Inca Trail, Peru

Advance planning for hiking the Inca Trail is essential as there is a finite amount of tickets sold for the trek every spring. This particular route enjoys nights at lodges until you reach the beginning of the Inca Trail where camping will be integrated. Be advised, this is not glamping! Your seasoned porters will help with bags, but physical stamina is essential for this trek. One of the top five rated treks in the world, a combination of mountain scenery, original Inca paving stones, jungles, tunnels and lush cloud forests.

Day 1 Depart your home city and arrive in Lima, we recommend at least 2 days stay before your hike to acclimate to the altitude.

Day 2 Lima to the Sacred Valley – Explore Lima and fly to Cusco. Lima, known as the City Of Kings is a delightful gateway to your hike. Beautiful beaches, museums and rich history. Spend an afternoon before flying to Cusco. This is one of the most spectacular flights anywhere in the world. During the flight, which takes you from sea level to 11,200ft in just under an hour, the major glaciated peaks of the Cordillera Vilcabamba and Vilcanota ranges can be seen, surrounded by an agricultural patchwork quilt of tranquil Andean fields and tiny hamlets which you will be exploring over the following days. Cusco airport is unique and requires the pilot to make a sweeping 180 degree turn to enter the valley on approach, providing you with amazing views of the Incan city center.

Upon arrival in Cusco you head straight for the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba River. The “valley” is a tranquil oasis of cultural, historical and agriculture richness just 45 minutes from Cusco and a few thousand feet lower in elevation. By heading straight to the valley upon arrival, it helps aid visitors with the acclimatization process. After lunch, you will spend the remainder of the day exploring Pisac. Pisac is both the name of the colonial and modern village and the Inca fortress which lies on a mountain spur 1900 feet above. A walk around the fortress ruins is a stunning way to start your visit, providing tremendous views of the valley below and its agricultural terracing, which wraps around the south and east flanks of the mountain in graceful curves. You will have ample time to explore the native village which is very quiet most of the week but springs to life when the market is held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Check into your accommodations on the outskirts of the village of Urubamba in the late afternoon with time to enjoy the serenity of the valley.

Day 3 Chincheros, Moray and Maras Enjoy a private guided walking tour to visit three fascinating Inca and Pre-Inca sites in the Sacred Valley. Drive up onto the Pampa de Anta, a large high agricultural plain overlooking the Sacred Valley and the glaciated Cordillera Vilcanota to the east and explore the village of Chincheros. This is the largest populated place on the Pampa de Anta and once served as a regional administrative and political outpost shortly after the Incan Empire began to expand out of the Cusco Valley. There are remnants of the great Incan ruler Pachacuti’s palace with a beautiful church built atop it, a bustling local market, and a woman’s textile weaving cooperative here which all make for a great start of the day. A spectacular picnic lunch will be served “al fresco” in order to be able to appreciate these wonderful surroundings.

After lunch, the route is flexible and allows travelers the option to walk beautiful country paths, or ride in vehicles between points, depending on your activity level and interests. Starting with Moray, an archeological site shaped as an amphitheater, believed to be utilized as an agricultural experimental station by the Incas. Three natural limestone sinkholes were ringed with concentric terracing, each providing unique temperatures and soil mixtures to reflect the varied growing conditions found across the Incan Empire. It is believed the terraces of Moray were used to acclimate, experiment with and domesticate different crops. An ancient site linked to the more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes still cultivated in the Andes today.

Carry on to Maras, enjoy the expansive views of the glaciated Cordillera Vilcanota along the way. Maras is renowned for its colonial doorways having been an important trading town for the open pit salt mines nearby. From Moray, we will follow an ancient path down to the actual salt mines themselves. The approach from the top of the valley looking down on the salt mines is unique – thousands of white-bottomed salt pools smothering the hillside – your eyes seem to play tricks on you as you try to figure out what exactly you are seeing.

Walking through the salt mine you can appreciate a true work of art, as the water flows through an intricate network of waterways and evaporation pools that have been in continual usage dating back to pre-Incan times.

Day 4 Ollantaytambo to the Inca Trail This morning enjoy a short exploration of Ollantaytambo en route to the Inca Trail-head. The village of Ollantaytambo is unique as it is the best surviving example of Inca city planning and was never built over by the Spanish colonists. Open running water channels line the cobblestone streets for sanitation and the buildings are still laid out in the communal “chancha” style popular during the height of the Incan rule. The vast fortress complex overlooking the village is one of the most striking in its stonework and also one of the most intriguing as it was still under construction at the time of the Conquistadores arrival in the 1530’s and also served as a great astronomical observatory. Ollantaytambo was witness to one of the few great battles between the Incan army and the Spanish Conquistadores, where the Incas won.

You will reach the trail-head at Chilca / Piscaycucho by midday where your porters and trek staff will be waiting for you. Over the next four days you will be hiking the famed Inca Trail, a 30-mile trek along the Royal Road of the Incas to Machu Picchu. Discovered by an American historian, Hiram Bingham in 1911 when he returned to clear the jungle vegetation from the ruins, the Inca Trail is now a part of the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary.

After passing through the regulation checkpoint, start hiking for about 5 hours through a little visited section of the trail. You will stop at the ruins of Q’oriwayrachina for lunch and then cross the Urubamba River at Q’ente, with an option to visit Wayna Q’ente and Llaqtapata archaeological sites, in whose vicinity you will camp amidst Inca terracing.

Day 5 Inca Trail The trail winds slowly uphill through a small forest to reach the site of Patallacta.  After a short visit, continue up the Cusichaca Valley passing houses of settlers to finally reach the Andean community of Huayllabamba.  From here the trail ascends steeply to a large pampa (or flat area) below the first pass, where you will camp.  Here you have a breathtaking view of Mt.  Huayanay. Along the trail up this narrow hanging valley you will begin to see a cloud forest that harbors the Queñua tree (polilepis), rare in the Andes. You will camp overnight at Llulluchapampa.

Day 6 Inca Trail A steady ascent up to the Warmiwañusqa (Dead Woman) pass at 13,692’ affords a magnificent view.  You will descend down to the Pacaymayo River to then ascend again to the ruins of Runkuraqay and the second pass at 13,200’.  From here you will walk down to the site at Sayacmarca at 12,551’, passing a dry lake and the first signs of the cloud forest.

A beautiful location overlooking the Aobamba Valley affords a respite for a leisurely walk through its imposing structures.  Continue along the ridge through amazing landscapes, viewing Mt. Salkantay from the western side and Mt. Pumasillo, a silhouette to the north on the horizon.  Walking along a rolling flagstone trail you will arrive at Phuyupatamarca (the village on the edge of the clouds) , just in time to camp for the evening.

Day 7 Inca Trail and arrive at Machu Picchu A flag stoned trail winds sharply down into the cloud forest to the ruins of Wiñay Wayna (“Forever Young”) at 8,650’, one of the most beautiful of the Inca ruins and the last before reaching Machu Picchu. You should arrive here by late morning in time to enjoy a light lunch while sitting amidst the ruins, looking down on the valley and the winding Urubamba River. As you approach Machu Picchu and head east toward the Amazon, the landscape becomes increasingly lush. Many species of orchids and flowers can be seen along the trail.

The trail climbs to Intipunku, the famed Gate of the Sun. Suddenly- you are rewarded with your first glimpse of the ‘classic’ view of Machu Picchu, a vivid and unforgettable moment. You will arrive into the ruins of Machu Picchu in the late afternoon, and descend to the village of Aguas Calientes in the evening, where you will check into the Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel – set among lush gardens full of orchids and hummingbirds.

Day 8 Machu Picchu After breakfast, you will have a full private guided tour of the archeological complex of Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu is the best-known Inca site of the modern world, but little is known of its importance to the Incas. It is not mentioned in any of the Spanish chronicles and archaeologists can only speculate on its function. Though known to the Quechua peasants who lived around it, the modern world was unaware of its existence until Hiram Bingham ‘discovered’ it by accident. From the fine quality of its stonework, it is assumed that it once must have been an important ceremonial center for the Incas.

Following lunch, take the train back to Ollantaytambo and transfer to Cusco by private vehicle. This evening is free to enjoy Cusco on your own.

Day 9 enjoy a last day in Cusco before heading back to Lima for your return flight home.

Knowing you are one of the few to have explored this amazing world site.

Rich Table – San Francisco

On a dining odyssey, paid a second visit to State Bird a few weeks ago with a gaggle of clients and our visiting VIP London handler extraordinaire, Sebastian. He was beyond thrilled with his dining experience, too bad he missed Rich Table!  Both restaurants are nominated this year for the James Beard Award and both are equally scrumptious, although very different in nature.

Original menu, modern food, creative and beautifully presented – I enjoyed a catbird seat with a close view of the chefs’ artfully laying asparagus spears with a long handled pair of tweezers. Precise, yes, and each chef tasted every sauce and dish before waiters whisked it away! I like the interiors, seating ranges from high tables with kitchen views and a small table for six in a private alcove. Again, diners waited on the sidewalk and rushed the open bar for an unreserved seat.

Chefs and Owners Evan and Sarah Rich were working the kitchen and and Co-Owner, Wine Director Maz Naba, tended our table and shared history and dining recommendations. I love the personal touch at these small dining temples.

My rainbow trout with teeny tiny perfectly square chopped roots, floated in a small pond of almond milk..sounds odd, but expertly prepared! I peered at other tables and passing plates – chicken breast with mandarinquats peas and cipollini onions was popular Sunday evening!Roasted beet salad dotted with puffed rice and goat cheese creme fraiche was enjoyed by
a friend who is a beet expert…I pass on the beets, just don’t get beets. Freshly baked bread served with slabs of pure white butter dotted with sea salt was irresistible!

Do run to Rich Table.

You will be pleased to hear I will be taking a food photography class soon- blame the grainy photos on low lighting!

This amuse bouche, I still can’t fathom: Dirty Hippie interesting textures, definitely grainy and  earthy..the name wasn’t appetizing. Perhaps too many afternoons enjoyed at Golden Gate Park concerts during a certain era.