Start the experience in the Sacred Valley, outside of Cuzco. The altitude is 9,000 feet, as opposed to over 11,000 feet in Cuzco, which can be very hard on travelers. Most itineraries barely touch the Sacred Valley, but there is so much to do and see: Salt Terraces that have been used since pre-Inca times through today, and several amazing Inca ruins, such as Ollontaytambo and Pisac. The colorful Pisac Market is still a very important meeting place for locals to sell and purchase their goods, from hand-woven clothing to fresh produce. There are also many hiking and mountain biking trails, and fantastic horseback riding on local Peruvian horses. Riding one of these horses through the small villages is just like stepping back in time.
Check into the Rio Sagrado Hotel, with its beautiful wild flower garden on the river bank and unique rooms and villas.
After enjoying the Sacred Valley for a few days, head by train to the town of Aguas Calientes by Machu Picchu. Here there are several wonderful hotels to choose from. Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel occupies a private tropical orchid garden. The grounds are laced with paths that wind past waterfalls and orchid gardens; trails wander through wild forest. It is right in the town, near its many restaurants and shops. Dinner at Indio Feliz, a charming restaurant with Peruvian and French influence is a must. Make sure you try the local trout.
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Another popular hotel is the Sanctuary Lodge, which is located by the gate to Machu Picchu, with beautiful views of the surrounding Andes Mountains.
By now, most people have acclimated to the high altitude and are ready to enjoy Cuzco at just over 11,000 feet. This vibrant and colorful city, with its beautiful cathedral, interesting museum and surrounding Inca ruins is worth staying several days. If you go in June, you will be able to observe several festivals and parades and might even be able to catch a school class practice their dances. The Monasterio and Palacio Nazarenas are both former palaces and convents that make your stay a memorable one.
**Depending on how much time our clients have and what their interests are, we complete their stay in Peru with side trips to the Amazon Basin, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, Lima and a fly over the Nazca Lines.
**For travelers that would like to see the rainforest, I recommend the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica, adjacent to the Tambopata National Reserve. Remote and pristine, this reserve offers a range of land and river excursions, where you can observe birds, monkeys and more. You might even catch the elusive Tapir. Make sure to check out the 1,129-foot-long and 100-foot-high Canopy Walkway.
Visitors to Lake Titicaca love the Titilaka Hotel, an all-inclusive lodge, which is a wonderful base from where to explore this region. The floating Reed Islands are everyone's favorites!
For active travelers, hiking the Inca Trail is a wonderful challenge. There are many options, from the seven-day to the two-day hike.
For the horseback riders, we recommend the five-day ride from the Sacred Valley to Cuzco and back.
Monika Leuenberger is the owner of Avenues of the World Travel.