Your five-day adventure, round-trip from Cusco, includes a four-day trek with pack mules and three overnight camps with full board. (Hotel accommodation in Aguas Calientes is your own expense.) Hiking at high elevation for 5 (8 km) to 8 (12 km) miles per day, be sure to spend at least two to three days acclimatizing to the higher altitudes in the Cusco region prior to embarking on your trek. When not on the trail, you’ll travel by comfortable vehicle, bus and train (expedition option or vistadome option). This tour operates with a maximum of 9 people, ensuring you’ll enjoy a small-group experience with your expert guide.
Day 1: Cusco – Soroy Cocha Lake (L, D)
Departing from your selected hotel in Cusco at 5:30am with your guide, travel by bus to Mollepata, a picturesque mountain town located at an altitude of 6,900 feet (2,100 meters) on the slopes of the upper Apurimac River. En route, stop at the archaeological sites of Quillarumiyoc and Tarawasi, an Inca temple.
From Mollepata, which can be quite warm, get ready for an ascent to higher elevation and a colder climate at the mountain pass. Continue by bus to Soraypampa, where you will check your luggage, pack the mules and begin your trek. Start with a 5-hour climb to the campsite next to Huayracpampa Lake, ascending from 12,800 feet (3,900 meters) to 13,950 feet (4,250 meters) above sea level.
During the 5-mile (9-km) hike, your guide will note the typical Andean flora and fauna under the impressive, snow-capped Salkantay Mountain. Located on the eastern end of the spectacular Vilcanota range between the Urubamba and Apurimac rivers, Salkantay hovers above at an elevation of 20,570 feet (6,270 meters)!
When you reach the lake, just below Salkantay Glacier, your guide will set up camp – including double-floor personal tents, a kitchen tent and dining tent with tables and benches – where you can enjoy dinner and spectacular Andean views with your small group.
Overnight: camp at Soroy Cocha Lake
Day 2: Soroy Cocha Lake – Colcapampa (B, L, D)
After breakfast, begin your day with a one-hour climb to Huayracpampa Pass, situated at an elevation of 14,630 feet (4,460 meters). After a brief break for magnificent photos, begin a long descent toward Santa Teresa, with a lunch stop in Qelqemachay.
During this lengthy descent, your guide will point out the changes in vegetation as you hike from high mountain areas to densely forested tropical jungle. Your 8-hour day trek covers a total of seven miles (12 km) and concludes at a camp in the Colcapampa District, close to the thermal baths in Santa Teresa.
Overnight: camp at Colcapampa
Day 3: Colcapampa – Llucmabamba (B, L, D)
Enjoy breakfast with your group before hitting the trail for a 7.5-hour hike to Llucmabamba. Admire the beauty of this section of your trek, where lush vegetation supports a variety of orchids and other tropical flowers. View impressive waterfalls that plunge approximately 260 feet (80 meters) into the wondrous, dense landscape. By the time you reach your destination at 7,900 feet (2,400 meters) after hiking eight miles (14 km), you’ll be ready to relax at camp!
Overnight: camp at Llucmabamba
Day 4: Llucmabamba – Aguas Calientes (B, L)
Continue through lush sub-tropical forest after breakfast, en route to the village of Llucmabamba, where an original Inca trail still remains to this day. After a gradual uphill climb to Llactapata, located at 8,850 feet (2,700 meters), enjoy a stunning view of the backside of Machu Picchu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site nestled within neighboring peaks draped in greenery.
In the afternoon, after a 7-hour hike covering seven miles (12 km), take the hydroelectric train to Aguas Calientes – situated in a cloud forest at the foot of Machu Picchu – for an overnight stay in a comfortable hotel (own expense).
Overnight: hotel in Aguas Calientes
Day 5: Aguas Calientes – Machu Picchu – Cusco
Rise early and take the first bus at 6am from Aguas Calientes to the spectacular ruins of Machu Picchu, a 40-minute ride along a winding road. When you arrive at the breathtaking site, your guide will take your small group on an extensive walking tour through the vast ruins situated 7,950 feet (2,430 meters) above sea level, and originally thought to be an estate for the Incan Emperor, Pachacuti.
Take in the jaw-dropping sights as you descend into the famous ruins, built in the mid-15th century, abandoned during the Spanish conquest and still unknown to the outside world until their discovery in 1911. Meander over terraces and through temples, palaces and living quarters in this lost Inca city while your guide unlocks the mysteries of Machu Picchu, meaning ‘Old Peak.’
Visit what archaeologists refer to as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu, and see Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun and the Room of the Three Windows. Your guide will explain the classical Inca architectural style of the central buildings, constructed of dry-stone walls. After your tour, you’ll have free time to explore the restored archeological site on your own. Steal some great photos of exquisite views at every turn before boarding the train with your small group to Cusco in the afternoon.
Upon arrival, a tour representative will greet you at the train station and transfer you to your preferred hotel. Consider staying a few extra days in Cusco, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit the food stalls, browse for colorful woolen hats at the bustling central market or enjoy a slower pace at a café in the nearby Plaza de Armas.