We begin this journey into the heart of Peru in Cusco. The city we see today is the magnificent result of a blend of both Spanish and Inca cultures. The Spanish arrived in Cusco in the 16th century and imposed their culture upon Andean traditions. However, Cusco is not merely the culmination of centuries of Andean civilization, it is also the gateway to the most biologically diverse tropical forests in the world in the Amazon basin, and of course the starting point of any journey to the emblematic ruins of Machu Picchu, one of the seven wonders of our contemporary world.
Cusco, the archaeological capital of the Americas and the oldest continuously inhabited city on the continent, lies in exceptionally beautiful Andean countryside. It is 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 and Saqsaywaman (half day)
We begin our tour with a visit to the cathedral, which was built between 1560 and 1654 on the site of the palace of the Inca Wiracocha. It is a magnificent example of European art made by the indigenous population. 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 will be able to see some of the finest remaining examples of Inca stonemasonry.
Leaving the city, we will visit the vast complex of Sacsaywaman. We will explore this ancient Inca sanctuary with its immense monolithic walls built from stones that weigh up to 130 tons each, all joined perfectly together. Saqsaywaman witnessed great events and bloodshed during the siege of Cusco at the time of the conquest. We will then visit the amphitheater at Qenqo, the fortress of Puka Pukara and the ritual Inca baths at Tambomachay.
The colorful markets of the valley are open during the mornings, when you will be able to buy Peruvian crafts, jewelry and textiles, and see the traditional produce market where local people trade. Pisaq market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and Chinchero market is open on Sundays.
The village of Ollantaytambo retains the original street plan of the Inca town, making it the only surviving example of Inca urban planning. Our tour will include a visit to the agricultural areas around the village, the irrigation system, granaries and the fortress-temple built by Inca Pachacuteq using stonemasons from the Colla culture around Lake Titicaca.
Cusco / Paucartambo / Paradise Lodge: It is necessary to leave Cusco early in order to reach the cloud forest - travelling through Andean landscapes of great beauty, with deep valleys, highlands, rural communities and picturesque colonial towns such as Paucartambo, which has been the gateway to the Manu forests since pre-Hispanic times. Acjanaco pass (3,850 meters above sea level) marks the official entrance to Manu National Park. From here the road descends to the cloud forest, passing the important ecosystem comprised of Andean grassland, where vegetation is sparse. From here we descend into the cloud fo cloud forest. This is a very rich area in terms of flora and fauna, the habitat of the cock-of-the-rock (Rupicula peruviana), quetzals, blue-crowned motmots, toucans, the spectacled bear (South America's only bear), white-tailed deer, butterflies, ferns and orchids. We will spend the first night in our cloud forest Paradise Lodge.
After our first night in the cloud forest, and before breakfast, we will take a walk in the forest to see the cock-of-the-rock in a daily mating ritual in which eight to ten males perform in order to attract the attention of a female. We will then return to the lodge for a good breakfast and continue our trip to the port of Atalaya, from where we will board our boat downstream to our camp on the Upper Madre de Dios River, close to a macaw clay lick.
Before breakfast, at about 5:30 am, we will hike to a position some 30 m (90 ft) from the lick, a rich deposit of natural minerals and clay in the river sidewall. From here we can observe several species of parrots and parakeets arriving, followed by macaws, in a colorful show. If there is good weather we may have the opportunity to see around 300 individuals. After this unforgettable spectacle and a good breakfast we will continue downstream to the village of Boca Manu, where we will be joined by other passengers arriving by light aircraft from Cusco. As we travel downriver we will be able to see a variety of birds among the trees, as well as caiman along the river's edge. Around noon we will enter the Manu Reserved Zone for a 4-hour hike in this primary forest. At nightfall we will stay in a comfortable lodge in Boca Manu at the entrance to the park. This is an opportunity for a nocturnal walk, during which we will hopefully see nocturnal birds such as the sand-colored nighthawk as we listen to the spectacular sounds made by night climb a 15m high observation tower, from where birds such as the exuberantly feathered and primitive hoatzin can be seen, as well as monkeys feeding on fruit and several species of flowers and brightly-colored butterflies. We will then return to our camp by canoe to enjoy a delicious lunch. The afternoon will be dedicated to exploring Salvador oxbow lake and the surrounding area aboard our catamaran, from which we will be able to observe the enormous biological attracted by this oxbow lake, including black caiman, white caiman, a family of giant otters and waterfowl. Return to the camp in the evening.
Today we will continue our journey along the Manu River as far as the CAIMAN CAMP inside the Reserved Area, passing Limonal, the Park Ranger Station, where we will register before entering the Reserved Area. In the course of the trip we will see birds, toucans, macaws, parrots and some mammals such as capybara, tapirs, peccaries and many varieties of turtles, caiman and, if we are lucky, an impressive, lone jaguar. We will arrive at our camp in the mid-afternoon, near the Salvador oxbow lake, where we will spend two nights camping on comfortable platforms.
In the course of this trip we will have the opportunity to see birds, toucans, macaws, parrots and some species of mammal.
Today we will make an early start for a long walk of some three or four hours, from the banks of the Manu River to Lake Otorongo, where we will airfield at Boca Manu, where we will board our plane to Cusco. Staff from our office will be waiting for you at the Cusco airport to take you to your hotel. End of service.
Early in the morning we will have another chance to go for a nature walk or one more visit to the oxbow lake to hear choirs of birds defining their territory in song. As the sun rises, the eastern sky changes to a pale yellow and we will be able to see falcons or other predatory birds patiently searching for prey from the treetops. After lunch we will board our boat again and head downstream towards Boca Manu, this time just floating without the engine in order to have the opportunity to observe the fauna and flora of this extraordinary environment. Arriving at Boca Manu we will visit the native community of the Machiguenga and Yine ethnic groups, and we will visit their gardens of medicinal plants and share in their activities.
In the morning we will transfer to the airfield at Boca Manu, where we will board our plane to Cusco. Staff from our office will be waiting for you at the Cusco airport to take you to your hotel. End of service.
Machu Picchu, the so-called “Lost City of the Incas”, remains intact because it was never discovered by the invading Spanish. Constructed on a high, forested mountain overlooking the Urubamba River, Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu were lost in time and dense foliage until they were discovered in July 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.
Our guides will carefully explain the history of this unique place and guide us around its terraces, temples, palaces and watercourses.
Today is an opportunity to explore the ruins independently, before returning to Cusco by train in the afternoon.