Please Note: The opinions expressed in these reviews are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Unicorn Trails Ltd. These reviews are "directly from the horses mouth" and unedited. Unicorn Trails may make additional comments for clarification clearly identified in red.
Review received from HB of on 07/06/2016
You will be met at Cusco airport on your arrival by a member of the team and transferred to your comfortable hotel near the center of this historical and beautiful city. You will be staying in the Hotel Costa del Sol (or similar), a 4-star establishment, and only 2 blocks from the famous Plaza de Armas. Check-in time is from 11h00. Today it is very important that you relax, rest and get acclimatized to the high altitude, before starting this exciting riding expedition high in the Andes. Please make sure that you rest well, because tomorrow you will meet and ride the Peruvian Paso horses and learn all about the classic Peruvian riding style. Lunch and dinner is not included today.
After a delicious breakfast you will be picked up at 9h15 outside your hotel. From Cusco it is a 1hr15 drive to your accommodation in the Sacred Valley, where you will be staying for the next three nights, just a short drive from the stables. Once you have unpacked and refreshed yourself it is time to visit the ranch and meet the horses. Enjoy a delicious barbeque lunch at the ranch, some good wine and of course Maria’s famous Pisco Sours. In the afternoon, there will be a demonstration of classic Peruvian equitation, followed by an introductory Peruvian riding lesson to allow you to become familiar with the traditional Peruvian riding gear. At this time your guides will also asses your riding ability. We will then match you with a mount in accordance with their evaluation as well as your preference, personality and weight class. All horses are forward going, very well trained and a pleasure to ride. Dinner will be at the ranch or at a local restaurant.
After a hearty breakfast at your hotel you will be taken to the ranch and the ride will set off. Today you ride along an old and forgotten path, not far behind the ranch, that leads to a breathtaking place on top of the Cordillera Vilcanota, where you can almost touch the sky. You will discover hidden trails and unspoiled landscapes far from the beaten track. The first part of the ride will be a serious climb following narrow but beautiful mountain trails with lots of vegetation. You can observe the rich flora of the Peruvian Andes, such as the Molle tree or “Pepper tree” (the Incas once used the resin to embalm mummies), the Sauco tree (which produce small and very tasty purplish-black fruits), the Capuli fruit tree (its fruit is almost the size as a cherry and its color, when ripe, is very attractive), the Qeuna tree (the trunk is quite twisted and the reddish bark flakes and peels as paper, leading some of people of Cusco region to call it "the tree of tourists”), the Tamarillo tree (tree tomato), Cantutas (a.k.a. the flower of the Inca), Aguaymanto (Peruvian cherry or cape gooseberry), Muña (A mint-like Peruvian herb) and many other botanical specimens native to the Peruvian Andes. Once you get to the top of the mountain the horses rest for a while and you can enjoy the spectacular view. There are really no words to describe the panorama. After some snacks and a drink the ride continues downhill, along lush and secret trails, to arrive around 14:00 at a friends place located in a beautiful valley. The back-up team will be waiting for you here with a delicious lunch (fresh trout) before riding back to the ranch.
Riding time 4-4,5 hours. Altitude 2,800 - 3,600 m / 9,190 - 11,800 ft.
This morning you cross the Urubamba River via a bridge, past Pichingote, an old Andean hamlet built along the river and continue onto Salinas up a narrow track. Here you will see salt pans from Inca times which are still being used by the locals to extract salt from the mountain spring water. The salt pans consist of a series of platforms where the salty water is channeled through an impressive irrigation system and left to evaporate in the sun. Today you climb nearly 850 m with the horses to reach the Andean altiplano. This climb takes about two hours and will be at an easy pace to allow people and horses alike to acclimatise. Once at 3,550 m (over 11,400 ft.), you will be surrounded by stunning scenery and the snow-capped mountains of Chicon, Veronica and Pitusuray. The ride continues to Maras, a typical Andean village with a beautiful 400-year-old colonial church, where a picnic lunch will be waiting for you nearby. The church at Maras was built just after the Conquest and is one of the ten oldest churches in South America. From Maras, you will visit the ruins of Cheqoq. Here the Incas constructed fascinating cold-storage areas (pre-Hispanic refrigerators) to conserve the agricultural produce of the region. Cooling of the products was achieved by using a system of wind tunnels to circulate the air and a network of water channels to circulate the cold water from a nearby mountain spring. Today’s ride ends at the beautiful churchyard of Tiobamba. The horses are left at a nearby village with the grooms and you will be returned to your hotel. After some rest and a hot shower, dinner is at one of Urubamba's local restaurants or at the ranch. Overnight at the Hotel Sonesta Posada del Inca in the Sacred Valley.
You will be picked up from the hotel at 09h15 and transferred back to the village near Tiobamba where the horses will be waiting for you. On the ride today you will follow primitive trails across the altiplano, enjoying spectacular scenery along the way with snow-capped mountains, wildflowers and beautiful mountain lakes. Along the way you will probably meet smiling Quechua children with their herds of sheep or cattle and see campesinos ploughing their fields in the traditional way; oxen hitched to a wooden plough. You may even share a chicha (a traditional maize drink) with them. Just before Chinchero you will meet up with the back-up team who have laid out a delicious picnic for you. On a clear day the views from Chinchero are tremendous; to the west and northwest stretches a vista of rolling altiplano, ringed in the distance by the dramatic snow- capped peaks of the Cordilleras Vilcabamba and Urubamba. After lunch the ride continues to Lake Piuray. From here you ride in the direction of Cusco and pass some small villages. At one of these villages you will stop and leave the horses with the grooms. If time allows you will visit Chinchero (if not, this will be scheduled in the morning of day 8) where there may be the chance to visit a textiles workshop and see a demonstration of ancient techniques of spinning, dying and weaving wool. The beautiful fabrics are still made in the same way as they would have been made in Inca times. Take some money as you may want to buy some souvenirs (although please do not feel obliged to buy anything). From here you will be transferred to the historic city of Cusco, the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America and the former capital of the great Inca Empire. For the next two nights you will stay at the very comfortable Hotel Costa del Sol or the Hotel Marriot located near the Plaza de Armas, the heart of Cusco's archaeological centre. Enjoy dinner in Cusco (not included); your guides will be happy to recommend a restaurant for you. If you still have the energy you can explore Cusco's legendary nightlife!
Riding time: approximately 4-5 hours. Altitude: 3,550 - 3,800 m/11,650 - 12,470 ft.
Today you take a break from the saddle and you may spend it as you wish. Visit the numerous ruins, churches, cathedrals and museums of Cusco, enjoy some shopping, or just sit in one of the many coffee shops, restaurants, or bars and watch the world go by. According to Inca legend, Cusco was founded around 1200 AD by Manco Capac and Mama Occlo. Manco Capac selected the site when the golden staff given to him by his father, the Sun, sank into the earth and disappeared. Each Inca emperor built his own palace and compound during his reign. The Spanish initially tried to raise the Inca buildings to the ground, but soon decided it was easier to reuse the Inca foundations for their own buildings. For this reason, you can still see many of the original Inca walls throughout Cusco. Cusco is now a vibrant city of some three hundred thousand inhabitants, the vast majority of whom are native Quechua Indians. Despite being a major tourist destination, both for its own treasures and as a base point for the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Cusco has managed to hold onto its own distinct flavour. It is great place to be for a day. Overnight at the comfortable Hotel Costa del Sol or the Hotel Marriot in Cusco. Lunch and dinner are not included today.
After breakfast, the riding expedition continues. Pick up is at 09:30 am from your hotel in Cusco. Today's ride will pass along old Inca trails and through open country with spectacular views providing another memorable riding day in the Andes. You will be collected from your hotel with your luggage and taken to the horses - waiting where you left them on day 5. Your luggage will be brought to your hotel in the Sacred Valley while you are riding. Today is one of the most beautiful riding days. The scenery today is breathtaking (quite literally), with impressive views of the many snow- capped mountains and the altiplano. Herds of llamas and alpacas are usually seen grazing along the way. Sometimes terrain demands some ‘off-trail’ riding and the guides have to improvise to find the best way to get from one side of the mountain to the other. The horses always impress with their ability to handle the difficult terrain and climbs. At one point you will reach a pass at 4,350 m (14,275 ft.) and see the small, shallow Lake Quellacocha; the highest point of the ride. At the lake you will stop for lunch. After lunch you descend from the altiplano into the valley of Umaspampa on a zig-zag trail for about two hours. During the descent you have to lead your horse for a short while (15 minutes or so) to cross some rocky terrain. Close to the village of Umasbamba the horses are again left with the grooms and you will be transported to your hotel in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Dinner will be at a local restaurant or at the ranch.
Riding time: approximately 5 to 6 hours. Altitude: 3,300 - 4,350 m/10,820 - 14,275 ft.
Today is another stunningly scenic day and you will enjoy plenty of breaks and photo-stops. From the village of Umaspampa you ride to the villages of Cuper Alto and Cuper Bajo, arriving in the early afternoon at Chinchero. Much of the riding today is along trails that are part of the great Inca Empire’s road system, the Capac Ñan. The Inca road network was one the greatest engineering feats ever undertaken in the New World, rivaling the Roman road system in the Old World. The 25,000 km network linked Cusco, the Inca capital, to the empire’s far-flung domains. The road system reached almost all of the Andean territories, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile and was formed by four main roads clearly recognisable, plus many secondary roads. After another beautiful afternoon ride you arrive to the village of Racchi for lunch. After lunch you ride on to a small village not far away from Maras where the horses will stay for the night. Dinner at a local restaurant or at the ranch. Overnight at the comfortable Hotel Posada del Inca in Yucay.
Riding time: approx. 5-6 hours. Altitude: 3,800 - 3,550 m/12,470 - 11,650 ft.
You will be collected after breakfast for your last day of riding to visit the agricultural terraces of Moray. Moray is quite unique - hundreds of years ago, people in the region took four huge natural depressions in the landscape and sculpted them into multi-level agricultural terraces that served as an experimental agricultural station for the development of different crops. This was possible due to a remarkable natural phenomenon: the climates of many different ecological zones were present at a single site. In the thirty or so metres of altitude between the bottom and the top levels of Moray’s depression, scientist John Earls once recorded a full 15 degrees C difference in temperature. This is equal to the difference between the mean annual temperatures of London and Bombay! It is possible that Moray played a key role in the original transformation of maize into a high-altitude crop. There are no great ruined structures in Moray to impress; it is more for the contemplative traveler or farmers! After a delicious lunch near Moray you remount and follow a trail with great views of the Urquillos Valley arriving once more at the village of Maras. From Maras you continue the descent into the Sacred Valley arriving at the ranch and journey’s end at around 16:00 just in time for a traditional Pisco Sour. Tonight you will enjoy dinner at the ranch or at a local restaurant. Overnight at the Hotel Posada del Inca in Yucay.
Riding time: approximately 4 hours. Altitude: 3,550 - 2,800 m/11,650 - 9,190 ft.
Today you will visit Machu Picchu by train. Since its discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911, Machu Picchu has captivated the hearts and minds of the modern world. Before it was declared a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1983, the Inca citadel was quite unknown to the world. However, since then, visits to Machu Picchu have increased to the point of becoming one of the favorite tourist destinations for travelers from all over the world. During all these years, the Ministry of Culture of Peru has established some rules to keep intact and preserve the facilities of this Wonder of the World, and the most recent update takes effect on Saturday, July 1st, 2017.
- There will be 2 entrance times: Morning: From 06:00 to 12:00 hrs and Afternoon: 12:00 to 17:30 hrs
- The capacity of the Citadel is 2,500 visitors per day, which will be distributed in the 2 shifts mentioned
- The maximum length of stay in Machu Picchu will be 4 hours
- Visitors that wish to re-enter the Machu Picchu Citadel will be required to purchase a new ticket.
- Tickets can not be changed on dates, names or shifts. In case a modification is required, a new ticket must be purchased.
- According to the new regulations, visitors will not be allowed to enter without a guide to the Citadel of Machu Picchu. There are ‘official’ guides available at the entrance of the ruins. The service of the guide is not included in the trip price. The price for a guide is approx. US$ 40.
- Circuits: Three (03) circuits have been designed within the Citadel of Machu Picchu. The visitor will choose the route that he wants when buying his ticket. Each course lasts from 2.5 – 3 hours. The circuits are marked with strings. Circuit 1 is the classic route, and the most challenging from a physical perspective. Circuits 2 and 3 are more suitable for those who want a more relaxing visit. Visitors are not allowed to leave these defined areas, and anyone who is doing so can be removed from the site.
While everybody (authorities and tourists) adapts to these new regulations, they will be a trial period for the next 4 months (from July 1 to October 31).
What we can observe with these modifications is the interest of the State to maintain in the best possible conditions one of our most important cultural legacies.
Depending on availability you will visit Machu Picchu in the afternoon shift. This will allow you to rest well after our riding expedition. You will be transferred to the train station in Ollantaytambo and when you return you will be picked up at the same station. Enjoy dinner at the ranch and make the most of the last chance to sample Maria's legendary Pisco Sours! Overnight at the Hotel Posada del Inca in the Sacred Valley. Lunch is not included today.
Early morning transfer to Cusco airport for your flight to Lima. The driving time is 1hr15. The earliest possible departure time for your international flight from Lima is 17:00pm.
Please follow this link for a map of the start point of this itinerary: Luxury Sacred Valley
Please Note: Due to the popularity of Machu Picchu and the restricted access, late bookings cannot be guaranteed a ticket. We recommend booking this ride at least 3 months before departure for the best chance of getting tickets.
It rains through the winter till March and the roads are too dangerous to ride on. In April there is still a chance of some rain but it is shorter and more refreshing. From then until June the mountains are all green and the weather is mild and not too cold at nightmaking it the perfect time for your riding holiday in the mountains. Starting in July but especially in August, it gets colder at night. The mountains turn to beautiful beige, brown and red autumn colours June to September is peak season noticeable mostly by the number of tourists in Cusco. October and November are also perfect for riding and dry. This is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the Peruvian culture, but may not be right for those needing a great deal of privacy and time alone. Please note that many parts of South America are not smoke free. Laundry services are available in Cusco and Urubamba. A four-wheel-drive jeep will act as a back up vehicle to the tour.
Please note we can arrange international flights with an overnight in Lima and internal flight to Cusco on request.
**A 7 night itinerary is available - please ask for details**
Please note: All itineraries are given for your guidance only and it may be altered on the ground and in accordance with the prevailing conditions by the organising team.
The horses are locally bred Peruvian Pasos. This breed dates back to the colonial era of Peru and originates from the Spanish Andalusians. A symbol of their historic and noble past, Peruvian Paso horses are bred for their grace, spirit, and intelligence. These horses like to amble, moving fore and hind limbs on the same side at the same time, unlike other equine races that typically move diagonal limbs at the same time. During the ride you will experience travelling on horseback at the Paso Llano gait (4-beat lateral gait, between 8 to 10 Km. per hour). The horses are well cared for, strong, and even-tempered. The tack utilised is very traditional and demonstrates refined Peruvian craftsmanship. The hardwood hex stirrup and the guarnicion, or tailpiece, are unique elements of the Peruvian tack. The saddle is a box saddle and has a deep seat. Due to the very high altitude and rough, rocky terrain, this is not a fast-paced ride. The horses are asked to work at altitudes of between 2,800m and 4,350m, and we should remember that with the altitude and reduced oxygen this high up makes their job of carrying us much more difficult!! On this ride you will experiene the fabulous 'Paso Llano' where the terrain allows, but this is not a fact paced ride by definition.
Be comfortable in the saddle for five to seven hours
Be comfortable at the walk, trot and short canters
Be able to ride up and down steep hills
Be physically able to hike at high altitudes (9,000 - 13,000 ft)
Age limit - 16 years old.
To ensure the welfare of the horses there is a strict rider weight limit of 85 kgs / 13.5st / 190 pounds (including riding gear) from 2016. There are scales at the stables and the ride reserves the right to weigh riders prior to the ride setting off. Riders exceeding the weight limit may be excluded from the ride and no refund will be made.
The weight limit for this ride is 13 st/187 lb/85 kg, please enquire if you are an experienced rider exceeding this weight.
Depending on availability at the time the final reservations are made for the group, the following hotels are used: SACRED VALLEY: Hotel Sonesta Posada del Inca Hotel Sonesta Posada del Inca, Plaza Manco II de Yucay 123 Urubamba, Cusco. The Hotel Sonesta Posada del Inca in Yucay is only 5 miles from the stables, has comfortable heated rooms with private bathrooms and plenty of 'local colour'. The Sonesta Yucay Posada is a former 18th century colonial-style monastery and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. The 69-room hotel is like a little village with plazas, gardens and a small chapel. The rooms, with tile floors, wood ceilings, and hand-carved headboards, have balconies that overlook the gardens or the terraced hillsides. CUSCO: Hotel Costa del Sol Hotel Costa del Sol, Santa Teresa 344, Cusco. The Hotel Costa del Sol (former Hotel Picoaga, was originally the old mansion of the Spanish noble, the Marquis of Picoaga (century XVII). It has now been converted into a comfortable hotel. The intimate and public areas are beautifully decorated in colonial style, framed by fine stone archways on two levels and the beautiful columns and Spanish patio complete an authentic sample of 17th Century architecture. While on the Sacred Valley of the Incas Ride, guests are treated to wonderful meals representing tasty regional cuisine. Dishes are made from fresh vegetables, dairy products, and fresh trout. Most meals are included in the trip price, with the exception of dinner in Cusco on Day 1, lunch on Day 10 (Machu Picchu) and meals on Day 6 (the free day in the city of Cusco).
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements can be accommodated with advanced notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests.
Peru's climate varies widely, ranging from tropical in the montaña to arctic in the highest mountains of the Andes. In the Sierra area of Cusco and Machu Picchu the temperature ranges seasonally from about 40 to 70 ºF. Rainfall is usually scanty, but in the mountains and in the jungle heavy rains last from December to April. In Cusco, in the south-eastern Sierra, annual rainfall averages about 81.5 mm (32 in).
As with all countries where the bacteria present in water and around food are not those to which we are accustomed you are advised to exercise a degree of care. Avoid all tap water. Bottled water is widely available, but check that bottle seals are intact and water levels reach the top. Fruit and raw vegetables which can be peeled are fine. Avoid ice cubes, diluted fruit juices and any unpasturised/unboiled milk.
For peace of mind it is recommended that should you require any tampons/sanitary ware you take this with you. A toilet roll with inner cardboard tube removed will take up little space and may be an invaluable item
Take along plenty of film and batteries for the magnificent photo opportunities! Cameras can be charged at the hotels every night.
Since you will be riding at elevations between 2600 and 4350 metres (8,530 and 14,275 feet), lightweight, warm clothing worn in layers is highly recommended. Dinners are very casual; there is no need to bring special attire.
Comfortable riding trousers (two pairs)
Long sleeved cotton shirts. These are without doubt the best things to ride in. Sleeves can be rolled up or down for protection from the sun and the collar helps to protect your neck too.
Wind-bloc Fleece or warm jacket - for cold evenings especially at these high altitudes.
Waterproofs - Ideally a Gore-Tex or similar wind and rain proof jacket. Waterproof leggings are also a good idea. You will be provided with woollen and waterproof ponchos, but it is often useful to have another waterproof jacket underneath your waterproof poncho for added protection. It may not rain, but better to be prepared.
Riding boots with rubber sole, also suitable for walking (around Inca ruins etc) - the best would be a pair of the dual purpose Ariat or Mountain Horse riding/leisure boots.
Protection for the lower leg - either full or half-chaps.
Hat. We recommend a hard hat for riding and something with a wide brim is advisable as protection against the sun (baseball caps work well). Your hard hat must be secure on your head.
Light pair of shoes - for après-riding.
Set of Thermal Underwear - a light way of carrying extra warmth.
Good sunglasses - with a neck cord. Your eyes will become bloodshot if you do not wear sunglasses.
Sunscreen and Lip Balm - essential because of the altitude and dry air. We suggest at least Factor 30, if not total block.
Insect repellent (Machu Picchu and the surrounding area can be prone to mosquitoes).
Casual clothes - for when you are not riding.
Small medical kit with antiseptic cream, good supply of ibuprofen, aspirin and plasters (Compeed blister plasters work well on sore patches – acting as a second skin), antihistamine tablets, any medication you regularly take.
Scarf/bandana – useful for protection against the sun.
Additional passport photos
Copy of passport/visa and debit cards
Wash bag – a supply of baby wipes will be invaluable. We also recommend biodegradable personal washing products. Ziploc bags/supply of plastic carrier bags - always useful for wet/dry kit.
Hair-dryers are available at all hotels on the trail.
Leather saddle bags are provided for you. Each person has a set of saddlebags and carries what they need for the day. Jackets and ponchos can be tied behind the saddle so it is easy to put them on and take them off. To keep your saddlebag contents clean, a good idea is to put all your things in a plastic carrier bag/Ziploc bag first and then into the saddlebags. Each rider is provided with a warm Alpaca poncho and rain poncho during the ride.
There are set dates for this programme. Please see our current brochure or website for details.
2017: 17 April, 8, 22 May, 11 June, 10, 24 July, 7 August; 4, 18 September, 9 October
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The fauna includes a great variety of animals such as deer, the Vizcacha or Viscacha, a rodent of the chinchilla family (Lagidum peruanum, Lagidium viscacia ) similar to a rabbit, the Raposa Andina or Andean slender mouse opossum (Marmosops impavidus), minks, skunks, Andean foxes, llamas and alpacas, pumas (rare).
Snakes are rare. The mountain lakes are rich in salmon trout and rainbow fish.
There is a huge variety of birdlife and flora too!
Optional trip extension - extra day in Lima
One-day sightseeing tour of Lima. Includes private transport during the day, English-speaking guide, lunch, entrance fees to the Museo de Oro and one more museum, 1 night hotel accommodation at the Hotel Ariosto in Miraflores.
Please contact Unicorn Trails for further information.
For the outfitter to be able to make the hotel reservations, we will need your passport number, your name as it appears on the passport and your nationality.
Riding takes place between 2600 and 4350 metres (8,530 and 14,275 feet). Riders may need to take advantage of the time to adjust to the altitude, which can adversely affect blood pressure, digestion, and energy levels. Please consult your health care provider before undertaking this high altitude trip. If you have heart or lung problems you could develop serious health complications at high altitudes.
Peru is located in Western South America. The whole of the western coast is desert with little rain. From this coastal shelf, the Andes rise steeply to a high Sierra, which is studded with groups of mountains and deep canyons. East of these mountains lies the vast jungle of the Amazon basin. The capital, Lima, to the west is the sprawling hub of the country.
At the time of the first Spanish landings in 1531, an advanced indigenous Inca civilisation flourished. With its capital in Cuzco, the Inca Empire stretched from northern Ecuador to central Chile. Led by gold-hungry explorer Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish captured Cuzco in 1533. Pizarro founded the capital city of Lima in 1535 and by 1542 consolidated control throughout the country. Gold and silver from Peru became the foundation of colonial Spanish wealth and power in South America.
It's these multiple layers of great civilisations that make Peru so intriguing, colonial cities that have preserved the legacy of the Spanish conquistadors and the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, the lost city of Machu Picchu, only discovered in 1911, and the enigma of the Nazca Lines.
It also has some of the most spectacular and varied scenery in South America. The Peruvian Andes are arguably the most beautiful on the continent and the mountains are home to millions of highland Indians, who still speak the ancient tongue of Quechua and maintain a traditional way of life.
Peru is five hours behind GMT and they use the metric weights and measures system, so kilometres and kilograms instead of miles and pounds. There is approximately 1.6 kilometres in a mile and 2.2 pounds in a kilogram.
The international dialling code is +51.
All visitors to Peru have to fill in a form (registro de immigration) at customs to enter the country as a tourist. Each tourist receives a small part of this form, stamped, which they have to keep in their passport until they leave the country. It has been known to be very easy to lose this important piece of paper! All hotels in Peru need to make a copy of each passport and the paper in order to apply for certain tax reductions so Mrs Soledad, the host at Hotel Ariosto on Day 1 will make extra copies of client’s passport and immigration paper upon arrival in Lima.
Please check that you have been given your part of the immigration form and that it is kept inside your passport.