Arrive in Lima at any time, the day and night are yours, so check into the hotel and have a Pisco Sour or two. Known as the City of Kings, Peru’s capital city Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima, and it is here you find the Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral dates back to the 1700s and houses the remains of the conquistador Pizarro. To get a feel for colonial Lima, take a cab to the Plaza de Armas and watch the changing of the Palace Guard in the afternoon. Walk the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to get a taste for life in a large South American city. An optional city tour visits many of the city’s highlights. There are many fine museums in and around the city, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses an equally impressive collection of pottery, mummies and textiles from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. The more affluent coastal districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro offer good nightlife and cafés all within walking distance. Limeños (Lima’s residents) are friendly, and the city is filled with excellent restaurants; seafood lovers in particular should be sure to try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.
Travel the route of the locals as we start our Andean adventure on the road from Lima to Huancayo in the central Andes. Visit the town’s fantastic Sunday market and fair, as authentically Peruvian as it gets. Huancayo, located in the central highlands, is Peru’s fifth largest urban centre and our first stop along the route south. Sitting at 3260m (10692 ft) above sea level in the Mantaro River Valley, Huancayo is a major market outlet for agricultural produce from the surrounding area. Its main attraction is the Sunday market, where both crafts and produce are sold. The market runs several blocks along Calle Huancavelica, to the northwest of Calle Ica, and offers good quality weavings, sweaters and other textiles, along with embroidered clothing items, ceramics, wood carvings and the area specialty, carved gourds; there are also a couple of co-ops offering similar items for sale. The villages of Cochas Grande and Cochas Chico are two interesting day trips in the Mantaro Valley, some 12 km’s (7 miles) south of the city; this is the main production source for the intricately carved gourds you see for sale in the markets.
Travel by bus today through the remote Cordillera Central to the highland town of Huancavelica. We arrive in the one-time Inca stronghold of Santa Inés in time to sample some true, high altitude Peruvian nightlife. The towns in this area are remote, and their needs have been largely ignored by successive governments for many years. Most of the area south to Andahuaylas lies at 3500 m (11480 ft) or higher, so although the days may be sunny and warm, especially during the dry season (May to October), the mornings and evenings can be quite cool, especially during the wet season from February to April. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the present city site was of strategic importance within the Inca Empire, and it became an important silver mining centre for the Spanish. There are natural thermal baths with showers and a café just across the River Ichu, in the outskirts of the city proper. Remember that by this altitude the resulting lack of oxygen may affect you. It may take a little time to acclimatize to this, but before long you probably will not even notice it. Just take it easy for the first day or two, and cut back on alcohol and cigarette consumption to minimize the effects. You may also find that your appetite is reduced. This is no cause for alarm, but simply a reaction to the altitude. Be sure to drink plenty of water and do not attempt too much in any given day.
The altitude of Ayacucho 2750m (9000 ft), its colonial feel, and the local pre-Inca history make it one of the most fascinating cities in the Andes, considered second only to Cuzco. San Juan de La Frontera de Huamanga, as Ayacucho was originally called by the Spaniards, is the capital of the Department of the same name, and before either the Spanish or the Inca ruled the land, it was the capital of the Wari Empire, which pre-dated the Inca by 500 years. It has played several major roles within Peruvian history, first as one of the major staging places in the struggle for independence from Spain, including the 1824 Battle of Ayacucho, and more recently as the birthplace and headquarters for the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) guerrilla movement in the 1980s. Like other central highland towns and cities, it has been long neglected by Lima and developed in relative isolation, allowing it to maintain a more traditional feel when compared to other towns of its size. The city is well known for its Barrío de Artesanos de Santa Ana, a handicrafts district where you can purchase silver jewellery, alabaster carvings, painted altars and nativity scenes, dried gourds, and a good selection of woven items. The city also maintains many beautiful colonial churches and mansions, and is renowned throughout Peru for its Easter week celebrations. The festivities begin the Friday before Palm Sunday and continue until Easter Sunday, with a different colourful procession each day. The surrounding area also offers a number of attractions, including the Huari Capital and Quinua, about an hour’s drive away from the city. This is the actual site where the Battle of Ayacucho was fought and won in 1824. Vilcashuaman, considered the geographical centre of the Inca Empire, sits quite a bit further south from Ayacucho.
The focus for the next two days is the journey itself. It’s amazing! Pass through some of Peru's poorest and most rural areas overland to Cuzco, in the centre of the Inca heartland. Abancay sits at 2377 m (7796 ft) above sea level and is the capital of the Department of Apurimac. It is well known and visited for its Easter Carnaval celebrations, which include acclaimed folk dancing competitions from throughout the highland towns. The snow-capped peak of Ampoy (5000m/16400 ft), some 10 km (6 miles) northwest of the town draws hikers and climbers during the dry season (June to October). Continuing southwest we arrive at the town of Andahuaylas, set amidst a beautiful glacial valley. The main activity here is agriculture, and the town has a good market.
This beautiful colonial city is 'the place' for travellers to unwind and acclimatize. The nearby Sacred Valley, museums, churches and cobble-stoned streets steeped in history, all combine for a terrific atmosphere. Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travellers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 20th century way of life; one could easily spend a week just in and around the area. Inca-built stone walls line most of the central streets and you don't have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend. Every year Cuzco attracts thousands of travellers who come to delve into its noble but tragic past. It is the perfect base for optional explorations around the city and area as well as a range of outdoor activities. Relax and explore this fascinating city, and take time to acclimatize to the high altitude. Cuzco’s numerous colonial churches are one of the city’s most common sights. The Cathedral was started in 1559 and took 100 years to build; it is also one of the city’s greatest repositories of colonial art. Immediately in front of the entrance is a vault containing the remains of the famous Inca historian, Garcilaso de la Vega. Also worth visiting are the churches of La Compañía, La Merced and San Francisco. While most ruins are just outside of the city, the main ruin within is that of the Coricancha, once the Inca Empire's richest temple. Today the ruin forms the base of the colonial church of Santo Domingo. During Inca times this temple was literally covered with gold, but within months of the arrival of the first conquistadors this incredible wealth had all been melted down. It is left to the individual imagination to envision the magnificence of the original structure. There are several good museums in Cuzco, including the Archaeological Museum, which also houses a small art museum, the Regional History Museum and the Religious Art Museum. Our best advice for exploring Cuzco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore!
Travel through the Sacred Valley towards the Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo. An important source of food for the Inca, the Sacred Valley is a lush agricultural region that continues to supply the city of Cuzco with much of its produce. Visit the impressive Pisac ruins and the colourful artisan market (market days only). The day trip finishes in the picturesque village of Ollantaytambo, site of another large Inca ruin. Here we catch our breath and prepare for the hike ahead. Ollantaytambo is your first taste of what lies ahead on the trail. The town and fortress of Ollantaytambo are strategically situated overlooking the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. This major ruin site is known as the best surviving example of Inca urban planning and engineering. It is admired for its huge steep terraces guarding the Inca Fortress and for being one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the conquest. We spend the night in this small town before heading out for the start of our hike the next morning.
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is physically challenging but worthwhile, and the excursion is within the ability of most reasonably fit. It is a 44-km (27 mile) hike, with 3 high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13776 ft). The trail is often steep, and it may rain even during the dry season. The temperatures at night may fall below zero, so it is important to come prepared. Depart Ollantaytambo for km 82 where we begin our walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Our local crew of porters, cook and guide look after us well for the duration of the hike. Porters carry the majority of the gear for the hike, so those passengers doing the hike only carry a small daypack with water, rain gear, snacks, a camera, etc. As you walk the trail that linked this ancient empire, admire breathtaking views at every step as we move from high plateau areas to dense cloud forest. Depending on the season, you may see a great variety of flora, including miniature and large orchids, and fiery rhododendron bushes. You pass several smaller ruin sites, the first of which is Llactapata. The second day climb the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4198 m (13769 ft) above sea level, this pass is the highest point of the trek. The second pass of the hike is at 3998 m (13113 ft) where on clear days, we enjoy superb views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba. The trail goes through some beautiful cloud forest on the gentle climb to the third pass, where you will walk through a causeway and a tunnel, both original Inca constructions. The highest point of the third pass is at 3700m (12136 ft). On clear days you are rewarded for all this work with beautiful views of the Urubamba Valley below. Soon you reach the serene ruins of Phuyupatamarca, or the 'Town above the Clouds', at about 3650 m (11972 ft) above sea level. We camp for the final night close to Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) ruins, a grandiose terraced hillside site, with panoramic views of the valley below and just a short hike from Machu Picchu. On the final day of the hike we climb the steps to the Sun Gate overlooking the peaks that surround Machu Picchu. There is no way to describe the feeling of the first views of Machu Picchu, as the mist rises off the mountains early in the morning and the famous ruin appears in front of you. Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archaeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian Hiram Bingham (who was in search of Vilcabamba) to the site on July 24, 1911, that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many unanswered questions remain. You have the better part of the day to explore the site. In the afternoon, we have the chance to soak in the hot springs of Aguas Calientes before taking the train back to Cuzco. NOTE: Those passengers not able or interested in the hike spend 2 days in Cuzco, then travel by train to Aguas Calientes, where they overnight. Next morning they take the bus to the Machu Picchu entrance and rendezvous with the hikers at the ruins. If you decide not to do the hike we need to know prior to your departure in order to obtain train tickets. There is an additional fee for any changes made once Inca Trail permits are confirmed. This fee may vary depending on the changes that are made to your itinerary. Please advise your agent or G Adventures. Also note that portions of the Inca Trail will be closed for general maintenance during the month of February each year. Also, closures may occur at various times throughout the year due to inclement weather or other conditions beyond our control. During these periods, any tour affected will hike the Lares Trek. Distances of the Inca trail: Day 1 Km 82 to Wayllambama Approximate distance: 11 km Estimated hiking time: 5-6 hrs Day 2 Wayllabamba to Paqaymayo Approximate distance: 12 km Estimated hiking time: 6-7 hrs Day 3 Paqaymayo to Wiñaywayna Approximate distance: 16 km Estimated hiking time: 8 hrs Day 4 Wiñaywayna to Intipunku (Sun Gate) Approximate distance: 4 km Estimated hiking time: 1.5 hrs Intipunku to Machu Picchu Approximate distance: 1.5 km Estimated hiking time: 45 min
Depart at any time.