See Peru in a way few are privileged to experience. By day, explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas on horses descended from the steeds of the Conquistadors. By night, enjoy the luxury and comfort of the finest hotels in Peru.
This equestrian vacation allows horseback riders to experience spirited Peruvian Paso horses, famous for their velvet smooth gait, while passing through mountain trails and villages, where residents will watch in awe as you ride by on these beautiful animals, the sounds of their hooves echoing on the cobblestone roads.
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 RK of Minneapolis on 16/10/2019
Updated Itinerary for 2024
Guests are met on arrival at Cusco airport and transferred to the hotel near the centre of this historical city. Today it is important to rest and relax to help acclimatize to the altitude. There is no riding scheduled for today, but guests can walk around the city a little. Lunch and dinner are not included today.
After breakfast, guests will be collected at 9:15am from the hotel and transferred to the accommodation in the Sacred Valley. (1.5hr). Riders spend the next three nights in this hotel which is just a short drive from the stables. After time to unpack and freshen up, transfer to the ranch to meet the horses. After a barbecue lunch there is a demonstration of classical Peruvian equitation to introduce the tack and style of riding. A short riding lesson follows. Riders are matched with a horse according to their ability, weight, preference etc. Dinner is either at the ranch or at a local restaurant.
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the ranch for the first day of riding. Its an easy day in the saddle to get to know the horse and experience its smooth lateral gait. Follow some wonderful trails through the Sacred Valley to get a glimpse into the local life of the villagers and the rich flora of the Peruvian Andes. Around midday, arrive at the lush valley of Pumahuanca, where Maria and the staff will be waiting with a delicious lunch of fresh trout, before heading back to the ranch, arriving at around 4.30pm. Dinner will be at a local restaurant or the ranch before returning to the hotel for the night. Riding (3-4hr).
After breakfast, transfer to the ranch for a full day of riding. After crossing the Urubamba bridge, pass Pichingote (an old Andean hamlet built alongside the river). Ride onto Salinas up a narrow track, past the salt pans dating from Inca times and still being used by 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 the route climbs nearly 850m on horseback to reach the Andean altiplano - the climb takes about 2 hours and is done slowly so both riders and horses have time to adjust to the altitude. At 3,550m the remarkable views include the snow capped mountains of Chicon, Veronica and Pitusuray. Continue the ride to Maras, a typical Andean village with a 400-year old colonial church - the ideal stop for a picnic lunch. The church was built just after the conquests, and is one of the ten oldest churches in South America. From Maras, visit the ruins of Cheqoq where the Inca's constructed fascinating cold storage areas to preserve their produce. Cooling is achieved by a series of wind tunnels and water channels. Continue riding to the beautiful churchyard of Tiobamba, home for the horses this evening, while riders are transferred back to the hotel. Dinner will be at the ranch or a local restaurant. Riding time 4-4,5hr (Altitude 2,800m - 3,550m)
After breakfast, meet the horses at Tiobamba and set off along primitive trails across the altiplano with spectacular scenery of snow-capped mountains, wild flowers and mountain lakes. Greet the local Quechua children with their herds of sheep or cattle, or campesinos ploughing their fields using oxen hitched to a wooden plough. Stop for a picnic lunch just before Chinchero, where the views are tremendous on clear days, with vista of rolling altiplano ringed by the snow-capped peaks of the cordilleras Vilcabamba and Urubamba. After lunch, ride a short distance to Lake Piuray and continue in the direction of Cusco to a local family farm to leave the horses for the night. Time allowing, take a short car journey to Chinchero to visit a textiles workshop and view a demonstration of local techniques in spinning, dyeing and weaving wool. These beautiful fabrics are for sale and make a beautiful memento of the country. Transfer to the historical city of Cusco - the oldest continuously inhabited city in South America and former capital of the great Inca Empire. For the next two nights riders stay in a comfortable hotel in the heart of Cusco's archeological centre. Enjoy dinner in Cusco (own expense). The guides will happily recommend restaurants. Riding 4,5-5hr. (Altitude 3,550m - 3,800m)
Today is a rest day for the horses. Take the train from Urubamba to Machu Picchu. The experience of visiting Machu Picchu is not limited to the ruins themselves as the train journey is one of the most spectacular in the world. Since its discovery by Hiram Bingham in 1911, the site has captivated the hearts and minds of the modern world. Since July 2017, the Peruvian government has established new regulations to preserve this Wonder of the World. There are two entrance times - Morning (06:00-12:00) and Afternoon (12:00-17:30). Capacity at the site is limited to 2,500 visitors, split between both entrance times. Entry to Machu Picchu has to be booked in advance and the guides will endeavour to book the afternoon session with the most convenient train times, but this is not guaranteed. Depending on availability, riders will travel on the luxurious Vistadome train from Ollantaytambo in the morning (30mins drive from the hotel) and will return to the same station at about 7-8pm, to be transferred back to the hotel via the ranch for dinner. (Lunch is to your own account today).
After breakfast the riders are transferred back to Lake Piuray to meet up with the horses. Today is a beautiful riding day with breathtaking scenery of impressive snow-capped mountains and the altiplano, where herds of alpaca and llama are often seen grazing. The trail involves non-existent mountain trails where riders will have to improvise and find the best way along the side of the mountain - this is a remote area which is not easily accessible. The skill of the horses is impressive, and riders can trust them to handle the difficult terrain and steep climbs. Reach a pass 4,350m, with a view of Lake Quellacocha. This is the highest point of the ride. Stop for lunch at the lake before continuing riding to Lake Qqoricocha, passing vast potato fields (which are all ploughed by hand). The trail starts to descend into the valley of Umasbamba, along a zigzag route for about two hours. Riders may have to dismount and lead the horses to cross some rocky sections. Leave the horses close to the village of Umasbambaand and be transferred to the hotel by car. Dinner will be at a local restaurant or the ranch. Riding: 5-6 hours. (Altitude: 3,300-4,350m)
Another beautiful day of riding with plenty of breaks for photo opportunities! From the village of Umasbamba, ride to the villages of Cuper Alto and Cuper Bajo, arriving in the early afternoon at an abandoned church near the village of Chinchero, to stop for lunch. the route here follows a trail which was once a paved Inca road - parts of the road are still intact with water channels for irrigation and drainage, and paved grades leading to higher levels. This great Inca road system - the Qhapaq Nan - was one of the greatest engineering feats undertaken in the New World, rivaling the Roman road system of the Old World. The 30,000km network linked Cusco, the Inca capital, with the empire’s far-flung domains in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. Continue riding through more stunning scenery to the village of Huaynacolca, high on the mountains that surround the Valley of the Incas. Leave the horses for the evening and transfer to the hotel in time to freshen up before dinner at the hotel's restaurant (the guides are unable to join guests for dinner this evening). Riding: 5-6 hours. (Altitude 3,800 - 3,550m)
This is the last riding day. After breakfast, transfer to meet the horses and continue riding along the old Inca roads high above the Sacred Valley. Ride past farmland and the small village of Santana before returning to the village of Maras. Continue inland to the beautiful courtyard of an old house, which according to locals, is bewitched - the perfect stop for lunch! After lunch, follow a trail with great views of the Urquillos Valley and continue the descent into the Sacred Valley, passing the salt mines again and arriving back at the ranch around 4pm - in time for a celebratory Pisco Sour! Say goodbye to the horses and freshen up before dinner (at ranch or in a local restaurant). Riding: 4 - 4,5 hours. (Altitude 3,550m - 2,800m)
After breakfast, morning transfer to Cusco airport for the flight to Lima. The driving time to the airport is around 1 hour 15 minutes. Flights from Cusco to Lima takes approx 1hr 10min. The earliest your flight can depart from Lima is 5pm.
For those looking to travel in 2023 there is an extra day of sight seeing on day 6 making the trip 11 days, 10 nights. Details of extra day below.
Today is a rest day for the horses and a free day to explore Cusco - and there is a lot to explore! There are numerous ruins, cathedrals and museums, or you maybe just relax in one of the many coffee shops or bars and people-watch. According to Inca legend, Cusco was founded around 1200AD by Manco Capac and Mama Occlo. Manco Capac selected the site after the golden staff given to him by his father, the Sun, sank into the earth and disappeared. Each Inca emperor built his own palace during his reign and one can still see the original walls throughout Cusco. All meals, except breakfast, at own account today.
The itinerary is flexible. Changes may occur due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances.
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 until 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 night, making 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.
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 fast paced ride by definition.
Be comfortable in the saddle for five to six 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). 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 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 but not all, please see the itinerary for more details or ask your sales consultant for clarification.
Vegetarian or other dietary requirements within reason can be accommodated with advance notice. Please contact Unicorn Trails with requests before booking.
Please note that it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct documentation in place for your trip.
NB: Be sure to check the COVID status of the country you plan to visit including entry procedures
If you are visiting Peru, your passport should be valid for six months from the date you arrive. Check visa requirements with your travel authority.
You can enter Peru with one laptop and two mobiles phones maximum per passenger without paying taxes.
Passport and Visa requirements can change from year to year depending on diplomatic relations. Please request information from the appropriate Consulate in your home country.
Unicorn Trails will assist with any questions you have or supply any necessary supporting documents as required by the consulate should you need a visa.
In the UK the British Foreign Office gives advice: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/peru
In the US: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/Peru.html
In Canada: https://travel.gc.ca/destinations/peru
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).
COVID: Be sure to check the latest COVID regulations for travelling in any country you visit.
You should always bring any regular prescription drugs you may need with you.
Altitude sickness is a potential problem and rabies is endemic. A yellow fever vaccination is essential if you plan to visit the eastern slopes of the Andes or the Amazonian Basin.
There is a high risk of dengue fever in some parts of Peru - take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Health authorities have classified Peru as having a risk of Zika virus transmission.
Yellow fever is endemic in certain areas.
Diarrhoea caused by contaminated food or water is common and is potentially serious. Make sure that you practice food and water hygiene.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial one of the following numbers: 225 4040 (Lima - Alerta Med); 467 4861 (Lima - Clave 5); 241 1911(Lima - Plan Vital) and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.
Please refer to your country’s latest health guideline for travel in Peru and contact your own GP for up to date advice on vaccinations and prophylaxis prior to travel.
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 items you take this with you. A toilet roll with inner cardboard tube removed will take up little space and may be an invaluable item
For peace of mind it is recommended that should you require any tampons/sanitary items you take this with you. A toilet roll with inner cardboard tube removed will take up little space and may be an invaluable item
In Peru the supply voltage is 220V. If the appliance is a single voltage rated appliance, it will need to operate at the same voltage as the supply voltage of the country i.e. 220V. If this is not the case it should be used alongside a voltage transformer or converter to allow the appliance to work safely and properly.
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 2,600 and 4,350 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 the 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.
This is a 10 day/9 night programme with 7 days riding available on set dates throughout the year.
2023: 8 October.
2024: 7, 28 April; 19 May; 9 June; 14 July; 4, 25 August; 15 September; 6 October.
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Lonely Planet Guide to Peru, Edward P Lanning's Peru Before the Incas, James Lockhart's The Men of Cajamarca, Inca-kola: a traveller's tale of Peru by Matthew Parris and John Hemming's (out-of-print) Conquest of the Incas. For the equestrian traveller who would like to see what is possible on horseback visit www.thelongridersguild.com also a fantastic place to acquire your equestrian travel books is www.horsetravelbooks.com
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.
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!
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.