I don't wish to sound negative, but I didn't have high hopes for Machu Picchu. This was one reason why I agreed to the four-day hike of the Inca Trail—the idea of being dropped of at the gates of Machu Picchu by a bus wasn't enough to get me all the way to Peru. I had also been warned by my friend who first did the hike that Machu Picchu was kind of a tourist hell and I believed him. I tend to regard most places swarming with people as varying degrees of hell (I know, I love living in New York City—it doesn't make sense to me either), so I instantly knew that I'd probably feel similarly about one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Machu Picchu is where our Inca Trail hike ended, and on the fourth day we woke at 3:45am (ugh) for a quick breakfast before we left the camp. We hiked for what seemed like ten minutes and then ... stopped for an hour to wait in line with hundreds of other bleary-eyed trekkers until the checkpoint opened at 5:30am. I'm not entirely convinced that this timing was necessary, especially after reading that the Sun Gate entrance is significant at the Solstice, not every single morning at sunrise. Regardless, after a relatively easy hike of less than two hours (punctuated by at least one incline so steep our guide held my hiking poles and instructed me to "climb with my hands like a baby"), we arrived at the Sun Gate, once the main entrance to the ancient city.
One thing we really hit the jackpot on this trip was the weather. All four days were pretty much perfect, and it only rained once—and stopped almost as soon as we put on our rain jackets. It was clear and sunny on the fourth day and the view of Machu Picchu was perfect. I had actually been hoping for at least a bit of fog since I'm always wishing for things to feel spookier, but after hiking for two days without food I was just grateful to have reached the end.
Well, the Sun Gate wasn't technically the end, but at least the hike continued downhill until we were in Machu Picchu proper. We saw several people hiking up the other way and I was so grateful to not be them. I don't want to tell you what to do with your life, but if you're already at Machu Picchu I don't think you need to hike up to the Sun Gate—it was cool to start there, but not cool enough to make a special (uphill) trip.
We stopped to take some group photos at the "postcard viewpoint" and then had some downtime until our tour started. The bathrooms are located outside of the main gates and they cost one sole, but at least they had toilet paper and proper toilet seats—a luxury in my life by this point in our trip. You can also stamp your passport, which isn't official, but is fun (I never knew this was a thing), visit the snack bar or browse the world's smallest gift shop (nary a squished penny or floaty pen in sight).
There's a lot of conflicting and just plain wrong information circulating about Machu Picchu, and I'm by no means an expert but I caution you to do your research and not believe everything you overhear. Regardless of its intended purpose, there's no denying that Machu Picchu is an impressive and intriguing ruin. The Incas built the city around 1450 and a century later it was abandoned. The Spanish never found it, but it wasn't ever really lost—at the time Hiram Bingham III "discovered" it (aided by locals), there were several families living and farming on the land.
I was still not feeling anywhere close to 100% while we were there, and I spent most of our visit resting in the shade with other elderly visitors. I was able to eventually walk most of it, and we hit all of the highlights—the temples, the Room of the Three Windows, the sacred rock. We had opted to spend the night in Aguas Calientes instead of immediately returning to Cusco and had toyed with the idea of returning to Machu Picchu the next day. We had also discussed hiking Huayna Picchu but the tickets were already sold out when I looked a few weeks before our trip. There's no way we could've known I'd be sick, but I'm still grateful that we did neither. Even if I had been feeling great, a few hours at Machu Picchu was more than enough.