There is perhaps no other destination in the world that better melds adventure and cultural travel. "The area of Cuzco and Machu Picchu combines great beauty with a strong sense of connection to a past culture, evident both in the ruins of Machu Picchu and the descendants of the Incan Empire that still live [in the area] today," says Marian Marbury, founder of Adventures in Good Company.
Because this region is still inhabited primarily by Quechua, the Incan descendants, who live as they have for centuries, travelers get a chance to really experience the region's history and culture, not just sightsee amongst ruins. The region has a fairly well developed tourism infrastructure, so it's easy to get around and arrange tours. And, although basic cautions should be exercised, the destination is a good one for female travelers.
All trips to the region start in the high-elevation city of Cuzco, the original capital of the Incan Empire. In Cuzco you can stroll around the Plaza de Armas, where you can shop for local-made crafts and see colorfully dressed Quechua going about their lives. The Incan ruins of Sacsaywaman (about $5), are just a short walk from the center of town, and from there it's easy to pick up horseback tours (about $40 per person) which ride to other ruins farther out of the city. You should also book a day tour to visit the Sacred Valley, where you'll see the ruins of several Incan cities and fortresses.
Of course, the main reason to come to the area is to see Machu Picchu. Hiking the Inca Trail or another route to the ruins is the most spectacular way to reach the ancient city. To hike the Inca Trail, a guide and permit are required. The local company United Mice can make all the arrangements and charges $395 for transportation, permit fees, camping equipment, porters, all meals, and English-speaking guides. United Mice is also one of the few companies to use indigenous female guides. If you don't have the time or inclination to hike, you can take the train from Cuzco, which costs about $96 round-trip.
Women-only tour: Adventures in Good Company runs an 11-day trip that includes Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, a five-day trek through the Cordillera Vilcabamba mountains, and Machu Picchu. Prices start at $2,900 per person and include accommodations, most meals, ground transportation, the trek, excursions, and guides. The next departure will be scheduled for sometime in 2009.
Do-it-yourself: In Cuzco you can stay at top-rated Ninos Hotel from a mere $18 per night for a private room. This friendly, centrally located little inn gives all of its profits to a program to help Cuzco's street children. For more upscale accommodations, consider the Casa Andina Classic, which has a great view of the city. Rates start at $129 per night.