Actually, yes! Most travel agencies don’t even mention that with any Machu Picchu tour, there’s actually the option to hike from Aguas Calientes (the town at the base of the mountain) to the entrance of the Machu Picchu archeological site at the top of the mountain. Note that this hike is different from the “Machu Picchu Mountain” and “Huayna Picchu Mountain” hikes in Peru, both accessed after entering the Machu Picchu site.
The bridge to cross the river and start the hike opens at 5 am, and there’s typically a line-up of people before that time (i.e., start lining up at 4:30 am if you want to be among the first batch). You can start the hike any time after 5 am and before 1:30 pm. The advantage of going early is so that you can try to catch the sunrise at the top, amidst the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, and to avoid having to hike in the hot Andean sun. If you are planning to hike super early in the morning, it’d mean that you’re hiking almost entirely in the dark, so I’d recommend bringing a headlamp. I didn’t have this advantage the last time I hiked up that early, so I relied on the dim light of others’ headlamps and/or feeling my way with my hands as the path isn’t lit at all.
In the beginning, it’s easier because you’ll be among that line-up of people I mentioned as you hike up with people close by in front of you and behind you, but hikers start to spread out very quickly depending on their fitness level because it’s a challenging, completely vertical hike. You’ll basically be walking up stone steps for nearly 3.5 kilometers, which can take a hiker anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours.
Most people take the bus that crisscrosses up the same mountain – you’ll be taking the shorter distance vertically up the mountain and will cross that same bus road various times during your hike (don’t forget to check both ways before you cross those sections of the street).
- How long does it take to climb Machu Picchu?
It takes around 20-30 minutes to walk from the town of Aguas Calientes to the bridge where the hike starts. From there, it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours to make it to the top of the mountain and the entrance of the Machu Picchu archeological site, depending on fast you walk, and how often and how long you rest on the way up.
- Is it hard to climb Machu Picchu?
Yes, it's definitely challenging climbing Machu Picchu. Although seasoned hikers may rate the hike as moderate, the reality is that you're walking up stone steps for an hour or two to make it from the bottom of a mountain to the top.
- Where do I start the climb to Machu Picchu?
The start of the hike to Machu Picchu is marked after you cross the bridge – click here for the map pin that identifies the bridge's location and shows where you'd start lining up if you get there before the bridge gate opens at 5 am.