Arrive in Lima, Peru's capital, that was founded in 1535 AD by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro. It was built on the Pacific coast, by the Rimac River and close to the natural harbour of Callao, on land that had already been inhabited for thousands of years. Today Lima is a modern city, but there are obvious reminders of its ancient and colonial past. The city is also gaining a reputation as a culinary centre; try some ceviche (fish marinated in citrus) or sip on a Pisco sour.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 2pm for the welcome meeting and to take us on a guided tour of the city. We will pass through the historical centre, seeing some of the city's best surviving examples of colonial architecture and strolling through Plaza San Martin. Time permitting there might be the opportunity to enter the fascinating Catacombs of the Convent of San Francisco. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you'll need to arrive into Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM), which is 45 minutes to one hours' drive (traffic dependant). Please note that if you wish to join the city tour today, you must arrive at the hotel by 1.30pm. If you are booking your own flights, we recommend giving yourself at least one hour to clear the airport and from the airport to the hotel is around 30 minutes to one hours' drive, so therefore the latest your flight can arrive is 11.30am. Should you miss the meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up. Stay: Mariel Hotel (Comfortable)
Heading south on the Panamerican Highway we stop at the ancient religious centre of Pachacamac, whose many pre-Inca and Incan adobe walls and temples have miraculously stood for hundreds of years, preserved by the desert climate. We continue on to Paracas and its national park where we can observe some extraordinary lunar landscapes and have the chance to see varied birdlife. Stay: El Mirador Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
There is the possibility this morning to take an optional excursion to the Ballestas Islands to see a large colony of sea lions, seabirds and even penguins. We then continue south pausing at the huge sand dunes outside the town at Huacachina Oasis. Then we drive to the mysterious Nazca Lines. Some specialists have speculated that they represent the world's largest astrological calendar. Huge birds, spiders, whales, other creatures and geometrical figures are represented in outline. Here we'll climb the nearby viewing platform for views out over the lines etched into the desert. There are limited accommodation options in Nazca, tonight we stay in a simple hotel with en-suite rooms and a small swimming pool. Today's total driving time is approximately four hours. Stay: Oro Viejo Hotel (Simple) (B)
A full day's drive takes us through desert scenery. Following the coastal route through the desert we pass the settlement of Puerto Chala. In Inca times relays of chasquis (runners) transported fresh fish 250km to Cusco in the mountains in just one day from nearby. Depending on timing we will visit Quebrada de la Vaca Inca ruins en route, these remains are thought to be part of an original Inca Trail to Cusco, and include ancient llama corrals and grain stores. Today's total driving time is approximately 10 hours.
As we leave the coastal plain behind, our road climbs steadily through the Andean mountains to reach the beautiful city of Arequipa. Stay: Casona Plaza Colonial (Comfortable) (B/L)
This morning we explore this beautiful city, situated at 2,380 metres and surrounded by snowcapped mountains including the perfect conical peak of El Misti (5,822m). The city itself was founded by the Spanish in 1540, on the site of an old Inca settlement, and today is famed for its colonial architecture, including what is arguably one of the finest arcaded city squares anywhere in the Americas. Our morning walking tour includes Santa Catalina Convent, a miniature walled town which once housed 450 nuns and serving ladies in total seclusion for nearly four centuries.
The afternoon is free to further explore this fascinating city, starting in the Plaza de Armas you could visit the twin-towered cathedral or the archaeology museum and wander through the colonial districts. Stay: Casona Plaza Colonial (Comfortable) (B)
Heading north from Arequipa we enter the world of the Altiplano (high plain). We drive behind the volcanoes that ring Arequipa and on to Chivay, passing herds of Llama and Alpaca - if lucky we may spot the elusive Vicuña. Today we briefly reach the highest point of our trip at 4,800 metres before descending towards the Colca Canyon.
The afternoon is free to perhaps bathe in the hot springs (optional) or take a walk in the Colca valley. The walk begins from Canocota, following the Colca River through the mini canyon, passing by cactus and flowered bushes. There are also hot springs in La Calera where the walk ends.
Today's optional moderate eight kilometre walk is expected to take around three hours. Stay: Casa Andina Standard Colca - Chivay (Comfortable) (B)
A spectacular river gorge, the Colca Canyon measures twice the depth of the more famous Grand Canyon and at one time it was believed to be the deepest gorge on earth (until it was eclipsed by the deeper Cotahuasi Canyon). Largely unknown to the outside world until the latter years of the 20th century, today it affords us an opportunity to discover a world of Andean villages and Inca terraces that make up one of the most outstanding natural settings in the Americas. This is the world of the Altiplano, where the Rio Colca meanders through a landscape of towering volcanic peaks that offer a stunning backdrop to a land inhabited by Cabana and Collagua Indians.
Today we experience this spectacular natural wonder on foot. Beginning from the town of Coporaque we walk along terraces above the river before climbing to the Pre Inca runis of Uyo Uyo. We can step back in time exploring the ruins of this village dating to 1200. Descend we walk past colcas (mud and stone caves used for storing harvested crops) and cross the orange Sifon Bridge to reach the town of Yanque from where we drive back to the hotel.
Today's moderate eight kilometre walk is expected to take around four hours with 160 metres of ascent and descent. Stay: Casa Andina Standard Colca - Chivay (Comfortable) (B)
From Chivay we make an early start to the mirador Cruz del Condor, overlooking the magnificent Colca Canyon, in the hope of spotting the rare Andean Condor. Seeing these magnificent birds in flight is a highlight of any trip.
Driving east, via the Patapampa pass we head towards the beautiful landscapes that surround the unique waters of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the word (3,856m) and the legendary birthplace of the Inca civilisation. Our destination is the town of Puno, a centre of Incan folklore nestling in a bay at the northwestern tip of the lake and the perfect base from which to explore something of the cultural and historical significance of the lake itself. Today's total driving time is approximately six-and-a-half hours. Stay: Qelqatani Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
The Uros people dwell on the lake itself, on floating islands of totora, a reedlike papyrus that grows in the shallows and is used in the construction of houses and boats. We continue by motorboat to Taquile Island which has preserved much of its Inca and pre-Inca heritage and the islanders still speak the language of the Inca-Quechua.
In the late afternoon we walk to the top of this terraced island to watch the sun set. This evening we stay in a local village house on the island with dorm rooms and shared facilities.
Today's easy one kilometre walk is expected to take around one hour with 200 metres of ascent. Stay: Taquile Village House (Simple) (B)
This morning we walk across the island for the views. On Taquile Island the local people still preserve a rich tradition of music and dance. This is the ideal opportunity to buy locally produced knitted goods - produced by the men of the island. In the afternoon we walk back to the harbour to return to Puno by boat.
Today's easy five kilometre walk is expected to take around two and half hours. Stay: Qelqatani Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
Today we follow the legendary route taken by the first Inca ruler - Manco Capac - on his way to Cusco. Driving up to the northern limit of the Altiplano we cross La Raya pass (4335m) and make a stop at the Inca temple of Raqchi, before descending towards Cusco, We then continue on to Ollanta in the Sacred Valley. The mountain scenery is desolate but magnificent and we may spot flocks of llamas and alpacas grazing on the windswept pastures. Today's total driving time is approximately seven hours. Stay: Hotel Tikawasi Valley (Comfortable) (B/L)
Today is left free to explore the Sacred Valley and there are plenty of things to do. There is the opportunity to go whitewater rafting on the Urubamba River (grade 2-3, seasonal) - no previous experience is necessary and all safety equipment is provided. You can also choose to visit the market at Pisac and its incredible Inca ruins spread out amphitheatre fashion far above the town. Stay: Hotel Tikawasi Valley (Comfortable) (B)
Today the group will split for the next four days, depending on which trek you have chosen.
Inca Trail This morning we drive to Ollantaytambo, an original Inca town. Here we have a short walking tour to stretch our legs, visiting a traditional house and our first view of Inca terracing. We continue by bus for another hour to reach KM82, the starting point for the classic Inca Trail. The trail was first explored by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and opened for walkers in 1970. The famous ruins of Machu Picchu are not the only historical remains within the area: many other interesting sites are hidden in places which can only be reached on foot, and have scarcely been explored. We meet our porters and support staff, beginning our trek after lunch. The route crosses the Urubamba river, following a wide dirt trail alongside the riverbank. The undulating path takes us into the Sacred Valley of the Incas to Llaqtapata (2,700m). Here we camp opposite the ruins of Llaqtapata a spectacular spot with amazing night skies. There are no permanent facilities here, the camp crew will set up a toilet tent for the group to use. Today's moderate six kilometre walk is expected to take around two-and-a-half hours with an ascent of 100 metres.
Quarry Trail This morning we drive to Rafq'a, the starting point for the Quarry Trek and where we meet our porters and support staff. After walking for an hour, we will reach the small remote community of Socma, from where we take a trail to the viewpoint of the Perolniyoc waterfall. The path continues towards the camp, located at 3750 meters above sea level. We'll arrive in time for lunch and the afternoon is free to rest and explore the archaeological site of Q'orimarca, which once served as a control point for the Incas.
Today's moderate nine kilometre walk is expected to take around five hours with an ascent of 800 metres. Stay: Campsite (Simple) (B/L/D)
Inca Trail After a hearty breakfast we cross the river to visit the Llaqtapata Inca ruins before continuing with the trek. Today we follow the course of the Kusichaca river past small communities, crossing it to reach Wayllabamba, a quiet village of Inca origins and the last settlement on the route. After lunch we gradually ascend through the start of the cloud forest to Llulluchapampa (3,800m) which affords stunning views of the snowy peaks of Veronica (5,750m). Here we set up camp for the night; there is a well maintained facilities block with flushing toilets and sinks at this site.
Today's moderate 10 kilometre walk is expected to take around six hours with 1,080 metres ascent.
Quarry Trail This is the most challenging and rewarding day of the hike. After three hours of trekking, we will reach the top of the first pass of Puccaqasa (4,370m), with spectacular view of snowy mountains on one side, and the Sacred Valley on the other, some of the best views in the Andes! From here we descend for half an hour to the lunch spot. In the afternoon, we'll arrive to Kuychicasa, the highest pass of the trek (4,450m). Continuing, we will visit the sacred site that the Incas called Intipunku or "Puerta del Sol" (Gate of the Sun), where we can see the Veronica Mountain and the Sacred Valley of the Incas in all its splendor. Tonight's campsite is Choquetacarpo camp (3,600m).
Today's challenging 15 kilometre walk is expected to take around nine hours with an ascent of 700 metres. Stay: Campsite (Simple) (B/L/D)
Inca Trail Today is an earlier start as we trek over the Warmiwanusca (Dead Woman's) Pass to 4,200 metres. The two hour ascent is one of the more challenging sections of the trek, we take is slow and steady with many stops to admire the view and sunrise. After a rest and photo opportunity we descend along a stepped path to the valley of the Pacamayo river with its tropical vegetation. Here we break for brunch before beginning the ascent (mainly on steps) to the second pass of the day. We visit the ruins of Runkuraqay and then it's the final ascent to cross the Runkuraqay Pass (3,950m).
After the pass it was a long gradual descent passing into the start of the main cloud forest to reach the bottom of the valley. The Sayacmarca ruins are visible on a rocky outcrop, they command an imposing view and have only one means of access, a narrow granite stairway. We cross the valley to reach the Sayacmarca campsite for a late lunch. From here the trail goes through cloud forest with vines, exotic flowers (among them orchids) and luxuriant trees, with views (if we are lucky) of the snowcapped peaks of Salkantay. We walk through an Inca tunnel and along a ridge above the Urubamba River to our campsite above the Phuyupatamarca ruins (3,579m). The campsite has amazing panoramic views of the surrounding peaks and down the valley towards Machu Picchu mountain. There is a toilet block but it's not kept in the best condition so the camp crew will set up a toilet tent for the group to use.
Today's challenging 15 kilometre walk is expected to take around eight hours with 1,000 metres ascent and 630 metres descent.
Quarry Trail Today's walk is mainly downhill, our first stop will be Cachicata, the Inca quarry, where it is told that the Incas were intercepted by the Spanish conquerors and was subsequently never finished. Here we can observe the Inca stone works before continuing our descent for three hours to reach Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo, is an original Inca town, we'll have lunch here and take a short walking tour to visiting a traditional house and viewing the of Inca terracing. The rest of the day is for relaxing ahead of an early start tomorrow, we stay in a hotel here tonight.
There is an optional excursion this afternoon to visit a traditional Peruvian farm, learning about artisanal distillation methods and coffee production and enjoying a delicious Pachamanca lunch (stew baked underground).
Today's moderate five kilometre walk is expected to take around four hours with an descent of 1,500 metres. Stay: Campsite or Hotel (Simple) (B/L/D)
Inca Trail Today is our final day walking along the Inca Trail. We say thanks and goodbye to our porters and begin our trek into Machu Picchu. We pass the Puyupatamarca ruins and spend the majority of the morning going down following stone paths and stairways, 80% of which are original Inca architecture. Coming out of the cloud forest we are greeted by the spectacular views down the valley, walking through the impressive Inca terraces at Intipata we reach our lunch stop at Winay-Wayna (2,591m). Those who wish can visit the ruins here, this Inca site is built into the steep hillside and like Machu Picchu, was abandoned for unknown reasons.
Winding our way along the edge of the mountain we follow a wide path adorned with wild flowers and orchids to we take the final steps up to reach Inti Punku - the Gate of the Sun. Passing through there is a sudden and fantastic view of the Lost City itself, Machu Picchu, set in a grandiose landscape that amazes all spectators. We walk down through the site and then take the public bus down the mountainside to our hotel in the town of Aquas Calientes situated on the valley floor below Machu Picchu.
Today's moderate 14 kilometre walk is expected to take around six hours with 1,000 metres descent.
Quarry Trail This morning is our final day trekking and we join the Inca Trail. We drive to Ollantaytambo train station and board the train towards km 104, where we begin our trek crossing the River Vilcanota, following the Inca Trail through woodland ascending to the magnificent ruins of Wiñay Wayna (2,591m) where you will be reunited with the group. From Wiñay Wayna the route is the same as above, trekking through the Sun Gate into Machu Picchu.
Today's moderate 12 kilometre walk is expected to take around six hours with an ascent and descent of 500 metres.
We'll enjoy a celebratory group dinner in Aquas Calientes tonight. Stay: Casa Andina Standard Machu Picchu (Comfortable) (B/L)
Our final morning is spent at Machu Picchu, probably the most astounding feat of engineering in all of ancient America. Temples, stairways, palaces and gabled stone dwellings are scattered everywhere, testifying to the energy and ingenuity of the builders. We have a guided tour with our Leader then before taking the bus back down to Aquas Calientes.
It is also possible to climb the steep peaks of either Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu Mountain to look down on the citadel. Machu Picchu Mountain is a 700m climb from the top of the citadel. There are cobbled stairs all the way up with a few eye-opening drops in some parts, and the round-trip takes about tow and half to three hours. Huayna Picchu Mountain is only 350m, half the size of Machu Picchu Mountain, but much steeper. There are many more sheer drops, and it is definitely not suitable for someone with a fear of heights. For those who fancy doing the one hour climb, you'll be rewarded with world-beating views of Machu Picchu, and the feeling that you're standing on a precipice at the top of the world.
These climbs must be pre-paid at time of booking. If you change your passport between your time of booking and prior to travel please take your original passport with you. Those doing one of the optional climbs will take the first bus back up the Machu Picchu to begin the climb at 7am after which you will meet up with the rest of the group to take the guided tour.
In the afternoon we get the train to Ollantaytambo, located in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and then return to the historic town of Cusco by bus. Depending on the time of the train, you may have a free afternoon in Aquas Calientes, where there are many restaurants and cafes and a large covered market. Stay: Yawar Inka Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
This morning we take an immersive walking tour through the captivating city of Cusco, kicking things off in the colossal archeological site of Sacsayhuaman, a stone fortress still at the core of Cusco's traditions. Winding our way along an old Incan trail, we head down to the colonial neighborhood of San Cristobal, where the plaza will surprise us with sweeping view over the cities roof tops. Navigating the narrow streets of the old city we reach the aqueduct of Sapantiana, a hidden engineering marvel only known by locals. This aqueduct directs us to arty San Blas, where coffee shops converge with traditional artisan's workshops, we explore the cobbled calles, venturing inside the studios to marvel at the local craftsmanship. Entering the main Plaza de Armas of Cusco, the focal point of the city, we are welcomed by the baristas of Three Monkeys Coffee who serve us up the finest Peruvian beans. Revived, we continue walking, gazing upon the Qoricancha complex, once the Inca's most sacred site dedicated to the Sun God. Our final destination is Mercado de Wanchaq, a truly local affair jammed with rows of colourful stalls and filled with the aromas of seasonal fruit. Slurping freshly pressed juice we witness the sellers hawking their wares before returning to the hotel. The walking tour is approximately four kilometres, expected to take around four-to-five hours. The afternoon is at leisure to rest and acclimatise, you may want to visit one of Cusco's museums. Stay: Yawar Inka Hotel (Comfortable) (B)
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Cusco. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Cusco at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ), which is around 15 minutes' drive. Depending on the schedule of your flights, you may have some additional time to visit a museum or do some souvenir shopping in the winding streets and alleys of the city. If you are travelling onto the Amazon, you will be transferred to Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport this morning for your flight to Puerto Maldonado. (B)