Day 1 – Cachora to Chiquisca (16km - 250m ascent - 1200m descent)
We shall depart early from Cusco and drive across the Anta Plateau at around 3350m, with scattered farmlands and snow-capped peaks rising to the skies in the crisp air before dropping to the dramatic Apurimac Gorge. The road cross the Apurimac Gorge at 1800m and then start climbing again until reaching the small village Cachora at 2850m./ 9348ft. Cachora has become the trekking center for Choquequirao treks. We meet our crew and pack horses and soon commence the hike. The views are stunning with the Vilcabamba massife in front of us. At the Capuliyoc lookout we will catch the first glimpses of Choquequirao in a distance, but between us is a dry steep gorge clad with cactus and scrub. It is the same Apurimac river we past in the morning. The bottom is at 1500m. We shall however, camp at the small oasis of Chiquisca at 2000m./6,550ft before we come down all the way. Birds possible include Chiguanco Thrush, Black-backed Grossbeak, Golden-billed Saltator, Sparkling Violetear, Mitred Parakeet. More scarce but possible is Rusty-fronted Canastero and Bearded Mountaineer. At night we we shall be looking out for Peruvian Pygmy-Owl and the Apurimac form of Koepcke’s Screech-Owl. Total distance: 16 km (9, 93 miles)
Estimated walking time: 5- 6 hours
Maximum altitude point: (2850m/9348ft)
Day 2- Choquequirao
A short decent and we reach the Apurimac river at 1550m/5,100ft and pass a suspension bridge over the roaring river. The trail zigzags up the slope through sugarcane plantation green upland meadows. The uphill, although slow going and some panting is a nice change to the brutal downhill that we between yesterday and the morning. Later we see the first panoramic view of the buildings and terraces of Choquequirao. The final strech today goes through good cloud forest. The top of the forested ridge is at (3000m./10,000ft.) and is where the Incas built their remote ceremonial center, known today as Choquequirao. We’ll camp near the Inca ruins. Birds today include Giant Hummingbird, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, American Kestrel, Cusco Brush-Finch and possibly Apurimac Spinetail (it is unclear whether it is Azara’s or Apurimac Spinetail here), Spectacled Whitestart, Blue-black Tanager and many more.
Day 3- Choquequirao
We will have the entire day to explore Choquequirao. Just as many riddles surround the ruins as Machu Picchu. Choquequirao means “Cradle of Gold.” The site was know by the early Spaniards. It was visited before Machu Picchu by. French explorers in the 19th century, and in 1909 Hiram Bingham was the first to scientifically investigate the site. It has been speculated that the emperor Tupac Inca built is as a personal spiritual retreat, to rival his father Pachacuti’s magnificent estate at Machu Picchu. Iit was undoubtedly an elite settlement, built for ceremonial purposes and occupied by Inca nobility.
We shall be visiting the high parts (Hanan), and the lower parts (Urin), and some areas that are still covered in wild foliage and ready to be restored into the way it was when the Incas owned it. The steep mountainside below the main plaza features several clusters of newly-discovered buildings, including the so-called Ridge Group, and the Waterfall Temple, an intriguing ceremonial complex facing the cascades of a steep ravine. Here afternoon thermal currents bring Andean Condors soaring over the complex of temples, mausoleums, royal residences, ritual baths and water channels, great gathering halls, storehouses, hidden gardens and a giant stairway, all still standing as testimony to the careful planning of Inca engineers. Birds of today hopefully Andean Condor, Peregrine Falcon, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Andean Parakeet and many more.
Day 4- Pincha Unuyoc-Rio Blanco– Maizal
The start of the trail today should include some good birds as we walk through thickets of Chusquea bamboo in the dense cloud forest. Here it is possible to encounter the endemic Inca Wren.and mixed species flocks with many tanagers. We’ll round the mountain spur above Choquequirao and cross a moderate pass at 3400m, before descending broad, grassy slopes into the Yanama River basin. Ahead of us to the north is the massive blue-green ridge of Qoriwayrachina, which supplied Choquequirao with farm product and gold during inca times. Cerro Victoria our next landmark, features a sacred platform where the Incas once observed the winter solstice. With the Yanama River gorge visible far below, the sheer scale of the landscape is breathtaking. We arrive to Pincha Unuyoc around lunch where there are stone farming terraces and a small temple complex. Then we descend the switchback descent to the Rio Blanco 1909m/6262ft ravine. You may have a swim in the river when you get there. Lunchtime.
After the lunch starting the hike up the steep climbing up to Maizal village high over the river close to the sacred Apus of the Incas for about 3 hrs, camping in Maizal (3400m/11152ft). Birds in the flocks include White-tailed Tyrannulet, Slate-throated Whitestart, Pearled Treerunner, Silver-backed Tanager, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Flame-faced Tanager, etc Start: 3000m
End 3400m Total distance: 16 Km (9, 93 miles)
Estimated walking time: 7 hours
Maximum altitude point: (3400m/11152ft)
Minimum altitude point. (1909m/6262ft)
Day 5 Maizal– Minas Victoria-Yanama
We ascend through ever-changing layers of cloud forest, soon passing the first of many abandoned mine-shafts which are the remnants of a once-prosperous lode of silver first worked by 17th-century Spanish Jesuit missionaries and their native flock. As we climb beyond the tree line we find ourselves following the remains of an Inca road which crossed the ridge ahead of us, at Minas Victoria pass (4,400m./14,500ft.) At the pass we face startling views of the Cordillera Vilcabamba, with the 6,000m./19,800ft. peaks of the Pumasillo range dead ahead of us and Choquetacarpo pass off the north-west. This spot is right on the flight path for Andean condors soaring the north slope of Qoriwayrachina, and we usually see them here. After this pass, the trail descends past dozens of shafts and piles of mine tailings rich with glittering minerals, following a broad path carved into a dramatic cliff face. The trail penetrates thickets of giant lupin and weaves through small farming plots as we approach Yanama, (3500m/11480ft) where friendly villagers may trade weavings or farm produce at our streamside campsite.
Birds include Puna Thistletail, Vilcabamba Tapaculo, Mountain Caracara, Sedge Wren,
Total distance: 15 km (9, 32 miles)
Estimated walking time: 7 hours
Maximum altitude point: (4200m/13776ft).
Lowest altitude point (3500m/11480ft)
Day 6 Yanama - Totora- Collpapampa
Our route ascends a valley of broad pastures between the snow capped ranges of Pumasillo to the north and Padreyoc to the south. The climb is gradual but continuous, until finally we leave grassy meadows behind and cross the stony, windswept slopes of Puerto Yanama (4,700m/15,500ft). At this pass, as we cross the watershed between the Apurimac and Urubamba River systems, we can gaze down into the Santa Teresa valley, and across to dramatic vistas of Salcantay (6,270m/20,565ft) and Humantay (5,917m/18,760ft), the last great peaks of the Vilcabamba range, beyond which is found Machu Picchu.
Today we take a dramatic trail that traverses the steep south bank of the Santa Teresa River. Bird and plant life teem along the banks of tumbling side streams as we enjoy this short and easy day. We camp in a meadow at the tiny village of Collpapampa, where we can take some rest time, or descend a footpath to soak in a delicious hot spring pool by the Santa Teresa River. The birds of the open fields will include several species of Canasteros and Ground Tyrants. Also chance for Vilcabamba Tapaculo.
Total distance: 15 Km (9, 32 miles)
Estimated walking time: 7 hours
Maximum altitude point: (4550m/14924ft)
Lowest altitude point (2890m/9479ft),
Day 7- Playa-Lucmabamba We cross to the north bank of the Santa Teresa and take an undulating path downriver through delightful cloud forest and then coffee plantations and orchards of passion fruit, papaya and avocado, with towering mountains to either side of us. We meet school children and the mule trains of local farmers as we approach the road ahead at the village of Playa. (2155m/7068ft). We continue after lunch to Lucumabamba (2100m/6900 ft). Birding today is very lush habitat. With some luck we should be able to spot Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Andean Guan, Ocellated Piculet and White-collared Jay
Total distance: 12 Km (7, 45 miles)
Estimated walking time: 6 hours
Maximum altitude point: (2890m/9479ft),
Lowest altitude point (2100m/6900 ft).
Day 8- Lucmabamba. After a short walk we leave the dirt road and start to climb a well-preserved Inca highway to a ridge top El Mirador or Abra Q’elloqasa (2860m/9381ft) that divides the Santa Teresa from the next valley east, the Acobamba. The ridge is forested with tall trees, a rare example of pristine climax cloud forest, and here we encounter a broad Inca road running along the ridgeline. We take this for a short way, so that we can glimpse our first views of Machu Picchu, perched on a mountain saddle far to the east. Then we descend through the ruins of Llactapata (2650m/8692ft), a site first discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1915, subsequently lost and then rediscovered in the 1980s. This extensive site seems to be an outlier of the main Inca city, with ceremonial significance relating to the winter solstice sun, which, as seen from here, rises over Machu Picchu. We have stupendous views toward Machu Picchu, the Urubamba River, and the snow-capped peaks of Salcantay and Wakay Willka as we take a zigzagging trail through the forest to reach the Aobamba River, just upstream of its confluence with the Urubamba. After passing a hydro-electric power station and crossing a bridge we meet the railroad and either take the train – or follow its tracks along the banks of the river for 2.5 hours (good birding) to the town of Aguas Calientes. Birds. Pale-legged Warbler, Ocellated Piculet, Mitred Parakeet, Andean Solitaire, White-eared Solitaire, Cock of the Rock, Torrent Duck, White-capped Dipper, Black-streaked Puffbird, Masked Fruiteater, etc.
Total distance: 10 Km (6, 21 miles) Estimated walking time: 5 hours
Maximum altitude point: (2860m/9381ft)
Lowest altitude point (1700m).
Day 9. Machu Picchu-Ollantaytambo/Cusco
We leave early to catch the first bus to Machu Picchu, the mysterious Inca settlement scientifically discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. Here we tour the highlights of the Inca site, and then take time to explore and discover the hidden corners of the Inca city for ourselves. Mistakenly identified by Hiram Bingham as the last Inca refuge of Vilcabamba, Machu Picchu is now known to have been a private royal estate of Pachacutek, the emperor who launched the Inca imperial expansion in the mid-15th century. It is still not known exactly why Pachacutek chose to build such a large and complex settlement in this place, remote from the major centers of the Inca world. In all likelihood it was the site’s encirclement by the Urubamba River and the concentration of nearby snow peaks -- powerful and sacred elements in the Inca religion -- that drew the Incas here, just as the stunning natural beauty of the place attracts visitors from all over the world to this day. In the afternoon we take our leave of Machu Picchu, boarding a bus to the train station, and then our train back to Ollantaytambo/Cusco.