Inti Punku, also known as the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu is an Incan ruin that’s located in the Cusco Region of Peru. Inti Punku means “sun gate” in Quechua—the language of the Incans. The Incans lived in Peru between the years of 1400 and 1533 CE. During this time, they built several pieces of architecture that still stand. Inti Punku served as the entrance to Machu Picchu—which is now one of the 7 wonders of the world. What is now referred to as, “The Sun Gate at Machu Picchu” was once protected by Incan military and dedicated to the Sun God.
Accessing Inti Punku, the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu is possible by foot. The hike begins in Ollantaytambo (located in the Cusco Region). It takes about 3.5 hours to hike up-hill to the Sun Gate, and another 3.5 hours to hike down, for a total of 7 hours.
This guide will answer all your questions about Inti Punku, and provide step-by-step directions on how to trek to this famous Incan ruin.
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History of Inti Punku
Inti Punku is an ancient Incan ruin that has been around since the 15th century, and served as the main entrance to Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is one of the seven wonders of the world, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Archaeologists think that Inti Punku was used as an estate for Inca Emperor Pachacuti and as a fortress for people who lived in the area at that time.
It’s likely that the Incan military protected Inti Punku. Archeologists think that guards were stationed at the gates and kept track of who was allowed to enter (and leave) the sacred grounds. Those gates are the famous landmark, or destination, of the Inti Punku hike today.
Today, Machu Picchu is the most iconic example of Incan culture that exists. Historians speculate that the Incans abandoned Machu Picchu when the Spanish invaded Peru and tried to take over the Cusco Region. Another theory is that the Spanish conquerors brought over smallpox, which killed many of the Incans who lived there. Luckily, their cities were left behind and still stand today. A trek to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu provides a glimpse into one of Peru’s most significant eras in history.
A Brief Overview of the Inti Punku Hike
Hiking to Inti Punku—the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, is a full-day event. The hike takes about 7-9 hours in total—with 3.5 devoted to going uphill and the remaining time allocated for heading back down. This duration may differ depending on how often you take breaks along the hike. There are resting areas throughout the trail where visitors can catch their breath before continuing onward. Once visitors reach the Sun Gate, they usually re-energize with a meal or snack before beginning their descent.
The uphill part of the hike can be grueling. The walk to the Sun Gate is about 85% inclined. The difficulty level is moderate, and it helps to be in in good shape if attempting to walk up the mountain. The Inti Punku trail is about 2745 meters above sea level, so it can be common to experience shortness of breath due to the altitude. If you have any trouble while hiking, try taking breaks and breathing intermittently.
The scenery on the hike is gorgeous. For the first part of the hike, the trek follows the Urubamba River. Once visitors reach the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu, they can see an amazing view of Cusco’s mountains from that high up vantage point. If you’re lucky enough, sometimes you might even be able to spot some snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance too, which is a rare sight in the Cusco Region.
How to Access the Sun Gate Inca Trail
The Sun Gate Inca Trail is the path that you’ll take to get to Inti Punku—the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu. To access the trail, visitors must first go to the Plaza de Armas in Ollantaytambo. If you’re not already in Ollantaytambo, you can get there easily by taking ground transportation to Plaza de Armas. The most common method of ground transportation in the Cusco Region is a colectivo—shared vans that seat about 20 people at a time. Colectivos are available in every major town within the Cusco Region: Cusco City, Pisac, Urubamba, and Calca included.
When you reach the Plaza de Armas in Ollantaytambo, walk to the Inca Bridge. The bridge is easy to spot because of its orange and green color scheme. You will see the entrance to the Sun Gate Inca Trail at the end of the bridge. Walk into the entrance and then begin your hike.
Navigating the Sun Gate Inca Trail
Navigating the Sun Gate Inca Trail is easy. You’ll see a map labeled, “Circuito Turistico Canteras Cachiccata” when you enter. The path to the Sun Gate is very direct. As long as you stay on the path you won’t get lost. There are also arrows scattered throughout the trail, which that point to the correct direction whenever it’s questionable.
As you near the end of the trail, you’ll see the window of the sun gate in the distance. Once you see the window, you have about 30 minutes of walking left before you reach the top.
There are usually a handful of locals & tourists on the trail, so if you have any questions, you can always stop and ask someone for directions.
What to Pack for the Hike to Inti Punku
The hike to Inti Punku—the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu can be moderately challenging, so it’s best to be well prepared before you go. Here’s a list of things that you should bring with you on your hike:
- Good hiking shoes: Shoes with a good grip are ideal because you will walk up and down a steep incline at times.
- Water: Bring a lot of water with you on this hike. The altitude is steep, the hike is challenging, and it can get very hot depending on the time of year that you go.
- Food: This will be an all-day event. You’ll want to bring snacks with you that you can eat while you pause for breaks, as well as a lunch to have when you reach the Sun Gate.
- Comfortable, Layered Clothing: Comfortable clothing, such as yoga pants and a cotton t-shirt, will make a difference. Dress as comfortably as possible in clothes that allow for easy movement. During the trek, the temperature varies—moving from warm to chilly throughout the day, so you’ll want to wear several layers as you adapt to the shift in temperature.
- Rain Gear: The weather on the mountain can change quickly, so be prepared for rain by bringing a poncho or other rain gear. The rainy season is from November to March.
- Camera: Don’t forget to take your camera with you on the hike! The views are breathtaking, and you’ll definitely want some snapshots of the experience.
Enjoy the Hike & Experience Even More in Peru
The hike to Inti Punku—the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu is one of the most challenging & rewarding experiences that you can have in Peru. It’s not an easy hike, but once you finish you’ll feel accomplished and awe-inspired. The views of the hike are incredible, and well worth taking the trek along the Inti Punku Inca Trail.
If you’re looking for even more adventure in Peru, check out the Peru Guides below—which includes detailed breakdowns on how to embark on other hikes in Peru, such as the Rainbow Mountain hike.