For several millennia, Peru's Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range was an important cradle for ancient civilizations. These steep slopes and valleys also served as a refuge for the last rebel Incas retreating from the Spanish invasion. This itinerary provides an intimate look at this region of ancient trails and archaeological sites, perfectly suited for active travelers looking to explore the Peruvian backcountry on foot and sleep out under the stars.

Note: The 5-day group departures listed above include the trekking and Machu Picchu portions of the itinerary below (days 3-7). Our specialists can help you plan the rest of the trip around your chosen departure date. 

Highlights

  • Visit Incan archaeology sites with ritual platforms and spring-fed pools
  • Stand in the shadow of trees that survive at 14,000 feet above sea level
  • Enjoy the stunning night sky over the Andes as you camp out under the stars
  • Hike through the Cordillera Vilcabamba, along ancient trails used by the Inca
  • Take a guided tour of Machu Picchu and hike by yourself to the top of nearby hills for great views of the Inca ruin

Overview

This trip takes you deep into the heart of the Cordillera Vilcabamba, where the Incas made their last stand against the Spanish. You will camp each night under the stars and get terrific views of the Andes as you trek across mountain passes that reach 14,000 feet. This walk includes visits to several remote archaeology sites and concludes at the granddaddy of all Inca ruins — Machu Picchu. Mules will be available to carry your gear, making the hike somewhat easier so you can enjoy the stunning scenery without the weight of a backpack.

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight 
Day 1 Arrival in Lima Lima
Day 2 Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City Cusco
Day 3 Vilcabamba Trek Day 1/4: Huanmanmarca archaeological site, hike to Casapata Casapata Campsite
Day 4 Vilcabamba Trek Day 2/4: Trek over Pillaujasa mountain pass Hatunpampa Campsite
Day 5 Vilcabamba Trek Day 3/4: Views of Yanacocha Lake Nogalpampa Campsite
Day 6 Vilcabamba Trek Day 4/4: Hike through native forest toward Yanatile  Aguas Calientes 
Day 7 Visit Machu Picchu Cusco
Day 8 Depart Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Lima

Explore Lima's elegant architecture

¡Bienvenidos! Welcome to Lima, Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, and home to one-third of the country's population. Located at the site of a pre-Columbian indigenous Ychsma settlement, which was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century and later by the Spanish conquistadores, Lima has a fascinating history and a diverse mix of cultures. Amerindian, European, Afro-Peruvian, and Asian—especially Chinese and Japanese—influences make Lima a dynamic and exciting city to explore. 

Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city for exploring on foot. Head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the many award-winning restaurants. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Explore the historic center of Lima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture. Start with a scenic tour of the colonial downtown, which emanates from the main square. Stroll over to the 16th-century Cathedral, which took 80 years to construct and was built in the grandiose style of the Spanish Empire. 

  • Visit the Casa Aliaga, a colonial mansion granted by chief conquistador Francisco Pizarro to Jerónimo de Aliaga, one of his captains, in 1535. This is the only house from that era that still belongs to the same family.

  • Stroll around the Pueblo Libre district to the privately owned Larco Museum of pre-Columbian art, housed in a beautifully restored viceregal mansion built over a 7th-century pre-Columbian pyramid. The museum boasts a vast pre-Colonial collection of gold and silver artifacts, as well as pieces of erotic art.

  • In the evening, head to the eclectic "Love Park" in the upscale coastal district of Miraflores, where you can admire a huge kissing statue and beautiful mosaic walls.  The park is built on the cliffs of Chorrillos and is a perfect place to enjoy a spectacular sunset over the Pacific.

  • Enjoy a nightcap at an open-air cafe or restaurant in the diverse Miraflores neighborhood.

Day 2: Arrival in Cusco, Exploring the City

Spend the day getting to know this ancient city

Head to the Lima airport for your transfer flight to Cusco. This ancient city is the former capital of the Inca empire, which reigned from the 13th to 16th centuries after conquering the Killke settlement on the same location.    

Remember: you will be 11,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, so take it easy and remember to drink lots of water. Since Cusco was designed by the Incas as a city for walking, start your exploration of the narrow stone alleyways on foot. Take a walk through the plaza — if the weather is beautiful, it's a perfect place to sit on a balcony and have a cup of coca tea while adjusting to the elevation. 

Suggested activities include: 

  • Visit the Coricancha, also known as "The Temple of the Sun."  The temple was built by the Incan Emperor Pachacutec (1438 - 1572), and after the arrival of the Spaniards became the basis for the construction of the Santo Domingo Convent.

  • See the Cathedral, the most imposing monument in the central Plaza de Armas and a repository for Cusco's colonial art. Its construction lasted for almost 100 years, beginning in 1560 and ending in 1654.

  • Walk to Sacsayhuamán and next-door Quenqo, both archaeological complexes used mostly for religious and agricultural rituals, located 2.5 miles (4 km) from the city of Cusco. Built by the Killke people, Sacsayhuamán is a marvel of ancient architecture, a monolithic fortress built from giant blocks of stone, the origins and assembly of which remain a mystery.

  • Discover the elaborate Puca Pucara ruins—an architectural complex of alleged military use with multiple plazas, baths, aqueducts, walls, and towers. It is believed that the entourage of the Incan emperor used it while he stayed at Tambomachay, the elaborate estate and baths nearby.

  • Explore San Blas, an old bohemian quarter famous for its picturesque white walls, blue doors, and creative artisan community.

  • Experience the legendary Mercado Central de San Pedro, a large and diverse market famous for its mouth-watering fruit juices, home-style meals, medicinal herb stalls, and rows of various meats, breads, vegetables, and other necessities. 

  • Eat lunch at a local Peruvian restaurant and sample local flavors and cooking techniques—crackling pork, pickled vegetables, seasonal flavors, bread baked in earthen ovens, roasted vegetables, and sweet donuts make for a delicious and filling meal. 

Day 3: Overland to Casapata and Trek start

Views on the way to the Casapata campsite. 

Leaving very early in the morning, your journey begins with a drive into the Sacred Valley. You'll pass through Ollantaytambo, a historic town of Incan origin, and continue up a twisting road to Abra Málaga mountain pass. From the pass, the road descends towards high jungle and plantations cut out of the forest. Farmers in this area grow a variety of crops, including tea, coca, coffee, cacao and fruit.

Huamanmarca, an archaeological site with an important Usnu (ritual platform), is our first stop. The site also contains a precinct with four doorways facing the four cardinal points. From Huamanmarca, the journey continues to the settlement of Santa María and then onto Huancacalle. This is a remote area of solitude rarely seen by foreign visitors. Upon reaching the trailhead, you will be met by arrieros (mule handlers) who will help load your gear onto the mules.

Vilcabamba Archaeological Park is your first stop on this walk. A unique feature of the park is the Ñusta Hispana, which includes a spring-fed pool and the stone foundations of a building. You can also find here the Yurac Rumi (white stone), an enormous boulder with steps carved into its side. While his tomb has not been located, it is believed the rebel leader Manco Inka II was buried in this area.

By dusk, you'll arrive at Casapata campsite for the night where you'll enjoy dinner and rest.

Min - Max Altitude: 2950 m - 3060 m
Distance Travelled: 5 km / 3 miles
Approximate Walking Time: 3 hrs

Day 4: Hike from Casapata to Hatumpampa

View of the Vilcabamba Range at dusk.

After breakfast and packing your gear, you'll ascend the ravine to the source of the Pumachaka River in the Chupana sector. Here you'll follow remnants of the Inca Trail and observe local flora, which is used to dye textiles. From Pillaujasa Pass, the trail descends to the valley of the Racchchaka River. Following the river upstream, you'll arrive at Hatunpampa, where you'll camp and enjoy a beautiful view of the Tuytubamba snow-capped peak.

Min - Max Altitude: 3060 m - 4086 m
Distance Travelled: 17 km / 10.5 miles
Approximate Walking Time: 10 hrs

Day 5: Hatumpampa to Nogalpampa, over Mojon pass (14,078 ft)

The Cordillera Vilcabamba is a stunning range of snow-capped peaks and turquoise lakes. 

This day begins with a challenging trek up to Yanacocha mountain pass. Native trees (Qeuña and Kiswar) somehow survive here at an altitude of 14,700 ft above sea level. At the pass itself, you'll get some great views of Yanacocha lake, located at nearly 13,000 ft. The trek continues to Mojon Pass (14,078 ft), the last high pass on this trek. You may feel like you've reached the edge of the earth at this remote location.

The trek continues down the Mutuypata Ravine where you'll have lunch and a rest before continuing to the Saqsarayoq Valley. You'll cross the Saqsarayoq River to reach Nogalpampa, where camp will be set up for the night.

Min - Max Altitude: 2788vm - 4500 m
Distance Travelled: 14 km / 8.5 miles
Approximate Walking Time: 8 hrs

Day 6: Trek from Nogalpampa to Aguas Calientes

Camping at Nolgapampa

Today you'll head downhill, trekking through native forest in the direction of Yanatile, a small Andean town. From Yanatile, you'll be transferred to the nearest train station where you'll board a train headed for Aguas Calientes, the jumping off point for Machu Picchu.

Min - Max Altitude: 2100 m - 2788 m
Distance Travelled: 13 km / 8 miles
Approximate Walking Time: 5 hrs

Day 7: Explore Machu Picchu and return to Cusco

Incan site of Machu Picchu

At dawn, you'll take the bus to the Incan Citadel of Machu Picchu, where you can climb up to the summit of Huayna Picchu. From here you can see Inti Punku (the sun-gate) and the archaeological complex itself. Following the guided tour, you'll have a chance to explore on your own. We suggest heading west from the center of Machu Picchu to the Inca bridge, a 30-minute (2 km) walk along a narrow path.

After a good time spent exploring the site, you'll take the train back to Ollantaytambo, from where you can overnight or return to Cusco.

Min - Max Altitude: 2070 m - 2437 m
Distance Travelled: 1.5 km / 1 mile
Approximate Walking Time: 3 hrs

Day 8: Depart Peru

Sunset over Cusco

Today is your last day in Peru! You will be met at your hotel for a transfer to the airport, where you will connect to your departure flight. ¡Buen viaje!

 

Note: The 5-day group departures listed below include the trekking and Machu Picchu portions of the itinerary above (days 3-7). Our specialists can help you plan the rest of the trip around your chosen departure date.