Those on the group flights will be met on arrival into Lima Airport and transferred to the start hotel. Those not on the group flights will make their own way to the start hotel (as detailed within your Final Joining Instructions) and join the group.
The morning is free to relax after the international flight. In the afternoon we take a city tour of Lima. Discovered in 1535 by Francisco Pizarro, Lima was the principal city of Spanish South America for 300 years until the wave of independence swept the continent. You stay in the pleasant coastal suburb of Miraflores where shady parks, bustling cafes and the South Pacific coastline all lie within easy reach.
We take a short flight from Lima to Cuzco today. Cuzco, once the imperial capital, was laid out in the rough shape of a puma. Today, its orderly streets bear witness to the extraordinary skill of Inca stone-masons; many are still lined with precisely interlocked stonework, which serves as the foundation for later buildings from the colonial era, creating an atmospheric pastiche of contrasting architectural styles.
This morning you visit the fortress of Sacsayhuaman lying just outside Cuzco city. The skilfully constructed outer walls consist of massive blocks of stone (the largest weighing over 350 tonnes) which must have been difficult to manoeuvre, let alone to cut and dress with such precision. The tour continues on foot in the city centre and reveals more of Cuzco's historical and archaeological treasures. The rest of the day is free to relax or further explore Cuzco. This afternoon you'll jump on a mountain bike and ride from the ridges above Cuzco, exploring a variety of different routes, all of which end up back in town. The routes taken will depend on the ability of the group.
Today, we'll have a fun day out rafting on the Urubamba River. The section we usually take is the Chuquicahauna section, graded class 3-4 (depending on weather conditions). You'll receive a full briefing on arrival before setting off on the river to practise your manoeuvres (the minimum age for rafting is 12). As we make our way through the beautiful canyon, where we'll hopefully see torrent ducks and the magnificent surrounding peaks, the rapids build in intensity. We'll stop midway for a picnic lunch before finishing our journey and returning to Cuzco.
In the morning we transfer to the Sacred Valley. With its warm climate and fertile soil, the Sacred Valley was considered the greenhouse of the Incas, who built many towns and agricultural terraces along its length. Small farming hamlets dot a landscape of patchwork fields; many are still ploughed by oxen and other beasts of burden. En route we reach the village of Pisac (2950m), where we can stop and explore the traditional market and the Inca ruins overlooking the town. This is our first taste of Inca architecture - the ruins stick out on a pinnacle overlooking the valley whilst steep terraces sweep around the hillside. Our hotel is located in the heart of the beautiful Sacred Valley (2800m), in a quiet farming village.
Today we will start to prepare for the Inca trail, with a walk up to the village of Chinchero. Leaving the fertile Sacred Valley behind, we follow a newly reopened section of Inca road up the Urquillos Valley, climbing 900m in about four hours to reach the high altitude plains of Chinchero (3760m). This route is rarely walked by tourists and offers great views of the Vilcanota range and hopefully a chance to spot some birdlife such as parrots and hummingbirds. At Chinchero the villagers are famous for their skills in weaving and they can be seen in traditional dress tending their fields. In the afternoon, we can explore the village, where the people of Chinchero offer their textiles in a colourful local market, visit the painted church and investigate the Inca ruins. Tonight we will sleep in a village house and stay with a local family. Facilities are limited at a village homestay but this will be an unforgettable night with the local people.
We leave Chinchero by bike on a one day mountain biking adventure which offers five hours in the saddle to experience great views of the Urubamba Mountains. We ride through the quiet countryside of the high Andes, visit the enigmatic circular terraces of Moray before an exciting descent past the ancient salt pans at 'Salineras'. We finally reach the Sacred Valley at its northern end, where we finish our day cycling along the banks of the Urubamba River. Our destination is the Inca town of Ollantaytambo (2760m), a traditional Inca village laid out on a grid plan (one of only four surviving examples) overlooked by the magnificent fortress of Ollantay.
Today we visit the ruins of Ollantay, the only Inca stronghold ever to have resisted persistent Spanish attacks. The steep terraces cling to the mountainside, supposedly in the shape of a llama with a large rock outcrop forming the pack baggage. Right on the ridge with commanding views of the valley, the temple area appears to have never been completed and it is possible to gain a fantastic insight into how these incredible structures were built. This is good preparation for the trail which we will start after our visit to the ruins. We set off to Chilca, where the Urubamba gorge narrows, forcing us to abandon motor transport. Here we meet our trail crew and begin the trek. Heading away from the river, a gentle climb soon brings us to a pleasant campsite at Llactapata (2850m), overlooked by ruins. This is camping made easy: as we walk, you carry only a daypack whilst an experienced team of porters carries all other equipment for you. You will be provided with a duffle bag in which to put items needed for the trek. Anything you don't need is left behind in Cuzco in your main bag. We camp in spacious tents; porters, with the assistance of a cook and helper, do all camp chores. A toilet tent is provided at camp and at each lunch stop.
Approx. 4-5 hours easy walking today.
You are woken with a hot drink and a bowl of warm water at your tent to prepare for what will be the most demanding climb of the trek. We follow the course of the Cusichaca River, ascending a broad valley to the village of Wayllabamba (3,000m), the last human habitation on the trail. Our porters go ahead and prepare our lunch which will be waiting close to the summit. The trail steepens through fertile cloud forest and eventually onto high altitude grassland. Finally we reach the highest point of the entire trail, called Warmiwa'usca or Dead Woman's Pass, located at 4200m. We pause to rest and enjoy the views before starting a steep descent into the valley below and our camp at Pacaymayo (3700m).
About 6/7 hrs demanding walk mostly uphill.
The tough day! An initial steep climb takes us across the highest point on the trail at Warmiwañusca (Dead Woman's Pass - 4200m), before we descend to the Pacamayo River. We are rewarded with a spectacular view from the top. A second ascent leads past a fine set of ruins to Runkuracay Pass (3998m); from here the trail is largely downhill! The vegetation changes as we walk through areas of cloud forest that mark the outer edges of the Amazon Jungle. We cross the Aobamba River below the Sayacmarca ruins, which overlooks it from a rocky spur. A final easy ascent over a lower pass, with spectacular views over the Urubamba Valley far below, takes us to the campsite, perched above Phuyupatamarca ruins.
About 7 hours moderate walking today.
We awake to a spectacular vista and set off this morning on one of the most beautiful parts of the trail. Excitement mounts as we conquer a steep flight of steps and arrive at Inti Punku, the Gateway of the Sun where we aim to stop for a well deserved packed lunch. The toil of the day is forgotten at a stroke as we are treated to a spectacular view of Machu Picchu below. After lingering to admire the panorama, we walk through the site and catch a bus down the narrow access road. We rejoin the Urubamba River in the village of Aguas Calientes where we check in to our accommodation and enjoy a well-earned, long shower.
About 5 hours walking today, mostly downhill.
Rising early this morning, we return to the Machu Picchu ruins which we will have largely to ourselves before the train brings in day-visitors from Cuzco. The magnificent lost city rediscovered by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911, stands on a high saddle dominated by the jungle-clad peak of Wayna Picchu. We have time to explore the citadel and enjoy nearby walks before catching the late afternoon train back to Cuzco.
For those not on the group flights, you tour ends in Cuzco after breakfast. Those on the group flights will be transferred to the airport for your flight home.
The group flights usually arrive into London in the evening.