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The Sun Gate at Machu Picchu | Best view point

Written by Sam Corporations February 22, 2023

The Sun Gate at Machu Picchu | Best view point

First impressions matter, 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 Trail 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 4 day Inca Trail 4.

What Is the Sun Gate (Intipunku)?

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.

It’s design of thatched roofs, enclosures, doors, and windows allowed sunlight on the summer solstice (Dec 21) to illuminate the entity. Inca culture offered 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, and can take around an hour to walk down to Machu Picchu.

How Do I Visit Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate?

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 to witness the majestic sunrise.

People, often families, hike the 1 or 2 day Inca Trail from KM 104, and they pass through the Sun Gate any time from noon to 4 pm.

When’s the Best Time of Year to Visit the Sun Gate?

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 are when tourists from South America travel extensively. A visit outside these 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.

The “best time” to visit is subjective. Below is a rough guide of what you can expect.

  • 6-8 am: Busy with 100-150 Inca Trail trekkers waiting for sunrise. Possible mist on the mountains adds an extra atmosphere.
  • 2 pm-4 pm: Some 5-day and 2-day Inca Trail trekkers may pass through.

There are two main seasons in the sub-tropical Peruvian Andes:

  • The dry season runs from late April through to early October.
  • The wet season starts mid to late October and ends in April.

FAQs Answered:

Here are answers to some of the most commonly answered questions about the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu:

Can I See the Sunrise at the Sun Gate?

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.

When Is a Good Time to Visit the Sun Gate?

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.

What’s the Weather Like 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.

Dry season (April-October)

  • Average temperature: 16°C / 61°F
  • High temperature: 25°C / 77°F
  • Low temperature: 2°C / 36°F
  • Humidity: 40-45%
  • Warmest average month: October, 21°C / 70°F

Wet season (November-March)

  • Average temperature: 16°C / 61°F
  • High temperature: 21°C / 70°F
  • Low temperature: 7°C / 45°F
  • Humidity: 60-65%
  • Coolest average month: January, 18.5°C / 65°F

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.

Is It Worth Hiking to the Sun Gate in Machu Picchu?

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.

Do I Need to Be In Good Shape to Visit the Sun Gate?

Yes, 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 at high elevations requires more effort. 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.

Sun Gate, Machu Picchu: An Overview

  • Attractions: Panoramic views, terraces, Sun Gate, walk on original Inca Trails
  • Height: 2,745m / 9,005ft
  • Altitude gain: 290m / 951ft
  • Age restrictions: None
  • Location: Upper level, southeast of Machu Picchu
  • Walking time: 2-3 hours max
  • Walking distance: 2.5 miles/ 4km round trip
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Departure time: From 6am to 2pm (site closes at 5.30pm)
  • Access: Inca Trail or via buses from Aguas Calientes into Machu Picchu ruins

What to Take to the Sun Gate?

  • Sun cream
  • Sunglasses
  • Insect repellent
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Snacks
  • 1-2 litres of water
  • Camera or mobile phone for pictures and videos
  • Lightweight, broken-in walking boots
  • Walking poles (optional) with rubber tips
  • Backpack

Visit the Sun Gate, Machu Picchu

First impressions are important and the Sun Gate offers wonderful views over the Inca citadel, and is well worth visiting. Inca Trail trekkers will feel a real sense of accomplishment and a rewarding feeling with the opportunity to pass through the Sun Gate.

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 to make your unforgettable memories!

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