Inti Punku: Machu Picchu's Sun Gate

Reading : 4 min November 10 2023

Are you planning a visit to the legendary Machu Picchu and curious about the significance of Inti Punku, also known as the Sun Gate? You're in the right place! In this in-depth guide, we'll unravel the history, meaning, and intriguing journey to this iconic location. Prepare to embark on an adventure leading to the heart of ancient Incan heritage. 

What will you find here?

  1. What does the name Intipunku mean
  2. Why is it called the Sun Gate? 
  3. What is the significance of the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu?
  4. The History of Intipunku
  5. How to reach Intipunku in Ollantaytambo
  6. Routes to Intipunku
  7. Route to Intipunku from Machu Picchu
  8. Activities at Machu Picchu’s Intipunku


What does the name Intipunku mean

Intipunku, a Quechuan term, translates to "Sun Gate" in English. As the name suggests, it holds immense celestial significance. The Inca civilization, known for its astronomical prowess, considered the sun a deity, and Intipunku was a sacred place dedicated to honoring this celestial body. 

Why is it called the Sun Gate?  

The name "Sun Gate" is fitting because of its strategic location. Intipunku is situated at a point where the rising sun aligns perfectly with its gateway during the winter solstice. This remarkable alignment symbolized rebirth and renewal, crucial aspects of Inca spirituality.

What is the significance of the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu?

Intipunku served as the entrance to Machu Picchu for those traveling along the Inca Trail. It was not just a gateway but a threshold to the spiritual and physical journey of pilgrims and traders. This site marked the final stretch of their expedition and the awe-inspiring moment when they laid eyes on the sacred city of Machu Picchu.

The History of Intipunku

Intipunku's history is intertwined with the rise and fall of the Inca Empire. It served as a checkpoint and a place for spiritual reflection for travelers. Its construction exemplifies the incredible architectural skill of the Incas, who meticulously designed the site to align with astronomical events.

  • Ancient Roots: The origins of Intipunku date back to the Inca Empire's peak, which thrived from the early 15th century until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. This period marked an era of immense achievement in engineering, astronomy, and architecture, and Intipunku was no exception.

  • Architectural Marvel: At first glance, Intipunku may appear as a simple stone structure, but a closer look reveals the intricate craftsmanship that has withstood the test of time. The Incas masterfully assembled massive stone blocks to create this gateway, using precise construction techniques that allowed the stones to fit together seamlessly without the use of mortar.

  • Astronomical Alignment: One of the most fascinating aspects of Intipunku is its celestial alignment. Positioned strategically on the ridge, this Sun Gate perfectly frames the sunrise during the winter solstice. The Incas, known for their deep connection to the cosmos, regarded this alignment as a symbol of rebirth and renewal, and it played a central role in their spiritual beliefs.

  • Gateway to Machu Picchu: Intipunku served a practical purpose as well. It was the main entrance to the sacred city of Machu Picchu for travelers arriving via the Inca Trail. Pilgrims and traders would pass through this gate, marking the culmination of their journey to this awe-inspiring city hidden amidst the Andean peaks.


How to reach Intipunku in Ollantaytambo

The Sun Gate can be found at a distance of 9 kilometers from Ollantaytambo town, nestled within the Kachi Qhata, also known as the Salt Slope region, situated at the higher reaches of the archaeological site. It overlooks the Vilcanota River, perched at an elevation of 3,900 meters above sea level.

Routes to Intipunku

  1. Route Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Intipunku: This is the classic route that takes you from the heart of Cusco to Ollantaytambo and then to Intipunku. Start in Pavitos Street within the city of Cusco to catch a minivan bound for Ollantaytambo (time: 2 hours). Following that, there's a 9-kilometer stretch ahead of us, leading to the Sun Gate (time: 5 hours).

  2. Route Cusco – Ollantaytambo – Kachi Qhata – Intipunku: Catch a minivan bound for Ollantaytambo, but with a twist. We'll make a detour, either by taxi or private car, leading us to Kachi Qhata. It's from this point that we'll commence our ascent towards Intipunku (time: 3 hours, distance: 6 kilometers).

Route to Intipunku from Machu Picchu

If you're already exploring Machu Picchu, you can embark on a separate journey to reach Intipunku. Commencing from the entrance gate of Machu Picchu, this trek covers approximately 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and winds along agricultural terraces. This brief excursion is open to all visitors; however, it's important to note that it is not part of guided Machu Picchu tours.

Activities at Machu Picchu’s Intipunku

While at Intipunku, take the time to immerse yourself in the rich history and spirituality of the place. Meditate, marvel at the sunrise alignment, and embrace the sense of wonder that this sacred site evokes.

  1. Hiking: The most common activity at Intipunku is hiking. Visitors typically hike from the main entrance of Machu Picchu to Intipunku, which offers a rewarding experience as you ascend to this vantage point. It's a relatively moderate hike that provides breathtaking views of Machu Picchu and the surrounding landscape. 

  2. Sunrise viewing: Many visitors aim to reach Intipunku early in the morning to witness the sunrise over Machu Picchu. The soft morning light can create a magical atmosphere and beautiful photo opportunities.

  3. Photography: Intipunku offers some of the best views of Machu Picchu, making it an ideal spot for photography. Capture the ancient ruins in various lighting conditions and from different angles.

  4. Contemplation and relaxation: Intipunku provides a serene environment where you can take a moment to appreciate the grandeur of Machu Picchu and reflect on its historical significance. It's an excellent place to sit and soak in the beauty of the site.


Is Intipunku accessible to all visitors?

Yes, Intipunku is accessible to visitors of all ages and fitness levels. However, some routes may be more challenging than others, so choose the one that suits you best. 


Are there guided tours available to Intipunku?

Yes, guided tours to Intipunku are available from Ollantaytambo and Machu Picchu. These tours provide valuable insights into the history and significance of the site. 


Can I witness the sun alignment at Intipunku year-round? 

The sun alignment at Intipunku is most prominent during the winter solstice, typically around June 21st. However, the site's celestial significance can be appreciated year-round. 



Suscribe to receive the latest news of Incarail