Overnight in Lima.
An early morning flight brings you to the Inca capital of Cusco where Quechua speaking descendents of the Incas move back and forth in the busy plazas and markets. Colonial churches sit atop bases of smooth stonework laid centuries before the arrival of the Conquistadors. The church walls have fallen many times throughout the years, but the Inca walls remain. The morning is yours to explore Cusco's narrow streets and bustling markets. In the afternoon, you'll tour Cusco's traditional markets and can talk to the women selling natural medicines and charms for curing heartache and other afflictions. You will visit the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco, a local organization committed to preserving the region's weaving traditions. (If visiting the Sacred Valley on Sunday, you will visit their center in Chinchero instead). Watch weavers demonstrate their craft and learn about the history and processes of Peru's most well-known art form.
Today is free to relax and explore with your guide or on your own. Travelers can go on a city tour of the churches and surrounding ruins, such as the enormous Sacsayhuamán ruins that overlook Cusco (these ruins showcase building blocks the size of SUVs). You can also wander through the bustling Plaza de Armas in the heart of Cusco, shop for love potions in the local markets, or people watch from the cafes and restaurants that line these lovely streets. For those bursting with energy, horseback riding, mountain biking, or even whitewater rafting (Class III-IV) can be arranged. The evening is yours to take in some of Cusco's varied and exciting nightlife.
The Sacred Valley is an area full of major Inca ruins and ancient villages. You'll test your bargaining skills with the locals while visiting one of the great textile markets in the area. You may hike to the inspiring ruins of Pisac, or take a short walk through the countryside to the seldom-visited town of Maras and its pre-Columbian salt mines (still in use today with salt being collected in traditional fashion) as well as the Inca agricultural terraces of Moray, thought to have been a nursery to experiment with and modify different varieties of crops. Eventually, you will make your way to the living Inca city of Ollantaytambo where you can relax for the night. Tonight, relax and sip wine in front of a fire beneath the ruins of Ollantaytambo as you prepare for your Peru trek on the Cachiccata Trail.
From Ollantaytambo, you will drive for about 40 minutes to Racca located in the sacred Valley of the Incas. Here you will start your amazing trek! You will hike for about 30 minutes until arriving at Ñaupa Iglesia, which was an important Inca Shrine. After exploring the shrine with your guide, hike uphill to the Andean community of Soccma. This community is nested in the heart of the Andes. At Soccma, you will meet the horses and porters who will accompany you during the whole trek and partake in a picnic lunch overlooking the beautiful mountainous scenery. After lunch, continue hiking uphill to Perolniyoc, where you can enjoy vistas of the Soccma Valley, Maras Plateau and the snow-capped mountain Chicon. We will also visit the Perolniyoc Waterfall - with its drop of 328 feet.
Camp altitude: 9,512 ft
Hiking length: 4.3 miles uphill (5 to 6-hour hike)
After breakfast, we will being our hike following an ancient Incan water channel. The trail ascends through the Ccorimarca Valley, where terraces locally known as "Andenes" dot the hillsides. The terraces were built by the Incas, but locals still grow their crops here. Hike up to the first pass from which there is an amazing view of the snow-capped peaks of the Urubamba range. You can see Veronica, Ausangate, Pachatusan and Salcantay peaks from this vantage point. Look out over the fields of Chinchero, Moray and Maras far below you.
After breaking for a rest and a snack, we will continue through the small valley of Chancachuco, where we will have lunch next to the Andean lake of Maracocha, as it drains its waters into the stream of Chancachuco, through a long Inca water channel of 18 km. We can admire Andean bird species such as the Andean goose, the Cara Cara, and the Andean flicker. After a short rest and our picnic lunch, we continue downhill to our next campsite, which boasts spectacular views of the snowy peak Huayanay. Here, we will have the opportunity to visit with a local family who makes their living farming potatoes and raising sheep.
Camp Altitude: 13,776 ft
Distance from camp 1 to the pass: 3.1 miles (4 hour hike)
Distance from the pass to camp 2: 2.5 miles (2 hour hike)
Early this morning, we will begin our trek to the second mountain pass on our journey, Apu Buena Negra. At the top of the pass, we will have a spectacular birds-eye view of the Sacred Valley and the snowy Urubamba mountain range. From the pass, we will hike downhill following the trail until we join the Inca water channel coming from Maracocha Lake. Eventually, we we reach the temple Intiwatana, located on the edge of the mountain. Here, traditional offering are still made to Mother Earth. We can also view the Pakaritampu Pyramid from this location. We will continue hiking downhill to the archaeological site of Choquetacarpo, where we will have lunch. After exploring the site, we will walk downhill to visit one of the biggest Inca quarries in Cusco, which supplied stones for the town and fortress of Ollantaytambo.
Tonight, we will sleep in a beautiful campsite owned by a group of local people from the Cachiccata community, where hot showers and proper toilets are available. From here we will enjoy a wonderful view of this community as well as of Ollantaytambo and Veronica snow-capped mountain.
Camp Altitude: 9,022 feet
Second pass altitude: 14,107 feet
Distance of the hike: 4 miles (7 hours)
In the morning, transfer to and visit the ruins of Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo served as a royal estate and later a refuge after the Spanish conquered Cuzco in 1537. The ruins feature expansive terraces and well-preserved architecture, and the town is still laid out as it was during the Incan empire, allowing its visitors to glimpse the history which still exists within its boundaries.
Board the train and follow the Urubamba River as it tumbles its way towards the Amazon and the sacred city of Machu Picchu. Ancient canals still bring water from the high mountains to the baths used by Inca priests. As visitors, you're welcomed to respectfully dip your hands in the cool water. After your tour of the Machu Picchu, you'll return to Machu Picchu Pueblo (town formerly called Aguas Calientes) to soak in the hot springs and dine on local trout fillets.
Explore the ruins today at leisure and enjoy the ancient city in the tranquil morning hours. Later head off through thick cloudforest to the seldom visited Temple of the Moon or climb Huayna Picchu overlooking the ruins. Return by train to Cusco in the afternoon.
$610 single supplement