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Peru: The Inca Heartland

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The Incas, a small tribe in the southern highlands of Peru, built one of the largest, most tightly controlled empires the world has ever known. Astonishly, they did it in less than 100 years without the wheel, powerful draft animals, iron working, currency or a writing system. By the time the Spanish arrived, the empire stretched from Argentina to Columbia and had a population over 12 million.
Over the following decades smallpox from Spain killed an estimated 95% of the Americas inhabitants, leaving behind roads, walls, and irrigation works that are still in use today.

Itinerary

This itinerary develops an understanding and appreciation of the Inca as we make our way from Cusco, into the Sacred Valley, to Machu Picchu.
Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire for two centurys, but on their arrival in 1533 the Spanish started turning existing structures into Colonial Mansions and the city is now a fascinating example of mestizo - the blending of Andean elements with Colonial Spanish architecture and culture. This is where we start our journey back in time.
From Cusco we travel into the Sacred Valley where the Inca farmed an abundance of potatoes, cereals, vegetables, and fruits. Nestled between the Andes mountains of modern-day Peru and the Amazon basin, it's a stunningly beautiful place with snow-capped peaks, deep blue lakes, amd flowering meadows. They believed it represented heaven on earth, so it's home to many of their important spiritual temples and fortresses, including Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu. One of the Inca's most famous surviving archeological sites, this breathtaking ancient city, made up of around 200 structures built up on the mountains, is still largely mysterious. Archeologists don't know what purpose many of the structures served, but its intricate roads, trail systems, irrigation canals and agricultural areas suggest humans used the site for a long time.
Day City Overview
1 Airborne Meet your Group Director at the airport for an overnight flight to Peru!
2 Cusco Arrive in Cusco. Navigate through the airport with your friends meeting with your driver in the arrivals hall. Board board private shuttle and transfer to the hotel. Check in, freshen up, then meet in lobby. Lunch. Afternoon exploring Cusco, then early dinner.
3 Cusco Morning excursion out to visit San Pedro de Andahuaylillas. This 17th century church, often referred to as "The Sistine Chapel of the Americas" is a treasure house where we'll learn about The Cusco School while discussing some of the paintings and admire the lavishly decorated interior. We'll then start making our way back towards Cusco with stops to see the Rumicolca (Inca Checkpoint Gates) at Pikillacta, enjoy lunch, and explore the stone canals, terraces, and stairways of Wiracocha's royal hacienda at Tipón. We'll spend the evening enjoying great food and a live performance.
4 Cusco
Sacred Valley
Urubamba
Our day begins with Cusco's most important site: The Inca citadel at Sacsayhummán, where we'll enjoy exploring it's impressive terraces and ramparts. After lunch we're on our way into the Sacred Valley where we'll explore the agricultural terraces, hilltop fort, and temples of the Pisac Ruins. We'll spend the evening taking a Peruvian Cooking Lesson.
5 Urubamba
Sacred Valley
Ollantaytambo
Today starts with a visit to Chinchero. At 12,375' above sea-level this small town overlooking the Sacred Valley is dubbed "birthplace of the rainbow". We'll spend some time enjoying the colorful Handicraft Market where locals barter their goods three days a week and learn how Peruvian Rugs are crafted at the local weaving co-operative. Lunch, then we're off to explore the Inca Crop Laboratory at Moray and observe ancient salt mining techniques at Salinas de Maras. We'll end the day arriving at the spectacular living Inca town of Ollantaytambo where we'll check into our hotel before heading out to explore the cobbled streets and courtyards and enjoying dinner.
6 Ollantaytambo
Machu Picchu
Well rested, this morning we'll follow the stone terraces up to the ruins of the Araqama Ayllu fortress where we'll spend the morning finding the Temple of the Sun, Mañacara (Royal Hall), Baños de La Princesa, and the Intihuatana (used to trace the sun's path). Lunch then it's time to leave the road behind as we board the train to Agua Calientes.
7 Machu Picchu Grab your daypack, water bottle, camera, and sunblock. This morning we're hiking Huayna Picchu with it's spectacular views of the citadel. Lunch, then we're making our first of two hikes into the citadel (visits are time limited and the citadel is huge) to explore the parts which are best seen as the sun begins to set - the Intihuatana ("Hitching Post of the Sun") and the Intipuncu ("Sun Gate") from where there are magnificent panoramic views. Dinner back in Aqua Calientes.
8 Machu Picchu
Cusco
We're up early for our second hike into the citadel, our objective - the Sun Gate, where those who hiked the Inca Trail enter the citadel. Enjoy a relaxed lunch, relax at the Thermal Baths, and final shopping back in Agua Calientes. Board the Hiram Bingham train to Cusco for an evening ride that includes food and Andean Music, our final night nicely reflecting our first one.
9 Departure Flight back home, Adiós Peru!