Your trip begins today in Cusco, Peru (11,250'). Upon arrival in Cusco, we will be met by our local guide at our centrally-located hotel where a brief orientation meeting will be held. We have most of the morning at leisure to relax and acclimatize before setting out on a guided tour of this lovely city, the historic heart of the Incan civilization. Our afternoon exploration takes us to many of the city's most notable sights including the bustling Plaza de Armas (main square) and neighboring cathedral; the Santo Domingo Church, built atop the stone ruins of the once magnificent Inca temple Koricancha (Temple of the Sun), and the imposing remains of the monolithic Sacsayhuaman fortress, offering bird's-eye views of the entire red-roofed city far below. All meals on your own.
We gather early this morning and begin our drive towards the Salkantay Lodge, the picturesque starting point of our Andean trek. En route we visit the Inca ruins of Quillarumiyoc on our way to the small village of Mollepata where we will have lunch. We cover the final distance to the lodge via a beautiful 3 hour hike that begins in Challacancha (trip members can also opt to continue all the way to the lodge by vehicle). By late-afternoon, we reach our destination, located in the spectacular valley of Soraypampa, crowned by majestic Salkantay (20,500'), a sacred peak in Inca mythology and the highest in this region of the Andes. After checking in, we'll have the remainder of the day to relax and enjoy the fabulous views. A welcome briefing will take place this evening followed by dinner. Lodge elevation is 12,690'. All meals included.
Hiking: 3 hours. 2-3 miles. 800' elevation gain.
We'll spend today in the vicinity of the Salkantay Lodge while we continue to acclimatize before our trekking adventure begins in earnest. Feel free to rest at the lodge or join in a 4-hour hike to a glacial blue lake allowing us to gain a greater appreciation for this valley's rugged beauty. Upon returning to the lodge, we can reward ourselves for our efforts with a relaxing soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi. This evening, our guide will conduct a pre-trek briefing and review the itinerary for the next four days. Overnight again at the Salkantay Lodge. All meals included.
Hiking: 3-4 hours. 4 miles.
Having spent the last three days at altitude, we're at last acclimatized and ready to begin our trek to Machu Picchu! We'll set out early in the cool mountain air carrying only our daypacks and hike through the Rio Blanco valley, circling Humantay Peak across from Salkantay. We'll reach the highest point of our trip today (15,213 ft) as we hike up a series of switchbacks over a pass that offers outstanding views of the snow-capped peaks of the Vilcabamba Range in every direction. With the south face of Salkantay towering above us, we'll keep our eyes out for Andean condors, often visible in this area. From the pass we continue our descent toward the Wayra Lodge (Wayra translates to "The place where the wind lives"), our destination for the evening. Dinner and overnight at the lodge. Lodge elevation is 12,812'. All meals included.
Hiking: 5-7 hours. 8 miles.
Following our big day yesterday, we'll enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the lodge and depart around 9am. We'll begin hiking downhill above the Salkantay River and notice the scenery becoming increasingly more verdant as we lose altitude. Our next lodge is located on a 1,000-foot promontory above the confluence of three fast-flowing rivers. Dinner and overnight at the Colpa Lodge. Lodge elevation is 9,414'. All meals included.
Hiking: 3-4 hours. 6 miles
Today's trek through the rural Santa Teresa River Valley takes us downhill past vast coffee plantations (said to produce one of the best organic coffees in the world), banana trees and orchards. After a hot picnic lunch by the river, we'll trek for another hour before being met by a private vehicle that will transport our group a short distance (30-minute drive) to the last stretch of trail on today's route. A final short climb along the Llactapata Inca Trail brings us to the Lucma Lodge, set in a lovely avocado orchard. We may have an opportunity this afternoon to explore the small nearby village of Lucmabamba and perhaps interact with members of the local community. Lodge elevation is 7,003'. All meals included.
Hiking: 5-6 hours. 10 miles.
A hearty breakfast fuels us up for the last day of our trek and the initial 2-3 hour climb towards Llactapata pass (8,974'). Shortly after cresting the pass and beginning our 3,165' descent, we'll be treated to our first distant glimpse of Machu Picchu. As few tourists approach the ruins from this direction, our particular view is a unique treat. The final descent along the trail leading to the Urubamba River passes through more orchards and lush bamboo forests. Our hike today is timed to reach the river with ample time to spare before the train arrives that will transport us to the village of Aguas Calientes, located a short distance from the ruins. We'll spend the next two nights at the delightful Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, a perfect base from which to explore the wonders of this magnificent site! All meals included.
Hiking: 4-6 hours. 7 miles.
A full day at Machu Picchu affords us the luxury of exploring at a leisurely pace while learning more about the Inca culture and the latest theories behind the construction of this marvelous complex. We have an early breakfast and head up to the ruins by shuttle bus before the morning tourist train arrives in order to fully enjoy the peace and solitude of this mystical place. Our knowledgeable guide leads us on a fascinating tour, recapping Machu Picchu's rediscovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and explaining the significance of the various structures that cover the grounds. We have the afternoon to indulge ourselves with a hike to the dramatic viewpoint of Intipunku (the Sun's Gateway), or a variety of other intriguing possibilities including an easy walk to an ancient Inca drawbridge or more vigorous hike to the Temple of the Moon (inside a cavern on the north face of iconic Huayna Picchu, the peak that looms above the ruins). Of course, we can also choose to independently continue our exploration of the main site and daydream about what life must have been like here centuries ago. We return to the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel in Aguas Calientes again tonight. All meals included.
We have another opportunity today to return to Machu Picchu during the early hours, to embark on one last optional strenuous hike within the ruins; Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain based on permit availability. After lunch, we make our way down to Aguas Calientes and board the train back to Cusco, arriving in early evening. Overnight in Cusco. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: Optional Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain hikes will be unguided and are steep with some exposure. Permits are limited.
After breakfast, we head to the airport for our departing flights. Trip members can opt to return to Lima for connecting flights home or extend their travels in Peru. Breakfast included.