10 Day Itinerary – Mild Adventure
Type of trip: Mild Adventure
Arrive Cusco (let us know when and we’ll have a known and trusted driver there waiting) and then take the beautiful 2 hour drive through the Sacred Valley to Ollantaytambo. The drive is one of the most scenic you will ever experience, and is hopefully all you ever imagined Peru would be. You definitely will see local people living their farming lifestyle as they have for centuries; you will see very large mountains and if it is not raining you will see the glaciers above them. Arrive to Ollantaytambo and check into your comfortable room at KB Tambo and perhaps a hot shower to refresh yourself, or even a nap. Spend the afternoon just relaxing and wandering this ancient Incan town – there is always something to see !
Wake up and smell the coffee (or tea if you prefer – try the coca tea) and after breakfast make an early visit to the famous Ollantaytambo fortress. This incredible structure was still being built when the Spanish conquest arrived, and is the location of the only significant battle that the Incas ever won against the Spaniards. (Hurray Ollantaytambo !) It’s centerpiece is the un-finished Temple of the Sun, made of huge monoliths of pink granite carried from a nearby mountain side. It features some of the best Incan stonework in all of Peru, not to mention great views of town and the surrounding mountains. Get a guide at the front entrance (price varies, but is reasonable and negociable) in order to really see all the hidden secrets of this Inca site, which is one of the most important in all of Peru. It is best seen in the morning when there are no crowds, this visit takes between 2 to 3 hours.
* Inside tip: when descending the Incan staircase down to the valley floor and site exit after your visit, be sure to go left at the bottom of the steps (away from the exit). In just a few minutes, you will arrive at some of the best Incan stonework to be found anywhere in the world, including Machu Picchu. There are unique and finely shaped stones of all sizes laying everywhere, and there is a section of vertical cliff where perfect cubes of solid granite were extracted from the cliff face using a method that it is still not known
.In the afternoon, you could either relax and have a beer on our terrace or take a walk about town, or if you prefer something more active you could take one of a number of free, short side hikes from the hotel. As always, remember by 5pm year round it is beginning to arrive at dusk so the days are a bit short.
After a leisurely morning and breakfast, head to the fantastic Incan sites of Salt Mines of Maras and the circular ruins of Moray. This trip is one that we recommend over almost any other, as it has a little bit of everything: breathtaking scenery, local people living their agricultural lifestyle virtually unaffected by tourism in any way. You will also see these 2 Incan sites that are different than any other and are really a must to see. They can be seen via hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding. If you have off road experience, a mountain bike is the best way to see these two sites.
It takes about 4 hours to see both sites using a taxi, this includes one hour at each site.The views of the Andes mountains on the way to, and between, the Salt Mines and Moray are some of the best in the valley !
In case of concern about physical mobility, altitude sickness, etc it should be noted that both sites can be seen literally from the parking lot, and that it is not nearly as much of a compromise as one might think. In reality, most of the Incan sites are best seen from above, including Machu Picchu. These two are no different. However, both also have an access trail which you can take on foot down into the sites themselves.
For a more productive (rushed?) schedule, in the afternoon after returning from the Salt Mines and Moray, you could do a half day hike around Ollantaytambo, such as Pumamarca. Or you could allow yourself a more relaxed morning and more time at the Salt Mines and Moray, and just come back to Ollantaytambo in mid afternoon after the tour and just relax or do some of the short hikes around town.
Today we highly recommend visiting Abra Malaga ! One of the most scenic drives in South America and perhaps the world, this has it all – Huge glaciers, waterfalls, great views, herds of llamas, and lots of ancient, local culture. This amazing valley will likely soon be a protected national park, but currently it is unrestricted. It can be enjoyed by either just doing the drive in a taxi or van, or it is possible to get dropped off up the valley and then walk back down to the valley floor and back to Ollantaytambo.
The most recommended way is via one of our famous mountain bike rides down the newly paved, 50 kilometer winding road from the high pass of Abra Malaga at 4316 meters (14,160 feet above sea level ) The ride takes about 4 hours total and is by far the most popular trip we do – everyone absolutely loves it ! See the 1 day mountain biking section of our webpage for more information.
After returning to the hotel and having lunch, there is the option of either spending another night in Ollantaytambo at KB Tambo (which of course we recommend !) or else spending the night in Aguas Calientes. The main thing is whether you plan to get up very early to see Machu Picchu. If so, you should go to Aguas Calientes tonight. Otherwise, there is an early train that will get you to Machu Picchu around 9am. Since Huayna Picchu tickets are no longer sold onsite but rather online in advance, some people no longer feel the need to go at 6am. Others hope to go early and see the sunrise (keep in mind that due to the steep mountains, sunrise is relatively late in the morning and not always visible due to common fog. If spending the night in Ollantaytambo, there is the rest of this late afternoon and evening to have a good meal and relax.
Time to go to Machu Picchu !
First, get your Machu Picchu entrance ticket at www.MachuPicchu.gob.pe For more information on this process see www.MachuPicchuInformation.com After you have your MP ticket, get your train ticket at www.PeruRail.com or www.IncaRail.com
Visit Machu Picchu one of the 7thWonders of the World! Enjoy, and if you are spending the night in Aguas Calientes take your time. Bring a box lunch and snack (prohibited in the ruins but with discretion and neatness probably not a problem) and stay as late as you can. Machu Picchu gets magically empty in the hour before closing, when nearly all the travelers have headed down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. (or you can return to Ollantaytambo on the evening train.
Today would be a great day, after returning from Machu Picchu, to relax as you likely will be tired from the day before. Sleep in, and take a late breakfast up on our terrace, drinking coffee and watching the sun rays hit the Incan fortress of Ollantaytambo. After breakfast, you could either just wander around town for the rest of the day, or if you are up for more exploring there are several options:
- a half day hike to the little visited, spectacular pre-Incan site of Pumamarca;
- a much shorter hike to the outskirts of town and the Incan site of Quelloraccay;
- a cultural activity such as woodcarving, ceramics, or Incan textile weaving classes
A great way to spend today would be to either hike or ride a horse up to the Incan stone quarries, and perhaps all the way up to the Inca sun gate of Inti Punku. “Las canterras”, as they are known in Spanish, is where the Incas mined and shaped the huge blocks of stone that were used to build the Ollantaytambo fortress. There are Incan stones laying everywhere, and there is no charge to visit this site. There are also great views looking back down to Ollantaytambo. This trip is 4-6 hours hiking up to the Quarries, an hour or two less if riding a horse. To go up to Inti Punku requires a full day and an early start whether riding a horse or hiking. We highly recommend both of these sites !
After breakfast, depart for Cusco. A visit to Pisaq is possible by making a longer detour, the advantage being the route into Cusco from Pisaq includes all the famous Inca sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Qenko, etc. That is one long day of ruin-viewing but you will see an amazing amount of stonework that is for sure ! And hopefully that is part of the reason for coming to Peru. Otherwise, there is plenty to do in Cusco and you could spend the whole day there instead, walking around and doing some shopping. There are a few good museums right on the main square. Try Ciccolinas for a good high end meal, or any of the restaurants around the main square for more traditional food.
Have the moring in Cusco for more wandering around. Try to book a flight around 1 or 2 pm so that you have the morning to relax here. We recommend, however, not booking the last flight or two out of the day. Always better to leave a few flights in case you have a problem with yours, particularily if you have a connecting flight that same evening in Lima. Be sure to ask for a seat on the right side of the plane when checking in – the mountain views are incredible !
Return home or ask us about adding a day or two more to this trip !