The overnight group flights to Cuzco leave London this evening.
We arrive in Cuzco this morning and transfer to our hotel. The Inca capital - though small enough to be easily manageable - is among the most attractive cities in South America, with much of the centre comprising colonial-era buildings with Inca foundations, and it is full of interesting museums, churches and pre-Columbian 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.
Today has been left free for us to explore the city in more detail. You may wish to take an optional visit to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and the incredible ruins at Pisac, or a river-rafting trip can be arranged on the Urubamba River (noramlly Grade III, although river conditions vary throughout the season).
We leave Cuzco early this morning and drive to the start of the Inca Trail at Piscacucho, commonly known as Km82. The trail runs alongside the Vilcanota River beneath the impressive snowcapped Nevado Veronica, passing through cactus gardens and fields of corn until we reach the enormous Inca ruins of Llactapata, where we continue up a side valley to camp near the hamlet of Huayllabamba.
This is the longest and most strenuous day of the trek. A long climb takes us first through an area of cloud forest to the meadows of Llulluchapampa, then over the Warmihuañusca (Dead Woman) pass, at 4234m the highest point on the trek. After quite a long, steep descent we camp in the scenic valley of the Pacamayo river (3600m).
We start the day with an easier climb which takes us past the ruins of Runquracay and 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; at one point the Trail passes through an Inca tunnel. We camp on the ridge above the Inca site of Phuyupatamarca (3680m) 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 first full sight of Machu Picchu itself, with Huayna Picchu rising behind. Traditionally busy with groups of trekkers clamouring for dawn photos, we plan our arrival at Inti Punku later in the day so we can enjoy unobstructed views of the magnificent ruins. Passing around the edge of the ruins, we descend to the Urumbamba River and the campsite at Puente Ruinas for a well-earned rest and the possibility of a shower. Our trekking permits allow us one entry into the site, which we use for our dawn tour tomorrow, but anyone wishing to visit the citadel on both days can purchase an additional entry ticket today for approx. US$50 - our tour leader will assist with this. The cost of the trip includes a night camping below Machu Picchu tonight, but it is often possible to change this for a night in a hotel for an additional local payment (the amount will vary depening on which hotels are available). Ask your tour leader to help with booking the hotel before you set off on the Inca Trail.
We return to Machu Picchu 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 then 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 altiplano to Cuzco.
Today has been left free for relaxation, last-minute shopping, or further discovery of Cuzco.
We depart Cuzco today and fly back to London via Lima.