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Exploring Peru’s Ancient Wonders: Machu Picchu and Beyond
Located high in the Andes, Machu Picchu is one of those world wonders that every traveler should visit at least once. What people may not realize, however, is that Machu Picchu is just one of a number of Inca sites in the area, and that the Incas were just one of many pre-Columbian civilizations that flourished in Peru. On National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures’ 8-day Machu Picchu itinerary, the famous site is given top billing—but there are also stops in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Lima. While Lima may not be as well-known as some other Latin America capitals, it has one of South America’s most exciting culinary scenes, museums filled with ancient artifacts of gold and precious stones, and neighborhoods historic and new.  

As you explore Peru, you’ll be in the company of no more than 15 other travelers and led by a CEO—Chief Experience Officer. Whether it’s bringing the culture of the ancient Inca to life or helping you find your way around Cusco, your CEO will assure that every detail of your journey through Peru is taken care of.
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    Day 1
    Arrive in Lima
    When you land this morning in Lima, you’ll be met by a car and driver and be taken to your hotel. You then have a day to explore Peru’s capital, either on your own or with one of the optional excursions.  

    You may want to start at the city’s colonial heart, centered around the Plaza de las Armas. In the Museo Larco you can see some of the riches that drew the Spanish to Peru in the first place, and get a good chronological overview of the country’s various pre-Columbian cultures. If you’d rather explore a site associated with one of those civilizations, Pachacamac is a pre-Inca site from the 14th to 15th centuries that sits 25 miles to the southeast of Lima. Within the city, Huaca Pucllana is a ceremonial center that was used from around 200 to 700 C.E. It sits in the posh Miraflores neighborhood—you can wander among the ancient ruins and then get a lunch of ceviche paired with a pisco sour before exploring the area’s boutiques and galleries.  

    The trip also offers a cooking class that includes a visit to a market, where you’ll get a close look at the remarkably diverse ingredients—from fish caught in the Pacific to tropical fruits and nuts from the Amazon—that are incorporated into Peruvian dishes. During the cooking class itself, you’ll hear about the various cuisines that have shaped Peruvian cooking. While the Spanish techniques and indigenous ingredients may not be surprising, Peruvian cuisine has also absorbed influences from China, Japan, and Italy, thanks to various waves of immigrants. (If you’re interested in the cooking class, you will most likely want to arrive a day early, as it begins at 10 a.m.)  

    At the end of your day, return to your hotel to meet your fellow travelers and your CEO, or Chief Experience Officer, who will discuss the week ahead.
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    Day 2
    Fly to the Sacred Valley
    You’ll depart from Lima early on day two for your flight to Cusco. Once you land, you’ll make your way in a private vehicle to explore the Sacred Valley.  

    Among your stops are the ruins at Moray, an Inca site that’s long been a mystery; archaeologists have wondered the reason behind its centerpiece, a circle of terraced growing plots at various heights. Current theories, supported in part by the variety of different soil types found here and presumably brought from various regions throughout the Inca empire, is that the circle was an agricultural testing site. Ancient Inca farmers would have used the different terraces to determine which crops grow best at different temperatures and light conditions. The angle of the sun here and winds combine to create a remarkable number of micro-climates. A temperature range spanning 27°F has been recorded between the various terraces. 

    Later, you’ll visit Las Salineras, ancient salt pans near the town of Maray that predate the Inca and are still in use today. Sodium-rich water emerges from a spring here and is then directed through a series of flats; when it evaporates, the salt can be harvested.  

    You’ll end your day with a meal featuring pachamanca, a traditional Peruvian dish of meat marinated in spices and baked with hot stones. It’s typically accompanied by corn, potatoes, yucca, and other vegetables common in the Andes.
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    Day 3
    Today, at Parque de la Papa, or Potato Park, you’ll learn about the huge variety of potatoes cultivated in Peru. While the American market is dominated by a handful of potatoes, in Peru some 4,000 varieties are grown—during your trip you’ll taste not just white and orange potatoes, but blue, black, purple, and red ones. Many of these potatoes are in danger of being lost, as farmers opt to grow varieties suited to the export market. The visit to the area (which includes six different communities with a population of around 6,000) is a “G for Good” moment, when you can experience projects that give back to the locals. Here, your visit helps to encourage the continued cultivation of a variety of potatoes (some 700 different ones are grown by the farmers here). 

    You’ll also eat at the Parwa Community Restaurant, located in a small village of some 65 families. The farm-to-table restaurant has been a means for the community to benefit from the tourism dollars that flow into the Sacred Valley.  

    The day also includes visits to two Inca sites: the citadels of Ollantaytambo and Pisac. At both, the ancient terraces and ceremonial centers have survived to this day. Each is also located in a breathtaking setting, overlooking the Sacred Valley and in the shadows of soaring peaks.
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    Day 4
    Aguas Calientes
    You’ll depart early in the morning today on a scenic train ride to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes, where you can visit the colorful market with its many stands of local crafts. If you’re looking for alpaca scarves, sweaters, or blankets, you won’t find many places with a wider selection.  

    Given how much of your trip is focused on the people who have lived in the Sacred Valley for centuries, you could use this day to turn your attention to the flora and fauna. At the Butterfly House, you can learn about the various life stages of the colorful insects and some of the varieties unique to this part of Peru. The flora of the region is the focus of the Mandor Gardens, where local orchids are a highlight. Another option is to head to the hot springs that give the town its name. Rich in sulfur and other minerals, it’s a good place to soak away any aches.  

    If you want to spend an extra day at Machu Picchu, you can, for an additional charge. You’ll disembark from the local train roughly seven miles from Machu Picchu, and the moderately difficult hike will take you by the outlying archaeological sites of Wiñay Wayna and Inti Pata. You’ll then pass through the Sun Gate late in the day and get your first glimpse of the famous citadel. After exploring the site, a bus will return you to Aguas Calientes where you’ll rejoin the group.
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    Day 5
    Machu Picchu
    The highlight today is the centerpiece of this trip: Machu Picchu. You’ll depart early in the morning to visit this citadel high in the Andes. An early arrival offers both a chance to experience it before it gets too crowded, as well as a long, leisurely visit to all the various buildings.  

    Machu Picchu is one of South America’s—and the world’s—most legendary sites. When UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site, they didn’t hold back in their praise, calling it among “the greatest artistic, architectural and land use achievements anywhere.” The combination of both the setting and the marvels of the individual buildings is part of what make Machu Picchu so captivating. Among the 200 different structures, some of the most notable are the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Water, the Temple of the Condor, and the Room of the Three Windows. Remarkably, the site was abandoned after the Spanish conquered the Inca empire in the 16th century, and the outside world was unaware of it until it was rediscovered by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. You’ll explore the site with a guide who will explain the significance and purposes of its various structures, while also experiencing the magical energy of this world wonder.  

    Afterwards you can cross the Inca Bridge, with its breathtaking views of the cloud forest, before you return to Cusco for the evening.
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    Day 6
    Today you can explore Cusco, one of the oldest cities in South America. It predates even the Inca, having been established in the 12th century by the Killke people. It later served as the capital of the Inca empire for three centuries before the Spanish then occupied it. Layers of history are visible everywhere, with old Inca walls incorporated into Spanish colonial convents and palaces.  

    At the Inca Museum and the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, you can see artifacts discovered at Machu Picchu and other archaeological sites, including within Cusco itself. A city tour includes not just museums, but also Cusco’s most famous landmarks like its cathedral and several Inca sites. If you’re in the mood for a more active day, a horseback ride can be arranged (no previous experience required) to Inca sites in and near Cusco, while a whitewater-rafting trip follows the Class III and IV Upper Vilcanota River, surrounded by stunning scenery, before ending with a riverside lunch.  

    In the evening, if the skies are clear, you can visit the Cusco Planetarium to learn about the constellations of the southern night sky and get to use their telescopes for a closer look.
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    Day 7
    Return to Lima
    You’ll depart from Cusco in the morning and fly back to Lima to enjoy another afternoon in the capital.  

    If you didn’t have time to join the Lima City Tour at the start of your trip, you have another chance today to visit everything from the colonial heart centered around the Plaza de Armas to the bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, where the Bridge of Sighs is the most famous landmark. The seaside Miraflores district is a mix of mansions, boutiques, and leading restaurants. If you haven’t tried ceviche in Lima, where chefs have elevated the dish to new levels of culinary excellence, you absolutely should.   

    The Magic Water Circuit, a collection of 13 fountains that are illuminated at night, is a new addition to Lima’s attractions. Take advantage of an evening out that includes the fountains followed by a dinner accompanied by Peruvian dances and music. It’s an initiative of the G Values Fund, which helps former G Adventures CEOs create programs to introduce G travelers to the best of their home countries.
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    Day 8
    Return Home
    If you’re heading home today, your CEO will assist with your transfer back to the airport. If, however, you have time to add another day (or several), you’re far from exhausting all that Lima and Peru offer. If possible, delay the return to daily life just a little longer.