Land of the Incas
Arrive in Cusco, the storied capital of the Inca Empire and gateway to the imperial city of Machu Picchu. Surrounded by the verdant Andes, transfer immediately from the airport into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. At a lower altitude than Cusco, acclimatization to the high altitude is much easier here. Enjoy the stunning drive into the emerald Sacred Valley with terraced Incan farmland climbing the steep hillsides. Words don’t do the gorgeous scenery justice.
Meet one of the Sacred Valley’s top internationally acclaimed chefs in his intimate restaurant in the heart of the Sacred Valley. Having studied in Peru and Europe, he helped to pioneer novo-andina cuisine, fusing local ingredients with European technique. Stop in Urubamba’s pulsating central market, where vendors journey in from surrounding villages to sell their crop. A bustling food emporium, sturdy women in serapes and bowler hats hawk every color and size of potato and corn kernels, chilies, and artisan products. Wander past the stacks of foodstuffs piled high, learn about the pillars of Peru’s Andean cuisine. Back in his private restaurant, participate in an interactive cooking class to learn the technique for making Peru’s beloved potato dishes like causa and potatoes with huancaina sauce. Afterwards, sit down to savor your meal with frothy Pisco Sours.
Check into your hotel with modern yet integrated architecture accenting regional culture with thatched reeds, light woods, and woven furniture and textiles. The only hotel in Urubamba with a private train station to Machu Picchu, the rooms are cozied along the banks of the gushing Vilcanota River with blooming riverside gardens and framed by the imposing Andes. Settle into the sunny spa with indoor pool and sauna. Let a shamanic massage knead vitality into your muscles with the unique energy of the valley. Dine on your own at hotel. (Tambo del Inka)
This morning after breakfast, drive to the quaint town of Pisac to visit its picturesque market where Indians trade among themselves along with a section for gorgeous, colorful hand-woven textiles and handicrafts, along with the food emporium where sturdy women in serapes and bowler hats hawk every color and size of potato, gigantic purple corn kernels, and chilies.
Travel high in the hills above Pisac, past the Incan terraces, to get to know an impressive community initiative to preserve the thousands of varieties of native potatoes present in Peru today. Six communities joined to collectively work together to administer and protect this humble tuber and its infinite expressions.
Return to the valley floor, encased by the towering mountains and small farms clinging to the hillsides. Lunch today is at a secluded Hacienda owned by one of the most prestigious families in Cusco. Soak up the beautiful surroundings, amazing garden and views, antiques and folk art, delicious food, and wonderful hosts.
Return to the hotel in the afternoon with the rest of the day free to relax. (Tambo del Inka)
Breakfast at the hotel and meet your private guide walk to Tambo del Inka’s private train station in Urubamba to take the autovagón train to Aguas Calientes, the station that serves Machu Picchu. This scenic 2-hour train snakes through wonderful cloud forest scenery with the jagged peaks of the Andes.
Serpentine up 2,000 vertical feet towards the ruins for spectacular panoramas of the valley. Arrive at the summit and at the entrance to the famed Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu, one of the world’s most celebrated archaeological sites. Never found by the Spanish Conquistadores and only rediscovered in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu was a stunning archaeological discovery–it was the only major Inca site that escaped 400 years of looting and destruction.
Its location is simply spectacular. Perched atop a mountain and hidden in the Andean cloud forest on a high ridge straddling between two mountains, the Urubamba River curls like a snake below. Sprawled across the mountainside are staircases, terraces, temples, palaces, towers, fountains and the famous Intihuatana, or “Hitching Post to the Sun”, possibly a center-point between cardinal alignments of nearby sacred peaks. Your private guide will take you to the major sites and most likely, raise more questions than it will answer.
Break for lunch at the Sanctuary Lodge, a private hotel near the entrance to the ruins with a hearty buffet lunch. After lunch, have time to re-enter the ruins briefly transferring to the rail station and returning to the hotel.
Tonight, dine at a chef’s table with a five-course private dinner with South American wine pairings at a wonderful restaurant in the heart of Sacred Valley specializing in Andean nouveau cuisine with a playful twist on traditional cuisine. (Tambo del Inka)
This morning check out and climb out the road to Cusco to nearly 4,000 meters above sea level (13,000 feet). Turn down a winding road headed deep into the hills with the jagged, snow-capped Andes at your back with views of the whole valley. As you drive, pass shepherds herding their flocks with donkeys transporting cargo. Stop briefly in the beautiful colonial village of Maras, built from sun-dried mud bricks and granite. Many of its houses still hold Spanish Nobility coats of arms on their doorways dating back to the 1600s, indicating the importance gained by the town in colonial times.
Continue on to Moray to visit the impressive archaeological site with concentric terraces that appear to almost mimic ancient Greek and Roman. This man-made agricultural terrace was created by the Incas for the cultivation of crops with over 20 microclimates.
Northwest of Maras are the famous “salt pans”, or about 3,000 salt pools tumbling down the mountainside like a staircase, filled by a subterranean hot spring that pumps 53.8 cubic feet of water every day from the Qaqawiñay mountain. Dating back to Incan times, the salt solidifies over a month’s time and is “racked” and sold throughout the valley (and abroad as a gourmet product). Briefly visit the area to see the pools up close and take home some of this special salt.
Back on the main road to Cusco, continue the climb up to the iconic colonial town of Chinchero, meaning “brave man” in Quechua. Its white facade, tiled roofs, and cobblestone streets town are a blending of Spanish colonial architecture on old Incan Stone walls. At nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, the valley opens up before you with jagged snow-capped peaks in the distance and here, locals still don the colorful, traditional dress. Stop to visit friends at a co-op of traditional highland weavers who are conserving textile traditions. Join with them as they show you first hand how alpaca or sheep’s wool is made into the gorgeous textiles, the significance of the designs that are the “shield” of their town.
Arrive in Cusco high in the Andes, at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. Famed for its unique blend of Spanish and Incan cultures, the city was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. Cusco was the capital of the ancient Inca Empire and is considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere. Lunch at a restaurant by Peru’s most prominent chef that focuses on Andean cuisine and regional ingredients, many locally sourced in the fertile Sacred Valley. Set in a whitewashed colonial building with high beams and views of the majestic Cathedra through the petit windows, try the signature cholopolitan cocktail or chicha morada and pair it with highly originally dishes like Andean trout tartar, Alpaca roast beef, crunchy beer-glazed duck with quinoa.
After lunch, check in into your hotel, a 16th-century mansion on the whitewashed historic Las Nazarenas Plaza. One of Cusco’s most luxurious places to stay, the suites are framed around a grassy courtyard with stone arches, recreating the illusion of the grandeur of the period. Colonial décor and art are tastefully mixed with contemporary touches and the common areas invite relaxation in front of the fire place. Only a block from the cultural heart of Cusco, the Plaza de Armas, nearly the whole city is walkable from here.
Dinner is on your own tonight. (Inkaterra La Casona)
Meet your local guide and spend the morning on a guided walking foodie and historical tour of Cuzco. Start in the Main Square, observing the juxtaposition of Inca and Colonial architecture. Visit our favorite señora selling tamales tucked away in a corner. The locals line up to savor the freshest, most melt-in-your-mouth sweet tamales with cinnamon raisin, a local rendition of this classic. Walk through the City’s main streets with Inca stonework, and observe the finest of Spanish Colonial architecture with churches built over ancient Incan temples on nearly every corner. Some of the sights you will visit are the main highlights such as the Cathedral and the Sun Temple, but also some lesser-known ones as La Merced or San Francisco.
Arrive at Mercado San Pedro, Cusco’s bustling central market, a study in local folks and what they eat. Learn about the cuisine from La Sierra, as people call it, the mountains. Cusqueños love hearty breakfast and even in the early hours, you’ll see crowds downing bowls of caldo de gallina, chicken soup; lechón, suckling pig. Walk past vendors selling chicharrón, a favorite snack, and dozens of potatoes.
Head to the outskirts of Cuzco to Sacsayhuaman, the only Inca site known boasting megalythic architecture, built massive stone ramparts weighing up to 130 tons forming three walls running parallel for 360 meters, with 21 bastions. Visit lesser but also very interesting sites such as Tambomachay which was thought to be an Incan bath but more likely a site of a water cult; the ampitheater of Quenco and Puca Pucara, an Incan Tambo.
Lunch in a beautiful restaurant next to the historic Plaza de Armas focusing on a blend of classic Andean, Criolla, and Nikkei dishes and Pisco with over 40 types. Dig into a tasting of pisco cocktails with your lunch and a view of the cathedral, Main Square, and verdant hills. Idyllic.
The rest of the day is free. (Inkaterra La Casona)
This morning, visit the Museo de Arte Precolombino, housed in the former Santa Clara convent, and later colonial mansion (Casa Cabrera) of the Conquistador Alonso Díaz, next to La Casona. Meet with your docent for a privately, guided visit through the beautifully illuminated halls. Have your guide bring to life the collection of 450+ pieces, gold and silver handicrafts, jewelry, ceramics, and other artifacts depicting the rich traditions from the Nasca, Moche, Huari, Chimú, Chancay, and Inca cultures.
Afterwards, lunch at the museum’s elegant restaurant, housed in an intriguing glass “box” in the courtyard. The restaurant is renowned for delicious Andean Nouvelle cuisine and you’ll be treated today to their 7-course tasting menu.
Meet with your driver and transfer to Cusco’s airport and late afternoon flight to Lima. Upon arrival in Lima, meet with your liaison who will help you collect your luggage and check-in for your connecting international flight.