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Intipunku, Machu Picchu’s Sun Gate

Intipunku, or “Sun Gate” in Quechua, is an imposing stone gateway that serves as the main entrance to Machu Picchu and in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This time we want to tell you a little about both.

The History of Intipunku
The inhabitants of the Andes have always been avid stargazers, interacting with the stars and investigating everything the cosmos has to offer. Their knowledge and beliefs were entirely based on these observations. Starting in Incan times there was an increasing need for multifunctional constructions such as terrace systems for farming, temples, observatories, storage facilities, places of worship, watchtowers, etc.

The Intipunku, located in Ollantaytambo, played the important role of a control gate and at the same time an astronomical observatory. Its position was ideal, since it was perfectly aligned with the constellation of the Pleiades (the Qollqa, as the Incas called it) and the snow-capped mountain of Verónica (Huacayhuilque or Waqaywillki). It was closely associated with the winter solstice and the Andean New Year.

Just as Andean inhabitants stored their most precious food in special storage facilities, they believed that all things which endured beyond earthly life should be immortalised and preserved. Intipunku was the interdimensional spiritual bridge that acted as the portal between the world of the living and the afterlife.

How to get to each of the two Intipunku? Here we detail the route of each of them: in Ollantaytambo and in Machu Picchu.

How to Reach Intipunku in Ollantaytambo?
This Sun Gate is located 9 km away from the Ollantaytambo district, in the Kachi Qhata (Salt Slope) sector in the upper part of the archaeological site, on the banks of the Vilcanota River and 3,900 meters above sea level.

There are two ways to reach this Intipunku:

Route Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Intipunku
We head towards Pavitos street, in the same city of Cusco, to board a minivan that will take us to Ollantaytambo. It is recommended to go very early, as it is a trip of at least 2 hours.

Then, we have a stretch of 9 km to go until we reach the Sun Gate. We dare to say that it is one of the most beautiful walks you can experience, because you will be able to appreciate the beautiful landscape that the Sacred Valley offers; nature, mountains and snow-capped mountains. We can hardly ask for something better!

Of course, remember that this is a trek of at least 5 hours at height, so you must be in good physical condition.

Route Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Kachi Qhata – Intipunku
Here we will also take a minivan to Ollantaytambo, but now we will take a detour (by taxi or private car) to Kachi Qhata. From this place, we will begin our ascent to Intipunku, which consists of 6 km and lasts approximately 3 hours.

Like the first route, you will be able to rest and appreciate the beautiful landscape at the end of the route. Similarly, you will return the same day by the same path you took. If you wish, you can camp in the surroundings.

How to get to the Intipunku of Machu Picchu?
Although there are currently more entrances to Machu Picchu, the Sun Gate is still considered the most important due to its history and construction. It can be reached in two ways: by hiking from the archaeological site of Machu Picchu and by taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Visitors usually use the second way, since it is the usual tourist route.

Route to Intipunku from Machu Picchu
This hike starts at Machu Picchu’s entrance gate and runs for a distance of about 2 km (1.2 mi) along farming terraces. Any visitor can take this optional short trip, but remember, it is not included in guided tours of Machu Picchu. The path is closed in February due to heavy rainfall.

Route to Intipunku along the Inca Trail
The Inca Trail itself is a whole excursion, taking two or four days depending on the type of route you choose. You will arrive at the Sun Gate on the last day of the trek, as the final stop before reaching Machu Picchu.

The four-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu covers a distance of approximately 39 km (24 mi) long. It usually starts at Wayllabamba (Km Marker 82), continues via Pacaymayo on Day 2, and Wiñayhuayna on Day 3, before finally arriving at Intipunku on Day 4 after trekking 37 km (23 mi).
The two-day Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu covers approximately 12 km (7.5 mi). It starts at Km Marker 104 of the railway that connects Ollantaytambo and the town of Machu Picchu.
The return from Machu Picchu depends on the tour you take but remember that you will have to catch the train back to the city of Cusco. The PeruRail Vistadome train has all the amenities you will need on your return trip, offering a complete immersion in nature as you travel, not to mention onboard cultural events. Ready to see what it’s all about? You can buy your tickets here.

Activities at Machu Picchu’s Intipunku
Activities along the trail to Intipunku and at the site itself include the following:

  • Enjoy the walk. They say that sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination, and that’s certainly the case here. The ascent from Machu Picchu to the Sun Gate is extremely scenic, offering you the same views the Incas enjoyed hundreds of years ago along the actual paths they built.
  • Take in the dazzling landscape. The views here are truly unparalleled: the mountain of Huayna Picchu, the Urubamba River and the town of Machu Picchu together with its beautiful surroundings.
  • Birdwatching. If you’re lucky, at this altitude you can find the birds that call Machu Picchu home. These species include the chestnut-breasted coronet, the Andean guan, the famous Andean cock-of-the-rock, the blue-grey tanager, and others.

Did any of these two Intipunku catch your attention? It is a beautiful experience to take these tours and get to know everything around you, but taking all the necessary precautions. We recommend going in times when the rains are not so frequent (May – October), always with sunscreen and waterproof clothing, as the weather can change drastically from one moment to another.

In addition, the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu is enough to enter the Sun Gate.

Remember that you can take a train to Machu Picchu and hike to the Sun Gate from there. The PeruRail Expedition train is ready to offer its services to more adventurous visitors at a modest price, with all the amenities you could possibly need. Get your tickets here.

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