First impressions last, which is why the Sun Gate leading to Machu Picchu is such a highlight for people visiting Peru’s world-famous Inca citadel; Machu Picchu
The Sun Gate, or Intipunku in Quechua, sits around 290m (951 feet) above Machu Picchu’s elevation, offering unparalleled views of the ruins some 3 kilometres away. Spread out before the eyes are the dramatic mountains of Huayna Picchu, Putucusi, and Machu Picchu.
The panorama from the Sun Gate is not a prize only for Inca Trails trekkers. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about Intipunku and how to make the most of your visit to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu.
Important note: As of recently, per government regulations, you cannot hike up to the Sun Gate from Machu Picchu Citadel, so the only way to get to the Sun Gate now is through an Inca Trail trek: 1 day Inca Trail, Short Inca Trail or Classic Inca Trail 4 days.
Early explorers at Machu Picchu bestowed the Sun Gate name as they orientated themselves around the archaeological ruins. In Quechua, Inti means sun, and Punku means a door or gate, which gives the Sun Gate its name.
We now know that the Sun Gate was the most critical entrance and fortress to the entire site. Only the elite passed through. the Sun gate connected Machu Picchu with the Inca empire’s road called Qhapac Ñan, known today as the Inca Trail.
Its design of a thatched roof, enclosures, doors, and windows allowed sunlight on the summer solstice (Dec 21) to illuminate the entity.
Inca culture afforded people returning through the Sun Gate towards Cusco more respect than those journeying towards Machu Picchu, a mark of the importance of their visit.
The Sun Gate sits at around 2,745m / 9,005ft, above Machu Picchu’s elevation of 2,430m / 7,972ft. It takes around an hour to walk down to Machu Picchu and 90 minutes from the ruins up to the Sun Gate, following an original Inca Trail.
Inca Trail trekkers must pass through the Sun Gate to access Machu Picchu.
People on the classic 4 day Inca Trail hike usually reach the Sun Gate early in the morning of their last hiking day, then swoop down into Machu Picchu for a guided tour. The Sun Gate can get a little crowded as groups try to reach the spot for sunrise.
People, often families, hike the1 or 2 day Inca Trail from KM 104, and they pass through the Sun Gate any time from noon to 4 pm.
Machu Picchu and the Sun Gate’s busiest times are from May to September. There will be more people visiting in these months and December and January when tourists from South America travel extensively. A visit outside those months means fewer people.
February can be pretty wet. Indeed, the Inca Trail closes every February for maintenance and to take advantage of the fact that few people travel in this period.
What is the ‘best time’ to visit is subjective. Below is a rough guide to what to expect.
There are two main seasons in the sub-tropical Peruvian Andes:
Here are the answers to some of the commonly answered questions about the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu.
Hiking the 4-day Classic Inca Trail trek gives people the chance to see the sunrise.
It’s unlikely a day visitor can get into the ruins at the 6 am opening time and make it to the Sun Gate in time for the sunrise.
The dry season (April to October) offers a great chance of good weather. Shoulder season months like April, September, and November can be excellent times.
Early (8 am) to late morning is a good time to arrive at the Sun Gate.
Mountain weather is notoriously fickle, and we recommend preparing for all eventualities. The climate is sub-tropical; the sun can be intense, and rain showers can be heavy.
Below are some guidelines.
Altitude brings its own effects; sunny days can feel hot, and early mornings can feel bitterly cold. Wear layers, take water, sun cream, waterproof clothing, and sunglasses.
Accuweather offers an excellent weather forecasting and reporting service for more information.
The Sun Gate is definitely worth the 2-4 hour round-trip walk, offering an alternative and fantastic view over Machu Picchu. It’s easy to imagine Inca guardsmen protecting their empire’s magnificent architectural centrepiece from their vantage point.
You need to be in good physical shape to visit the Sun Gate & Machu Picchu. Much of the tour is at high altitude, which places more stress on your body than at sea level.
Trekking requires more effort up high. We recommend you acclimatise to the area’s altitude with 2-3 days in Cusco, the Sacred Valley..
Hikers need to be able to walk comfortably for 3-5 hours in total to enjoy the Sun Gate & Machu Picchu ruins.
The Sun Gate offers wonderful views over the Inca citadel, and is well worth visiting. Inca Trail trekkers have to pass through the Sun Gate, while Intipunku is a relatively short walk for day trippers.
The Sun Gate’s accessibility, good pathways, and no extra entry requirement all add to its appeal. Get there at a quiet time, and it’s not hard to imagine yourself as an Inca guard protecting the site.
Inspired to see the Sun Gate? We’re happy to help fulfil your Inca Trail or Machu Picchu dream, so contact us for more.