Our trip starts in Lima this evening. Those on group flights will be met at the airport and transferred to the start hotel.
We fly to Juliaca this morning, then transfer to the town of Puno, located on the shores of Lake Titicaca. As Puno is at 3800m, the rest of the day has been left free to aid acclimatisation. We recommend taking it easy on arrival, ensuring you drink plenty of water to limit the effects of altitude.
A full day on the lake today as we visit both the island of Taquile and the floating islands of the Uros Indians. First we take a boat to Taquile, which is home to a community known for their remarkable weaving and traditional lifestyle. The panoramic views of the lake from the island are incredible, and it is often possible to see the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Real in the distance. After visiting the island, we reutrn to Puno, stopping at one of the floating islands. The Uros have been living on rafts of reeds for centuries, and although many have now moved to the mainland there are still a couple of thousand who remain on the islands which are anchored close to Puno. A reasonable amount of their income is now provided by strictly regulated tourism, but they also still fish the lake and engage in barter with communities on the mainland in order to obtain essential daily items.
We drive across the high plateau of the Peruvian Altiplano today towards the city of Cuzco. This is a long day (around 10 hours) with stops at several interesting sites. We visit the museum at Pucara, which contains pre-Inca stelae and other artefacts from the site, then slowly climb to La Raya Pass (4300m) where we stop for views of the nearby glaciers and the highest railway station in Peru. From the pass, we follow the winding course of the Vilcanota River, stopping at the impressive Inca ruins of Raqchi before we reach Cuzco.
The city has a multitude of attractions both in and around the city, both active and historical, and today is free to explore the city and its surroundings. Take an optional visit to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the Pisac ruins, or a river-rafting trip (Grade III) can be arranged on the Urubamba River (although river conditions vary throughout the season).
This morning we transfer by bus to trailhead at Piscacucho, on the Vilcanota River. Our walk starts alongside the Vilcanota River beneath the impressive snowcapped Nevado Veronica, passing through cactus gardens and fields of corn to the enormous Inca ruins of Llactapata. Here, we turn up a side valley to camp near the hamlet of Huayllabamba.
This is the longest and most strenuous day. A long climb takes us first through an area of cloud forest to the meadows of Llulluchapampa, then over the Warmihuañusca (Dead Woman's) pass, at 4,234m the highest point on the trek. After quite a long, steep descent we camp in the scenic valley of the Pacamayo River (3600m).
Another easier climb, past the ruins of Runquracay, takes us over the Runquracay Pass (3930m). From now on the Inca Trail becomes a clearly defined path made of flat boulders. We pass the ruins of Sayajmarca and suddenly enter rainforest; the trail passes at one point through an Inca tunnel. We camp at a quiet site on the ridge above the Inca ruins of Phuyupatamarca (4000m) to benefit from the views of sunset and sunrise.
From the ridge we embark on the infamous Inca steps: a two kilometre stone staircase taking us rapidly downhill amid a panorama of overwhelming immensity, with the peaks of the Vilcabamba range above, and the river thousands of metres below. After visiting the attractive ruins of Wiñay Wayña, we have an undulating walk through cloud forest high above the river to Inti Punku, the Inca Gate of the Sun. From here we get our sudden first full sight of Machu Picchu itself, with Huayna Pichu rising behind. Passing around the ruins, we descend to the river and Puente Ruinas for a well-earned rest, and possibility of a shower. It is usually possible to stay in a hotel for this night at the nearby village of Aguas Calientes for an extra fee (paid locally) - please speak to your guide at the start of the tour if you wish to arrange this.
We return early for a guided tour of the ruins at their quietest and most evocative (before the day trippers arrive from Cuzco). After additional free time to explore individually, we board the train in the afternoon (though its timings are somewhat erratic and the journey may be partly in the dark). The ride follows the rapids of the Urubamba River, enters the Sacred Valley, then climbs onto the Andean plain close to Cuzco.
This morning we set off from Cuzco on a drive (approx. 6 hours) through the Andes towards the Pacific Ocean. The recent upgrade of the road between Abancay and Chalhuanca allows us to take a direct route to the coast with spectacular scenery along the way, ranging from the glaciated peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba to the deep valleys of the Apurimac River. We break up the journey with optional stops at the ornately carved Sayhuite stone and the archaeological complex of Tarawasi, and spend the night in a hotel around an hour from Abancay. Please note that as these stops are optional, entrance fees are payable locally and are not included in the overall cost of the trip (see Money section for details of prices).
We continue our drive through the mountains today. The journey will take around 10 hours with stops along the way to spot flamingos in the high Andean lakes, and we are likely to see herds of wild vicuña as we pass through Peru's largest vicuña reserve. Towards the end of the day, we descend into the coastal desert near Nazca, where we spend the night.
The day starts with a visit to the viewing platforms close to the Nazca Lines. These geometric depictions of animals are shrouded in mystery, but the most popular theories suggest they either had a religious significance or were used as a huge astronomical calendar. More controversially, it has been proposed that they were landing sites for aliens! There will be some free time for optional visits to a pre-Inca burial site and the local museum which features artefacts found in the surrounding desert. There may also be time for an optional overflight of the lines themselves, subject to availability. In the afternoon we drive to the small coastal town of Paracas.
Today there is an optional cruise to the Ballestas Islands, the largest group of guano islands off the Peruvian coast. The three-hour trip takes us past the Candelabra, a large pre-Inca geoglyph etched into the sand cliffs overlooking the Pacific which possibly functioned as a navigational aid for sailors. The islands themselves are a haven for penguins, Nazca Boobies, pelicans and Inca Terns, as well as sea lions and dolphins, and our boat will navigate through narrow channels to allow close-up views of the wildlife. Those who don't wish to sail will be able to explore the pretty fishing port of Paracas before we drive to Lima this afternoon. The drive is mainly through desert regions, punctuated by lush valleys which are devoted to intensive farming.
This morning we will have the option for a short tour of Lima, exploring both the colonial centre, replete with grand buildings and churches, and the modern residential and business districts of Miraflores and San Isidro