An early morning flight brings you to the Inca capital of Cusco where Quechua speaking descendents of the Incas bustle 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 can tour Cusco's traditional markets, talking 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.
This morning you'll wind your way past snowcapped mountains, which tower above the Sacred Valley of the Incas. At Pisac, Inca terracing climbs the steep valley walls, and the ruined temples command panoramic views of the sharp granite mountains. In the pueblo you'll test your bargaining skills with the locals and enjoy one of the best textile markets in the Andes. After lunch 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.
Early this morning you'll board a van for the five hour trip to the trailhead. To your right as you crest Tika-Tika pass, the imposing peaks of Salcantay and Humantay are visible in the distant horizon. Continuing along the dusty road, you'll arrive in the mestizo farming village of Mollepata where you'll meet your arrieros and load your gear onto their mules. From here you'll begin your trek into the glacially sculpted terrain of the Andes. The steep slopes and jagged peaks are a testament to the young geologic age of these snow-capped mountains. Your trail through the Vilcabamba range leads you through magnificent mountain scenery, past glacial lakes and down through the lush greenery and colorful orchids of an Amazon cloud forest. Cresting Incachiriasca pass, you'll reach the highest point of our journey at 15,252 feet and are rewarded with breathtaking views in all directions. On Day 9 you'll pass through the small community of Huayabamba and join the classic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Falling into step with fellow pilgrims from around the world, you'll pass by ever larger Inca ruins that bring to life the rich history of the area. The carefully laid stonework trail gives way to a well-trodden path as you approach the Sun Gate for your first glimpse of Machu Picchu. After exploring the ancient city, you'll relax in the village of Machu Picchu Pueblo (town formerly called Aguas Calientes) below the ruins.
Day 5 - Trek length: 2 hours - 4 kilometers; Camp elevation: 10,496 ft
Day 6 - Trek length: 6-7 hours - 11 km; Camp elevation: 12,815 ft
Day 7 - Trek length: 7-8 hours - 12 km; Camp elevation: 13,776 ft
Day 8 - Trek length: 5-6 hours - 10 km; Camp elevation: 10,332 ft
Day 9 - Trek length: 5-6 hours - 8 km; Camp elevation: 12,300 ft
Day 10 - Trek length: 7-8 hours - 14 km; Camp elevation: 11,972 ft
Day 11 - Trek length: 5-7 hours - 10 km; Overnight in Machu Picchu Pueblo
Explore the ruins today at leisure and enjoy the ancient city in the tranquil morning hours. Later head 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