This is an adventurous, active holiday which uses the flexibility of walking, biking and river rafting to give you a different perspective of the Cusco area of southern Peru. Hike the famous Classic Inca Trail to the ruined Inca city of Machu Picchu, cycle in the Sacred Valley and raft down the upper reaches of the River Apurimac, a tributary of the Amazon, in glorious, remote canyon landscapes.
You will get under the skin of Peru at ground level: instead of whizzing around in a coach you’ll be exploring under your own steam. Discovering essential cities on foot, you can pop down narrow alleys and weave your way through produce-crammed markets. You will amble through the countryside along farm tracks and narrow broom-lined paths, cycle along quiet country lanes, and hike one of the Andes’ most staggeringly beautiful mountain trails. Add to this the experience of rafting the rocky gorges of the Andes as they clamber down to the jungles of the Peruvian Amazon, you’ll arrive home fit, and exhilarated.
Day 1 Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel.
You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the cliff-side Pacific residential and commercial district of Miraflores. The half-hour drive to the hotel through Lima’s outskirts is not the most enchanting introduction to this city of extreme contrasts, but it does encapsulate the invigorating buzz of a modern-day Latin American capital.
Day 2 Walking tour of Lima. Fly to Cusco and drive to the Sacred Valley.
Walking tour of Lima. This guided stroll visits dynamic Lima's contrasting residential, financial and colonial districts. Starting off from the cliff tops in Miraflores, admire the views over the Pacific Ocean. Continue to the pre-Inca temple Huaca Pucllana before arriving in San Isidro, an elegant suburb with an olive grove and golf course.
Pause for a snack at the Tanta Restaurant, owned by Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio and sample a traditional Peruvian dish. Afterwards, public transportation takes you to the outskirts of central Lima where you continue on foot through the colonial district to the Plaza de Armas. Lima's grandiose historic main square is home to the Cathedral, Archbishop's Palace and the City Hall.
Return to the airport for the one hour flight to Cusco. Upon arrival you continue by road to the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas. Once the bread-basket of the empire, it was heavily populated in imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain, where well-preserved ruins bear witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created. Overnight in Urubamba in the heart of the valley for 3 nights, beneath the dome of a vast, clear Andean sky.
Day 3 Walking tour around Huilloc and Pumamarca.
The day is spent walking in spectacular Andean scenery, gaining an insight into life in a traditional weaving community, and visiting the small but well preserved Inca ruins of Pumamarca. It’s an early drive to the Andean community of Huilloc, where you visit homes in which you can observe different traditional processes and techniques used in textile weaving. The culture and way of life here has changed little since Inca times.
Afterwards, hike along the Patacancha River towards the village of Pallata to arrive at Pumamarca. Later, hike back to the village of Ollantaytambo along the top of the Inca terraces of Chichobamaba and Canchispujio. There is about 6hrs hiking in total today.
Day 4 Biking around Pisac and Ollantaytambo Inca ruins.
Explore the scenic Sacred Valley by bike. There are three stages to the ride, with the possibility of ending your two-wheel experience at the end of each one; so you can do as much of it as you like.
The first stage begins at the Inca archaeological site of Pisac. This ruined city is set high above and visible from the eponymous colonial village, and is built on terraces carved into the steep hillsides. The engineering and preservation are unrivalled. From the flat valley floor the intricate hillside terracing rises up like a green staircase to the heavens. Ride along an asphalted road (13km), and then 11km to the villages of Taray and Coya via a dirt road.
The second stage continues along the broom-covered left bank of the attractive Vilcanota River to the village of Lamay (8km). The third stage follows the riverbank to the village of Calca (15km). At the end of the ride you’ll travel by support vehicle to the Inca village of Ollantaytambo where the snow-capped Andean cordillera forms a stunning backdrop.
Ollantaytambo, sitting strategically at the gateway to the Amazon basin, was never captured by the Spanish conquistadors, but the inhabitants decided that the settlement was too vulnerable and would eventually fail, and so they abandoned it. You have time to explore the fortress, the colonial grid plan and the Inca foundations of which are still intact. There are wonderful views down over the sloping hillsides and into the fertile valley.
Day 5 By road to km82, start the Classic Inca Trail.
Today you will set off on the classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail is part of a wider network of trails built by the Incas which spanned over 6,000km along the spine of the Andes. The scenery along the way is breathtaking: verdant cloud forest and Alpine tundra, Inca ruins and sublime snow-capped mountain vistas. There are a few steep climbs to negotiate before the descent towards your destination, the Gate of the Sun...and the ultimate reward, Machu Picchu.
You set off from Urubamba by road, following the River Urubamba as it enters the ever-narrowing gorge which leads down from the highlands to the Amazon basin. The road goes as far as km82, the start of the trail.
The first day follow the undulating path on the left bank of the Urubamba river for a couple of hours until you reach the first archaeological ruins at Llactapata (2,300m). From here you turn away from the vast Urubamba canyon and begin to climb gently up the narrow Cusichaca valley towards the small farming community of Huayllabamba (3,100m). Arrive at the first camp site.
Day 6-7 Hiking the Inca Trail.
After Huayllabamba comes the hardest part of the trek as the trail begins to climb steeply uphill through beautiful forests, before emerging onto open meadows at Llulluchapampa. From here it is a further 2-3hrs strenuous climb towards the Warmiwañusqa (Dead Woman’s) pass. This is the highest point of the trek at 4,200m, with spectacular views before the trail descends into the Pacamayo Valley. Camp.
The following day climbing up original Inca steps, you pass the ruins of Runkuracay and a couple of small lagoons on the way to the second pass at 3,850m where, clouds permitting, snow-capped mountains heave into sight. The trail then snakes down towards the ruins of Sayacmarca, from where there are sweeping vistas of distant valleys and hills. Continuing along the paved Inca road you pass through a tunnel before reaching the third pass and, soon after, the ruins of Phuyupatamarca. From a nearby hilltop there are often incredible views of the snow-capped Mount Salkantay, the most beautiful mountain in the region. This is followed by a steep, knee-crunching one kilometre descent to Wiñay Wayna. This exquisite Inca site, containing a series of fine ceremonial fountains and elegantly curved terracing, overlooks the Urubamba river. Camp.
Day 8 Arrive at Machu Picchu, guided tour of the site.
From here, it's just a 2 hour, relatively flat walk through wonderful cloud forest to the Intipunku or Sun Gate, from where you have your first view of the celebrated Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. On arrival at Machu Picchu you will have a 2hr guided tour through the maze of fine stone temples and palaces, spectacularly perched on a high, narrow ridge, with time to explore on your own.
The majestic ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath jungle vegetation. The ruins are on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon.
You will have a guided tour of the ruins and, since you are overnighting nearby and not restricted by the small window of opportunity offered by a day trip, there is time later to take one of the many trails within the site itself, such as the hike to the vertiginous Inca Bridge, carved into a cliff edge or wander amongst the stone buildings and llama-dotted grassy ledges soaking up the atmosphere. Spend the night in the village of Machu Picchu.
Day 9 Return to Cusco by rail and road.
Train times permitting, there’s the opportunity to return to the site of Machu Picchu. Getting up early and taking the first buses up to the ruins is well worth it... The site is virtually empty and the early morning mists swirl around the surrounding mountain tops. Optional hike to the summit of Huayna Picchu (must be booked in advance), or alternatively enjoy the thermal baths or walks in the village below.
In the afternoon, return by the train as far as Ollantaytambo or Poroy, before continuing the journey to Cusco, and your hotel, by road. The Expedition Train service offers you the chance to appreciate the scale of the ever-changing scenery, with portrait windows alongside your seat (seats are configured in pairs facing each other over a table). Perhaps more importantly, there are windows in the roof, so you can gaze up to the rim of the canyon. Your comfort is enhanced with air-conditioning and heating, and Andean music is played as a backdrop to the passing scenery.
The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire, which reached its zenith at the same time as England was fighting the War of the Roses. It is said that the city was originally built in the shape of a puma and its position atop the precipitous foothills of the Andes is without doubt a commanding one. Capital of the Inca Empire and latterly a strong hold to the Spanish conquistadors, Cusco is not so much a blend of architectures as a defiant mix.
Today its many impressive original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, while the bustling squares are dotted with ornate baroque colonial churches. It’s a vivacious city, where shoeshine boys and postcard sellers jostle for your attention in cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and cafés.
Day 10 Guided walking tour of the city, including nearby Inca sites.
Today you’ll have a guided walking tour of the city, the centre of which is compact and easy to get around on foot. Beyond the city, its squares, museums, churches and markets, you’ll visit some impressive ruins on the outskirts: Tambomachay, Puca-Pucara and the monumental Sacsayhuamán, with its foreboding cyclopean fortress. While the edges of Cusco are dominated by Inca dwellings, temples and fortresses, the historic heart (with the Plaza de Armas flanked by the cathedral and the church of La Compañia) reveal the indelible mark of the Spanish conquistadors.
Day 11 Drive down to the Apurimac Canyon for rafting expedition.
The Apurimac Canyon is one of the world's top 10 rafting rivers, combining a mix of exhilarating rapids and awesome scenery. Transfer by bus to the canyon through which flows the Apurimac river, one of the Amazon’s headwaters. This is the first of a 3 day adventure of thrilling white water rafting, supervised by qualified pilots.
No experience is necessary, there will be full instructions given and safety procedures are strictly followed. You’ll be camping on spotless wilderness river beaches, eating in the open air, and maybe catching glimpses of wildlife: it’s the habitat of otters, puma and elusive Andean bears. You’ll be negotiating boulders and foaming rapids; with tranquil stretches during which you can appreciate bucolic landscapes.
Set off from Cusco on a spectacular drive by private vehicle to the 3,000m deep Apurimac Canyon, hopefully glimpsing on route the snow-capped Vilcanota mountain range before descending into the canyon to the banks of the river.
Inflate the specialised rafts, load up with provisions and, following a comprehensive safety talk and instruction in the sport of white water rafting, head off into the canyon. The foaming rapids (ranging from classes 2-5) are wild and energetic, and your enjoyment of the thrills and spills of the descent is enhanced by views of towering mountains. The topography of the rafting route varies: you may be negotiating boulders, with some portage necessary, elsewhere you float dreamily down a tranquil stretch of river.
Day 12 Return to Cusco
Finally reaching a break in the canyon walls we say good bye to the Apurimac. From here it is a short bus journey back to Cusco for your last night, passing en route the towering snow-jacketed Salkantay Mountain.
Day 13 Fly to Lima to connect with your international flight.