The final day of the trail starts at 3.30 am. We woke up, had the usual coca tea, packed our things and walked to the control checkpoint where we joined all our fellow hikers at about 4.15am, waiting for the checkpoint to open at 5.30 am.
After the checkpoint opens, it is an approximately 2 hour hike to Inti Punku, the “Sun Gate”, from where we would have our first view of Machu Picchu. The hike was relatively level, with some ups, downs, and narrow portions, and beautiful views all around, enhanced even more by the morning light.
The last part of the climb to the Sun Gate is an almost vertical climb of 50 steep steps, affectionately known by folks as the “Gringo Killer” steps.
After making it to the top, you reach the Sun gate – and we got our first look at Machu Picchu. There was still a cloud cover early in the morning, but the sun was coming up, so we waited a few minutes for the clouds to lift.
The first moment the clouds lifted and we got a full view of the site was incredible - words or pictures can do it no justice, everyone sat in silence and awe, just soaking it all in. Although you are still a few kilometers out from the site, you realize how massive it actually is, and how truly hidden it is amidst all the mountains around. Truly magnificent.
After a few minutes, and a few pictures, we started on the final stretch. A 45 minute or so hike, and we were there. This was it, the culmination of years of dreaming, months of anticipation and planning, and days of walking.
Almost there – our entry into Machu Picchu.
The classic picture, with the Huayna Picchu mountain at the back.
No Machu Picchu trip is complete without llamas.
We walked around Machu Picchu for a few hours, soaking it all in.
All in all, as cliched as Machu Picchu has now become, it does not take away from the magnificence of the site, or of the beautiful Inca trail. For me, the trail was a personal challenge and accomplishment, and being able to see Machu Picchu should be on everyone's bucket list!
I'd like to say thanks to my fellow travelers. Our group was a great bunch of people who really helped make the experience that much more wonderful. Also, a special thanks to our amazing guide Elvis from InfoCusco and ALL the InfoCusco folks who made our hike truly memorable.
Magical, Mysterious, Magnificent Machu Picchu.