Inca Trail Destination: Machu Picchu
How you spend your time at Machu Picchu depends on your preferences, itinerary and travel arrangements. First some practicalities. If you are carrying a large rucksack and/or walklng poles, you will have to check them near the entrance (small day-sacks are allowed). Once you pass the entrance booths, store your ticket safely for readmission later. Inside the site, there are no toilets or refreshments.
You will need water and sturdy shoes, especially for Wayna Picchu. Start by climbing the path that leads up to the left, shortly after the entrance booths, to reach the guardhouse with the funerary rock. From here (altitude 2500 metres) you have a panoramic overview of the whole site. From the far end of the terraces, a path leads down to the ancient Inca entrance, taking you almost directly to the Sacred Plaza and on up to the Intiwatana group.
Intiwatana means "hitching post of the sun", a name applied by Bingham. It was not a sun dial, but related to the solar new year. Annually, just after the winter solstice, the Incas celebrated the Inti Raymi festival, with rituals to prevent the sun from slipping lower in the sky. The Inti Raymi was outlawed by the Spanish in 1572, but is re-enacted annually.
The Intiwatana may have been linked with mountain worship, and its shape can be seen as an abstract image of a mountain. Its importance was shown by its position at the top of a huge natural pyramid reached by an imposing stone staircase, and was further emphasised by its huge rock base. Ironically and sadly, having survived undamaged for centuries, the Intiwatana was the victim of a careless crane operation during the filming of a beer commercial in September 2000. Look closely to see the chip near its top and the diagonal crack which runs across the stone.
The ascent of Huayna Picchu offers amazing views in all directions: the photos on pages 54 and 56 were taken from its summit. Before you begin, sign in at the caretaker’s hut. In 2001, this trail was open only from 0700 to 1300, with bottled water on sale: but check in advance. Allow an hour to reach the very top, and three-quarters for the steep descent.
Follow the signs uphill, taking care on exposed sections. There are wonderful views on the way up, but the best panoramas are yet to come. Where the Inca Trail splits, keep right to reach a viewing platform with breath-taking 360° views. If conditions are not ideal, consider turning back; alternatively, climb up to and squeeze through the small granite tunnel, emerging to scramble over a jumble of huge boulders. These include a fine granite ‘arrow stone’ pointing at Salkantay, 20 km away.
Pause to reflect on the effort that went into creating and maintaining the terraces, tunnel and buildings in this precarious place. Another side-trip is the "Temple of the Moon": use the same entry-point but fork left at the sign after 10 minutes. It has superb stonework, but its Inca Trail is also very steep, with ladders, and it takes about two hours.
Traditional Inca Trail is one of the paths that belongs to Network Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.