From the colonial and pre-Columbian grandeur of Cusco, with all the comforts it offers to travelers from all over the world, we explore the land of the Incas. The Sacred Valley of the Incas was the fertile heart of the Inca Empire and its people still farm amid the ruins of their ancestral culture and trade in their colorful markets. We then travel to Machupicchu as Inca pilgrims once did: on foot along the world famous Inca Trail, a spectacular trek through the biologically diverse Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary, with its fascinating archaeological remnants of Inca culture.
Cusco lies in exceptionally beautiful Andean countryside at 3400 meters above sea level and its legacy as the hub of the Inca Empire is readily apparent: Most of the city streets are lined with Inca-built stone walls and crowded with Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas.
The city of Cusco on foot (half day)
We begin our tour with a visit to the cathedral, followed by Qoricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun, which boasts the finest remaining examples of Inca stonemasonry. We will also walk through streets lined with Inca walls on our way to the San Blas neighborhood, famous today, as it was in Inca times, for its skilled craftspeople.
We will explore the ancient Inca sanctuary of Saqsaywaman, with its immense monolithic walls, before visiting the amphitheater at Qenqo, the fortress of Puka Pukara and the ritual Inca baths at Tambomachay.
Afternoon visit to Pisaq ruins (half day)
Pisaq ruins stand high above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and comprise an Intiwatana, a temple complex, residential areas and extensive agricultural terracing.
Chinchero is a traditional village with an interesting early colonial church built on what was once an Inca temple. The colorful markets of the valley sell crafts, jewelry and textiles, as well as traditional produce which local people trade.
The saltpans of Maras (full day)
The saltpans at Maras are composed of 3000 small pools. A number of salt water springs emerge from the hillside and are channeled along canals using the natural gradient. This process is repeated every three days and the water evaporates leaving behind the salt which slowly solidifies. The salt is then packed into plastic sacks to be sold in the region's local markets and exported as far away as Japan.
Ollantaytambo is the only surviving example of Inca urban planning. We will visit the agricultural areas around the village, the irrigation system, granaries and the fortress-temple built by Inca Pachacuteq.
A complete network of interconnecting roads linked Cusco to its provinces and other kingdoms and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was part of that system. This spectacular trail runs from high mountains down to cloud forest, passing through ecological zones filled with an enormous variety of plants and birdlife and a number of archaeological sites.
Cusco / Chilca / Huayllabamba
From the trail head at Chilca the trail follows the left bank of the Urubamba River, with beautiful views of snow-capped Veronica (5850m). After lunch we will visit the ruins of Llactapata.
From the village of Huayllabamba the trail climbs 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 two hours we reach the pass of Warmiwañuska (4050m/13,280ft), before descending as far as the Pacaymayo. We then descend along a paved Inca road to the ruins of Runcuracay and Sayacmarca. Here we enter the cloud forest and in the afternoon the trail descends via a stone stairway to the ruins of Phuyupatamarca.
The trail descends a vertiginous slope along stone Inca steps for approximately three hours to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna, a beautiful Inca site set in dense forest. In the afternoon we will walk for another two hours until we reach Intipunku, the Sun Gate, from where we will get our first glimpse of Machu Picchu.
In the company of our guide we will visit the temples, houses, agricultural terraces and palaces and also have some time to explore the ruins independently. (Afternoon return to Cusco by train)
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).