Your trip begins today in Cusco, Peru. Located high in the Andes at an elevation of 11,150', this beautiful red-tile-roofed city was founded in the 12th-century by Manco Capac, the original Inca considered to be a child of the sun god himself. For almost 400 years, Cusco served as the flourishing capital of the Inca Empire and still retains its centuries-old appeal with numerous sections of original Inca stonework still visible in the streets and buildings. Upon arrival in Cusco, we're greeted by our local guide and transferred to our centrally-located hotel where a brief orientation meeting will be held. Early afternoon, we depart on a walking tour of the city's most intriguing sites including the bustling Plaza de Armas, the Santo Domingo Church (built atop the great Inca temple Koricancha), and the imposing hilltop ruins of the monolithic Sacsayhuaman fortress. Considered by many to be one of the greatest examples of stonemasonry in human history, the 60-ton limestone boulders used in the construction of the fortress walls fit together so perfectly without mortar that even a blade of grass can't be inserted between them. Overnight in Cusco tonight. Dinner included.
Walking: 2 miles.
We set out this morning for the Urubamba Valley and famous market village of Pisac (approximately one hour's drive from Cusco) where authentic shopping and photographic opportunities abound. This region is well-known for high quality local crafts including handknit wools, ceramics, leather goods and jewelry - all available in Pisac as we time our visit to coincide with one of the liveliest market days in South America. This afternoon, we hit the trail for an uphill hike to the nearby Pisac ruins. One of the most important and well-preserved ruins in the Sacred Valley, our guide helps us identify the various structures at the site including the fascinating Temple of the Sun, used by the Incas as an astronomical observatory. We climb to the top of the ruins to take in the spectacular views of the terraced countryside before heading back down the trail to Pisac town. We spend the next two nights at a traditionally styled boutique property in the village of Urubamba. All meals included.
Hiking: 3 miles.
This morning we transfer to Ollantaytambo for a visit to its massive hillside ruins and learn of its importance in Incan history. We?ll continue with a walk through the villages cobblestone streets and irrigation canals which still maintain their original Incan layout. Next a transfer to Chinchero, known for its and weaving traditions. Chinchero's inhabitants continue to honor their Inca ancestors by passing their weaving skills from generation to generation and dressing in traditional Quechua clothing. Here we?ll enjoy a weaving demonstration and learn of the natural dyes and techniques that produce their amazing products. After lunch, we drive to the nearby village of Maras where we tour the multi-tiered Pichincoto salt mines used by the Inca as a mineral source and still used by residents today. From here we enjoy a lovely downhill hike to the valley below and then transfer to our hotel to relax until dinner tonight. All meals included.
Hiking: 4 miles.
We return to Ollantaytambo this morning by private van (approx. 25 minutes) and connect with the scheduled daily train to Machu Picchu. We arrive at the village of Aguas Calientes at the base of the Lost City in mid-morning and take a shuttle up to this spectacularly perched archeological treasure. Our knowledgeable guide leads us through the center of the site, recapping Machu Picchu's rediscovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and explaining the current theories regarding the purpose and significance of the city. Later this afternoon, we'll return to Aguas Calientes and check-in to our hotel where we will be based for the next two nights. All meals included.
Hiking: 2-3 miles.
Our second entrance to the Sacred City of Machu Picchu gives us a chance to explore further. In the morning, we?ll have the opportunity to take the challenging climb up either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu ? this will depend on the permit availability. These iconic peaks give us a different vantage point to view the Incan ruins, surrounding valleys and neighboring mountains.
This afternoon we head back to town for lunch and enjoy a free afternoon to stroll the eclectic village of Aguas Calientes and spend time enjoying the extensive gardens of our hotel which are full of exotic birds and plants. Overnight again in Aguas Calientes. Breakfast, lunch and dinner included.
Hiking: 2-5 miles. Optional Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu hikes may be unguided. Huayna Picchu is steep with some exposure. Permits are limited.
We have a final opportunity to return to Machu Picchu during the early morning hours today to complete our explorations. Some of us may choose to hike up to Intipunku, the Sun Gate, for a beautiful perspective. After lunch, we head back to Aguas Calientes and board the train to Ollantaytambo, connecting there with our private van to Cusco, arriving in early evening. Dinner is on our own allowing us to choose from the variety of local restaurants serving Peruvian and international cuisine. Overnight in Cusco tonight. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 2-3 miles.
After breakfast, transfers back to the Cusco airport will be arranged for travelers departing today. Breakfast included.