Set amidst hills in the altiplano, the Imperial City of the Incas, Cuzco (3,400) was the geographic, cultural and political centre of a vast empire which, at its peak, stretched from present-day Quito in Ecuador to Santiago in Chile. After the Spanish conquistadores invaded the city they started building on top of the Incan structures, resulting in unique architecture, a fusion of the Incan and Spanish colonial styles. The group flight usually arrives around midday, giving time for a short orientation tour around the city or free time to wander the cobbled streets admiring the old houses, visiting its interesting museums, churches and pre-Columbian buildings, or to sit in a café and sample a coca-tea. It is recommended to take it easy upon arrival into Cuzco and to drink plenty of water to allow your body time to acclimatise to the altitude (3,400m). There will be a welcome briefing in the hotel lobby this afternoon/evening. *Hotel Warari / Koyllur (or similar)*
Today has been left free for exploring Cuzco, one of South America's most beautiful cities. The Plaza de Armas is a fantastic spot for people-watching, and Qorikancha – the Sun Temple, located in the Santo Domingo Church and monastery, are worth a visit. The Mercado San Pedro is the place to try some local produce and there are many handicraft markets to shop for souvenirs such as alpaca jumpers and scarves. Outside the town are more Inca ruins, notably the fortress of Sacsayhuaman where the Inca armies made their last stand against the Conquistadores. Cuzco is also the gateway to the Sacred Valley of the Incas and should you wish to visit the sites, your leader can help organise an excursion, including Pisac Market (optional). If you fancy something more active then there are an array of other optional activities available from Cuzco, although you may wish to leave these until your return to the city after the Inca Trail trek, by which time you will be fully acclimatised. These include paddle-boarding on a lake, mountain biking, or a combination of via ferrata and zip-lining in the Sacred Valley. In the evening you will need to pack and weigh your duffel bag ready for the Inca Trail tomorrow – remember to keep your passport somewhere accessible for the Inca Trail checkpoint. *Hotel Warari / Koyllur / Emperador (or similar)*
Those who are doing the Moonstone Trek will join a separate transfer to the trailhead. The Classic Inca Trail is a tangential branch part of a 45,000km road network linking the whole empire to Cuzco. It was built in the 15th Century to reach Machu Picchu but was abandoned soon after the Spanish conquest. American adventurer Hiram Bingham travelled along the trail when he came across Machu Picchu in 1911. The trail opened to the public in 1970. We leave Cuzco early and drive for roughly two hours to Ollantaytambo, our last chance to buy any items needed for the trek. From here we veer off the road and follow a track beside the river (45 minutes) to the start of the Inca Trail at Piscacucho, commonly known as Km82. After greeting our trekking crew, we show our passports at the checkpoint and begin the Inca Trail trek. The trail runs alongside the Vilcanota River beneath the impressive snow-capped 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. *Full-service Camping - Huayllabamba Camp*
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's) 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). *Full-service Camping - Pacamayo Camp*
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. As we leave behind the ruins of Sayajmarca, we suddenly enter rainforest; at one point the trail passes through an Inca tunnel. We spend the night at a spectacular campsite on the ridge above the Inca site of Phuyupatamarca (3680m) to benefit from the views of sunset and sunrise. *Full-service Camping - Phuyupatamarca Camp*
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 Wayna, we have an undulating walk through cloud forest high above the river to Inti Punku, the Sun Gate. 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 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 exit the site and descend to Aguas Calientes for a well-earned rest, a shower and a comfortable bed for the night. Our trekking permits allow us one entry into the site, which we use for our tour tomorrow. There is usually time for an optional visit to the hot springs in Aguas Calientes, however in recent years they have become over-crowded and the water quality can suffer as a result. We will be reunited with those who have been on the Moonstone Trek at the hotel this afternoon. *Hotel Inti Punku El Tambo (or similar)** *
In order to beat the day-trippers arriving from Cuzco and reach the ruins as early as possible, a very early start is required to queue for Machu Picchu; only government-registered buses can make the 30-minute drive up the winding road to the site entrance, and during high season (May-October) queues can be hours long. Machu Picchu is one of the architectural and engineering marvels of the ancient world and what makes it all the more dramatic is its mountain backdrop of staggering immensity. The Spaniards never found it; the Incas left no records of it, and so Machu Picchu remained a great enigma, a city lost for centuries in the jungle until it was rediscovered in 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham. Having been trialled in 2017, new regulations for visiting Machu Picchu will be fully enforced for 2018; of the three possible visiting slots, we will purchase the morning slot from 06:00 until 12:00 (unless unavailable), you will be limited to a maximum of four hours within the site and must be accompanied by a guide. There will also be three set routes to follow around Machu Picchu; we select the most comprehensive route. We catch an afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo (1hr 30 mins) and continue by private bus to Cuzco (2hrs 30 mins). *Hotel Warari / Koyllur (or similar)** *
Today has been left free to relax after the trek or explore Cuzco further. Again, your leader can help to arrange optional excursions and activities for you. *Hotel Warari / Koyllur (or similar)*
For land only travellers, the trip ends in Cuzco after breakfast today. Those who are travelling on the group flights will be taken to Cuzco airport to catch the overnight flight back to London.
* 5 nights hotels in en suite rooms, 3 nights full-service camping with dining and toilet tents * 4 days point-to-point walking with full porterage * Group normally 4 to 16, plus leader. Min. age 16 yrs * Altitude maximum 4215m, average 3050m * 7kg personal weight limit on Inca Trail * Travel by private bus and by train
All breakfasts, 4 lunches and 3 dinners are included in the price of the tour. Peruvian cuisine has developed a reputation for its flavours and originality and it’s well worth trying out a few of the local delicacies. Amongst these are ceviche (a spicy dish of seafood or fish marinated in lime juice), lomo saltado (a Peruvian take on a beef stir-fry) and various hearty soups such as the delicious quinoa soup. Other dishes include roasted cuy (guinea pig), alpaca steak, and to drink, the national beverage: Pisco Sour. Drinking water is included throughout the holiday as the tap water in Peru is not safe to drink; boiled and filtered drinking water is provided on the trek and elsewhere your leader will buy large water containers for you to refill your bottle from. Hotel breakfasts are normally simple buffet-style affairs, usually including bread/toast and jam, cereal, sometimes eggs or a cooked dishes, sometimes fruit, tea/coffee and fruit juice. Regrettably, we cannot guarantee that wheat/gluten-free products will be available for breakfast in all locations – if you have an intolerance you may wish to bring your own breakfast food. Where lunch and dinner are not included in Cuzco/Aguas Calientes we'll visit a variety of cafes and restaurants. During the Inca Trail (or Moonstone Trek) hearty breakfasts are served and good quality cooked lunches and dinners are provided, and usually consist of soup or a starter, a main course with meat/fish and some form of carbohydrates, followed by a dessert. Some snacks between meals are also provided. Bed tea/coffee is brought to your tent each morning and juice or hot drinks are provided with all meals during the trek.
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