The Grand Andean Experience to Machu Picchu - The greatest encounter with the Inca legacy
The Grand Andean Experience to Machu Picchu is a 10-day journey that combines an exploration of Sacred Valley and Lares mountain communities with the Salkantay Inca Trek. You will have an opportunity to go deeper into the ancient history, living cultures and magnificent landscapes of the region. This once-in-a-lifetime exploration into the sacred havens of the Incas is equal parts physical, cultural and spiritual journey, a journey of knowledge and transformation gathered while trekking, biking, sightseeing and enjoying the plush comfort of warm, welcoming high mountain Lodges.
10 Day Expedition: A holistic journey through the land of the Incas
DAY 1 – EXPLORING PISAQ
The town square is often the center of activity throughout this region, but so too is the town market, and none is more alive than the famous market at Pisaq. A morning visit to check out its unique array of products will inspire you with a small taste of the rich culture yet to be explored on your journey. Travelers seeking inspiration in nature can opt for an invigorating morning hike surrounded by amazing views of the Andes Mountains that guard this magnificent valley. Later, enjoy exclusive access to the isolated community of Viacha, where you will learn about its artisanal potato farming practices and enjoy a traditional “Pachamanca” meal, cooked under hot stones. After lunch you will visit the archaeological complex at Pisaq, an afternoon excursion that offers a unique opportunity to explore the complex free of crowds, with the sun setting behind the peaks.
DAY 2 – INCA SITES AND VILLAGES
Now that you have gotten a glimpse of the rich Andean tapestry, today you will have the opportunity to go even deeper with an exploration into the heart of the Lares Valley. A scenic drive into the mountains, along the celebrated “Inca Weaver’s Trail,” allows you to visit the unique and uncrowded archeological site of Ancasmarca along the hub-town of Lares. After lunch, you can choose between visiting the traditional and ancient weavers’ village of Choquecancha, or opt for hiking amidst turquoise blue lakes and towering peaks to the remote village of Huacahuasi, where we all meet to spend the night. This lodge, which is run in joint venture with the local community and aims to protect the cultural heritage and the environment, provides an interesting insight into the evolving role of the original Andean people in both the culture and commerce of modern-day Cusco.
DAY 3 – HIKING AMONG AUTHENTIC INCA TRAILS
Spend some time in the morning learning more about the heritage and day-to-day activities of the Huacahuasi community. Then, you can choose to embark on a spectacular hike across varied terrain and a high mountain pass to an adjacent valley and the ancient town of Ollantaytambo, the oldest living city in Latin America; or try a 2-in-1 activity, hiking from Lares Pass along an authentic Inca trail down into a beautiful canyon ending in the local community of Totora where you’ll meet the vehicle to head into the Sacred Valley for lunch. Alternatively, if you prefer to see more of the Sacred Valley, choose to drive all the way back for a visit to an impressive ethnographic museum featuring the history of Peru’s rich civilizations before lunch in the Urubamba River countryside. Spend the afternoon exploring the charming maze-like streets of Ollantaytambo or enjoying an optional mountain bike excursion through the Sacred Valley.
DAY 4 – EXPLORING OLLANTAYTAMBO AND QUILLARUMIYOC
From its beginnings as the royal estate of Inca-Emperor Pachacutec to its history as a stronghold against the Spanish conquistadors for Manco Inca Yupanqui, the temple at Ollantaytambo was regarded by the Incas as one of their most important ceremonial centers. After an early visit to the temple of Ollantaytambo you will embark on a scenic drive. En route you will make a stop at the fascinating archaeological site of Quillarumiyoc to enjoy a picnic lunch and explore the surroundings of the site. Afterwards you will pass through the mountain village of Mollepata, stopping for a short coffee break and a visit to Yanapana, Mountain Lodges of Peru NGO, where traditional weavers offer beautiful textiles and insight into their age-old techniques. After this visit you can choose to continue on to the Salkantay Lodge by vehicle or opt to do a soft hike up to the lodge from Challancancha. You will spend the night at the Salkantay Lodge where gourmet food and warm, comfortable beds await.
DAY 5 – A HIKE TO HUMANTAY LAKE
Today you will take an acclimatization hike up the slopes above the lodge to Lake Humantay, a stunning lake fed by the hanging glaciers of Mt. Humantay. The hike is optional, but the views are amazing, and those brave enough can even go for a dip. Afterwards you will return to the lodge for lunch with your afternoon at leisure, after which you may choose to trade the glacial swim for a relaxing soak in our outdoor Jacuzzi. Enjoy a second cozy night at the Salkantay Lodge, with an evening briefing by your guide covering any necessary gear and the anticipated itinerary for the following day.
DAY 6 – CROSSING THE SALKANTAY PASS
This is the big day! After an early start, you will hike up the Rio Blanco valley, circling Humantay Peak across from Salkantay Peak. The highest point on the trek is the Salkantay Pass at 4,638m. (15,213 ft.), where you are sure to become awed by the views of snowcapped peaks of the Vilcabamba Range in every direction and the glaciated south face of Salkantay Peak towering above you. You’ll want to keep your eyes out here for Andean condors, as they are often visible in this area. From the pass you will descend towards Wayra Lodge (“Wayra” means wind, taken from the name of the location “Wayracmachay,” or “the cave where the wind lives”), your destination for the evening.
DAY 7 – DESCENDING INTO THE CLOUD FOREST
After a leisurely early morning breakfast at Wayra Lodge, you will continue your descent along the left bank of the Salkantay River, through increasingly verdant scenery where the warm air rising from the jungle accompanied by colorful butterflies and striking orchids. Upon arrival at Colpa Lodge you will be greeted with a Pachamanca, a traditional festive Peruvian meal cooked by layering meat and vegetables with hot stones. This special lunch is prepared by covering the food with hot stones, plantain leaves, high Andean grass and local herbs while the contents are baked in this traditional underground oven. Colpa Lodge is located on an open plateau at the confluence of three rivers, and boasts an outdoor Jacuzzi with panoramic views of lush green mountains. You will spend the afternoon relaxing or exploring the nearby orchid trail.
DAY 8 – FOLLOWING THE SANTA TERESA RIVER VALLEY
Today you will hike along the Santa Teresa river valley, a more populated rural area where you’ll pass through banana, granadilla, and avocado orchards as well as coffee plantations (this region is known to produce one of the top organic coffees in the world). After a morning on the trail and a hot picnic lunch served by the river, your hike continues another hour before you’ll meeting a private vehicle for a short transfer to the beginning of the “Llactapata Inca Trail” (aprox. 30 minutes). From the head of the newly restored Inca Trail you will make your way to Lucma Lodge, set amid an avocado orchard. On the way, visit an organic coffee plantation where the owner will take you on a short tour of the farm to share how the coffee is grown, harvested, dried and processed.
DAY 9 – FIRST VIEWS OF MACHU PICCHU FROM LLACTAPATA PASS
After a hearty breakfast, you will head uphill for two to three hours towards Llactapata Pass (8,974ft./ 2,736 m.), where you will come upon a distant but spectacular view of Machu Picchu Sanctuary from the southeast, a view few travelers ever get a chance to admire. You will take a short break to explore the recently restored archeological site of Llactapata before enjoying lunch served at a scenic viewpoint looking out to Machu Picchu. From here you will begin your final descent to the Aobamba River through lush bamboo forests, orchards and coffee plantations. End you trek near the river where you will board a train for a short scenic ride (approx. 1 hour) to Aguas Calientes, the town of Machu Picchu.
DAY 10 – VISIT MACHU PICCHU SANCTUARY
After a very early buffet breakfast at the hotel, you will make your way to the bus station for the ride up to Machu Picchu Sanctuary (approximately 30 minutes). Your trip leader will give an introductory 2 hour guided tour of the ruins, after which you will have the option to explore freely through the site for approximately 2 hours. Afterwards, you will meet up with your guide again to return by bus to Aguas Calientes for a late lunch and an afternoon train ride back toward Cusco. The ride from Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo takes about 1½ hours, from where a private vehicle will then take over for the drive back to Cusco (an additional 1½ hour). Upon arrival in Cusco (approximately 7 or 8 p.m.), you will be dropped off at the hotel of your choice.