Winter (and the dry season) is on approach in the Southern Hemisphere. That brings peak tourist numbers and some famous festivals, as well.
Inti Raymi, the Festival of the Sun in Cusco, Peru, is one of the largest and most famous.
The nine-day festival recreates the traditional Incan god of the sun celebration. It takes place during the winter solstice, culminating on June 24. Thousands gather in Cusco for re-enacted rituals marked by elaborate processions, colorful costumes, traditional music, food and drink.
Cusco, of course, is vibrant and colorful any time of year. It’s also the place where roads may diverge but the ultimate goal is the same: to reach the “Lost City” of Machu Picchu.
When it comes to the Inca’s famed Andean citadel, “it’s important to realize there is more than one way to get there,” Harry Dalgaard, president and founder of Avanti Destinations tells Travel Agent.
Indeed. By foot, by train or even horseback, there’s a tour product designed for every travel type.
At Contiki Vacations, for example, tours reflect the notion that “young travelers are more willing to explore outside their comfort zone,” public relations manager Vy Spear tells Travel Agent.
The company is targeting Millennials with a new Ultimate Inca trip.
The itinerary features three nights of trekking and camp stays on the Inca Trail. The acclaimed trail offers a changing vista of cloud forests, archaeological ruins, snow-capped Andean peaks and valleys. Though the Contiki trek begins gradually to help travelers acclimatize, it’s definitely not for the timid. Summits reach nearly 13,000 feet. The itinerary also stops at a weaving community supported with grants from the tour operator.
Those interested in a more luxurious path might consider Alexander + Roberts’ 11-night Grandeur of Peru itinerary. The trip includes a Vistadome Train through the Sacred Valley. The train follows the winding Urubamba River past farm communities and villages to Aguas Calientes. From there, it’s a short bus ride to the (disappointingly turnstiled) entrance of Machu Picchu.
If you’re intent on creature comforts but would like some Inca Trail bragging rights, consider Alexander + Roberts’ eight-day Peru Explorer. It offers an option for a guided half-day hike on the Inca Trail. You’ll arrive at the famed Sun Gate after having conquered little more than some gentle slopes and a gourmet picnic.
Both the Grandeur of Peru and Peru Explorer itineraries can be booked as either Small Group or Private Journeys. The former are kept at 16 guests and under. The latter are tailored for individual groups.
Alexander + Roberts marketing manager Mickey Huang tells Travel Agent that the Private Journeys are growing in popularity.
“There is structured sightseeing. But because it’s just you and your traveling companions, the pace of the sightseeing can be tailored to your independent interests, without concern about other group members,” said Huang.
The ability to tailor the itinerary is especially important en route to Machu Picchu. The local markets alone can offer hours of diversion. That’s not to mention unexpected llama and alpaca sightings or an invitation to step into a family home shared with hundreds of guinea pigs.
For those interested in arriving at Machu Picchu in unique style, consider this offering from Peru specialty operator Ancient Summit. Their 12-night Trans-Andrean Lodge-to-Lodge Horse Back Ride to Machu Picchu features a trek along the Cordillera Vilcabamba mountain range, glacial lakes and the Salkantay Valley. The journey through 12 different biospheres features welcoming mountain lodges at the end of each day. Along with the distinctive landscape, there’s a good chance you’ll spot some rare Andean condors as well.