Inca Trail on Horseback
This classic challenge ride follows ancient Inca trails that lead through the Andes towards Machu Picchu. The terrain is often steep and combined with narrow paths that demand harmony with your horse and concentration. The compact (14.2 hh) courageous, surefooted and willing horses we ride are descendants of the Conquistador’s Andalusians.
During the five-day ride you’ll follow a route that winds through valleys and over high mountain passes that connect remote Andean villages. The trails have been in use since Inca times and the villagers maintain a lifestyle that would be recognisable to the Inca in many ways. There is no vehicule access to the region and very few foreign visitors come this way – ideal terrain for exploring the “Trails of the Incas”. The trek leads through the mountains to the north of the “Sacred Valley of the Incas” and finishes at the fortress of Ollantaytambo which is the starting point for the final walk in to Machu Picchu.
We use Megellan saddles and saddle-bags, with camp equipment and personal baggage being carried by pack-mules, attended by their wranglers. A cook team rides with us to prepare meals – you can help if you wish to discover some Andean receips! There’s a mess tent for dining and good quality trekking tents for sleeping. Every second or third night is spent in a mountain lodge.
Your destination is Machu Picchu one of the most magical and mysterious places on Earth. Sitting on the spine of a jungle-cloaked granite peak towering some 2,000 ft. above an entrenched meander of the roaring Urubamba river, the site is frequently shrouded in misty clouds pierced by the powerful equatorial sun, the Inca God Inti. Constructed from precisely sculptured granite blocks carefully jointed to the natural shape of the mountain, the site may well be the finest architectural achievement of the new world.
Inca Trail Horse Ride – Day by Day Itinerary
A detailed day by day itinerary describing your journey from Lima to Cusco and into the Andes Mountains.
Day 1: London to Lima (Flight).
Depart Heathrow and arrive in Lima
Overnight in the Manhattan Inn. D & B.
After the long transatlantic flight to Peru we overnight in Lima to restore our energy and prepare for tomorrow’s journey to the Inca heartlands.
Day 2: Lima to Cusco (Flight)
Overnight in Hostal Amaru. Tour to Inca sites including Sacsayhuaman. B, L & D
We have an early start today and, after a good breakfast, we return to the airport to catch the morning flight to the Imperial Inca city of Cusco. We transfer to Hostal Amaru, a long time favourite stopover for the BHS which is a cozy family-run hotel situated within two blocks of the city centre. The traditional Cusco welcome includes the popular coca tea, a local brew that helps stave off the effects of the altitude. At 3,300m or 10,000ft, the air in Cusco is rare and you should take it very easy over the next day or two to enable your body to aclimatise to the high altitude.
In the morning, our local guide will run through the programme for the days ahead before taking us for lunch. In the afternoon we’ll visit the more important Inca sites in and around Cusco. In Cusco itself we visit the Inca’s Temple of the Sun (Qoricancha) the colonial Cathedral and perhaps a museum as well, outside the city we visit the nearby fortress at Sacsayhuaman and the temples at Quenqo, Tambomachay and Pucapucara. At dinner tonight we’ll recap on the day’s events and look forward to the riding adventure ahead.
Day 3: Riding day in the Pumamarca Valley.
Overnight in Hostal Amaru B, L (picnic).
After a hearty breakfast we travel to the stables by bus to meet our horses. The sturdy mountain ponies are healthy, well trained and maintained on good pasture in the lowlands of the Andes. The tack is new and based on US Cavalry design. The saddles are MaGellan with both a cinch and a girth; the head-gear is bit-less and based on a classical Hackamore.
Today is all about getting to know your horse. The ride out into the Pumamarca Valley will be a gentle affair as you continue to aclimatise to the altitude. Riding through the Andean landscapes is spectacular and our guide will point out the Inca terracing where agriculture flourished under seemingly impossible conditions; he’ll explain how, according to Inca legend, the Gods inhabit the surrounding Andean peaks. Our ride up to the Ccorao Pass is rewarded with a panoramic view towards the Sacred Valley of the Incas. After a picnic lunch we ride back to the stables for a riding debrief before returning to Cusco where we can enjoy the evening in Cusco one more time.
(Dinner at own expense in town; allow 15 US$)
Day 4: Riding day to Chinchero.
Overnight in Barro Lodge B, L (picnic) D.
This morning we rejoin our horses to begin our trans-Andean adventure. We follow a trail to the pass at Qoriqocha and continue onwards to the meadows at Chitipampa where llamas and alpacas have grazed since the Inca times. The llama played an important role in Inca society and was used as both a pack animal and for symbolic sacrifice to the Gods. The alpaca fleece is the source of one of the finest wools and you can buy. You can obtain reasonably-priced woollens from villages along our route. Lunch is a rural picnic from where we can enjoy the views across to the Urubamba Cordillera, even from our 4,200m high point the Andean peaks rise massively above us. The trail passes through colourful Andean villages as we descend to our final destination at Chincheros, a picturesque market town with a strong Inca heritage. We overnight at the homely Barro Lodge, the elevation here is 3,700m and should you feel the cold, our guide can prepare his “Happy Hour” speciality of vodka and martini!
Day 5 Riding day to the Maras salt pans and Urubamba.
Overnight in the Marcabamba Lodge. B, L (picnic) D
After breakfast in the lodge we start the day with a walk to the Inca complex at Chincheros. Impressive agricultural terraces spill down the mountainside and the dwellings on the site display the precision stonework that is the hallmark of Inca architecture throughout their empire.
Rejoining the horses we mount up and ride to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Our route passes by the Inca salt pans at Maras where solar energy was used to evaporate water from saline solution to leave large quantities of salt. The fertile Sacred Valley was the bread basket of Cusco. It was stoutly defended at either end of the valley by the two imposing fortresses at Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Our ride to the town of Urubamba in the middle of the valley positions us well for exploring its many attractions. We will stay two nights in the Marcabamba Lodge, a former hacienda on the edge of town.
Day 6 . Visits to the Inca sites ast Pisac and Moray by bus.
Overnight in the Marcabamba Lodge. B, D Lunch in town at own expense (allow 10 US$)
This valuable rest day marks the final stage of our aclimatisation. We have to time to relax and enjoy the marvellous sites in the Valley before starting the high altitude camping sector of the ride.
The fusion of Inca, colonial and modern lifestyles is evident in varying degrees throughout Peru but in the market town of Pisac the Inca heritage predominates. Traditional costumes are worn and life in the surrounding hills is based very much on the family units that made up society here long before the arrival of the Spanish. The town lies in the shadow of the Inca fortress that perches on the mountainside watching over the access routes to the Valley. To walk through the fortress complex and down the terracing to the market provides a glimpse of how life was in those former times. After Pisac we drive to the archaeological site at Moray where theories abound as to why the Incas excavated a huge and completely circular hole with large terraces and sides that slope steeply to what appears to be a ceremonial stage at the bottom. The walk down and up will leave you breathless in more ways than one!
Tonight we enjoy dinner where the converstaion is likely to focus on the next stage of the ride. Sleep well because for the next 3 nights we will be under canvas.
Day 7 Riding to Huacawasi Pass and Pata Qocha
Camping B, L (picnic) D
We start the day with a good breakfast complete with bitter coffee (cowboy style!) Our horses await us and when saddled up and ready to go, we start the climb out of the Valley. As we ascend note how the flora changes, the air becomes cooler (and thinner) and the views even more majestic. We’ll pass through towns, then villages and then isolated communities seeing how the population density decreases as our altitude increases. We are aiming for the Huacawasi Pass at 4,700m and from here we get a great panoramic view of the snowy peaks of the Cordillera Urubamba.
We descend from the pass to Laguna Pata Qocha at 4,000m where we camp for the night. The wranglers who ride with us take great care of the horses and they tend to them before and after each day’s ride. Our camp staff will have travelled to the site carrying our camping equipment on a mule train and with their expert support, high altitude camping becomes a surprisingly comfortable experience. Camp meals are a highlight of any wilderness trek and to see our camp chef creating miracles over his camp stoves brings new meaning to the term “Haute Cuisine”!
Day 8 Riding down the Cunkani Valley to the thermal springs at Lares.
Camping B, L & D.
With both riders and horses well fed and watered, we descend from our lakeside camp through the Huacawasi Valley. Small settlements mark the route and the village of Cuncani has a school and craft centre which may have local handcrafts for sale. The weavings from this region are made on a “backstrap” loom and are especially finely made. Buy one if you can, the proceeds from one sale goes a long way in these parts.
Our destination for the day are the thermal springs at Lares. The natural spring water has been channeled into pools ranging from very hot to very cold – take your pick! We camp by the pools and tonight we’ll eat a typical highland barbeque called Pachamanca.
Day 9 Ride from Lares to Rosa Pata and Qochayoq.
Camping. B, L & D.
Thoroughly clean and refreshed we leave the hot springs to rejoin our Andean trail. Today we will be following an ancient “Inca Trail” that connected the Andean highlands to the lowland jungles that eventually descend to the Amazon basin. At its peak, some 40,000km of trails linked together to form the Inca’s Andean road system. Paved Inca Trails radiated out from Cusco to transport soldiers, administrators and the Inca King himself to the far corners of an ever expanding empire. This remote section of trail has changed little since the Inca’s heyday and it takes us to Qochayoq, a colourful and traditional village where the lifestyle is based more on Inca values than on modern day society.
We establish camp near the village and learn how the Apus (the Inca Gods) still protect the llamas and alpacas that we see grazing in their natural habitat.
Day 10 Ride to Patacancha.Transfer by bus to Ollantaytambo.
Orchid Lodge B, L & D.
After our final camp breakfast, we hold a “thank you and goodbye” ceremony for our support crew who will be heading for home today. This too is our final ride which climbs to Chayulla and drops through the Patacancha Valley to where we must say farewell to our trusty mounts. We transfer by bus to the Inca Town of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley.
This evening we dine in a local restaurant and look forward to our visit to Machu Picchu.
Day 11 Explore Ollantaytambo and travel by train to Aguas Calientes.
Gringo Bills Hotel B, L & D.
The Inca Fortess at Ollantaytambo was the site of one of the final battles between the Spanish conquistadors and the Incas. The fortess is a masterpiece of construction and engineering and although never completed, it remains today as imposing as it must have been to the Spaniards some 500 hundred years ago. We have a free morning here to explore the fortress and also the town itself which is a living example of an Inca garrison town.
After lunch we take the afternoon train, an hour-and-a-half of clickity-clack, to Aguas Calientes which is the jumping off point for Machu Picchu. We dine in town and a visit to the hot springs that give this town its name is a distinct possibility.
Day 12 Visit to Machu Picchu and return to Cusco by train.
Amaru Hostal B, L & D.
No other Inca site surpasses the magificence of Machu Picchu, the sheer beauty of its setting and the mystery that surrounds this “Lost City” is the stuff of legends and it’s little wonder that it was recently voted as one of the “7 Wonders of the World”. The site itself is reasonably compact and we have a whole morning to explore it. A guided introduction will help you orientate yourself to its setting and the practicalities of its construction but a couple of hours of free time to discover its hidden nooks and crannies is perhaps the most enjoyable way to appreciate Machu Picchu’s splendour. A walk to the Sun Gate is rewarded with the picture postcard view of the site and for those with the energy and a head for heights, the climb up the peak of Wayna Picchu provides another perspective.
The spectacular railway journey back to Cusco delivers us to the city in time for our farewell dinner. Pisco Sour, a classic Peruvian cocktail, is served as a fitting aperative with which we can toast the success of the trip.
Day 13 Flight from Lima to Cusco, beach ride with Paso ponies
Overnight flight to London B, L.
Our flight to Lima departs early in the morning to give us time for a morning ride with Paso ponies on a Pacific beach before lunch. The modern day Peruvian horse descends from the horses introduced into Peru by the Spanish in the sixteenth-century. Thanks to its unique, inborn, four beat lateral gait, the Peruvian Paso horse is one of the smoothest riding horses in the world. Our beach ride will blow away any cobwebs left over from last night and work up an appetite for our final lunch in Lima.
We return to the airport in the afternoon for check-in for the 20:05 KLM flight (via Amsterdam). and the overnight flight to London