The Most Scenic Spots on a Hike up to Machu Picchu

Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip
Photo of Brandon Dupre
28 November 2017

Machu Picchu itself is without a doubt the highlight of your trip, and may be the highlight of your entire trip to Peru. However, the hikes and journeys to Machu Picchu in themselves offer stunning views of one of the most unique and storied landscapes in the world. With trekking options such as the classic Inca Trail or the Salkantay Trail, or even the hike up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, you’re bound to go home with an album full of photos that aren’t the sacred city. Here is our guide to the most scenic spots on the way up to the ruins.

Sun Gate

The Sun Gate is a famous spot from which to catch the first glimpse of the sun from as it rises up over the ruins, but bear in mind that a lot of the time, Machu Picchu mornings are cloudy. The once-guarded area and the only entrance to Machu Picchu can be visited without going on any of the expensive trails. You can wake up early and do this trail for free, and get stunning views over the entire citadel.

Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

The Ascent

Getting to Machu Picchu doesn’t come cheap, so why not hike to the top from Aguas Calientes? This will save you some money on the bus fee, and you’ll get stunning views across the landscape as you climb towards the ruins. This route is also similar to the one that US explorer Hiram Bingham took when he first came across Machu Picchu with the help of local farmers.

Aguas Calientes | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip


If you take the Salkantay Trail, you’ll go over a mountain pass that’ll bring you face to face with the legendary Apu (“sacred mountain”) Salkantay. This mountain is revered in Incan mythology and the views of it are breathtaking. You’ll most likely be snowed on as you make the journey to the top, but it is more than worth it. The views of the Apu are a nice opening act for the headlining Machu Picchu.


Wiñay Wayna

You can catch a glimpse of this beautiful ruin on your way along the Inca Trail. Like many Inca ruins, this one is built along a steep hillside, and overlooks the Urambama River. This ruin is also a great location to camp overnight on your way to Machu Picchu.

Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

Huayna Picchu

This is the famous peak that towers over the ancient city, and which you see in all the classic photos of Machu Picchu. The peak rises up about 8,835 feet (2,693 meters) and is about 853 feet (260 meters) above Machu Picchu; the views from the top are possibly the best you’ll get of the ancient site from any location.

Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

From the Top

Gazing at Machu Picchu for the first time, after you have just made the grueling hour-long climb to the top, will be even more spectacular than you imagined. The view from the front gates at the famous ruins is hard to beat, especially when it’s your first time there.

Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip | Mia Spingola / © Culture Trip

Warmi Wañusqa

This is one of the highest passes along the Inca trail, at about 13,780 feet (4,200 meters), giving you sweeping views of the landscape below. The name is a Quechua phrase meaning “Dead Woman’s Pass,” and you’ll reach dizzying heights as you make your way to the top of this mountain pass.

Mia Spingola / | © Culture Trip

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