Our trip begins today in Cusco, Peru (11,150'). Upon arrival in Cusco, we're met by our local guide at our centrally located hotel where a brief orientation meeting will be held. This afternoon, we depart on a city tour that includes a visit to many of Cusco's notable and historic sights. Our guide leads us through the bustling Plaza de Armas, and enlightens us on the history and significance of the Inca temple Koricancha and neighboring Santo Domingo Church. We also walk uphill to San Blas and explore this vibrant neighborhood that has become one of the city's artistic centers. We have the remainder of the day at leisure to acclimatize and discover this beautiful Andean city that was once the center of the Inca Empire. All meals on your own.
Today we head out to the enchanting "Sacred Valley of the Incas". Shortly after leaving Cusco, we'll stop at the imposing ruins of monolithic Sacsayhuaman fortress (considered one of the world's greatest examples of stonemasonry) and enjoy panoramic views of the jumbled red roofs of the colonial city spread out far below. Our next stop is the exceptionally well-preserved ruins at Pisac, which provide an opportunity for us to take a short warm-up hike as we explore the site's various structures and terraces before making our way down to Pisac town and its bustling crafts market. After lunch, we continue to the lovely high Andean village of Chinchero where we visit a textile cooperative and learn more about the weaving traditions that have been passed down among the local people for centuries. We drop back down to the valley for a relaxing evening in our traditionally styled hotel. All meals included.
Hiking: 3 miles
This morning, we travel through the Sacred Valley, past Incan terraces and fields of corn, wheat, barley and quinoa, ultimately arriving in the town of Ollantaytambo, whose street plan still maintains its original Incan layout. After a guided walking tour of the town and remarkable namesake ruins, we'll travel to the Inca ruins of Moray. The circular terraces of Moray were used as an agricultural "research laboratory" for the Incas, who studied temperature variation from one terrace to another in order to develop different crop varieties. We continue to the small town of Maras and begin a one-hour hike to the picturesque salt mines. Originally used by the Inca, villagers from surrounding communities still mine salt by hand from the spring-fed terraced pools. In the late afternoon we return to our lovely hotel for dinner and prepare for tomorrow's trek. All meals included.
Hiking: 4 miles.
Our excitement mounts as we board our private bus for the hour long drive to the trailhead at Piscacucho (km marker #82). Here, we meet our Quechua Indian porters and begin trekking the amazing Inca Trail. With snow-capped Mount Veronica (19,188') and the rest of the Urubamba range as a backdrop, we follow a well-marked path past the ruins of Llactapata and through some small Indian villages on the way to our campsite near Huayllabamba. All meals included.
Hiking: 5.7 miles (5.5 hours); Elevation gain: 7,900'?9,678'.
A nutritious camp breakfast prepares us for today's challenging trek along the narrow Llullucha gorge and over the first pass on the trail. We hike through dense forest encountering abundant birdlife and flowering plants before reaching the open meadows of Llulluchapampa. The final approach to the high pass begins here with a long, steep ramp leading to Warmiwanusca (13,780'). At the top, the views of the surrounding peaks and verdant forest canopy are spectacular. The trail then descends steeply and passes through a meadow rife with lakes, waterfalls and Andean wildflowers. Tonight we make camp in the upper meadows of Pacaymayo. All meals included.
Hiking: 7 miles (7 hours); Final elevation 10,991'.
We cross the Runkurakay Pass (12,631') in the morning, enjoying excellent views of the glacier-clad peaks of the Pumasillo Mountains and deep gorges of the eastern Andes. We then descend gradually through a unique ecological zone - a high jungle transition area rich in plant and animal life. After entering the cloud forest, our route takes us past the ruins of Sayacmarca and through a natural tunnel elaborated on by the Incas. This portion of the trail is well-paved with Inca stonework and leads us to the spectacular campsite at Phuyupatamarca. The campsite offers superb sunrise vistas over the Urubamba and Aobamba River Valleys and of glacier-covered Mount Salcantay (20,575'). All meals included.
Hiking: 6.1 miles (5.5 hours); Final elevation 11,975'.
As we leave Phuyupatamarca, we begin a steep stone staircase descent (approximately 2,000 steps cut into indigenous rock), followed by a series of additional descents varying in grade, to the Winay Wayna ruins where we stop for lunch. During the afternoon, our anticipation rises as we make our way to Intipunku (the Sun's Gateway). We arrive at Intipunku in mid-afternoon and are rewarded with our first breathtaking views of Machu Picchu. After spending time at the lookout point, we descend to the ruins and briefly explore some areas close to the trail. This evening, we enjoy a well deserved shower and hotel stay in the nearby village of Aguas Calientes, on the valley floor. All meals included.
Hiking: 6.2 miles (5?6 hours), Machu Picchu's elevation is 7,874'.
We have an early breakfast and head up to the ruins to experience the peace and solitude of this magical place. Our knowledgeable guide leads us through, explaining the significance of the various structures and the theories behind Machu Picchu's purpose and construction methods. We have the rest of the morning and early afternoon to attempt the optional hike up Huayna Picchu and/or explore the ruins on our own.
Enjoy a few hours on your own to explore the colorful market of Aguas Calientes or partake in the hotel offerings like the Twilight Walk and Tea house excursions. We will rejoin for dinner. All meals included.
Hiking: Optional Huayna Picchu hike may be unguided and is steep with some exposure. Permits are limited. An alternative optional hike may be available if Huayna Picchu permits cannot be obtained.
This morning we have the option to go back up to Machu Picchu with our guides for more exploration, now that we've had some time to reflect on the journey thus far. After lunch, we catch the afternoon train to Ollantaytambo and take the bus to Cusco, arriving at approximately 7pm. The day concludes with our guide joining us for a final celebration dinner at a traditional local restaurant. Overnight in Cusco.
Hiking: 2?3 miles (2 hours). Machu Picchu's elevation is 7,874'.
?After breakfast, transfers back to the Cusco airport will be arranged for travelers departing today. Trip members can opt to return to Lima for connecting flights home or extend their travels in Peru. Breakfast included.