Your trip begins today in Cusco, Peru (11,250'). We meet our local guide at our centrally located hotel where a brief orientation meeting will be held. Afterward, we?ll set 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. Dinner is included tonight.
Walking: 3 hours.
This morning we visit Chinchero, a high Andean town that once served as a country estate for Tupa Inca, one of the early Incan rulers. Known for its commanding view of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and traditional centuries-old houses, Chinchero's inhabitants continue to honor their Inca ancestors by passing their weaving skills from generation to generation and dressing in traditional Quechua clothing. Following our stop in Chinchero, we drive to the nearby village of Maras where we begin a two-hour downhill hike to the multi-tiered Pichincoto mines, local salt mines used by the Inca as a mineral source and still visited by local residents today. This afternoon, we travel through the Sacred Valley, past Incan terraces and fields of corn, wheat, barley and quinoa, ultimately arriving in the small town of Ollantaytambo, whose street plan still maintains its original Incan layout. After Cusco was overtaken by the conquistadors, Manco Inca and his army of approximately 30,000 retreated to Ollantaytambo and were victorious here against the forces of Spanish commander Hernando Pizaro in the Battle of Ollantaytambo. After a guided walking tour of the town, we return to Urubamba for dinner. All meals included.
Walking: 5 miles.
Today we?ll have the chance to hike the final leg of the famous Inca Trail, arriving at Machu Picchu on foot as the ancient Incas did. Drive to the train station and ride the rails to km 104 where we will disembark and start off on our hike. After crossing the Urubamba River by suspension bridge we follow the stone steps of the Inca Trail through the valley and past ruins to arrive at "Inti Punku" (the Sun Gate). From there we get out first dramatic view of Machu Picchu in all its glory. After spending time at the lookout point, we descend to the ruins and briefly explore some areas close to the trail before arriving in Aguas Calientes. Check into the hotel and have the evening free. All meals included.
Hiking: 7 miles, approximately 6 hours (option to take train to Machu Picchu Pueblo also available). Elevation gain: 2,885'.
Head back to Machu Picchu this morning. Our guide will point out many interesting sights within Machu Picchu, a masterpiece of engineering and architecture. Machu Picchu provided a sanctuary and retreat for one of the most important and powerful emperors of the Incas. Machu Picchu, which means "Old Mountain", is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is considered one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. After lunch this afternoon, we travel by train back to the town of Ollantaytambo. From here we will transfer by van to our hotel in Cusco. Dinner is on your own.
Walking: 2?3 miles.
Meet your guide at your hotel for a morning departure to the start of your trek. Heading south from Cusco, we leave behind the Sacred Valley and follow the Vilcanota river towards Ausangate. We pause along the way to visit local communities and explore bustling morning markets. The final leg of our approach snakes through the steep walls of Japura Gorge before we arrive in the small village of Chillca. From the village, we?ll leave the van behind and hike to our first lodge of the trek, Chillca Tambo. All meals included.
Driving: 4 hours. Hiking: 2.5 miles, 1.5 hrs. Elevation gain: 462', between 14,000'?14,300' elevation.
After a morning coca tea, we start hiking through the Phinaya Valley. Green, grassy plains offer a stark contrast to the white glaciers and blue sky above. Mount Ausangate sits at the end of the valley, an imposing figure guiding our way. As the valley narrows and becomes more dramatic we arrive at Machuracay Tambo, our home for the night. This lodge is among the highest in the world, 15,797', and is located in a privileged position near the base of Ausangate. All meals included.
Hiking: 7 miles, 6 hrs. Elevation gain: 1,728', between 14,271'?15,912' elevation.
Today?s trek begins with a demanding ascent over Palomani pass. At 16,896' today is the highest pass on the trek. Enroute we?ll see the red lagoon and once we crest the pass the views from the top make the ascent well worth the effort. On a clear day, we have commanding views of Mount Ausangate and the surrounding peaks of Mariposa and Caracol. Descend from the pass to Lake Ausangate where we?ll stop for lunch. The lake looks upon the south face of Ausangate and we?ll be treated to the sounds and sights of the glacier calving into the lake. After lunch, we?ll pass through lush pampas and along glacial moraines to our third lodge, Anantapata. Anantapata is located at the top of the Alcatauri Gorge, a striking area of wetlands traditionally used as a herding area for alpacas and surrounded by the snow-capped peaks of Mt. Tacusiri and Mt. Ausangate. A well deserved dinner may be followed by traditional Andean music and folklore. All meals included.
Hiking: 7 miles. Elevation gain: 1,700', between 15,180'?17,020' elevation.
An early morning departure allows us time to arrive at Vinicuna Pass (Rainbow Mountain) before the crowds. Now one of the most famous sites in all of Peru, Vinicunca is a geological wonder comprised of colorful striations of sediments resembling a rainbow. We continue into the red valley, dropping down through walls of brilliant red stone to see Lake Kayrawiri. Keep a sharp eye out for vicuna, a cousin of the llama that only lives above 10,000'. In the afternoon, we arrive at the Humpaoocha lodge where we?ll be greeted by the friendly long time steward. We aim to arrive with enough time to relax and appreciate our surroundings, Huampococha sits on a high plateau that features a tranquil mountain lake frequented by Andean geese and 180 degree views of the mountain range across the red valley?it?s unforgettable. All meals included.
Hiking: 7.3 miles, 6 hours. Elevation gain/loss: 1,822'?1,500', between 15,400'?16,450' elevation.
After a relaxed morning to enjoy the lodge, we head off to make our final pass ascent - Huampoccasa Pass ? before beginning our descent. The landscape changes around every corner, shifting from dramatic red sandstone to lush agricultural valleys and working families. We have lunch in a local community before beginning the trip back to civilization. Upon arrival in Cusco, transfer to our hotel and have time to freshen up before our celebration dinner.
Our trek may be over but the experience of hiking in the shadow of the sacred apu of Ausangate, bearer of life and guardian of one of the most pristine mountain ecosystems in the world, is sure to stay with you forever. All meals included.
Driving: 3 hours. Hiking: 5 miles, 5 hours. Elevation gain/loss: 215'/3,413', between 16,300'?13,000' elevation.
Wake up in Cusco. 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.