After visiting the heart of the Inca Empire in Cusco and the Sacred Valley, we journey on foot to Machu Picchu as its ancient pilgrims once did, through the extraordinarily varied scenery of the Andes and high cloud forest.
Our first days will be spent enjoying the blend of Inca and colonial architecture which has formed the beautiful city of Cusco one sees today, with its fine restaurants and excellent hotels and stores. We then journey into the Sacred Valley of the Incas with its spectacular scenery, fascinating archaeological sites and traditional agricultural communities. The high point, of course, of this trip is the unique trek to Machu Picchu through one of the most biodiverse areas of Peru, visiting many archaeological sites along the way.
Transfer to the hotel in Lima.
Early morning transfer from the hotel to the airport for the 50-minute flight to Cusco.
Transfer from airport to hotel. After a morning free to acclimatise, you will be picked-up for a tour of the city.
The city of Cusco and Saqsaywaman (half day)
We begin with a visit to the cathedral, which was built between 1560 and 1654 on the site of the palace of the Inca Wiracocha. Its main altar is completely covered in silver, and the church contains many fine paintings from the Cusco School of religious art. From the cathedral we move on to Qoricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun, where we see some of the finest remaining examples of Inca stonemasonry. From the city we will go on to explore the Inca remains in the hills around Cusco. The Saqsaywaman Archaeological Park is home to the great fortress temple of Saqsaywaman itself, as well as the ritual baths of Tambomachay, the temple site of Qenqo and the fortified construction known as Puka Pukara. In the evening you will have the opportunity to enjoy Cusco's fine Novo Andean cuisine - based on traditional local ingredients and international gourmet techniques - and a show featuring Andean music or dance.
Today will be spent in the Urubamba Valley - also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Apart from the valley's breathtaking scenery - with fertile slopes surrounded by towering peaks - the main attractions include ancient ruins, colonial villages and traditional markets. The quiet village of Pisaq is home to a colourful market and high above the village stand the ruins of the Inca ceremonial and fortress site of the same name.
A complete network of interconnecting roads linked Cusco to its provinces and other kingdoms and the Inca Trail to Machupicchu was part of that system. Today it has become the most famous and popular trek in South America due to the variety of attractions it offers.
This spectacular trail runs from high mountains down to cloud forest, passing through a number of diverse ecological zones filled with an enormous variety of plants and birdlife. The route is also studded with archaeological sites which lead the visitor to the lost city of the Incas; Machupicchu.
Cusco / Chilca / Huayllabamba
Our vehicle will take us to the trail head at Chilca. From here the trail follows the left bank of the Urubamba River from where we will see beautiful views of snow-capped Veronica (5850 m). After lunch we will visit the ruins of Llactapata before continuing along the Huayllabamba valley and camping near the village of the same name.
From the village of Huayllabamba the trail climbs steadily through high Andean woodland to a plain called Llulluchapampa just before the first pass, from where there are excellent views of the Huayanay mountain chain. After another two hours walking we will reach the pass of Warmiwañuska (4050m/13,280ft), before descending as far as the canyon of the Pacaymayo River, where we make our second camp.
The trail climbs to the second pass at Runcuracay from where we will be able to see the Vilcabamba and Urubamba mountain ranges. After a short rest we descend along a paved Inca road to the ruins of Runcuracay and Sayacmarca, which have been recently restored. Here we enter the cloud forest and in the afternoon the trail descends via a stone staircase past the ruins of Phuyupatamarca to Wiñay Wayna, where we camp for the night.
At the far end of the valley, Ollantaytambo is the only remaining example of Inca urban architecture, where descendants of the Incas still live beneath the imposing ruins of the temple built by their ancestors. We will spend the night in a valley hotel where typical colonial architecture and the quiet village atmosphere provide the perfect backdrop for all the comforts of the modern world.
After about two hours we arrive at Inti Punku, or the Sun Gate, from where we will get our first glimpse of Machupicchu. On arriving at the citadel we will tour the temples, houses, agricultural terraces and palaces of this magical place. Return to Cusco by train in the afternoon.
Things to bring on the trip
To be in good health and shape to be part of this adventure (Try to train by walking each day for at least two weeks before departure).