Machu Picchu Mountain is an unforgettable and lesser-known hike above the Machu Picchu ruins with stunning panoramic view of the valley. Reaching ruins is only one part of the Machu Picchu experience. The other one is climbing the summit of Machu Picchu Mountain at 3,050 meters above sea level for dramatic views of the ruins and lush mountains separated by deep valleys and Urubamba River.
Machu Picchu recently made its way onto the list of best rated landmark in the world by Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards 2016.
As spectacular as seeing Machu Picchu is, the ruins of lost Incan city tell very little if you don’t see them in a perspective with the surrounding mountains. It’s when you can appreciate the enormous effort of Incas for building a city 2,430 meters above sea level without any use of metal tools or the wheel. Why the city was initially built still remains a mystery.
The iconic landmark of Peru is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and usually the main reason people come here. Visiting Machu Picchu can be as comfortable or adventurous as you make it.
You can arrive by train to Aguas Calientes, a base for visiting Machu Picchu, from which a bus will take you up to the ruins. Or you can trek in the mountains for several days, arriving in Aguas Calientes (called Machu Picchu town) by foot and climb to the Machu Picchu ruins yourself.
I suppose you know where I’m going with this. Of course, we chose the latter.
After 4 days of trekking through the snow-peaked mountains and through the humid jungle, we reached the end of the Salkantay Trek on the 5th day – Machu Picchu.
Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu
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Climbing up to the Machu Picchu
At 4:30 am, we were standing in front of the gate to climb through the jungle to Machu Picchu. When they opened the gate at 5:00 am, an adrenaline rushed through my body. I couldn’t believe in just a few hours I would see the place I dreamt about for years. Our pace slowed down with every set of the stairs we climbed. The dark jungle was hot and humid, birds screaming in the distance.
We only saw headlamps of fellow travelers as we tried to catch our breath at high altitude getting a workout done way too early for my liking.
When the jungle started to wake up and the first bus from Aguas Calientes made its way through many switchbacks on the way to the ruins, we all tried to speed up and get to the entrance before the bus. Nobody wants to end up at the end of the line after such a hard climb.
Our guide from Salkantay Trek gave us a short tour around the ruins pointing out the most significant places and their meaning to Incas. The morning fog didn’t disappear for another few hours as we walked between the ruins, greeted all the llamas and waited to see the whole city of Machu Picchu.
We slowly made our way to the upper trail heading to the warden’s hut to climb the Machu Picchu Mountain. Warden told us around 1600 stairs wait for us with the most magical view at the end.
Machu Picchu Mountain hike
As we slowly started to climb up the mountain, we were rewarded with short glimpses of Machu Picchu Citadel partially appearing from the fog before another cloud came. We weren’t even halfway through the climb when my legs started cramping. I guess the multi-day Salkantay Trek and early morning climb to the ruins were taking their toll.
It got so bad I couldn’t take another step. I sat down for a while when tears started to roll down my cheeks. Machu Picchu was below me and I couldn’t walk to finish climbing the damn Machu Picchu Mountain. It was too hard to admit the defeat. I just sat on a rock staring at the fog.
Then the magic happened.
Just when I thought I need to return, the fog cleared. Machu Picchu appeared in the whole glory.
My tears of sadness and exhaustion suddenly turned into tears of happiness. I couldn’t hold up all the emotions.
Years of dreaming became the reality.
The vastness of the surrounding mountains, the beautiful view of Machu Picchu and the journey we took to get here supplied me with an incredible amount of new energy. All of a sudden, keep climbing up didn’t seem unachievable.
A huge smile powered me up the Machu Picchu Mountain. Jungle path hidden in the trees turned into an exposed staircase with a huge drop below us a few times. Michal had to push through his fear of heights.
This place gives you a new sense of achievement when you realize overcoming your fears and pains is going to make you happy in the end.
We reached the top after an hour of a hard climb.
The view from the top isn’t easy to put into words. Look at the picture below.
We were standing on top of a 3,050 meters high mountain well above an ancient Incan Empire. Feeling like standing on top of the world, lush jungle and mountain peaks all around us with a view of one of the most iconic landmarks in the world built thousands of years ago. It really doesn’t get better than this.
We chose the biggest adventure we could and arrived at Machu Picchu trekking through the mountains in rain and heat, covering 74 km for the last 5 days. This was the best reward we could have asked for.
Wandering around the ruins all afternoon, laugh with friendly llamas and having a picnic with Machu Picchu in front of us was the perfect ending to a perfect day.
Don’t miss this once-in-a-lifetime-experience when you visit Peru!
Everything you need to know about Machu Picchu Mountain hike
Which mountain to climb?
There are 2 mountains you can climb from Machu Picchu ruins:
- Huayna Picchu – the mountain behind the ruins you see on every Machu Picchu picture
- Machu Picchu Mountain – located opposite of the Huayna Picchu
Huayna Picchu (also called Wayna Picchu)
- Elevation: 2,720m with elevation gain from Machu Picchu ruins 290m
- Time needed: estimated hiking time is 2 hours roundtrip for short trail and 4 hours for full trail (including hiking around the rock)
- Trail: steep and rocky with big steps, very exposed with huge drops (handrails are installed), scramble at the top
- View: Machu Picchu ruins with a view of surrounding mountains, valleys, and Urubamba River
- Limited amount of 400 people per day, tickets need to be booked months in advance
- The top gets crowded and there’s not a lot of space to move around
- People with a big fear of heights shouldn’t attempt to hike up
Machu Picchu Mountain
- Elevation: 3,060m with elevation gain from Machu Picchu ruins 620m
- Time needed: estimated hiking time is 3 hours round trip
- Trail: less steep but constant uphill, rocky steps for most of the trail, there are 3 exposed section of the stairs with no handrail (around 1m wide path), otherwise no drops
- View: Machu Picchu surrounded with mountains and valleys from the highest point of the iconic view of the citadel (the main reason we chose this option)
- Tickets don’t sell out, we bought them last minute and our guide told us it’s normal
- There are two natural flat platforms on top
Both trails are well marked and the high altitude is contributing to the difficulty of the hike.
Tickets to Machu Picchu & Machu Picchu Mountain
Machu Picchu Mountain (and Huayna Picchu) each cost 15 USD extra to your Machu Picchu entrance ticket (47,50USD) and you need to buy Machu Picchu entrance + Machu Picchu Mountain ticket together (there is no option to buy the ticket for the mountain separately when you change your mind).
IMPORTANT CHANGE from July 1st, 2017
Everyone entering Machu Picchu is required to hire a guide.
New schedule for Machu Picchu entrance has two shifts:
- Morning: entrance from 6 to 12 pm
- Afternoon: entrance from 12 to 5:30 pm
For visiting Machu Picchu Mountain (or Huayna Picchu), you need to buy a morning entrance to the ruins together with a ticket for the mountain.
Schedule for visiting Machu Picchu Mountain:
- 1st shift: entrance from 7 to 8 am
- 2nd shift: entrance from 9 to 10 am
You will not be rushed to hike up and down the mountain but you need to enter during these times. If you buy a Machu Picchu with Machu Picchu Mountain ticket for the 2nd shift, you need to leave Machu Picchu by 2 pm.
Hot to get to Machu Picchu
- step– getting to Cusco (from which the Machu Picchu is visited)
- by plane, you can check the options here (average price is 83USD per person for a flight from Lima)
- by bus from Lima which is cheaper but very long (around 40 hours)
- step – getting to Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu town
At one of the many hotels in Cusco, Peru, arrange transport through a tourist agency:
- by train from Cusco to Aguas Calientes, tickets starting around 150USD roundtrip (same amount we paid for a 4-day trek), around 3 hours one way
- by van from Cusco to Hidroelectrica for 100USD roundtrip, around 6 hours one way ( one night in Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu entrance ticket included). And then walk for 2 hours along the railroad tracks to Aguas Calientes, it’s an easy walk on a flat ground (or take a train, ticket for foreigners is 28USD)
- by foot via Inca Trail or Salkantay Trek, 3-5 days (we chose 5-day Salkantay trek and paid 200USD per person including everything on the trek, tickets to Machu Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, 1 extra night at a hotel in Aguas Calientes and van transport back to Cusco)
- step – getting to Machu Picchu ruins
- by foot climbing up the stairs, around 1.5 hours up
- by bus for 12USD one way
Best time to visit Machu Picchu Mountain
Consider the season in which you travel to Machu Picchu. Because of its tropical location, pouring rain is common. The dry season is from May to September and the rainy season from November to March. The most stable weather is during the busiest times – July and August.
I would say the best time to visit Machu Picchu is during the shoulder season in April & May or September & October.
That being said, we’ve visited during the rainy season in February and stayed 2 days in Aguas Calientes (in case of bad weather the first day we would have bought another ticket for Machu Picchu and visit the next day). We had a nice weather all afternoon on Machu Picchu and it rained the majority of the next day.
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