Arrive in Lima at any time, there are no planned activities so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. 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 the 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; during this trip we concentrate on the Andean region of both Peru and Bolivia. Known as the City of Kings, Peru’s capital city 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 you 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. An optional city tour visits many of the city’s highlights. 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 coastal districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro offer good 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.
Transfer to the airport with our local representative in Lima for the flight to Cuzco (the flight usually departs early – we can leave the hotel as early as 4:00 am). In Cuzco meet your G Adventures Tour Leader at the airport and transfer to the hotel. Spend today relaxing and exploring the fascinating city of Cuzco. Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travellers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 20th 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 you don't have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend. Note: If you have booked the Peru Adrenaline Theme Pack, you will have the opportunity to do one activity (rafting or horseback riding) on day 3 and the other one on day 9 after returning from the Inca Trail. Every year Cuzco attracts thousands of travellers 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’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 that of 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 Archaeological Museum, which also houses a small art museum, the Regional History Museum and the Religious Art Museum. Our best advice for exploring Cuzco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore! Note: when you arrive in Cuzco the altitude and resulting lack of oxygen may affect you. It may take a little time to acclimatize to this, but before long you probably will not even notice it. Just take it easy for the first day or two, and cut back on alcohol and cigarette consumption to minimize the effects. You may also find that your appetite is reduced. This is no cause for alarm, but simply a reaction to the altitude. Be sure to drink plenty of water and do not attempt too much in any given day.
Travel with our local guide through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. An important source of food for the Inca, the Sacred Valley is a lush agricultural region that continues to supply the city of Cuzco with much of its produce. Visit the impressive Pisac ruins and the colourful artisan market (market days only). The day trip finishes in the picturesque village of Ollantaytambo, site of another large Inca ruin. Here we catch our breath and prepare for the hike ahead. Ollantaytambo is your first taste of what lies ahead on the Inca Trail. 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. We spend the night in this small town before heading out for the start of the hike the next morning.
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is physically challenging but worthwhile, and the excursion is within the ability of most reasonably fit. It is a 44-km (27 mile) hike, with 3 high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13776 ft). The trail is often steep, and it may rain even during the dry season. The temperatures at night may fall below zero, so it is important to come prepared. Depart Ollantaytambo for km 82 where we begin our walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Our local crew of porters, cook and guide look after us well for the duration of the hike. Porters carry the majority of the gear for the hike, so those passengers doing the hike only carry a small daypack with water, rain gear, snacks, a camera, etc. As you walk the trail that linked this ancient empire, admire breathtaking views at every step as we move from high plateau areas to dense cloud forest. Depending on the season, you may see a great variety of flora, including miniature and large orchids, and fiery rhododendron bushes. You pass several smaller ruin sites, the first of which is Llactapata. The second day climb the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4198 m (13769 ft) above sea level, this pass is the highest point of the trek. The second pass of the hike is at 3998 m (13113 ft) where on clear days, we enjoy superb views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba. The trail goes through some beautiful cloud forest on the gentle climb to the third pass, where you will walk through a causeway and a tunnel, both original Inca constructions. The highest point of the third pass is at 3700m (12136 ft). On clear days you are rewarded for all this work with beautiful views of the Urubamba Valley below. Soon you reach the serene ruins of Phuyupatamarca, or the 'Town above the Clouds', at about 3650 m (11972 ft) above sea level. We will camp either here or an hour and a half further along close to Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) ruins, a grandiose terraced hillside site, with panoramic views of the valley below and just a short hike from Machu Picchu. On the final day of the hike we climb the steps to the Sun Gate overlooking the peaks that surround Machu Picchu. When the morning is clear, there is no way to describe the feeling of the first views of Machu Picchu, as the mist rises off the mountains early in the morning and the famous site appears in front of you. 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 archaeologists 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 (who was in search of Vilcabamba) 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 unanswered questions remain. NOTE: Those passengers not able or interested in the hike spend 2 days in Cuzco, then travel by train to Aguas Calientes, where they overnight. Next morning they take the bus to the Machu Picchu entrance and rendezvous with the hikers at the ruins. If you decide not to do the hike we need to know prior to your departure in order to obtain train tickets. There is an additional fee for any changes made once Inca Trail permits are confirmed. This fee may vary depending on the changes that are made to your itinerary. Please advise your agent or G Adventures. Also note that portions of the Inca Trail will be closed for general maintenance during the month of February each year. Also, closures may occur at various times throughout the year due to inclement weather or other conditions beyond our control. During these periods, any tour affected will hike the Lares Trek. Distances of the Inca trail: Day 1 Km 82 to Wayllambama Approximate distance: 11 km Estimated hiking time: 5-6 hrs Day 2 Wayllabamba to Paqaymayo Approximate distance: 12 km Estimated hiking time: 6-7 hrs Day 3 Paqaymayo to Wiñaywayna Approximate distance: 16 km Estimated hiking time: 8 hrs Day 4 Wiñaywayna to Intipunku (Sun Gate) Approximate distance: 4 km Estimated hiking time: 1.5 hrs Intipunku to Machu Picchu Approximate distance: 1.5 km Estimated hiking time: 45 min
Free time to relax, explore and shop in Cuzco. 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.
The trip from Puno to Cuzco takes the better part of the day, with stark, beautiful scenery en route as you travel through the high Altiplano region. Located at 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 (don’t worry, if you get cold, buy an alpaca sweater from the market—they are inexpensive). 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 you are fortunate enough to be visiting at the right time you may even catch one of these celebrations. A popular optional activity in Puno is a visit to the spectacular chullpas (funerary towers) of Sillustani, a pre-Inca archaeological site. Titicaca is also the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from both Amantaní and Taquile Islands are stunning.
This morning we board a boat and head to Taquile Island for lunch in a local restaurant and the chance for some shopping in the local weaving cooperatives. From there we head to Amantani where overnight with a local family and enjoy typical music of the area. The following morning we will visit the floating islands of Uros en route to Puno. Titicaca is the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from both Amantaní and Taquile Islands are stunning. On our way to Taquile Island we pass the floating islands of the Uros people. The Uros 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 Totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake are used for making everything from the 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 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. Despite the short distance that separates the two islands, Amantaní is quite distinct. Its soil is a rich terra cotta red, due to the high iron deposits, and the colour contrasts brightly with the deep azure blue of the lake and sky and the greenery of the local crops. For the night we split into smaller groups and billet into family homes to experience their style of living first-hand. The following morning we visit the Uros Islands on our way back to Puno.
The day begins with an impressive journey along the shores of Titicaca, to the highest capital city in the world, La Paz, Bolivia. Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Paz's proper name is La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace). Although Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is the Bolivian centre of commerce, finance and industry, and the de facto capital. This is a busy modern city, with its centre at the base of a canyon 5 km (3 miles) wide and sprawling impromptu housing all the way up the surrounding hillsides. The city is at nearly 4000 m (13,120 ft) above sea level, so visitors should be prepared for cool evenings and mornings. Explore the city’s many fine museums or its historic ecclesiastical structures, such as the Iglesia de San Francisco, whose architectural details reflect the indigenous and mestizo heritage of modern Bolivia. The city is also renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market), where Paceños and visitors may purchase potions and incantations made from all sorts of herbs, seeds, and secret ingredients to remedy any number of illnesses (real or imagined) and protect from evil spirits. With streets lined with market stalls and vendors, the pace on the street and the vibrant atmosphere is an incredible experience. There is also a thriving black market and a Carnaval market, where locals purchase carnival costumes. You’ll also find a wealth of shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, mainly alpaca wool products, silver jewellery, woven textiles and leather goods. Little is known about the Tiahuanaco people who constructed the great ceremonial centre on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca over 1000 years ago. We spend most of the day visiting these mysterious ruins before returning to La Paz. Optional activities in La Paz include museums, a tour of the Valley of the Moon, or a visit to the world’s highest ski resort, Chacaltaya (5600 m/18,368 ft). To the south of the city is the Valley of the Moon, with crater-like formations made of sand.
Staying in the Bolivian highlands, we travel south to the city of Potosí. The highest city of its size in the world, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has had a tumultuous history as a silver mining centre during colonial times. Take an option to descend into a working mine for a close-up look at methods basically unchanged in decades, if not centuries.
Situated at 4070m (13,350 ft), Potosí is the highest city of its size on earth. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in1987 in recognition of its tragic history in the mining of silver during the time of Spanish colonization. Potosí provided a large share of the silver mined and shipped back to Spain until the early 1800s, when both the supply of silver and world market prices began to decline. Working conditions for miners were appalling, and a large portion of the indigenous population was decimated. African slaves were brought in to replace the native workers, and it is estimated that as many as eight million indigenous people and Africans died in the mines during the first three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. There is time for an optional tour to the working mines of the Mountain of Silver, an eye-opening excursion.
Despite its isolation and challenging climate (cold and blustery most of the year), Uyuni has earned the nickname of Hija Predilecta de Bolivia (Bolivia’s Favourite Daughter). Most of its hardy residents are either Public Sector workers or salt miners in the dried out lakebeds, with tour operators a close third. The main attraction in town is the Train Cemetery, a collection of rusting railway relics, just southwest of the present train station. We embark on our 3-day desert crossing. We spend three days in the stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert (Chile), exploring by four-wheel-drive vehicles. Driving across the salt flats is a fantastic experience, particularly for the contrast of piercing blue skies and blinding white salt on the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes, and geysers is like nowhere on earth. Twice submerged by a large, high-altitude lake, the salt flats now cover a total area of over 12000 square km (7440 square miles) and are one of the country’s main salt mining centres. The last large lake dried up about 8000 years ago, leaving the small lakes of Poopó and Ururu, as well as the salt flats of Uyuni. Absorb stunning views of the salt-encrusted lakebed surrounded by golden-hued mountains, snow-capped peaks and an endless azure horizon that will forever engrave itself in your memory. The tour takes us through Laguna Colorada, 4278 m/14,031 ft (a large red lagoon, the colour of which is due to algae & plankton growth in the mineral-rich waters), and Laguna Verde, at 5000 m (16,400 ft), a striking blue-green lake (high concentrations of lead, sulphur, copper and other minerals). The numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, and thermal baths, and Licancabúr volcano 5960 m (19,549 ft), which looms just behind the lagoon are clear evidence of the region’s association with volcanic activity. Surprisingly, both wildlife and flora manage to survive and even thrive in the desolate landscape; this includes vizcachas (of the rodent family), flamingos (3 varieties), and assorted varieties of cacti.
In the morning we take a bus further south to the dry desert regions of Argentina and Chile, where we stop in the little town of San Pedro de Atacama, on the edge of the Atacama desert—the driest place on earth. There are plenty of optional excursions here, like biking, exploring nearby ruins, horseback riding, and a tour of the Valley of the Moon.
We travel by bus across the Andes to Salta, situated in the Lerma Valley of northern Argentina. Salta is home to Empanadas Salteñas - the delicious local specialty, and no visit to the town will be complete without giving them a try. In the evening experience the local celebration at one of the "Peña" folklore shows. On day 10 we will travel by van from Salta through the scenic Quebrada de las Conchas on our way to Cafayate, famed for it´s wine, especially Torrontes. We will have a brief winery visit and tasting, however in this case the destination is not the point, the journey is. Travel through multi-coloured valleys as you make your way through the foothills of the Andes starting in Salta. You will surely be awed by your surroundings.
Fly to Buenos Aires, the Paris of the Americas. The capital city of Argentina, Buenos Aires is the ultimate cosmopolitan city. Travellers find that it has more in common with the cities of Europe than the rest of South America. Nearly 40 per cent of Argentina's 33 million citizens live in Greater Buenos Aires, and the Porteños are justifiably proud of their home. The city is comprised of a number of distinct neighbourhoods, some of which have become top tourist draws. For many, the highlight of their time in the capital is a visit to San Telmo for the weekend antiques market and street artistís displays. La Boca was originally settled by the successive waves of immigrants that contribute to the capital's unique character. Its brightly coloured walls and buildings draw Porteños and tourists alike, and it is here that the world-class football team, Boca Juniors, plies its trade. A Sunday afternoon match at the fabled Bombonera is not to be missed. Posh Recoleta, with its cafes, museums and cemetery, is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. During colonial days Buenos Aires was the seat of the Viceroy of La Plata. Almost completely rebuilt since the turn of the century, the heart of the city is the Plaza de Mayo, with the historic Cabildo (Town Hall), where the Independence movement was first planned, the Casa Rosada (Government Palace) and the Cathedral where San Martín, the father of Argentine independence, is buried. When you are done exploring, settle your weary feet and enjoy a drink in one of the many sidewalk cafes and restaurants and you will begin to understand the contemplative Argentine way of life. Try the succulent bife and parrilladas! Please note: You should be especially careful when wandering about the capital city on your own, particularly at night. Tourists are easy prey for individual pickpockets or groups of two or more people working as a team on the streets. Pay particular attention to anyone who 'accidentally' spills anything on your clothes or belongings (mustard, etc.) and then apologizes and offers to help clean up. They will clean you out instead! Be safe and leave your passport, credit cards, travellers cheques and cash funds you won't be using immediately in the hotel's safety deposit box. Most Porteños are honest and genuinely helpful and friendly, but be safe and enjoy the city!