Our first stop is the city of Cusco, with its narrow Inca streets crowned by colonial mansions and churches. But Cusco is not just the cradle of ancient Inca culture and a jewel of colonial architecture; it is also the gateway to the Amazon region and the most biologically diverse forests in the world, as well as the point of departure for journeys on foot or by train to the emblematic ruins of Machu Picchu. In just two weeks you will hike into the high Andes and descend into subtropical forest.
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. 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 drive up into the surrounding hills. We will explore the Inca sanctuary of Saqsaywaman, with its immense monolithic walls built from stones that weigh up to 130 tons each, all joined perfectly together. 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 is 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.
The saltpans at Maras consist 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. This process takes one month, until a 10 cm layer of salt has formed.
The Incas built a series of agricultural terraces in the form of a circular amphitheatre 150 meters in diameter. Moray was a centre for agricultural experiments and recent research has shown that the different levels of terraces represent different microclimates in the region and that temperatures between the terraces vary greatly.
We journey west through the Anta Valley. Descending into the warm and dry Apurimac Valley we visit the Inca temple of Tarawasi. A little further along the road we climb to the village of Mollepata, where our mule drivers will be waiting to load the horses or mules. We will then walk to a nearby valley where we will camp at Soraypampa 3250 m (10,660ft).
We climb a summit above the Rio Blanco. It is common to see condors along this section of the trail. We continue our steep ascent of the enormous glacier, arriving at the pass at 4825 m (15,826ft) below the south face of Salkantay (6247 m / 20,600ft) the highest peak of the Vilcabamba mountain range. Our path continues down to Cruz Qasa, where we camp at 4490 m / 14,727 ft.
A short hike takes us to Cruz Qasa pass at 4715 m / 15,465 ft. with exceptional views of Mount Ocobamba (5126 m / 16,813ft). We camp at Inca Raqay (4600 m / 15,088 ft).
Crossing the final pass just 200 m / 656 ft above our camp the trail descends to the narrow Chillca gorge and the most fertile area of the region - the Urubamba Valley - where we camp at 2800 m / 9,184 ft.
Today we leave the camp early and take a short walk to the train station for the ride to Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu 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 rediscovered in 1911. Our guide will explain in detail 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.
The Amazon rainforest produces 20% of the world's oxygen and 10% of the world's freshwater flows along its river systems and into the Atlantic Ocean.
The Tambopata National Reserve (TNR) covers an area of 274,690 hectares and borders the the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, forming a protected area of 1091416 hectares.
The many studies of the fauna and flora along the Tambopata River reveal an incredible abundance of life forms. The ecosystems of this part of southeast Peru are the most diverse on the planet, and within the territory of our Ecolodge we are able to offer our guests endless opportunities for the observation of the rainforest's diverse fauna and flora.
The Tambopata Ecolodge is situated on the banks of the Tambopata River in the heart of the Tambopata National Reserve (TNR). The remoteness and tranquility of our lodge make for a richly rewarding visit to the rainforest. But, with a location just four hours from Cusco (a thirty-minute commercial flight, transfer to the river port and a three-hour boat ride to the lodge), our Ecolodge is one of the most accessible rainforest destinations in Latin America.
Flight to Puerto Maldonado and journey to the lodge: Following your early morning flight to Puerto Maldonado from Lima or Cusco, you will be met at the airport by your naturalist guide and transferred to a dugout canoe for the trip up the Tambopata River to the Ecolodge.
The proximity of the Tambopata National Reserve to Cusco, Machu Picchu and Lima assures a rewarding visit to excellent rainforest habitat without losing vacation time travelling. In the late afternoon you set off for an introductory walk into the forest behind the lodge. Frequently seen mammals on this trail are saddle-back tamarinds, brown capuchins and agoutis. After dinner: Night walk to find nocturnal animals or insects by their eye-shine.
A morning's exploration by foot and paddle canoe of the lake system of Condenado, rich in bird and aquatic life: A family of giant otters lives in the vicinity of the lake and are often observed. Birds abound, especially rufescent tiger-herons, great egrets, wattled jacanas, hoatzin, the noisy donacobius and many others. The afternoon is for exploring the forest close to the lodge (with or without your guide), relaxing and bathing in the Gallucunca, a cool clear stream beside the lodge, or visiting our tree platforms.
After breakfast a short boat ride downriver to the trail head. Here you embark on a longer trail which leads to a spectacular hidden lake and on the way you are introduced to more aspects of the forest and its animals. At the lake itself it is possible to spot elusive black caiman and giant otters. The afternoon is free for relaxation and bathing.
An early morning start is required for the canoe trip back to Puerto Maldonado, giving memorable views of the sunrise over the river. Look out for the early morning wildlife, which is particularly active at this time. Howler monkeys are frequently heard, as they stake out their territories. Your guide will take care of you on arrival in Puerto Maldonado and will deal with all the necessities at the airport prior to your departure.
Return flight to Lima: End of services.
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).