Arrive in Lima at any time and transfer to the hotel. There are no planned activities, so head out to explore the city. In the evening we will meet our tour guide and fellow group members to go over the details of our trip. Check the notice board (or ask reception) to see the exact time and location of the group meeting. If you arrive late, the leader will leave a message at the front desk. Peru is frequently referred to as the Land of the Incas. It is true that the Incas formed the greatest empire on the continent and left mysterious cities such as Machu Picchu. However, it is important to remember that the Incas were only the last in a long series of Peruvian civilizations spanning several thousand years and the ruins of many of these earlier civilizations can also be visited. Peru is made up of three main geographical areas: the Andes, the Amazon and the desert coastal area. Known as the City of Kings, Peru’s capital, Lima, was founded by Francisco Pizarro on the day of the three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima, and it is here we find the Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral dates back to the 1700s and houses the remains of the conquistador Pizarro. To get a feel for colonial Lima, take a cab to the Plaza de Armas and watch the changing of the Palace guard in the afternoon. Walk the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to get a taste for life in a large South American city. There are many fine museums in and around the city, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses an equally impressive collection of pottery, mummies and textiles from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. The more affluent districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro, which are on the coast, offer nightlife and cafés all within walking distance. Limeños (Lima’s residents) are friendly, and the city is filled with excellent restaurants; seafood lovers in particular should be sure to try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.
This morning we fly to Puerto Maldonado, deep in the lowlands of the Amazon jungle. Travel by motorized canoe and then walk to our lodge in the Tambopata Rainforest Area, which holds the world record for the most bird sightings in one area. We then spend the next 3 days xploring the jungle with local guides who will take us on a variety of nature walks and excursions. About half of Peru is located within the Amazon Basin, however, due to its isolation, not a lot of it is available to the casual traveler. Puerto Maldonado is the region’s principal city and as gateway to the Amazon, it is serviced by air from Lima and Cuzco. The town is situated at the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Tambopata Rivers, and is a bustling, booming tropical frontier town. Its principal activities are gold mining, Brazil nut collecting, timber extraction, agriculture and ecotourism. After a brief stop in the town we depart on an afternoon boat ride by motorized canoe to our jungle lodge. Depending on flight arrival times we have either a boxed lunch aboard the boat or lunch upon arrival at the lodge. During our voyage we will have the chance to see numerous bird species typical of the river or forest edge such as Black Skimmers, Pied Lapwings, Capped Herons, Roadside Hawks and several species of kingfishers, swallows, and flycatchers. The Tambopata area includes habitats ranging from the Andean highlands around the rivers' headwaters, some of the last remaining intact cloud forests and the lowland rainforests of the Amazon basin. The area is renowned for its diverse plant and animal populations and include over 1,300 bird species (including 32 parrot species - 10% of the world’s total), 200 mammal species including 4 species of primates, 90 frog species, 1,200 butterfly species and 10,000 species of higher plants—all protected within the reserve. Some of the more famous residents are the Harpy Eagle, the prehistoric looking Hoatzin, tapir, peccary, jaguar, ocelot and playful river otters who live in the area’s oxbow lakes. Our journey to the lodge is by motorized canoe followed by a scenic hour-long walk through the rainforest to the lake and a short canoe ride to the other side. (Your luggage will be transported for you during the walk). The lodge itself combines native architectural style and materials with low-impact eco-friendly technology. Rooms are simple but comfortable, with mosquito netting for individual beds, flush toilets, showers, and a generator which provides electricity at some times during the day. Local community members make up the majority the lodge staff, including multilingual Naturalist Guides. Here you have the opportunity to learn from them not only about the area’s rich flora and fauna, but also about their extensive practical uses for medicinal plants and other forest plant resources, through traditional techniques for building, fishing, and hunting. Approximate Distance: 530 miles (856km) Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Today we transfer by foot, canoe and flight to the city of Cuzco. Upon arrival, we check into our comfortable hotel and enjoy an orientation walk of this beautiful, historic city and learn the basics with an introductory Spanish lesson. Relax or explore the cobblestone streets during our free evening. Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travelers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 21th century way of life; one could easily spend a week just in and around the area. Inca-built stone walls line most of the central streets and we don't have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend. Every year Cuzco attracts thousands of travelers who come to delve into its noble but tragic past. It is the perfect base for optional explorations around the city and area as well as a range of outdoor activities. Relax and explore this fascinating city, and take time to acclimatize to the high altitude. Cuzco is considered the mecca of Peru and rightly so. This beautiful colonial town offers much to the visitor with its nearby ruins, cobble stoned streets, museums, churches and lively atmosphere. Among the more adventurous optional activities available in Cuzco are: horseback riding around archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara; white water rafting on the Urubamba River; and mountain biking down to the Sacred Valley, perhaps visiting an Inca ruin along the way. Cuzco’s numerous colonial churches are one of the city’s most common sights. The Cathedral was started in 1559 and took 100 years to build; it is also one of the city’s greatest repositories of colonial art. Immediately in front of the entrance is a vault containing the remains of the famous Inca historian, Garcilaso de la Vega. Also worth visiting are the churches of La Compañía, La Merced and San Francisco. While most ruins are just outside of the city, the main ruin within is the Coricancha, once the Inca Empire's richest temple. Today the ruin forms the base of the colonial church of Santo Domingo. During Inca times this temple was literally covered with gold, but within months of the arrival of the first conquistadors this incredible wealth had all been melted down. It is left to the individual imagination to envision the magnificence of the original structure. There are several good museums in Cuzco, including the Archeological Museum, which also houses a small art museum, the Regional History Museum and the Religious Art Museum. The best advice for exploring Cuzco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore! Approximate Distance: 200 miles (320km) Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
We depart from Cuzco with a local guide into the Sacred Valley for 2 full days of exploration. We visit the Ccaccaccollo Community and the Planeterra sponsored Women's Weaving Project where we watch demonstrations of ancient weaving techniques and wool dying. Next we tour and hike through the stunning Pisac ruins and visit the handicraft market. This evening we visit a local restaurant to enjoy a thousand year-old tradition, a Pachamanca-style dinner. The next morning we visit the site of Moray, which many archeologists believe was an agricultural experiment, started prior to the Incas arrival. We then continue to the pre-Incan salt pans of Las Salineras, which are still used today. A small natural hot spring fills up shallow pools dug into the hillside, which in the dry season, leave a thick layer of salt. After an included lunch, we visit a traditional Chicha House to try the popular local beverage, which is fermented from corn. We then finish with a visit the Incan fortress town and ruins of Ollantaytambo. A thousand year-old tradition: a Pachamanca, is an ancient ceremony akin to the Polynesian meal of burying a variety of delicious treats wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooking them with pre-heated rocks buried in the ground. Our meal is prepared in a charming local restaurant by an experienced chief. Items include chicken, lamb, a variety of local potatoes and vegetables and plantain. The town and fortress of Ollantaytambo are strategically situated overlooking the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. This major ruin site is known as the best surviving example of Inca urban planning and engineering. It is admired for its huge steep terraces guarding the Inca Fortress and for being one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the conquest. Approximate Distance: 60 miles (95km)
Today, we enjoy a scenic train ride through the Andes to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We take a brief orientation walk and then venture up to Machu Picchu for a guided tour. On Day 9, admission to Machu Picchu is also included, should we wish to explore the site on our own or hike to the Sun Gate, Inca bridge or Huayna Picchu. There also is free time for optional activities such as a visit to the hot springs, or shopping before we return to Cuzco later in the afternoon by train. Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian, Hiram Bingham, to the site on July 24, 1911 that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many questions remain unanswered. Approximate Distance: 27 miles (43km)
Enjoy a full day at leisure in Cuzco exploring on your own or take an optional tour. Optional activities include: horseback riding, archeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara, visit the Cuzco Planeterra project, visits to churches and museums, white water rafting, rock climbing and shopping opportunities.
Enjoy spectacular views of the countryside on this full day of travel from Cuzco to Puno, through the high Altiplano. Along the way we stop at the fascinating site of the Sillustani Ruins and funeral towers. We also stop for a visit to a local farm, where we can see how local people of this area live and what their daily lives are like. Located at 12,565 ft (3830 m) above sea level, Puno is the highest altitude of any place we sleep on the tour. As a result the weather can be extreme with very cold nights and a strong sun during the day (we always suggest buying an alpaca sweater from the market — they are inexpensive here). Puno is also known for its wealth of traditional dances: there are up to 100 different varieties, usually performed in the street processions celebrating Catholic feast days. If we are fortunate enough to be visiting at the right time we may even catch one of these celebrations. Titicaca is also the largest lake in the world above 6,500 ft (2000 m), and the views from the many islands are stunning. HEALTH NOTE: Upon arrival in Puno, the altitude and resulting lack of oxygen may affect some people. It may take a little time to acclimatize but this should not take long. Just take it easy for the first day or two, and cut back on alcohol and cigarette consumption to minimize the effects. A reduced appetite is also a common occurrence. Be sure to drink plenty of water and do not attempt too much physical activity in any given day. Approximate Distance: 242 miles (389km) Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
This morning we head out by boat across Lake Titicaca to Taquile Island where we visit the floating reed islands of the Uros people. We learn about their very unique way of life, try out a ride in a reed boat and enjoy a typical lunch. Our afternoon is at leisure to further explore the town of Puno. The Totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake are used for making everything from the Uros Islands themselves to the model boats that the islanders sell. The islands are made up of layers upon layers of reeds; as the layers closest to the water start to rot, they are replaced with fresh reeds on top. The reeds are also used to build their boats, which if constructed well will last up to 6 months. The Uros people began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the Colla and Inca tribes. Sadly, the Uros language has died out, and today they speak Aymara due to intermarriage with Aymara-speakers. Today about 300 families live on the islands, however their numbers are slowly declining. The people of Taquile Island's unique culture, style of dress and lifestyle make for a memorable visit. The men of the community do all the knitting, as this is strictly a male domain, while the women do the spinning. High quality, locally knitted goods are available for purchase at various cooperatives on the island.
A morning flight brings us back to Lima around midday. In the afternoon we enjoy a guided tour of the historical center of Lima, followed by a unique visit to the Pueblo Libre neighborhood, known especially for its historic association with pisco production. Here visit a local Bodega and watch a demonstration by a local mixologist on how to make the perfect pisco sour, we then enjoy a tasting of this famous drink while soaking in the local atmosphere. Approximate Distance: 538 miles (865km) Estimated Travel Time: 3.30 hours