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Start Cuzco (3,400m); afternoon walking tour.
The trip starts in Cuzco today. The group flights usually arrive in the mid-afternoon. 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. We will have a short walking tour around the compact city centre to get our bearings. 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).
Free day in Cuzco.
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 is 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. 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 Cuzco 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.
Drive to Capuliyoc Pass (2,915m); begin the trek with a descent to Chiquisca.
We leave Cuzco this morning and drive to Capuliyoc Pass (approx. 2,915m) in time for lunch, stopping to explore the archaeological sites of Tarawasi and Saywite en route. From the top of the pass we enjoy spectacular panoramic views of the Apurimac River and the surrounding snow-capped peaks, as well as Choquequirao itself. Descending from the pass, the path undulates its way through dry forest above the raging waters of the Apurimac River. Our camp tonight is at Chiquisaca (1,950m).
Cross Apurimac River then climb to Santa Rosa and Maranpata (2,850m); on to Choquequirao camp (3,035m).
This morning we have a very early start. An hour or so of walking downhill brings us to Playa Rosalina, from where we cross over the Apurimac River before beginning the long and steep climb up to the village of Santa Rosa. After a rest stop we continue climbing to a plateau above Maranpata (2,850m) where we usually have a lunch break. The trail becomes much flatter from here on, as we follow the edge of the Apurimac Canyon towards Choquequirao. The forests here are home to Spectacled bears, and we may catch sight of them as we approach the Inca citadel. After walking through the terraces, we set up camp close to the ruins themselves (3,035m). This campsite has cold showers and flushing toilets.
Full day to explore the magnificent Inca site of Choquequirao and the terraces of Pacchanta.
We have ample time to fully explore the ruins of Choquequirao. Larger than Machu Picchu, the site is made up of nine different areas which each had a distinct role covering religious, political and military functions. The quality of the stonework indicates that it housed important Inca officials or royalty, and in common with other important sites it features ritual baths and temples dedicated to the sun, moon and Pachamama, the earth spirit. Much of Choquequirao is unexcavated and many buildings are still hidden beneath the thick forest which surrounds the main site. There are incredible views of the whole site and the Apurimac Valley from the truncated hilltop of Sunch'u Pata, a steep walk up from the main plaza. In the afternoon we will visit the terraces of Pacchanta.
Cross Choquequirao Pass (3,215m) then descend to the Rio Blanco via Pinchinoyoc; continue to Maizal (3,000m).
We cover a lot of ground today, starting with a short but steep climb (approx. 2hrs) to the top of the Choquiquirao Pass (3,215m) from where we enjoy our last panoramic view over Choquequirao. After the pass we walk downhill for roughly an hour and a half on a wide but dusty road to Pinchinoyoc (2,400m) where we visit terraces that were previously covered in vegetation. As we continue our descent for a further two to three hours we enter cloud forest, and eventually open scrubland which borders the Rio Blanco (1,800m). We have lunch close to the river, after which we begin a steep and dusty climb (3-4 hours) up to Maizal at 3,000m, where we spend the night camping on Inca terraces.
Steep climb over San Juan Pass (4,170m) with impressive mountain views; descend to Yanama (3,600m).
We start the day with a steep climb (approx. 4.5hrs) up the San Juan Pass (4,170m) - the effort of ascending the pass is balanced with incredible views of the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba, including Choquetacarpo, Pumasillo and Sacsarayoc. As we near the top, we stop at the 500-year-old La Victoria silver mines. Crossing the pass, we descend for roughly two hours to our camp at Yanama (3,400m), following a high trail which affords excellent opportunities to spot the mighty Andean condor as it soars on the thermals.
Trek amidst Vilcabamba Range and over Yanama Pass (4,560m), surrounded by glaciers, to Totora.
Stunning scenery abounds today as we trek deep in the heart of the Vilcabamba Range, following Inca roads up to the highest point of the trek, the Yanama Pass (4,560m). There is a new road from Yanama camp up to the pass so every once in a while there will be motorbikes and vehicles passing, although we avoid the road wherever possible. Lofty Sacsarayoc dominates the skyline from the pass. A long (approx. 4hr) descent from the pass brings us through grassy fields to Totora campsite, were we spend the night.
Descend to Lucabamba.
From Totora it is a steady descent (approx. 6hrs) to Lucabamba. We may notice more trekkers around today as we converge with a section of the Salcantay trail. We follow a gravel path beside the river; the surroundings are green as we are walking through cloud forest once again. We’ll also see lots of fruit trees and coffee plantations. Time permitting, there is sometimes the chance to visit a coffee plantation and cassava fields (for PEN10, or free entry should you purchase some coffee).
Follow Salcantay River to Santa Teresa (1,900m); train to Aguas Calientes.
Rising early, we follow an original Inca trail which climbs uphill for two hours to the site of Llactapacta. After a final two hour descent we reach the hydroelectric station at Santa Teresa (1,900m) – a good spot for lunch. After lunch we cross the Vilcanota River, where we finish our trek. We board the train to Aguas Calientes and check into our hotel upon arrival for a well-earned rest and a shower!
Morning tour of Machu Picchu; train to Ollantaytambo.
In order to beat the day-trippers coming from Cuzco, we wake early this morning and catch the bus (approx. thirty minutes) up the winding road to the greatest ruin in the world; Machu Picchu. The well-preserved Inca architecture, combined with its spectacular location on a mountain spur high above the Urubamba River, makes Machu Picchu one of the world's most impressive ruins. Your leader will give you a two/three hour guided tour of the ruins and afterwards there will be free time to explore at your leisure. There are some spectacular walks around the site that you may wish to do, including following the path to the Inca Drawbridge. Once you’ve had your fill, return to Aguas Calientes in time to catch an afternoon train which winds its way through the beautiful Urubamba River Valley back to Ollantaytambo (approx. one and a half hours).
Sacred Valley tour; continue to Cuzco.
We wake to explore the narrow cobbled streets and the colossal Inca stone terraces which dominate the hillside above Ollantaytambo town. The archaeological site at Ollantaytambo was the royal estate of Inca Emperor Pachacuti as well as being of religious and defensive significance. Travelling by road we next visit the ruins of the Citadel at Pisac where Inca terraces are carved into the solid rock itself and there will also be time to walk around the colourful market. Afterwards we continue the drive to Cuzco, passing through high-Andean scenery dotted with old towns and villages dating back to pre-Columbian times.
For land only travellers, the trip ends in Cuzco after breakfast today.