We've designed a unique itinerary for this trip that covers the highlights of Cusco City and acclimatization hikes in the stunning Sacred Valley that make for exhilarating days of trekking. We begin our trip with comfy overnight stays in hotels at an excellent location in the city of Cusco. On the days prior to the trek you will explore all the major and fascinating archaeological Inca sites between Cusco and the Sacred Valley. The high Inca Trail is part of the great Andean road system built by the Incas for communication, trade, and defense. This will give us gorgeous days of hiking and uncrowded trails before we join the classic Inca Trail, spending evenings in cozy campsites and enjoying great meals. On the route to the royal city of Machu Picchu the Salcantay route is also impressive. The 20,500-foot-high Mount Salcantay was considered one of the holiest mountains, or sacred peaks, in the Inca religious pantheon.
Cusco, known as the home and residence of gods and the spiritual and political capital of the Incan Empire is a city built in the shape of a puma that can only be seen from the air. You will walk through Incan streets that are illuminated by the sun every winter solstice, and experience some of the most important Incan and Spanish religious sites, such as Qorikancha, also known as the Golden Enclosure, which displays a sophisticated stone construction technology, and Cusco Cathedral, which is still in use today and contains an art gallery consisting of 17th-century canvasses in the Cusco School of painting, with a special highlight consisting of "The Last Supper" featuring a guinea pig.Lunch and dinner at your own expense.
In order to prepare for the later high-altitude hike, your first encounter with an Incan trail and classic Incan ruins will happen on this day. You will climb up to the ruins through a rocky gorge surrounded by vertical walls that house Incan burial sites on its sheer face. Here you will observe lots of Andean flora, along with well-preserved Incan farming terraces, while farther up on the crest of the mountain you'll witness Incan "condos" and the Sun Temple surrounded by awesome views. You will then hike back to Pisac for some shopping opportunities before going back to Cusco. Our last stop for the day will be above Cusco to visit Sacsayhuaman. We'll explore these great ruins by foot. The site was built with massive boulders, some of which weigh more than 100 tons.
Interestingly, the Spaniards did not believe that such monolithic stones could be moved by human beings and they attributed Sacsayhuaman's construction to the mythical Cyclops. Thus, this type of architecture is known as the "Cyclopean Inca style".
On this day we will drive to Moray. There you will see a series of concentric terraces in large bowl-like depressions. There are three enormous complexes that lead down to a circular level that is so well drained it never floods no matter how torrential the rain. The concentric terraces create micro-climates with a considerable difference in temperature between the top and bottom terraces. The purpose of these remarkable structures is uncertain, but most scholars agree that this was mostly likely an experimental agricultural station or a spiritual place known as the mother's womb.
Afterwards we descend to one of the major tourist destinations within the Sacred Valley - Ollantaytambo, where you will walk through the marvels of a superbly preserved Incan town named in honor of an Incan warrior called Ollantay, who was deeply in love with Kusi Qoyllur, the forbidden and "high maintenance" daughter of King Inka Pachacutec.
Here we'll witness an exquisite example of Incan stonework: the unique Sun Temple made out of pink granite boulders each weighing 50 tons which was almost finished before the work was unfortunately interrupted by the Spaniards' guns, germs, and steel. After lunch we will drive to Chinchero. This Andean region boasts one of the world's oldest, most continuous, and best-preserved textile traditions, dating back at least ten thousand years. Textiles have traditionally been a significant art form and cultural vehicle of the people of Chinchero and over the centuries, they have developed a highly advanced textile technology.
Our journey today begins with an early morning drive to the trail head. Our guides will escort you to the archeological site of Tarahuasi, a royal resting stop for the king. The drive then continues on to pass through picturesque Andean towns. Our bus will drop us above Mollepata where we will start our trek to Soraypampa with outstanding views of the Vilcabamba range along the way. In Soraypampa we will meet with experienced horsemen who will assist us on our trek. In the afternoon we'll hike to Lake Humantay which is enclosed by glaciers and reaches to 17,960 ft. The climb will help you to acclimatize to the altitude before our big adventure begins the next day. At the lake we'll be able to take in the sunset before returning to camp for dinner.Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
On this day we will have our breakfast in an amphitheater of snow peaks. We begin the ascending hike dominated by one of Peru's most sacred mountains towering over the valley with a sheer and snowy face: The Salcantay Peak at 20,600 feet. As we climb the Andean flora will get smaller and smaller due to high altitude. After a well-earned lunch we will continue the climb up to our camp site where our destination is near what is considered to be one of the most important deities within the Cusco region. An early afternoon arrival to the chilly camp site will provide time to unpack our cozy tents and then explore the terrain around the sacred mountain while enjoying your close-up moment with the glaciers.Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Today the challenge is to hike even higher into the thin air. We will ascend to Inkachiriasca Pass at 4,950 m/16,240 ft. This pass will be our highest altitude of the entire trek. Make sure to soak up the stunning panoramic views of the Vilcabamba Range from the top of the world and snow peaks reaching between 20,000 ft. and 18,000 ft. before leaving behind the holy pass and descending into a very scenic and fertile valley of Pampaccahuana, known to produce potatoes. The afternoon hike will be along a river channeled by the Incas and onto a descent through a forest full of high altitude Andean birds, then back down to the thick air. Our campsite is just beneath the archeological site of Paucarcancha, a fortress that protects the intersection of two valleys.Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
This will be one of our most memorable days of the trek, but you'll have to power through the ultimate Inca Stairmaster challenge in order to arrive at the amazing views. The morning begins with a descent down to Huayllabamba followed by a zigzagging staircase throughout a spooky Andean forest and then up to Lluluchupata. From Lluluchupata we head out on the heels of the most sought-after woman on the trail. The Sleeping Woman Pass is no joke. Sitting at 13,800 ft./4,215 m above sea level she is also known as Dead Woman's Pass. From here we manage a tricky decent into the beautiful valley of Pacaymayu.Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
The beginning of our day starts with a much-welcomed and gentle climb up to the egg shaped ruins of Runkuraqay, situated halfway to the second pass. From there it's up to the Runkuraqay pass at 13,000 ft./3,963 m where we will experience some of the most stunning mountain scenery of the entire trek. A lovely decent brings us to the ruins of Sayacmarca, a fortress or way station for pilgrims or priests that marks the southern trail into Machu Picchu. Built at a strategic location, Sayacmarca is known for blending a number of different Incan architectural styles. In the afternoon we'll hike along a mountain ridge that begins at the 20,000-foot peak of Salcantay and runs all the way to the town of clouds, Puyupatamarca. As we trek along this ridge we'll have stunning views of the cloud forest.Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
A wild descent through one of the most spiritual sites on the classic Inka trail, the ruins of Puyupatamarca will leave you breathless. It's unknown whether this was a place dedicated to communion with nature or agricultural research. Passing through a cloud forest full of orchids, ferns, bromeliads, and colorful birds that cloak white granite cliffs, we'll follow an Incan staircase down to the farming terraces of Intipata. From there it's off to the incredible ruins of Wiñay Wayna and the Sun Gate Pass at 9,000 ft./2,750 m. This is one of the world's most thrilling viewpoints and the only way to take in all of Machu Picchu in its full glory.Breakfast, lunch, and dinner included.
Machu Picchu is the only major Incan site to escape 400 years of looting and destruction by the Spanish conquistadors. To be sure, it is not an ordinary Incan settlement; it sits on a nearly inaccessible location high above the Urubamba gorge and contains exquisite engineering and architecture. Was it a spiritual destination and pilgrimage center located within a sacred geography? Or perhaps a royal retreat for the king, Inka Pachacutec? Or maybe the biggest or the first agricultural research center built by the Incans? Whatever its purpose may have been, you will have a chance to explore every corner of the majestic Machu Picchu. We will then take an evening train to Ollantaytambo and then back to Cusco.Lunch and dinner at your own expense.
Depending on the time of your international flight departure, there will be a chance in the morning for shopping, or you'll take an afternoon flight to Lima for your international connection. You may also take advantage of one of our optional post-trip extensions at this point.Lunch and dinner on your own.