Arrive in Lima at any time. There are no planned activities so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Please note that hot water shortages and power outages can be fairly common in Peru (even in upgraded hotels and private homes). We appreciate your patience and understanding that these occurrences are outside of our control. 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.
Transfer to the airport for the flight to Cuzco (the flight usually departs early, and we may leave the hotel as early 4:30 am). In Cuzco meet your guide and transfer to your hotel. Spend the day relaxing and exploring fascinating Cuzco. 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 with our local guide through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. 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. 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 the hike the next morning.
Day 4: An early morning start (6am) allows us the best possible views of our incredible mountainous surroundings, dotted with rural villages throughout. The Sacred Valley was the heart of the Inca civilization from the 14th to 15th centuries, and many people still farm in this lush, expansive valley. Our hike begins in the village Qeshwarani, from which we begin our leisurely pace through the valley of Cuncani, before the high pass of Cuncani we will eat our picnic lunch. After lunch we continue on our path to the highland village of Cuncani, our destination for tonight. From our campsite, we will have stunning views of snow-capped Colque Cruz. Day 5: After pausing to admire our surroundings in the early morning mist, we will proceed around Sondor Mountain to a high pass (an altitude of 4440m), from which we will have great photo opportunities: scenic Huacahuasi Lake and snow-capped Veronica Mountain (amongst others!) are visible from the path. After a good morning’s hike, we stop for a quick rest in a living Inca settlement, where many still farm the traditional crop of potatoes in the same way that their ancestors did. We resume our hike upstream to the second pass, Ipasayqocha (4550m), where we will celebrate by making an offering of coca leaves to the Andean Gods. We descend to our campsite near Lake Ipasayqocha for the night. Day 6: Today we will have ample photo opportunities: our gentle path is covered in Andean flora, and animals such as llamas and alpacas are fairly commonplace. If we’re lucky, we might even catch a glimpse of Andean geese, puna ibis, Andean cara caras or condor. We will feel welcomed by the warm Quechua people, whose homeland we have the rare opportunity to see firsthand. The traditional dress and lifestyle of these people is both fascinating and enticing to outsiders. Our descent takes us through the spectacular valley of Patacancha, where everything remains as it has since ancient times. After our five-hour hike, we reach the town of Patacancha, where we eat lunch and wait for our private bus to take us to Ollantaytambo, we catch the train for an incredibly scenic ride to Agua Calientes, where we will spend the night in a hotel.
Rise early to take advantage of viewing Machu Picchu in the early morning light, the best time to view the 'Lost City of the Incas'. Join our local guide for a detailed interpretation of the site and Inca history without the pressure of other tour groups that arrive at midday. There is free time to explore on your own after our tour, and the opportunity to climb Wayna Picchu, providing the chance to see Machu Picchu and its surroundings from a more exclusive vantage point. 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. In the afternoon we return by train to Ollantaytambo or Poroy and will then be transferred by van to Cusco, arriving in the evening.
Note: Return flight to Lima can be arranged if requested.