Enjoy the Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu after some great acclimatization walks in the Sacred Valley where you will marvel at the majestic, natural beauty.
Day 1 – Afternoon walking tour of Cusco historic centre
Cusco – a UNESCO World Heritage site – is an architectural and cultural jewel of a city set in the South-eastern Andes of Peru. Cusco is also the gateway for the magnificent Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, the starting point for treks along one of the famous Inca Trails, and the perfect base for exploring the many other sights of the Sacred Valley.
This former capital of the Inca Empire stands at 3350m above sea level a fascinating mix of colonial churches, monasteries and convents, and extensive, pre-Columbian ruins. Almost every central street has remnants of Inca walls and much of this ancient stonework now serves as foundations for more modern dwellings. Originally named Qósqo, meaning ¨Navel¨, the city was considered to be the center of the world by the Incas. From there the Incas expanded outwards to form what was at the time the world´s largest empire.
In the afternoon you will be collected from your hotel for your walking tour of Cusco’s historical centre. You will be accompanied by a qualified English speaking guide.
You will visit Cusco Cathedral which is one of the finest Colonial Cathedrals in the Americas. Building started in 1560 and was completed in 1664. Situated on the Plaza de Armas, this impressive building lies at the heart of many traditional festivals. When the Conquistadores arrived, bringing Catholicism with them, local people combined many catholic feast days and customs with their own Andean customs and rituals, leading to some of the most colorful yet devout celebrations in the world.
We will then take you to San Pedro market, a fascinating place full of tropical Amazonian fruits, colorful flowers, cuts of meat long since disappeared from western countries and local delicacies such as toad soup. With the help of your knowledgeable guide you will receive a real insight into local life here in the high Andes.
Finally you visit Qoricancha (from the Quechua word Quri Qancha meaning ‘Golden Courtyard’), originally named Inti Qancha (‘Temple of the Sun’). It was the most important temple in the Inca Empire, dedicated primarily to Inti, the Sun God. The Church of Santo Domingo was built on the site, using the ruined foundations of the temple that was flattened by the Spanish in the 17th century, and is a fine example of where Inca stonework has been incorporated into the structure of a colonial building.
Day 2 – Cusco Day walk – Tambomachay, Sacsayhuaman and other Inca ruins
Today is both a great opportunity to acclimatize and a fantastic walk in its own right. Situated on the hillside above Cusco are a series of spectacular Inca ruins. We link them by a series of small, little used paths and the good news is it is almost all downhill. Your expert guide will tell you all about the sites and start to explain the history of the Incas and their great empire.
We start by driving to Tambomachay. Situated at 12,300 feet this was an Inca sanctuary dedicated to the cult of water, and it was reserved for Inca Royalty. The waterfalls in these ruins form part of a terrace to the second wall where the drainage cascades on the first and forms a small pool. We shoulder our daypacks and leave the bus behind here to start our gradual walk back down to Cusco.
Next we visit Puca Pukara (Quechua for red fortress). This is an Inca archaeological site located on the peak of a hill and is thought to be a military position and an administrative centre. Due to its proximity to Tambomachay, it is believed to have had a relationship with its defense, as well as the control of the route to Calca that led to the Antisuyo (Forest County of the Inca).
The route then goes cross country past the intricately carved rocks of the Temple of the Moon and through the maze of rocks and tunnels of the Temple of the Monkey before arriving at Qenqo. This was a sanctuary dedicated to the adoration of animals, and consists of ruins formed by rocks with stairs in a zigzag, and a main building similar to a circular amphitheatre where 19 window sills are located as a way of seats.
You then move on to one of the most important Inca sites in South America, the enormous fortress of Sacsayhuaman. Scene of epic battles between Conquistadores and Incas, this cannot fail to impress. While the high towers that once dominated the skyline were long since razed to the ground, the sheer scale of the zigzag stone walls is a sight to behold. Its construction took over seven decades and required the work of approximately 20,000 men. The stone was dragged from 20 miles away and still today we are not quite sure how they moved the huge megaliths into place. Some of its external walls exceed 30 feet in height and the largest stone weighs over 350 tonnes. From Sacsayhuaman we will head down to Cusco leaving you some time to wander these ancient streets, explore some more of the sites or just sit in a café on the Plaza de Armas and watch the world go by.
Day 3 – Unique Sacred Valley tour with lunch at a local farm
Do something unique while on one of our Peru tours and get away from the crowds and off the beaten track a little. Not only are we offering some unique experiences on this day out, we are also doing the normal Sacred Valley route the other way round to avoid most of the crowds who will be going the “standard” way. From Cusco (or the valley itself if you are staying there) we will start in Ollantaytambo and end in Pisaq.
The Sacred Valley of the Incas is a very beautiful & historic place whichever tour you take but in an effort to offer extra value and something unique to Escaped to Latin America we have developed a dairy and corn farm tour with farmhouse lunch which also includes a brief look at a small Inca ruin people never normally see. You will also visit the Sacred Valley favorites of the bustling market at Pisaq, an animal rescue sanctuary and also have a guided tour of the very impressive Ollantaytambo site too. This tour is included where there are 4 or more people in your group as the farm has a minimum requirement.
Getting the bulk of the distance out of the way first we travel 1.45 hours from Cusco to Ollantaytambo. This is an attractive little town located at the western end of the Sacred Valley. The town has been built on top of original Inca foundations and is the best surviving example of Inca town planning. The town is divided in canchas (blocks) which are almost entirely intact. Each cancha has only one entrance (usually a huge stone doorway) which leads into a central courtyard. The houses surround the courtyard. The town is located at the foot of some spectacular Inca ruins which protected the strategic entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley.
The temple area is at the top of steep terracing which helped to provide excellent defenses. Stone used for these buildings was brought from a quarry high up on the opposite side of the Urubamba River – an incredible feat involving the efforts of thousands of workers. The complex was still under construction at the time of the conquest and was never fully completed. After a guided tour of the site you will drive down the valley towards Calca.
After 30 minutes you will arrive at the small, rarely visited ruin of Urco near the town of Calca (pictured above) where you will be given a description of the site and the ancient farming practices that were undertaken on the extensive terraces which have been now fully restored. It is very unlikely you will see anyone else at these ruins as it is well off the beaten track. You will then walk down the hill to the family-run dairy and corn farm where you will be shown around the facilities, the animals, the machinery, and be shown how the largest corn in the world is grown in this unique climate. This is a working farm, not a staged event, the people you see are doing what they do every day.
You will then have a fantastic farmhouse lunch which you will enjoy, with a family member or two, at a large table with views over the corn fields (or inside the farmhouse if very windy), vegetarians please advise us beforehand as we do have the option to provide for vegetarians. After this hearty lunch and a chat with the locals you will have chance to stretch out in the farm grounds for a short while before continuing down the Sacred Valley to your next stop.
The market town of Pisac is next, which is a great place to buy local artisan goods if you are in the shopping mood, if not just feel free to wander about and see what people are up to. Often you will see the locals that come in from the surrounding hills to sell or barter their goods, you will find locals selling all sorts of things and not just to tourists, but between themselves too. The side streets are possibly even more interesting as you can often see inside houses and patios and witness people going about their daily chores.
Our final stop will be an animal rescue center on the road back to Cusco. This place has been set up to rescue some of the iconic animals and birds of Peru from unscrupulous people who were using and mistreating them. To learn more about this please read our Blog. We make a donation for each passenger to help the efforts, if you decide to donate a little more then the animals and birds will be even safer! After this excellent visit getting up close and personal with huge Condors, among other animals, you will be taken back to your hotel in Cusco to rest after a very full day out.
Day 4 – Inca Trail Km 82 to Huayllabamba
Machu Picchu is situated in the region know as the Vilcabamba. This area extends between the Apurimac and Urubamba rivers where the 45km Inca trail lies within. Visitors from all around the world come to Peru, not only to see Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, but also to hike the Inca trail. The Inca Trail links a range of stunningly preserved Inca ruins. Along the way the natural scenery is breath-taking, with views of snow capped mountains and the lush cloud forest vegetation.
We will drive one hour to KM 82 where we will begin the trail. After passing through the checkpoint the trail begins by first crossing the river Vilcanota, then takes a gentle route to the ruins of the Inca hill fort of Llactapata. Just before the ruins there is our first tough climb of the trail. Fortunately it is short lived. After 5 hours of hiking, we spend the night in Huayllabamba camp.
Total distance: 7.5 miles
Estimated walking time: 4-5 hours
Maximum altitude point: 9840 ft
Campsite altitude: 9840 ft
Day 5 – Inca Trail from Huayllabamba to Pacasmayo
We climb up from Huayllabamba until we reach the meadow of Llulluchapampa (8800ft). A quick break and we are heading up again to Abra de Huarmihuañusca (meaning ‘Dead Woman’s Pass’), our highest point of the trail at 13800ft. After the elation of having completed this section, the decent from the pass is steep but not difficult! Once we reach the valley floor we spend our second night camping in Pacasmayo.
Total distance: 7.5 miles
Estimated walking time: 6-7 hours
Maximum altitude point: 13,800ft
Campsite altitude: 11,692 ft
Day 6 – Inca Trail from Pacasmayo to Wiñay Wayna
Today we climb to the ruins of Runkuracay. From here the view of Pacamayo valley is spectacular. This was once a control point for the valley. From here we continue our trek to the second pass of Abra de Runkuracay (12,470ft). Now walking along a cobbled path we again begin a deep decent until we reach Sayacmarca (meaning Inaccessible Town). Before reaching the 3rd pass we walk through an astonishing cloud forest full of orchids, hanging mosses, tree ferns and flowers, not to mention the Inca tunnel. The 3rd pass is at 11,800ft, before arriving at the most spectacular ruin so far; Phuyupatamarca (meaning Town in the Clouds). After this long day we camp the night in Wiñay Wayna.
Total distance: 10 miles
Estimated walking time: 8 hours
Maximum altitude point: 12,864 ft
Campsite altitude: 8,845 ft
Day 7 – Wiñay Wayna to Aguas Calientes & Machu Picchu
The trail today contours a mountainside and into the cloud forest with fantastic flowers along the side of the trail and colorful bird life. We arrive to the Intipunku (meaning ‘Sun Gate’) where we will get our first view of Machu Picchu.
The name Machu Picchu translates as ‘Old Mountain’, in contrast to the nearby peak of Huayna Picchu which means “Young Mountain”. Constructed by the Inca Pachacutec in the 15th Century, it was mysteriously abandoned 100 years later during time of the Spanish conquest. It is generally believed that it was never discovered by the Spanish and simply disappeared into the jungle, hidden from western eyes until it was “discovered” by Hiram Bingham in 1911. He arrived with the help of local people who knew of its existence, and indeed there was actually a family living and farming amongst the ruins.
On arrival we will enjoy a tour of Machu Picchu led by your guide who will lead you on a full exploration of the ruins – staircases, terraces, temples, palaces, towers, fountains and the famous sundial. You will then have some free time to explore the site by yourselves.
Finally you will make your way to the town of Aguas Calientes below and your train heading back to Cusco.
Total distance: 3 miles
Estimated walking time: 2 hours
Maximum altitude point: 8,860 ft
Machu Picchu altitude: 7,872 ft
Day 8 – Home or a tour extension?
Today we will transfer you to the airport at a pre-arranged time, or perhaps you would like to add on some extra days in Cusco, or see some more of Peru with one of our fantastic extensions.