The trip starts in Cuzco today. In the afternoon we will have short walking tour of the Inca capital, including a visit to the Qoricancha Sun Temple.
The hills above Cuzco city are dotted with some of the most interesting Inca ruins. We drive to the highest, Tambomachay, and return on foot to Cuzco via Puca Pucara, Qenco and Sacsayhuaman: an easy acclimatisation walk to get used to the altitude. An open-air picnic lunch is included during the hike near the spectacular ruins.
Free day in Cuzco to relax and further acclimatise before starting the tour. A range of optional excursions can be arranged, including visits to Inca and pre-Inca sites south of Cuzco, paddleboarding on a high altitude lake, or walks in the hills surrounding the city.
A few hours drive via the interesting Inca remains of Tarawasi takes us high to the hill town of Mollepata. We start by walking from Mollepata to our campsite near Marcocasa where we spend our first night under canvas. The total driving time is approx. 3 hours, and the walk will take around 3-4 hours of steady climbing along well-made tracks. From the campsite we have excellent views of the Apurimac Valley.
Our trek today begins on the southwest facing slopes of the Andes where moderate precipitation generates coarse bushes and gnarly trees, and small parrots can be heard, if not seen. We climb gradually northwards, following an Inca canal, still in use today, towards the broad snowy peak of Humantay (5917m). We stop for lunch at the small hamlet of Soraypampa, and continue our ascent towards the massive bulk of Salcantay (6271m) which soon dominates our view. We camp at around 4200m in the high grassy meadow of Ichu Pata, below the south face and glaciers of the impressive peak.
The high point of the trek and this morning's goal is the Inca Chiriasqa pass at almost 5000m. Climbing more steeply now we walk close to the spectacular glaciers and ice walls of Nevado Salcantay. Passing through Pampa Japonesa, base camp for a Japanese mountaineering expedition, we finally top the pass and gain some excellent 360° views. Inca Chirisaqa means 'the Inca fell ill from cold', and the exposed situation makes it easy to see why. Descending from the pass, we drop down into the upper reaches of a broad valley where Salcantay reappears in a new profile. After passing a huge ridge of terminal moraine, once the snout of the East Salcantay Glacier, the river suddenly becomes dead straight, canalised by the Incas centuries ago. We camp alongside the canal close to the hamlet of Pampa Cahuana.
Setting off from camp this morning, we follow the canal, which soon drops into a steep-sided valley. The path follows the side of this valley all the way to Paucarcancha, an Inca watchtower which guarded the Pampa Cahuana valley. We have time to explore this small site before continuing to the village of Huayllabamba where we camp for the night.
Today we join the main Inca Trail, the classic trek to Machu Picchu. From the village of Huayllabamba, a long and steady climb takes us first through an area of cloud forest to the meadows of Llulluchapampa, then over the Warmihuañusca (Dead Woman) Pass at 4,215m. After quite a long, steep descent we camp in the scenic Pacaymayo valley (3600m).
Another easier climb, past the small ruins of Runcuracay, takes us over the Runcuracay Pass, and from now on the Inca Trail becomes a clearly defined path made of flat boulders. We pass the ruins of Sayajmarca and suddenly enter cloud forest. At one point the trail passes through a short Inca tunnel before crossing onto the Amazon side of the continental divide. We normally camp on the ridge above the Inca site of Phuyupatamarca (3650m) to benefit from the views of sunset and sunrise, and to avoid the crowded Wiñay Wayña campsite.
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, 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. A short downhill section takes us to the edge of the Inca citadel where we board a bus and descend to Aguas Calientes, a busy riverside village with thermal springs. We stay in a hotel tonight, so there is a chance to take a shower and recharge camera batteries ready for our visit to Machu Picchu tomorrow.
We return to Machu Picchu early for a guided tour, having the site almost to ourselves until the trains from Cuzco start arriving around mid-morning. There will be free time to explore the ruins further before we board the afternoon train to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, where we stay for the night.
A day exploring the Sacred Valley of the Incas, visiting the famous Inca fortress ruins of Ollantaytambo and Pisac which tower over the villages below them of the same name. We will also have time to look around Pisac Market, famous for its handicrafts, before returning by road to Cuzco.
Today has been left free to relax in Cuzco after the trek. There are a number of optional excursions available which your tour leader can arrange for you. Those on the group flights will be transferred to the airport this afternoon for the short flight to Lima.
The trip ends in Cuzco after breakfast today. Those on the group flights will be transferred to Lima airport for the overnight flights to London via Madrid.