25 Apr Sacred Valley/Inca Trail/Machu Picchu/Cusco
Idyllic Rio Urubamba Valley, known as “El Valle Sagrado” (The Sacred Valley) is fast becoming a destination in its own right. In addition to the Inca citadels of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, we very much enjoy the various weaving villages and colonial towns. Though the bustling colonial village of Pisac has been described as the “Andean Shangri-la” in the past, we feel it’s becoming somewhat overwhelmed with mass tourism and, therefore, not so compelling at this time.
The massive fortress of Ollantaytambo, a formidable stone structure that climbs massive terraces reaching the top of a high peak, was the valley’s main defense against the Antis and was the site of the Incas’ greatest victory against the Spanish during the wars of conquest. Constructed of rose-colored granite, this huge installation was once a thriving complex of baths, temples and military barracks. Below the fortress lies a complete Incan town, also called Ollantaytambo, still inhabited and with its original architecture and layout preserved.
SALINAS DE MARAS
Among the more unique and amazing sights in Sacred Valley are the thousands of salt pans that have been used for salt extraction since the Incan times. A hot spring at the top of the valley discharges a small stream of heavily salt-laden water, which then diverts into mountainside pans and evaporates to produce salt for cattle licks; a visually striking site (!).
TAMBO DEL INKA
A more contemporary, modern style vs. the traditional Sol y Luna Sacred Valley, the 128-room Tambo Del Inka consists of striking low-rise pavilions with world class fronts overlooking the Urubamba River. Though the spacious rooms reflect a leading-edge design (high ceilings/stone floors), we especially like the Inca-centered fabrics, a nice mix. The bathrooms’ double granite vanities are always nice. Terrific amenities for families staying here: an indoor/outdoor heated pool, nice spa, and small fitness center (!) The hotel’s Hawa fusion restaurant offers tasty seafood and outstanding local produce. Another plus while staying at the Tambo Del Inka is its own private railway station for catching the Hiram Birmingham train to Machu Picchu!
Inca Trail Hike (4 Days 3 Nights)
This 4 day, 3 night Classic Inca Trail Hike leads you from the Urubamba valley floor to the glorious Machu Picchu. Following the route the Incans themselves traversed, from Cusco to Machu Picchu, you will pass through various ‘microclimates,’ ancient agricultural sites and settlements, and encounter magnificent mountain views. Averaging around 7-8 hours per day, the hike fully encompasses the beauty and history of this ancient path.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF HIKE
Day 1: Cusco/Wayllabamba (6-7 hours)
The first day of hiking you will be met by guides and porters. Walking parallel to the Urubamba River you will begin the day on the valley’s floor. As you walk you will be accompanied by beautiful views of Mount Veronica. Climbing to the lookout point of Llactapata, you will be able to see an ancient Inca agricultural center. We continue walking and end Day 1 in the Huyllabamba valley. We will set up camp in Wayllabamba, built on the foundations of an ancient Inca settlement.
Day 2: Wayllabamba/Pacaymayo (7-8 hours)
Day 2 is filled with various types of forests, fauna, and climates. Shifting from the arid desert to the forests of Unca and Dwarf Forest –you will arrive at the top of the Inca trail where the land transforms into the arid Andean highland. Descending from the highest point of the Incan trail, you will enter into what has been called, a ‘forest of clouds.’ Today’s hike ends at Pacamayo where we will set up camp, enjoying the fresh air and mountain views.
Day 3: Pacaymayo/Phuyupatamarca (7-8 hours)
Considered to be one of the most breathtaking days of the 4 day hike, you will strategically wait for other groups to pass, so the trail can be enjoyed with more solitude for the rest of the day. Hiking to the Runkurakay gap, you will be able to see the valleys that descend into the Amazon River. You will then enter fully into the cloud forest and continue on to the ruins of Sallacmarca. This trail is surrounded by orchids, ferns, and bromelias, the perfect habitat for hummingbirds and bears (hopefully you will catch a glimpse!). You will then set-up camp in Phuyupatamarca with a gorgeous view of the Urubamba & Vilcanota mountain ranges.
Day 4: Phuyupatamarca/Machu Picchu (7-8 hours)
If you are willing to wake up early, the sunrise over Phuyupatamarca provides a 360° view of the Andes. Of these mountain ranges, the Salkantay Pumasillo has been described as most impressive. While today’s hike leads you to the famed Machu Picchu, you will also experience the ruins of Intipata, an ancient agriculture and experimental center, with a view over the Urubamba valley. You will then continue your hike through ‘Gate of the Sun,’ and finally, the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. While visiting these sacred ruins, there will be a guided tour as well as free time to explore.
Now operated and owned by Belmond (formally Orient Express), the 84-passenger luxury Hiram Bingham train is considered by many to be among the top train journeys in the world. Conceived in a 1920’s Pullman carriage style, the design integrates lots of brass and wood – a very elegant way of travel and dining. The train includes two fine dining cars, a bar car, and an observation car. Following the otherworldly experience of Machu Picchu, the Hiram Bingham offers a very special journey for the approx. 3.5 hr. trip up to Cusco.
Accompanied by your private guide, once in the citadel, you will explore the city’s ruins. The first sight of Machu Picchu is a moment you will surely never forget! Excavations at the site have revealed skeletons, artifacts and woolen clothing, but no gold. The same precision of assembled stones exists here as in other Incan sites.
BELMOND SANCTUARY LODGE
This 31-room lodge is the only hotel adjacent to the ruins, a location that grants special access to this other-worldly place. Based on its management by the Oriental Express folks, the service and overall dining options here are good quality. However, we do not consider the sanctuary accommodations as 5-Star or luxury. The fundamental and priceless benefit of staying at this property is having exclusive direct access to the adjacent Machu Picchu ruins. Being able to stroll the ruins in the evening, without the many crowds is truly a unique, surreal experience (!)
Discretionary option for full/half-day private tour