Mysteries of the Inca Empire
- Explore Inca fortresses and the incomparable Machu Picchu
- Go white-water rafting through the Sacred Valley of the Inca
- Learn the ancient practice of Peruvian weaving
- Hike to remote Andean villages
- Volunteer at a local orphanage
Choose one of these projects and delve further into your area of interest:
Itinerary 20 Days
Welcome to the land of the Inca—a complex civilization that has fascinated explorers for more than a century. In the heart of the ancient Inca Empire, discover the archaeological mysteries and colorful indigenous culture of the Peruvian highlands. Against a backdrop of the soaring Andes, explore the intricacies of sophisticated temples and fortresses, including magnificent Machu Picchu. Explore the ancient past and vibrant contemporary culture of Peru through an On Assignment project of your choice—Photography, Archaeology & Ancient Culture, or Community Service.
Lima2 days. Our expedition kicks off in the heart of Lima, where we meet as a group and form our On Assignment teams. Orient yourself to the ancient world of the Inca at an archaeological museum. Meet National Geographic grantee Guillermo Cock, a Peruvian archaeologist whose groundbreaking discovery of thousands of Inca mummies was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine in May 2002.
The Sacred Valley
6 days. Travel to the Sacred Valley of the Inca and settle in at Ollantaytambo, a lively village that has been occupied continuously for more than 500 years. With its cobblestoned lanes and sophisticated system of working aqueducts, Ollantaytambo is the best existing example of Inca city planning.
Follow old Inca trails to forgotten ruins and isolated stone villages where families live as they have for centuries. The mountains here are some of the Southern Hemisphere's highest peaks—considered sacred protectors by the Inca. Glaciers spill into valleys where llamas and alpacas graze. We'll hike through a beautiful mountain pass for breathtaking views of the valley. Go white-water rafting on the Urubamba River, and explore important archaeological sites such as the Ollantaytambo fortress and the town of Pisac. In vibrant street markets, discover indigenous foods and colorful textiles. In the evenings, play soccer with new village friends.
Machu Picchu3 days. Travel by train to Machu Picchu, a citadel built atop cliffs that drop thousands of feet into the cloud forests below. Recently voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911 and excavated by a team from National Geographic. Follow National Geographic expert Peter Frost into the maze of temples and dwellings to uncover the secrets of its past inhabitants. Take an early-morning hike up the surrounding slopes to see the sun rise over the towering peaks and spectacular ruins.
Cusco and Chinchero
7 days. Ascend to the imperial city of Cusco, known to the Inca as the “navel of the Earth.” Visit Coricancha, the once-golden temple at the heart of the Inca Empire, and step into a colonial cathedral built with stones from the original Inca walls. Stroll through the city's winding streets and happen upon relics of an empire long gone but not forgotten. Then explore the colossal fortress of Sacsayhuaman, site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Spanish conquest.
Spend three days volunteering in Chinchero, located an hour from the city center. Take on service projects such as repairing a greenhouse, teaching English to students, or organizing engaging after-school activities for local children. While in Chinchero, visit National Geographic grantee Nilda Callañaupa's textile center, and try your hand at the traditional art of weaving.
Ollantaytambo2 days. During the last days of the program, return to Ollantaytambo to prepare for and present our final On Assignment projects. Then return to Lima for our flight home.
AccommodationsWe will stay in small, family-run inns and hostels.
Note: Cusco is at an elevation of 11,200 feet, and Machu Picchu is at an elevation of 8,000 feet.