On visiting Machu Picchu, some people are content to wander amongst the ruins, while others are keen to get a different perspective on them. Climbing Huayna Picchu, the sugarloaf mountain which rises above the ruins, is a favoured challenge when it comes to seeking out an elevated vantage point. Becky, our Australia sales manager did the climb on a backpacking trip a few years ago, and here she reminisces on the experience.
I dragged myself out of bed and quickly walked to the bus stop in Aguas Calientes, joining the queue of around 60 sleepy tourists which had already formed. Despite the dark, the cold, and the Peruvian women waving coca leaf tea under my nose, I felt excited. Today I would be visiting the ruins of Machu Picchu, one of the most awe-inspiring sights in South America. I was queuing so early because I also wanted to climb Huayna Picchu, the sugar loaf mountain which serves as a backdrop to the legendary ruins. Back in those days the tickets could not be booked in advance so it was essential to be on one of the first few shuttle buses to the ruins from the valley below in order to get a permit.
At around 5:30am, I finally boarded the third bus of the morning, and sat in anticipation as we zigzagged our way up the mountain, which seemed serenely peaceful in the first light of dawn. As we reached the summit of the mountain, the first thing I noticed was the long line of chattering tourists snaking from the entrance to the ruins. I jumped off the bus and joined the queue. Slowly but surely I drew closer to the gates and before long I had my entry ticket, complete with a permit for climbing Huayna Picchu between 10 and 11am.
I found the steep trail to be both challenging and awe-inspiring, with incredible views. For sufferers of vertigo, it would be a nightmare: sheer drops down to the valley below are visible at regular intervals. For me, this made the trek exhilarating, and I enjoyed pausing to get my breath back whilst peering over the edge to see the extensive and imposing ruins of Machu Picchu gradually shrinking until they became a little more than a speck on the wide green mountain landscape.
I was even more inspired by the work of the Inca stoneworkers; the extent and intricacy of the building work carried out in such an inaccessible location is truly incredible. As with most abandoned and unkempt ruins, it was hard to imagine what the structures looked like in the 1500s, but there was still a sense of magic in the air.
Upon reaching the mountain’s summit, I felt privileged to have had the opportunity to witness such a spectacular place. The trek had added an extra dimension to my experience of Machu Picchu and was without doubt the highlight of my day. The large boulders marking the peak of the mountain were covered with fellow trekkers soaking in the atmosphere, and I got the feeling that, given the chance, everyone would be content to sit up there for hours.
If you'd like to climb Huayna Picchu too, you can browse our Peru holidays here, and see our Machu Picchu excursion options here.
If you fancy a different hike, walking up Machu Picchu Mountain is another good option, as this blog post describes.