The Incan empire was the largest in pre-Columbian America, and its center was Cusco, in modern-day Peru. The ruins at Machu Picchu and environs have fascinated travelers for hundreds of years. In an active yet easy journey, explore these treasures and other less-visited sites, and learn more about the civilization that fell to Spanish conquerors in the 16th century.
Peru has friendly people and cultures, Inca trails to explore, and a fascinating pre-Hispanic and colonial history — all set in the extraordinary landscape of the Andes. You’ll stroll the back streets of Cusco, a timeless town dominated by the fine stonework of plazas and palaces created by craftsmen of ancient empires; explore the Inca ruins just outside the town; and hike to interesting out-of-the-way villages and sites. You’ll spend a full day at Machu Picchu to fully absorb and appreciate the Incas’ sophisticated ideas and technology. With context and additional information from The New York Times, this is an adventure not to be missed.
In a day with two to three hours of hiking at altitudes above 10,000 feet, you’ll start with a scenic drive from the valley to a highland plateau to visit the market town of Chinchero (elevation 12,398 feet). En route you will pass through farmland areas with a patchwork of fields and adobe houses with red-tiled roofs, framed by snow-capped mountains in the distance. Chinchero is famous for a massive Incan wall in its town square with 10 of the largest trapezoidal niches known among Inca monuments. Continue across the plateau to the impressive earthworks at Moray, a large experimental agricultural station where the Incas grew crops on concentric circular terraces. The ancient terraces are pre-Inca in origin, but the Incas took them over and enlarged and refined them. After a picnic lunch in Maras (at 11,086 feet), you’ll hike a very scenic route downhill to the salt pans of Salinas, fed by a spring that also flows into terraced evaporative pools as a way of harvesting salt. This was a strategic trading area in Inca times. Continue hiking down to the Sacred Valley and arrive at the Urubamba River, where you’ll be picked up and taken back to your hotel.
A narrow dirt road will take you high into the Andes through the villages of Huilloc. Here you’ll observe the native Quechuan way of life, where crops are sown and textiles woven with simple hand tools that have been in use for centuries. Your hike will begin near Huilloc, where you’ll descend to the small archaeological complex at Pumamarca. The purpose of this site remains a mystery, but it is thought to be a control point for water distribution. Continuing along the original Incan path, observe agricultural terraces and views of the valley below. After walking approximately three hours, you’ll reach the town of Ollantaytambo, where you’ll visit the Ollantaytambo ruins, one of the few Incan sites that have survived for several hundred years. Here you will see Incan canchas, enclosures of multifamily living quarters; ingenious stonework; cobbled streets; and an extensive communal water system that survives to this day. From here you’ll will take the afternoon train to the town of Aguas Calientes.
Wake early to catch the bus to the ruins, to experience the morning light over Machu Picchu and explore it in depth before the train arrives with day visitor crowds. You’ll have a thorough walking tour of Machu Picchu, visiting the various main structures, including Intihuatana (Hitching Post of the Sun), the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows, and learning about their importance in the lives of the Incas. After lunch at the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Hotel, the afternoon is free to explore more on your own. You can hike the steep peak of Huayna Picchu (9,000 feet) for dramatic vistas of the ruins, the Urubamba Valley and the Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range. Alternatively, you can return to the hotel via bus and stroll in its lovely gardens, which contain more than 372 species of orchid, native palms, ferns, begonias, fruit trees and medicinal plants. This evening you’ll have a festive dinner with the group.