Wind your way from lodge to lodge through the luxuriant forests and snow-capped peaks of Peru’s stunning Cordillera Vilcabamba. Trek among glaciers and alpine lakes, as well as to local villages and lesser known Inca sites tucked into the slopes. Take in views of dazzling 20,000-footers such as Salkantay, the highest summit in the range and one of the most sacred peaks in Inca mythology. Experience the diverse ecosystems of the Andes, from ice-clad, high-alpine slopes to lush cloud forests and tropical orchards. At the end of each day, settle into a picturesque mountain lodge to enjoy a soak in the hot tub, a cozy fire, and a delicious meal. Then venture deep into the mysteries of the Inca as we explore the breathtaking sanctuary of Machu Picchu.
Arrive in Lima in the early morning and connect to your flight to Cusco, where our trip leader will meet you for the transfer to our hotel. After lunch on your own, head out on a guided walk through this ancient city, once the capital of the vast Inca Empire. Venture into ornate cathedrals, stroll the central square where artisans display fine Quechuan handicrafts, and soak up the charm of hidden courtyards and cobbled streets. Later, meet up with your fellow hikers for a welcome dinner and listen to a lecture by archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Peter Frost, or a prominent local anthropologist.
Palacio del Inka (D)
Rise early for the drive to our first lodge, stopping along the way to visit the ruins of Tarawasi, an Incan ceremonial center built from precisely carved blocks of granite. Continue to Marcoccasa and set out on an optional hike along the Camino Real, or Royal Path, pausing for a picnic lunch on the trail. This afternoon, arrive at Salkantay Lodge, nestled in the valley with a breathtaking view of the 20,574-foot Salkantay, the highest peak in the Cordillera Vilcabamba. After free time this afternoon, gather for an evening briefing followed by a hearty meal. (11 miles hiking, 4-6 hours)
Salkantay Lodge (B,L,D)
We’ll spend today acclimating to the altitude. You may opt to go on a half-day hike to a stunning glacial lake where—if you feel adventurous—you can jump in for a quick and refreshing swim. Or relax in a cozy lounge or a hot tub at the lodge. We’ll meet this evening for a briefing on our trek. (4 miles hiking, 3-4 hours)
Salkantay Lodge (B,L,D)
Today we’ll rise early to set out on our four-day trek to the legendary citadel of Machu Picchu. Follow the Río Blanco valley, hiking the girth of Humantay, a snowy peak across from Salkantay. We’ll reach the highest point of our trip at 15,213 feet, and pause a moment to admire a vista of snowcapped peaks. From here, descend to Wayra Lodge (12,812') where showers and a hot tub await. (14 miles hiking, 5-7 hours; or optional 7 miles hiking, 4-6 hours)
Wayra Lodge (B,L,D)
Enjoy a leisurely morning at Wayra Lodge. Today’s hike takes us out of the stark high-alpine region and into increasingly lush vegetation, as we head down into the Collpapampa Valley. Our home for the night is perched on an open promontory at the confluence of three rivers. The surrounding cloud forest harbors wild orchids and butterflies as well as remarkable birdlife. Upon arrival, sit down to a pachamanca, a traditional underground stone barbecue. (6 miles hiking; 4 hours)
Collpa Lodge (B,L,D)
Continue downhill through the Santa Teresa River Valley, a verdant area that is home to local farms and villages. Hike past coffee plantations and tropical fruit orchards as well as dazzling wildflowers of all colors. Stop alongside the river for a picnic lunch. From here it is a short climb to Lucma Lodge, hidden away among avocado trees. We’ll arrive in time to explore the village and meet some of the locals. (9 miles hiking; 5-6 hours)
Lucma Lodge (B,L,D)
The final day of our trek kicks off early with a hearty breakfast. The trail winds uphill toward Llactapata Pass at 8,974 feet, where we’ll catch our first glimpse of Machu Picchu far in the distance. Explore the ruins of Llactapata, a sacred site for the Inca that has been recently restored. Like Machu Picchu, the ruins here were rediscovered by explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911. National Geographic funded his subsequent excavation. After lunch at an observation point overlooking Machu Picchu, follow the path down to the Urubamba River, hiking through thick bamboo stands, orchards, and coffee plantations. A short, scenic train ride brings us to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to Machu Picchu. (7 miles hiking; 5-6 hours)
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (B,L,D)
Stacked up a hillside in terraces amid soaring Andean peaks, the 15th-century Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is considered one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. We spend an entire day exploring its breathtaking labyrinth of temples, sanctuaries, and homes. Delve into the site with our guides, learning about the Inca’s sophisticated culture and technology, and discovering the secrets of this royal city lost to the wider world for some 500 years.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel (B,L,D)
This morning you can choose to return to the Sanctuary to explore Machu Picchu again on your own or wander the lovely grounds of our lodge with an eye out for exotic birds and orchids. After lunch we’ll take the train from Aguas Calientes to the Sacred Valley where a private van waits to transfer us onto Cusco. Enjoy an afternoon free to explore the city before toasting our Andean trek at a farewell dinner at a local restaurant tonight.
Palacio del Inka (B,L,D)
Explore charming Cusco on your own this morning following breakfast at your leisure. This afternoon we will transfer to the Cusco airport for our flight to Lima. Upon arrival in Lima we will head to the Larco Herrera Museum for a guided tour of their impressive collection of pre-Columbian art and artifacts. This evening we’ll enjoy a final dinner together at a restaurant highlighting fresh, local Peruvian cuisine. Transfer to the Lima airport in plenty of time to check in for your flight home.
National Geographic Adventures are unique, active itineraries for intrepid travelers that combine spectacular places, cultural interaction, and physical challenge. You'll explore fascinating, off-the-beaten-path places with top guides, and wherever possible, meet National Geographic experts in the field.
Peter Frost is a writer, photographer, archaeologist, and independent scholar who has explored the Andes and Amazon for 35 years, and lived in Peru since 1987. He has published four books on Peru and Ecuador, including a guide to the Cusco region and a book on Machu Picchu. In 2001 and 2002, he led National Geographic Society-sponsored expeditions into the remote region of Vilcabamba, finding and exploring the previously unknown Inca and pre-Inca site of Qoriwayrachina (National Geographic magazine, March 2004).
ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.
Price is per person, double occupancy. Single rooms are not available; all travelers will be paired with a same-gender roommate when available. Otherwise a single supplement of $2,300 will be charged. International airfare to/from Lima and airfare within Peru is not included in the adventure cost. The group flight within Peru is $400 (subject to change).
GROUP SIZE: 10–12
See special terms and conditions for this adventure.
While on the trek, we will be hiking 4 to 7 hours a day (4 to 11 miles) on moderate to steep grades and at elevations ranging from 6,232 feet to a max of 15,213 feet. Vehicle support is limited while hiking, but horses are available on the trail. We will stay 5 nights in remote mountain lodges and 4 nights in deluxe hotels. Porters and pack animals will transport our gear.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
Call to speak with an Adventure specialist about this trip.