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The Best View in Peru: The Sun Gate, Machu Picchu

by on 20th April, 2022

Photo by Yepo

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.

The Sun Gate, or Intipunku in Quechua, sits around 290m (951 feet) above Machu Picchu’s elevation, offering unparalleled views of the ruins some two 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, Machu Picchu.

Important note: Ever-changing COVID regulations mean visiting restrictions may apply.

The view from the Sun Gate, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu

What Is the Sun Gate (Intipunku) At Machu Picchu?

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. Intipunku 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.

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 Intipunku 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.

Our luxury 5-day Inca Trail follows the same route but takes things a little more leisurely, arriving at the Sun Gate in the afternoon of the fourth day. A late arrival means you usually have the ruins — and breathtaking view — to yourselves.

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

People visiting Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes or after an alternative trek can visit the Sun Gate, too. Before or after your guided tour, you can walk for around 90 minutes uphill on a good path (30-degree angle) to the lookout.

Machu Picchu from Sun Gate Peru

How Do I Find the Sun Gate?

Once you are in Machu Picchu and have navigated the entrance, follow the upper trail around Machu Picchu to the commanding and easily identifiable Caretaker’s Hut, or Guardhouse. From here, turn left and head through agricultural terraces — don’t worry, it’s simple.

Look for wooden signs with “Intipunku” written on them and stick to the path. You’re walking at altitude, so you need to take care of your speed. The last 20-minutes involve a little more exertion, but the prize rewards your efforts.

Is the Walk to the Sun Gate Safe?

There is very little exposure on the walk from Machu Picchu ruins to the Sun Gate, unlike the trekking routes on Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountains.

Much of the route is above 2,500m / 8,200ft. Make sure you are acclimatised to high altitude. Wear sturdy walking boots; some care is needed in wet conditions because some of the rocks on the trail may be slippery.

There are no facilities at the Sun Gate so take plenty of water, snacks, sun cream, and clothing suitable for all seasonsk in case of a shower.

Think of the side trip to the Sun Gate as a slightly longer walk up a steady slope. Allow 2-4 hours total for the walk, depending on your walking ability.

arge orchids sobralia dichotoma Machu Picchu Peru

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 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.

The Sun Gate is open from 6 am to 4 pm, but we recommend you set off from the Machu Picchu ruins no later than 2 pm. The Machu Picchu complex closes at 5.30 pm.

What is the ‘best time’ to visit is subjective. Below is a rough guide to what to expect.

6-8 am:            Busy with 100-150 Inca Trail trekkers waiting for sunrise. Possible mist on the mountains adds an extra atmosphere.

8-10 am:         Crowds thin out, and the sun may burn off the low-lying mist.

10 am-2 pm:   Few people congregate, and you may get Intipunku to yourself. Can get warm.

2 pm-4 pm:     Some 5-day and 2-day Inca Trail trekkers may pass through.

Weather wise, the Cordillera de Vilcabamba mountain range where Machu Picchu sits has two distinct seasons. The dry season runs from April to October and the wet season from December to March, although it can be rainy or sunny on any day of the year.

Accuweather offers an excellent weather forecasting and reporting service for more information.

Train Hidroelectrica peru

Do I Need a Ticket to Visit the Sun Gate?

Entry to the Sun Gate is free, and you do not need to pay to visit other than your already-purchased Inca Trail, or Machu Picchu ruins entry tickets.

All Inca Trail trekking tours pass through the Sun Gate.

The rules are slightly different for day visitors to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes or alternative treks like Salkantay and Lares. Day tours require an entrance ticket to Machu Picchu.

If you tour Machu Picchu and then walk to the Sun Gate, you leave the ruins when the tour ends. You then need to buy an additional Machu Picchu entrance fee, or a Huayna Picchu/Machu Picchu ticket, to re-enter the ruins and head to the Sun Gate.

If you walk to the Sun Gate before your tour, you can enter the Machu Picchu ruins on the one entry ticket.

The Inca Trail continues for another three miles/5km after the Sun Gate to another beautiful set of ruins at Wiñay Wayna. You can walk on this path with your Machu Picchu entry ticket alone. Note that you cannot enter Wiñay Wayna without an Inca Trail permit, and most people stop at Intipunku and then return to Machu Picchu.

trekker machu-picchu-peru

FAQs Answered: Sun Gate at Machu Picchu

Here are the answers to some of the 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 and Machu Picchu?

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.

Trekkers at Machu Picchu Inca Trail Trek Peru

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 at 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.

Trail head, Inca Trail, Peru

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

You need to be in good physical shape to visit the Sun Gate and 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, Lake Titicaca, or Arequipa immediately before visiting Machu Picchu.

Hikers need to be able to walk comfortably for 3-5 hours in total to enjoy the Sun Gate and Machu Picchu ruins.

Sun Gate, Machu Picchu: An Overview

Height:                        2,745m / 9,005ft

Altitude gain:              290m / 951ft

Age restrictions:          None

Location:                     Upper level, southeast of Machu Picchu

Attractions:                 Panoramic views, terraces, Sun Gate, walk on original Inca Trails

Walking time:             2-3 hours

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, Machu Picchu

  • 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

The Sun Gate at Machu Picchu 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.

Overview plaza Machu Picchu Peru

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