been inhabited by the priests of Machu Picchu. Most of the buildings on this hike can be explored which gives a good excuse to take a breather, too!
The final stretch of the uphill hike is the famous “Stairs of Death,” which can be as terrifying as they sound if you look down. The stairs are so steep that you will find yourself using both your hands and feet to make the ascent. This portion of the hike is one-way and does offer areas where you can step to the side so you never should feel rushed. And don’t worry, the name is not what is implied – very few accidents occur at Machu Picchu.
A short distance past the stone stairway is the summit of Huayna Picchu at an altitude of 8,835 feet! From here, there are incredible views of the Incan citadel below. To the left of Machu Picchu is the impressive switchbacks that are taken by the buses from Aguas Calientes to the entrance of Machu Picchu.
After soaking in the views from the top there is a peculiar tunnel that I had to cross to continue onto the main trail. This is a narrow trail that will require you to take off your backpack to squeeze into!
Surprisingly, the Huayna Picchu hike was not as grueling as I anticipated. I would rate the hike as moderate difficulty. The stone stairs, in my opinion, made the hike easier than if it were a step dirt pathway. It did, however, beat all of my expectations with how fun and exciting the trail was. Not only did I get to see Machu Picchu from a more unique point, but the distinctive pathways and mysterious ambiance of the mountain added to the adventure.
It’s here that I’ll reiterate the old saying, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” At every turn, I had mesmerizing views. But there were a few people seemingly racing up the mountain, having completed the whole trail in less than an hour. If that’s your idea for an enjoyable day, go for it. My advice, take your time! Take it all in and enjoy the moment. There’s a reason why this destination is considered one of the seven wonders of the world.
How much are tickets?
Tickets for Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu are 200 Peruvian Soles, about 54 USD for adults, and 118 Peruvian Soles, or 32 USD for children. Conversions to USD are approximate. (2023 Prices)
Where can I buy tickets?
This took me a while to figure out seeing as though the first Google result is NOT the right place to purchase tickets, but rather a resale site that offers the tickets for higher prices. These sites even offer tickets for dates that haven’t been released yet. There are several sites that claim to be the official website for Machu Picchu that are not. The only place to book directly is at https://www.machupicchu.gob.pe/
How early in advance do I need to purchase tickets?
Tickets for the year are released starting in mid-December through January each year. The official schedule is not released until December gets closer. For my visit in March, tickets were available for purchase starting mid-January. Tickets do sell out very quickly for the Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu route because only 300 guests per day are allowed, compared to the typical 2,000+ daily tickets available for the other routes. You will want to purchase Circuit 4 + Huyana Picchu tickets as soon as possible because of this. I had a calendar reminder on the day of release because of how quickly I expected tickets to sell out. Thankfully, I had no issues purchasing tickets on the day of release.
What ticket is Huayna Picchu included in?
The Circuit 4 + Huayna Picchu ticket is what you will want to purchase. When purchasing tickets directly, it can be written at Circuito 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu. There is a second ticket option for Circuit 4 called Circuito 4 + Huchuypicchu Mountain. This is NOT the correct ticket for Huayna Picchu. It’s very easy to get confused so be careful not to mix these up when purchasing tickets!
Huayna Picchu Entry Times and Available Tickets
There are four options to select from with the Circuito 4 + Montaña Waynapicchu route. The ticket gives visitors an hour window to enter Machu Picchu Circuit 4, with the following hour being the window to start the Huayna Picchu hike.
|Machu Picchu Entry Times||Huayna Picchu Entry Times||Tickets Available|
|6:00 AM – 7:00 AM||7:00 AM – 8:00 AM||75|
|7:00 AM – 8:00 AM||8:00 AM – 9:00 AM||75|
|8:00 AM – 9:00 AM||9:00 AM – 10:00 AM||75|
|9:00 AM – 10:00 AM||10:00 AM – 11:00 AM||75|
Do I need a guide?
Absolutely not! I am the type of traveler who likes to explore on my time, not on the schedule of a tour guide, especially when hiking. However, there is a lack of informational signs throughout the site so it is up to you what you value more. A documentary or some reading prior to your visit is an easy fix for this, though.
If you take the bus from Aguas Calientes, be prepared to be pushed into hiring a guide as you wait your turn for the bus. Don’t be afraid to say “no” a few times. Guides can be pushy, but they won’t be offended that you said no, and will eventually move on after your second or third “no, thank you.”
How often do buses leave from Aguas Calientes? Where is the bus stop?
Buses leave from Aguas Calientes every 5 minutes. The bus stop is located here the intersection of Avenida Hermanos Ayar and Puente Sinchi Roca, caddycorner to Toto’s House (Imperio de los Incas, Aguas Calientes 08681, Peru).
Where to purchase bus tickets?
Bus tickets can be purchased online ahead of time through Consettur here for $24 USD round-trip per adult and $12 USD round-trip for children. Tickets are the same price online and in person, so save time by purchasing online.
Things To Know
You will need your passport to book tickets and you must bring your passport with you on your visit.
Machu Picchu tickets are only sold for specific circuits. If you want to visit more than one, you will have to either purchase two tickets for the same day or spread the visit over two days with two different tickets.
You are limited to how long you can stay at Machu Picchu. Visitors can explore Machu Picchu for up to 4 hours.
There are no bathrooms after you enter. There is no re-entry either, so make sure to stop before you go in! Bathrooms are available before the entrance gates.
Have you been to Huayna Picchu? Comment below!
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