The group flights arrive this morning. Check-in is in the early afternoon, and the morning is free for you to explore the local area, change money or visit Lima's many museums until the rooms become available. Those on land only arrangements should make their own way to the hotel in the afternoon or evening and check in, no group activities are planned this day.
An early start today for the flight via Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado, a small jungle town, where we take a boat to our jungle lodge in the Tambopata Reserve (generally between 1½ and 3 hours depending on the lodge used). On the way we may see caimans (alligators), river turtles and a wide variety of bird life.
Day 3 - 4
The next two days are spent exploring the forest, rivers and lakes surrounding the lodge, on foot and in both motorised and paddle canoes. Although a lot of the wildlife tends to hide in the dense foliage, we should expect to see a wide variety of birds, including herons and egrets, jacanas, macaws and the almost prehistoric-looking hoatzin, as well as several species of monkey, reptiles and insects, and with luck the giant otters which live in the rivers of the Amazon basin.
A dawn start is required for the boat trip back to Puerto Maldonado, giving memorable views of the sunrise over the river. Look out for the early morning wildlife, which is particularly active at this time. Howler monkeys are frequently heard, as they stake out their territories. After our flight to Cuzco, there is usually time for an afternoon tour of the city. At 3300m Cuzco is an extremely high city and you may find yourself short of breath on arrival.
We have a free day in Cuzco today. The Inca Capital is among the most attractive cities in South America, with many interesting buildings, museums and sites. To help acclimatise, take an optional walking tour of the Inca capital and the nearby ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qenco, which overlook the city. Alternatively there is the opportunity for an optional full day tour of the Sacred Valley including the fortresses of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, or, for the more adventurous, there is an optional rafting trip in the Valley on Grade II-III rapids (river conditions depend on the season).
Today is the start of the Inca Trail trek. Transfer by bus to trailhead at Piscacucho, on the Vilcanota River. Hike along the Vilcanota River beneath the impressive snow-capped Nevado Veronica through cactus gardens and fields of corn to the enormous Inca ruins of Llactapata, then continue up a side valley to camp in the hamlet of Huayllabamba.
This is the longest and most strenuous day, with over a 1000m of ascent. A long climb takes us first through an area of cloud forest to the meadows of Llulluchapampa, and then over the Warmihuañusca (Dead Woman) pass, at 4215m 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 (3950m). 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 in a spectacular setting on the ridge above the Inca site of Phuyupatamarca (3650m) to enjoy 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 Picchu rising behind. Passing around the ruins, we descend to the river and Puente Ruinas for a well-earned rest, and possibility of a shower at our basic campsite. 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 leader at the start of the trip if you wish to arrange this.
We return early for a tour of the ruins at their quietest and most evocative (before the day trippers arrive from Cuzco). After free time to explore individually, we board the train in the afternoon (though timings are somewhat erratic and the journey will probably be partly in the dark). The ride follows the rapids of the Urubamba River, enters the Sacred Valley, and then climbs onto the altiplano to Cuzco.
Today we take a bus ride across the altiplano, the high plains separating the Andes from the jungles. Although it is quite a long drive (10 hours including stops), it is interesting and the views are spectacular. There are scheduled stops along the route to visit some of the most interesting sites which helps break up the day and we get a feel for the immensity of the Andean landscapes. We arrive in the evening at Puno, a high, chilly town on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
We explore Lake Titicaca, visiting the descendants of the Uros Indians, who live on islands of floating reeds and produce some fine textiles. Though the altitude here (3850m) is tiring, the air is very clear and the lakeside views can be magnificent, with the snow-capped peaks of the Andes towering in the background. We spend the night on Amantani Island where we experience a homestay with the local villagers - this really allows us to see what life is like for the people in an isolated island community.
We take a boat to Chifron Bay, and spend some time exploring the peninsula before flying back to Lima (from nearby Juliaca airport). Depending on the flight taken, we may have some time free for shopping and sightseeing, including an optional visit to the Gold Museum. Flight times do vary and some groups will not arrive into Lima until late afternoon or early evening.
The trip ends after breakfast today. Those on group flights will be transferred to the airport in the morning for the overnight flight to London.