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Peru: Inca Heartland

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Lake Titicaca - the highest navigable lake in the world - is home to a village of over 100 floating islands ingeniously constructed from the totoro reed that's native to the lake itself. Each island has a lifespan of about 10 years, so they're constantly being replaced. The Uros Islands are yet another example of how the Peruvian people are masters of their enviroment.

Itinerary

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.
This itinerary develops an understanding and appreciation of the Inca as we make our way into the heart of the Sacred Valley with overnights in Urubamba, Ollantaytambo, and Aqua Calientes. Staying in the Sacred Valley rather than taking daily excursions from Cusco means less driving each day, freeing up time to see more of the valley.
Once we've explored the Sacred Valley we spend an overnight night in Cusco so we can explore the important sites of the capital city itself and take an excursion to Rainbow Mountain. We then fly to Puno, a small town on the shores of Lake Titicaca from where we visit the villagers on the Uros Floating Islands before heading back to the USA.
Day City Overview
1 Airborne Meet your Group Director at the airport for an overnight flight to Peru!
2 Urubamba Arrive in Cusco. Navigate through the airport with your friends then board a private shuttle and transfer to Chincheros - at 12,375' it's the highest village in the Sacred Valley and known as "Birthplace of the Rainbow". We'll spend some time enjoying the colorful Handicraft Market where locals barter their goods three days a week. Learn how Peruvian Rugs are crafted at the local weaving co-operative, and enjoy lunch before transferring to the Inka History Museum in Urubamba - this museum delivers a fabulous introduction to the Inca by exploring the major pre-Inca societies which developed at various times in various parts of what was to eventually become the Incan Empire. Check into the hotel, freshen up, and head out to dinner.
3 Urubamba
Ollantaytambo
Morning excursion out to visit the Crop Laboratory at Moray and the Salt Pans at Maras where locals still mine salt using ancient techniques. Lunch in Urubamba. Visit Ceramico Seminario and learn how we believe the Inca mass-produced their pottery using an assembly line process, observe their local team of 50+ artisans making pottery using the same approach, then enjoy a private workshop where you are invited to make your own piece of pottery using the same techniques (which can be fired and shipped to you later). Transfer to the spectacular living Inca town of Ollantaytambo. Check into hotel, freshen up for dinner, then stroll to the main plaza. Decide with your friends which of the half dozen restaurants around the plaza looks like the best fit for the group and enjoy dinner.
4 Ollantaytambo
Machu Picchu
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). Board the train for a transfer to Aqua Calientes - the town below Machu Picchu cannot be accessed by road - enjoying the views through windows that wrap up and over your seat. Check into the hotel before heading out to lunch at the main plaza. Board the bus for a ride up to Machu Picchu. Meet your private guide and enjoy a sunset tour of the citadel that includes an excursion out to see The Inka Bridge. Take the bus back down to Aqua Calientes, freshen up for dinner, then decide with your friends which of the restaurants around the hotel and/or plaza looks like the best fit for the group and enjoy dinner.
5 Cusco Take the train back to Ollantaytambo and board your private shuttle for a transfer to Cusco with stops for lunch, the panoramic view at Mirador Racqui, and a guided tour of the fortress at Sacsayhuamán where we'll enjoy exploring it's impressive terraces and ramparts. Check into the hotel, freshen up, and head out to dinner at Plaza de Armas where you with your friends can decide which of the restaurants looks like the best fit for the group and enjoy dinner.
6 Vinicunca
Puno
Check out, then early morning drive through spectacular canyons on the way to Vinicunca - Rainbow Mountain - where we'll hike up to the summit (at 17,060') and enjoy the spectacular social-media perfect view. Lunch, then transfer back to Cusco for a short flight to Juliaca. Board private shuttle for transfer to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Check into hotel, then head out to dinner.
7 Uros Islands Head down to the harbor and board a private boat for trip on Lake Titicaca - at 13,000' it's the highest navigable lake in the world - to the fascinating Uros Floating Islands. This colorful village of over 100 islands floating in the middle of the lake demonstrates another way the people of Peru mastered their environment: harnessing the unique characteristics of the totora reed. We'll spend the day meeting villagers on the various islands, shopping/haggling, and understanding the ingenious engineering that keeps the islands afloat, connected, and anchored. Dinner overlooking Lake Titicaca back in Puno harbor.
8 Puno
Airborne
Relaxed morning shopping in Puno then board private shuttle for transfer to Juliaca. Flight back home, Adiós Peru!
9 Home Arrive back in the USA.