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choquequirao archaeological site as seen from above during the summer

All treks include: airport transfers, domestic flights, pack animals, camping gear and entrances to sites. 

Ultimate Inca Trails

15 days, 9 trekking
US$3975 per person

Domestic flights included

Departs any day May-October
4 person minimum

Just like the name says, this is truly the ultimate alternative Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. We’ll spend nine stunning days of this trip traversing old Inca roads and exploring seldom-visited ruins before finally arriving at the Sacred City itself, Machu Picchu, for a full day of exploration and discovery. This is one of the most rewarding and exciting outdoor experiences to be had in South America, yet is completely accessible to the average healthy person, provided that they really enjoy hiking. Our trek is fully supported, and you only carry a daypack, making it easier to fully enjoy this magnificent adventure.

Day 1: Arrive Lima. City tour today or upon your return.

Day 2: Flight to Cuzco. City and ruins tour.

Day 3: Free Day in Cusco to explore on your own.

Day 4-12: Vilcabamba Trek (detailed description below).

Day 13: Machu Picchu tour, then free time at the site.

Day 14: Flight to Lima. City tour or free day.

Day 15: Departure Day.

What’s included in the trip

  • Private airport pickup at the beginning of trip and drop off at end of the trip.
  • Southern Crossings bilingual guide.
  • Domestic flights Lima-Cusco, Cusco-Lima.
  • Six nights of 2 and 3-star hotel accommodation and 8 nights camping.
  • Vilcabamba Trek: Choquequirao to Machu Picchu, including food, tent, sleeping bag, thermarest, bilingual guide, cooks and packhorses.
  • Ten breakfasts, lunches and dinners on our trek. Breakfast is also included in all of our hotels.
  • The Cuzco Visitor’s Ticket which includes entrance to the ruins in and around Cuzco and the Sacred Valley, and many churches and museums in Cusco.
  • Machu Picchu excursion including bilingual guide, round trip Backpacker train fare, transportation to/from ruins/Aguas Calientes, and entrance to the Machu Picchu sanctuary including Wayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain.
  • Private Cusco city tour with entrance fees, private vehicle, driver and professional guide.
  • Private Cusco city tour including entrance fees, private vehicle, driver and professional guide.
  • 24-hour customer support line while on tour.

What’s not included

International flight to/from Lima, pre- & post- tour accommodation, visas, vaccinations, personal insurance, meals except where specified above, drinks, laundry, souvenirs, tips while on optional excursions and other items of a personal nature. Medical travel insurance is not included through Southern Crossings and cancellation insurance is advisable.

Detailed Trip itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima anytime today and private transfer to your hotel. If arriving during the day, your hotel will be in the neighborhood of Miraflores, with good artisan markets and restaurants, and you’ll have an included city tour in the afternoon. The city tour lets you explore the wonders of the colonial capital, you visit the famous Plaza de Armas, as well as the impressive Cathedral in the Plaza and the beautiful San Francisco church. You also get a chance to take in some beautiful views of the coast at Parque de Amor.

Lima City Tour – Option 2: Larco Museum & Huaca Pucllana (upon request). Let us know if you would prefer this tour over the Cathedral Tour (or both for an extra fee). We could also plan a tour of the Huaca Pucllana at night if you have time in Lima. The site is lit up until midnight and looks amazing!

The Larco Museum is housed in an 18th century viceroyalty-era mansion. Surrounded by beautiful gardens, the Larco Museum is a stimulating and inspiring space in which visitors can enjoy and learn more about the fascinating history of ancient Peru. The cultures gallery provides a clear and captivating narrative account of more than 5000 years of pre-Columbian Peruvian history. Visiting the Larco Museum with their more than 45,000 meticulously catalogued archaeological objects, is a unique experience.

The Archaeological Complex “Huaca Pucllana” was an Administrative and Ceremonial Center of the Lima Culture, a society that developed at the Peruvian Central Coast between 200 AD and 700 AD. Located in today’s district of Miraflores the “Huaca Pucllana” was built around 500 AD. “Pucllana” is one of the most important ancient monuments in Lima. Based on the “Huaca Pucllanas” architecture and found objects, it is believed that the complex was the heart of development of the “Lima Culture” and served as a ceremonial and administrative center.

If arriving late at night, you’ll be close to the airport for a bit more sleep before your next day’s flight, and you’ll have your city tour of Lima upon your return.

Day 2

A short flight brings us to the famous Inca city of Cuzco. After checking into our hotel, we set out to explore the incredible capital of the Inca Empire. We head to the picturesque Plaza de Armas to the fascinating cathedral to see the colonial influence in the city, and we can admire the stunning architecture of the church and also the native influences subtly woven in into the artwork. Onwards to Coricancha church, where the colonial and Incan architectures are on display side-by-side directly contrasted with each other. Afterwards we make our way above the city to the imposing fortress of Sacsayhuaman where we can marvel at the incredible stonework and architecture of the Inca civilization. We head back to Cuzco in the late afternoon.

Day 3

A free day in Cuzco to get used to the altitude, see some sights, buy last minute supplies, and just hang out in this beautiful colonial city.

Day 4

This morning we head out of Cuzco to the tiny, picturesque village of Cachora, the starting point of our trek. We’ll take it easy today to allow ourselves time to acclimatize, walking generally downhill into the spectacular Apurimac Canyon. Shortly after leaving the village, we’ll find ourselves skirting a ridge high above the Apurimac River, with a stunning line of glistening white peaks, the Salcantay range, directly across from us. The views are great from the start and are just a taste of what awaits us. Today’s campsite is in a grassy meadow next to the trail.

Day 5

The splendid ruined city of Choquequirao is our goal today as we continue our descent into the Apurimac canyon, cross the roaring river and climb steeply up, passing the small settlement of Santa Rosa and Maranpata. We will wind our way up lush, verdant hillsides and past several waterfalls to finally arrive at the enormous rows of terraces that mark the entrance to the ruins. Camp is just below the terraces.

Day 6

We arrive early to Choquequirao, a site nearly as large as Machu Picchu and many would say in a more stunning location, Choquequirao was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors. It was probably one of the “royal estates” of the Incas and served as a gateway to the wild Vilcabamba region beyond. It was also likely used as a base from which to attack the Spanish on the road from Cusco to Lima during the Inca rebellion of the 1500′s and may well have held Spanish prisoners. Today, the site is only partially cleared, allowing us to see many of the delicate and beautiful aspects of Inca architecture while also allowing us to “play Indiana Jones” and discover many constructions still half-buried in vegetation. After a tour of the ruins, we can set off on side trails to do some exploring or sit quietly and watch for condors, which frequent the site almost daily in good weather.

Day 7

Leaving at the crack of dawn, we bid farewell to Choquequirao, visiting en route another interesting ruin called Picha Unuyoc – the “water shrine”. A short sharp climb is followed by a descent of 1,400m into the Rio Blanco canyon, famous for its nasty biting sand-flies called pumahuacachi by the locals (literally “makes the puma cry”). This is followed by another tough climb of 1,200m up to the small campsite of Maizal at an altitude of 3,000m. This is probably the toughest day of the trip but allowing all day and using the support horses where necessary, it is manageable by fit trekkers.

Day 8

Our Vilcabamba trek has been pretty amazing already but today we climb to the Abra San Juan pass which, at 4,000m, affords spectacular views of the Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range (when not in cloud). We then follow the trail past Corihuayrachina and the interesting old silver mines of Mina Victoria, thought to have been worked for over a thousand years. the scenery today inspired several of our passengers to name part of this section “the Garden of Eden.” because it is unquestionably one of the most beautiful, amazing places on this planet. We camp at the charming Andean village of Yanama.

Day 9

It’s time to tackle the second pass today, but don’t worry: most of the trail ascends at a gradual, relaxed grade. High Andean meadows, pasture lands, waterfalls and nearby snowfields are the theme as we head up the valley and eventually find ourselves almost completely ringed by snowcaps. Where to go? Through La Puerta, The Door, an aptly named pass which, at 4,400 m/13,640 ft, truly feels like the top of the world. The last time we were here, a combination of sunlight and mist actually put our shadows inside a rainbow, one of the many incredible experiences that we’ve had on this trek. After crossing the pass, we’ll descend to one of our most picturesque campsites, a large meadow next to a swiftly coursing stream, with the snowcaps we’ve just crossed towering over us. We camp below the pass beside the small community of Totora. Another day in paradise…

Day 10

The walk today is about eight hours down a gentle valley. This is a day of incredible changes in scenery as we descend nearly 2,000m to our camp beside the village of Lucmabamba, which is semi-tropical. We follow the Santa Teresa river down for nearly seven hours, but the views of waterfalls, a variety of bird life and differing vegetation make it all worthwhile, especially as Lucmabamba has a small shop selling beer and soft drinks to celebrate nearing the end of our epic journey.

Day 11

The trail begins to widen as we continue down a warm green valley to our next camp. The highlight today is a massive 40 m./124 ft. waterfall gushing from the cliff above the trail. We’ll camp this evening in another flat, grassy schoolyard, just one hill away from our first view of Machu Picchu.

Day 12

Our final day of hiking takes us through the lush vegetation of coffee and tropical fruit plantations, into pristine cloud forest. We follow an ancient Inca Trail to Llactapata, an Inca site that has only recently been excavated. We’ll ascend this last bit of Inca road, cross the ridge, and see Machu Picchu glistening in its mountain saddle, with the small peak of Huayna Picchu behind. This is a view of Machu Picchu that very few get the opportunity to see. We then descend sharply to the Urubamba valley and the hydroelectric plant train station. From here we have the option to either wait for the short but spectacular train journey or hike the two-three hours up the railway to the bustling tourist town now known as Aguas Calientes. Here we check into our hotel and enjoy a shower before heading out to sample one of the many restaurants and bars.

Day 13

From Aguas Calientes take the bus to Machu Picchu. We start our visit with a 2-3 hours guided tour, that will bring us to the most important locations at the archaeological site and the guide will tell us about the great importance Machu Picchu enjoyed as astronomical and religious center. The rest of the day we spend at this amazing ruin and you will have the chance to climb Huayna Picchu or visit the beautiful moon temple. In the afternoon, we’ll catch the train back to Cusco, where we’ll enjoy a farewell dinner of traditional Andean cuisine.

Day 14

Private transfer to the Cuwsco airport and back over the Andes to Lima today, where you may explore Peru’s capital city or catch your connecting international flight. Overnight in Lima.

Day 15

Departure day and private transfer to the international airport anytime today.

Accommodation Upgrades/ Extra Accommodation

This tour includes 2- and 3-star hotels. We would be happy to give you an upgrade to four- or five-star and work it into your custom itinerary. We can also arrange additional accommodation for you before or after your trip.

Extra activities

Add extra activities such as river rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, zip lining, paragliding, surfing and free days to your custom itinerary. Ask about these options and we’d be happy to add them to your quote.  If you have any special requests or interests like birding, cooking or crafting that you would like to explore please let us know!

Is this trip for me?

This adventure includes a Vilcabamba trek which is longer but no more difficult than the traditional Inca Trail. Not a lot of trekking experience is required, but one should be in good physical shape and not suffer from any heart or respiratory conditions. Many novice trekkers have enjoyed this trip immensely. That said, you are indeed hiking up and down big mountains at high altitude, so it isn’t going to be easy. As always, a certain patience is required for the inconsistencies and occasional delays of developing-world travel.

Joining the tour

On all Southern Crossings tours, you are met at the airport by one of our representatives (holding a Southern Crossings placard), who will accompany you to our joining hotel. No bargaining or being swindled by airport taxis.

Pre-trip planner

Required documents

All travelers to Peru are required to have a passport valid for at least six months from date of entry. Visas are not required for E.U., U.S., Canadian, Australian or New Zealand passport holders. For other nationalities, please consult the nearest Peruvian embassy or consulate. An onward ticket and proof of funds may also be required at entry and should be available to show to immigration. Traveler’s checks, currency, or a bank statement, from the bank or printed off the internet, are sufficient for proof of funds.

Required immunizations

No immunizations are required of travelers to these areas of Peru. Travelers may wish to receive hepatitis vaccinations and should be current on all other standard vaccinations. No areas visited on this trip are malaria or yellow fever zones. Please consult your physician or local health department for more information.

Things to bring

During our trek, mules will accompany us to carry most of our things, including all the camping gear. Each passenger is allowed 15 pounds/7 kilos of personal items which will be carried by the mules. Such items would include warm clothing for camping, toiletries, etc. During the day you’ll be using your daypack and will just need to carry water, snacks, rain gear, and a layer for changing weather conditions. Of course, most people also carry a camera.


Rain is possible at any time of year, especially in high mountains and cloud forest, and one should always be prepared for temperatures ranging from 35° to 85° Fahrenheit/2° to 30° Celsius, and for extremes of sun and the possibility of rain. The climate in sites we will visit is as follows: Cuzco: days are warm if sunny, slightly chilly if cloudy. Nights are chilly in Cuzco. Lima: warm to hot days, cool evenings, almost never any rain. Trek: strong sun leads to warm days, but the nights get very cold with a chance of rain. Layers are important due to temperature changes and daily hiking. Machu Picchu: lower and warmer than Cuzco, with rain possible all year round.

Money guide

The unit of currency in Peru is the nuevo sol. Automatic cash points are available in Lima and Cuzco. Visa, MasterCard, Plus, and Cirrus are the most common usable types of cards. Traveler’s checks are difficult to cash (American Express is best, but you may be charged 5-8%) or a Visa or MasterCard for cash advances are also options. Do not bring Money Grams or International Money Orders, as they are extremely difficult to exchange. Banks and exchange houses are available in Lima and Cuzco. For currency, U.S. dollars are recommended and most easily exchanged. Please note that cash must be untorn. It can be older looking, but even the slightest tear on an edge will make it unchangeable. Acceptable bills come out of the ATMs in country. Expect to spend about US$5-12 on a meal, US$2 on a beer, water or soft drink in Peru. Artisan market prices are usually lower than people expect. Alpaca sweaters, for example, run between $5 and $30. Currency Converter