Guided Machu Picchu Adventure
Day 1: Lima, Peru
Our Machu Picchu tour begins upon arrival in Lima, where we transfer to our hotel.
Day 2: Cusco
Fly this morning to Cusco, heart of the once-grand Inca empire. From the indigenous Quechua word “qosq’o,” Cusco means the “navel of the earth.” Set in a high Andean valley, Cusco was founded in the 12th century and thrived until Spanish conquistadors destroyed the Inca civilization in their 16th-century colonial quest. Our accommodations at the ornate Hotel Libertador, a restored colonial palace, evoke the material splendor of that era. Parts of the building date to the mid-1500s, when Francisco Pizarro, the first Spanish governor of Peru, was its occupant. We tour Cusco and visit the ruins at Sacsayhuamán, where we see the most impressive example of Inca walls in the Sacred Valley, marveling at how such large, honed granite stones fit together so tightly that a pocketknife blade will not fit between them.
Day 3: Sacred Valley of the Incas
The treasures of the Sacred Valley unfold today as we travel along the Urubamba River past farms, villages and Incan architectural ruins. The original vast empire was connected by a network of 10,000 miles of stone roads woven through the imposing terrain of the Andes. Suspension bridges spanned rivers and aqueducts carried water from mountain streams to irrigate terraced fields of crops, vestiges of which we see on our drive today, backdropped by knife-edged peaks. We stop to see the magnificent Inca ruins at Pisac, where we may have time to visit the colorful market where the local Quechua Indians, dressed in vivid attire, sell their handicrafts. At Awana Kancha, a cultural exhibition center, we'll witness traditional textile weaving and meet llamas, alpacas and guanacos, the iconic animals of the Andes whose wool is used in a multitude of garments and blankets. This afternoon we explore Ollantaytambo, a small town surrounded by steep terraced mountainsides. Ollantaytambo rests on traditional Inca foundations and is one of the best surviving examples of Inca city planning.
Day 4: Machu Picchu
This morning we board the train at Ollantaytambo for a 1-1/2-hour journey along the Urubamba River, which narrows into furious whitewater as we travel deeper into the mountains. At the village of Aguas Calientes, we disembark and board a bus for the short remaining trip to Machu Picchu. Little prepares one for the spectacle that awaits. There’s a sense of wandering through a mystical city in the sky, surrounded by green ramparts that soar into the clouds. Our local Machu Picchu tour guide interprets all we see as we explore the labyrinth of granite houses, temples, walls and cisterns. Llamas wander among terraced steps that once grew maize and potatoes for some 1,200 inhabitants. Archaeologists believe Machu Picchu may have been a royal estate and religious retreat, based on its sacred geography and astronomical orientation. Important ceremonies were conducted here, including a winter solstice rite at which a priest would “tie the sun” to a hitching post stone to prevent it from disappearing altogether. We stay tonight at the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Hotel in private casitas built of stone, tile and cedar, amid the thick greenery of the cloud forest. More than 300 varieties of orchids grace the grounds of this luxury retreat on the river, set well away from crowds.
Day 5: Machu Picchu and Cusco
This morning we return to Machu Picchu for further exploration, our time unscripted for personal discovery. Among the ruins, there’s opportunity to ponder, in Hiram Bingham’s words, the “bewildering romance” of a place that “appears to have been expressly designed by nature as a sanctuary for the oppressed.” This afternoon we return to Cusco by train and bus.
Day 6: Cusco / Lima / Home
Fly back to Lima, where you may enjoy an optional city or museum tour, if flight schedules permit, before transferring to the airport for a late-evening flight home.