Our family Peru trip begins upon arrival in Lima, where you are met outside of customs and transferred to your hotel.
Day 2: Cusco
Fly this morning to Cusco, heart of the once-grand Inca empire, and meet our Expedition Leader on arrival. 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 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 learn more about this fabled city on a guided walking tour this afternoon.
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 of the Incas 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 local Quechua Indians, dressed in vivid attire, sell their handicrafts. At Awana Kancha, a cultural exhibition center, we witness traditional textile weaving and meet llamas, alpacas and guanacos, the iconic animals of the Andes whose wool is used in a wide variety of garments and blankets. This afternoon, there's time to relax amid the inviting garden environs of our charming hotel before dinner.
Day 4: Visit to Tikapata School / Andenes de Yucay
This morning we have a special opportunity to meet some Peruvian school children! During a visit to Tikapata School, we'll interact with kids in the classroom, hear about their studies, and perhaps share some songs. We also learn about the Ania Project, where students learn to be advocates for their communities through their own stewardship of natural resources. After lunch, we explore the archaeological complex of Yucay. This impressive set of Inca ruins is not open to the general public, but we have exclusive access. Yucay's agricultural terraces are the largest in the Sacred Valley and the only ones still maintained and used to grow crops. We explore the site with our Expedition Leader, who tells us all about the royal Palace of Sayri Túpac, the Maize Temple, Cosmic Sun Gate, cave paintings and 4,000-year-old pre-Inca tombs. [Please note: At times when school is not in session, we will visit the ancient Inca salt mines of Moras, still worked by locals today, and Moray, an Inca site more than 500 years old where giant natural sinkholes were converted into terraced farming areas.]
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Any study of the Incas in school always includes wondrous photographs of Machu Picchu, the "Lost City" discovered by Yale historian Hiram Bingham, with the help of his Quechua guide, in 1911. Today, we explore it ourselves. After a 1-1/2-hour train ride to Aguas Calientes, we disembark and continue a short distance by bus to Machu Picchu. It sits atop a mountain like a mystical stone city in the sky, surrounded by vertical green ridges. Our expert local guide tells us all about life here in the 15th century, when 1200 people lived within this maze of granite walls, houses, temples and cisterns. Llamas wander among terraced steps that once grew maize and potatoes. Archaeologists believe Machu Picchu was an important site for religious ceremonies, based on its sacred geography and astronomical orientation. We stay tonight in private casitas built of stone, tile and cedar, amid the thick greenery of the cloud forest along the Urubamba River, where 300 species of native orchids bloom. A network of trails surrounds our hotel, perfect for exploring.
Day 6: 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." Or, for those who wish, hike to the top of Wayna Picchu, the imposing mountain that provides the famous backdrop for the ruins in classic photos. The Incas built the original trail to the top, where they built temples and farming terraces. Local myth holds that the summit of Wayna Picchu was the residence for the high priest of the ancient city. This challenging hike takes 2-3 hours and climbs approximately 1,200 feet from the base at Machu Picchu, ascending a steep face using stairs and cables for support. This hike is not recommended for guests with physical limitations. For those who wish to climb Wayna Picchu on our second day at the ruins, advance permits are required, which our office can arrange ahead of time upon request. This afternoon we journey back to Cusco by train and bus, stopping en route to 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. Enjoy a farewell dinner together in Cusco this evening.
Day 7: Cusco / Lima / Depart
This morning we travel just outside Cusco to visit the ruins at Sacsayhuamán, where we see the most impressive example of Inca walls in the Sacred Valley. The site is still enveloped in mystery, as we ponder how the Incas moved these enormous stones to this site without the advantage of wheeled carts, and how they managed to fit such large, honed granite stones together so tightly that a pocketknife blade cannot be inserted between them. We'll have lunch in Cusco, then fly to Lima late this afternoon to meet departing flights this evening.