Pickup at the airport in Cuzco and transfer to your hotel. Relax and explore the fascinating city of Cuzco. Overnight in Cuzco. Peru is frequently referred to as the 'Land of the Incas'. It is true that the Incas formed the greatest empire on the continent and left mysterious cities such as Machu Picchu. However, the Incas were only the last in a long series of Peruvian civilizations spanning several thousands of years.
Today is free to explore Cuzco on your own or to choose from the numerous optional activities, including horseback riding to archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara; white water rafting on the Urubamba River; and mountain biking down to the Sacred Valley, perhaps visiting an Inca ruin along the way. 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 21st Century way of life. 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 as well as the perfect base for optional explorations around the city and area and 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 making the most of Cuzco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore!
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is physically challenging but worthwhile, and within the ability of most reasonably fit travellers. The Inca Trail is exceptional; however it is important to be prepared! It is a 44km (27 mile) hike with 3 high passes, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13,776 ft). The trail is often steep, and it may rain even during the dry season. Temperatures at night may fall below zero, so it is important to come prepared with warm clothes, layers and rain gear. Depart Cuzco in the early morning for km 82 where we begin our walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Our local crew of porters, a cook and a local guide look after us well for the duration of the hike. Porters carry the majority of the gear, so you need only carry a small daypack with water, rain gear, snacks, a camera, etc. As you walk the trail that linked this ancient empire, admire the 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. We pass several smaller ruin sites, the first of which is Llactapata. On the second day climb the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4198m (13,769 ft) above sea level, this pass is the highest point of the trek. The second pass of the hike peaks at 3998m (13,113 ft), where on clear days there are 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 walk over a causeway and through a tunnel, both original Inca constructions. The highest point of the third pass is at 3700m (12,136 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 3650m (11,972 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. When the morning is clear, 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 site appears in front of you. Following the visit to Machu Picchu, time allowing, travellers can opt to visit the Inca Bridge (15 min walk away) for no additional charge. Machu Picchu is both the most impressive and the least understood 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 returning by train to Ollantaytambo or Poroy and then being transferred by van to Cusco. 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 Cuzco at any time.