Day 5: Machu Picchu

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You should purchase entrance tickets and bus tickets (if you are taking the bus) to Machu Picchu the night before. The bus ticket office closes ~7PM; Machu Picchu ticket office closes at 9:50PM. (Be aware that these times probably vary!)

Machu Picchu admission is 126 Soles (June 2010); an ISIC card will save you 50% (!) off of the Machu Picchu ticket price as well as many other points of interest in Peru.

Getting There
Buses start running from Aguas Callientes at 5:30AM continuously and are loaded efficiently one immediately after another. There is no wait for the bus, but the line for the buses stretches very far down the street, especially early in the morning.
You can also walk from Aguas Callientes to Machu Picchu. This hike will take you about 1-1.5 hours uphill.

This is the official map you will get at the Machu Picchu information center and ticket office in Aguas Callientes. It is the only map I've found to show all trails of the site.
Note that the "classic" photo of Machu Picchu (as the one at the bottom of this page) is facing toward the RIGHT hand side of this map (North-West) with a direct view of the Huayna Picchu / Wayna Picchu mountain.

The following is a Google topo map labeled for your understanding of the terrain and the location of key mountain tops:

Views of Machu Picchu
Many people crave morning views of Machu Picchu at sunrise. Keep in mind that you will be very hot during the steep climb; yet it can get very frosty at the top in the early morning, as you are waiting for the clouds to clear, sometimes for several hours. You have two main options for an eagle-eye view of the ruins:

South-East view from Huayna Picchu (Wayna Picchu) Mountain (2,720m / 8,920ft):

Huayna (Wayna) Picchu Mountain top is a coveted spot for an eagle-eye view of the Machu Picchu complex. Huayna Picchu Mountain is accessed from inside of the Machu Picchu complex (see yellow trail with arrow on the right-most side of the map). Top elevation is 2,720m / 8,920ft or 360m / 1,180ft above the Machu Picchu complex. The steep climb takes 20-40 minutes.
The large Huayna Picchu Mountain can be seen on the photo taken from Machu Picchu Mountain (below).

The entrance to the Huayna Picchu mountain is gated and access is limited to 400 people daily. First group of 200 people is allowed to enter at 7AM; this group has the advantage of seeing sunrise over Machu Picchu and the disadvantage of potentially being stuck in the morning clouds and not getting any view at all. The second group enters at 11AM(?) and has the advantage of getting a clearer view and the disadvantage of significantly hotter temperatures closer to mid-day.

In order to be able to climb Huayna Picchu you must be on one the first 14 buses to Machu Picchu (my math: 400 people / 28 people per bus). The buses are numbered on the headrests or you can count them as you are nervously waiting in line. In reality, to make it, you should probably be on the first 10 buses, since many people who are determined to climb Huayna Picchu choose to walk in order to beat the first bus arrivals.

If you are taking a bus you should be in the bus line by 4AM. (Timing varies significantly depending on season and weather. The morning we went to Machu Picchu it was pre-high season and pouring rain; getting in line at 4:30AM put us on bus #11(?) and we did not make it to Huayna Picchu).

If you are walking you should leave Aguas Callientes by 4:30AM.

As you get to the Machu Picchu entrance there will be a (disorganized) line to the ticket booths. There will be a person at or in front of the booths calling out for those who want to go to Huayna Picchu. He will stamp your ticket with a number to indicate that you are one of the selected 400 (and whether you are in the first of second group). You will need to present this ticket at the Huayna Picchu gate.

North-West view from Machu Picchu Mountain (3,000m / 9,800ft):

Machu Picchu Mountain seems to be almost completely unknown. Many tour guides don't seem to know anything of it's existence. The only map (I know of) showing a trail access to it is the official map above. Follow the yellow trail to the left with the arrow leading up.
Machu Picchu Mountain is accessed from the inside of the Machu Picchu complex. Top elevation is approximately 3,000m / 9,800ft or 600m / 2,000ft above the Machu Picchu complex. The steep climb takes about 1.5 hours.

Access to Machu Picchu Mountain is not limited, therefore there is no stressing out about being there early. Since it is so unknown, it is a very quiet, serene, non-touristy place above the clouds, and above the crowded mayhem of the Machu Picchu complex. While you will be ascending with a stampede of 200 up Huayna Picchu, you will see anywhere from zero to 7 people on top of the Machu Picchu Mtn, especially early in the morning.

Machu Picchu Mountain is almost 300m / 900ft above the top of Huayna Picchu Mountain, and the views are that much more breathtaking. Note that all classic photos of Machu Picchu (as the one above) are taken from Machu Picchu Mountain with Huayna Picchu mountain to the north-west, behind the archeological complex.

Due to its height Machu Picchu Mountain top is a lot slower to emerge from the morning cloud cover. We got to the top around 8:30AM. After a sweaty climb it got very cold. Clouds usually start dissipating between 10-11AM; we got lucky and saw the first - warm - rays of sunlight around 9:30AM. Keep this in mind as frustrated tourists leave just before beauty is about to emerge in front of you. It is truly a magical feeling.

Below are some photos taken at the top of Machu Picchu Mountain:

Hut on top of mountain submerged in the morning clouds

View of Hydroelectrica power lines through one of the first cloud openings

First views of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu wrapped by the Urubamba River


Walter said...

Wow, you guys! Just wow!!!

July 15, 2010 at 7:28 AM
ivan said...

I don't speak inglesh very well, so sorry for the wrong words and sentenses.. But i wanna give a congratulations to yours, for this amazing blog. I will go to Salkantay in 2 agoust, with friends, and we will make the trekking whitout guide, whitout turist company.. And the informations here was perfect for me, help me a lot. Thank You!!
Ivan Favero, Brasil

July 21, 2010 at 11:11 PM
Vova & Olga said...

Dear Ivan! Thank you VERY much for your feedback! It makes me extremely happy that our blog is helpful to you. Please tell me about your trip when you return!!!

July 22, 2010 at 11:46 AM
Rick McCharles said...

Gave you a shout out on the best hike blog:


July 23, 2010 at 8:30 AM
adventuresplease said...

About how much did this trip cost you? I'm trying to organize a trip for a bunch of broke students studying abroad, and this seems like the best option.

December 30, 2011 at 1:16 PM
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January 12, 2017 at 9:38 AM
steban smith said...

Salkantay Trek
There are many tour operators in Cusco that offer the Salkantay Trek, generally in 5 days but it can be done in 4 days. There are also different routes that can be hiked, so make sure to compare the options. The cheapest companies will start from Mollepata so that they can save money on transportation. The best tour operators will start from Soraypampa which is the actual start of the hike, since from Mollepata to Soraypampa it is a dirt road for vehicles. You can also do this trek staying in first class lodges along the way, which can be booked through Mountain Lodges of Peru.

August 17, 2018 at 12:09 PM

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