Arrive in Lima at any time. On arrival you will be picked up and transferred to your hotel. The day is free to spend at leisure. 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 at noon. 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 good nightlife and cafés. 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.
Today we will travel three hours to Paracas, a sleeping fishing village that serves as the starting point for all tours to the Ballestas Islands, often referred to as "the poor man's Galapagos". Home to hundreds of sea lions, many species of marine birds, including the Humboldt penguin you are guaranteed to see some incredible wildlife. There is little to do in town but for those that love seafood and are looking to try Peru's national drink, the Pisco Sour, you will be in heaven. Approximate Distance: 285km Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
This morning we visit the Ballestas Islands by boat to view sea lion colonies, penguins and other bird life. Continue south by land to Nazca with a stop to see the Huacachina sand dunes along the way. The pleasant colonial town of Ica enjoys a dry and sunny climate and is known for its huge sand dunes around the Huacachina oasis. Apart from the dunes, the town is well known for its wines, and there are several wineries and distilleries in the area. Approximate Distance: 175km Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Next visit one of the world's greatest archaeological mysteries, the Nazca Lines. The lines consist of patterns and pictures etched in the ground, crisscrossing a wide area of flat desert. Some of the lines measure up to 10 km (32 miles) in length, and yet remain perfectly straight. The depictions of birds, insects and animals are only recognizable from the air. Who drew the lines, and why, is something modern archaeologists can only theorize about, but current beliefs suggest that they may be part of complex agricultural calendar. From the ground we can make out very little, and the best view is from a light aircraft, which can easily be arranged as an optional activity. The entire desert area was also once the home for the ancient Paracas and the Nazca cultures, which preceded the Incas by more than half a millennium. Remains of the Nazca culture are still visible during our included tour of an ancient Pre-Inca desert cemetery site, with 1500 year-old mummies, bones and pottery on the desert floor. The tour also includes a visit to an artisan’s workshop, where modern masters create Nazca style pottery.
A full day of travel awaits as we continue south to the town of Arequipa. Peru’s second most important city after Lima, Arequipa maintains a traditional colonial style and more laid back pace in comparison with the capital. Sitting at 2325 m (7626 ft) above sea level and surrounded by the Andes mountains, this delightful colonial town is well worth a visit. Arequipa was built from a very light coloured volcanic rock called sillar, so older buildings dazzle in the sun, giving the city its nickname, “the White City.” The main plaza with its cafés and nearby cathedral is a top draw for visitors. Those with an interest in history, culture and architecture will enjoy our visit to the Convent of Santa Catalina during our city tour, offering a brief respite from the outside world and a unique view into a by-gone way of life. Spectacular mountains surround Arequipa, the most famous of which is El Misti Volcano, at 5822 m (19096 ft) and with a beautiful snow-capped peak. Approximate Distance: 420km Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours
Our day starts with a flight to Juliaca and a short drive to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The remainder of the day is at leisure in the town. The next morning we board our comfortable 35 foot fully equipped speed boat to explore the Taquile and/or Amantaní Island, we will also visit the remarkable floating reed islands of Uros. Located at 3830 m above sea level, Puno is the highest night stop on the tour. As a result the weather can be extreme with very cold nights and a strong sun during the day. 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. Titicaca is also the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from the islands are stunning. We explore the unique floating islands of the Uros people, made of Totora reeds. 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 the islanders speak Aymara due to intermarriage with Aymara-speaking clans. 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. Approximate Distance: 321km Estimated Travel Time: 2.05 hours
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. 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. 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! Approximate Distance: 389km Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours
Travel with our local guide through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. 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. 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 towards Machu Picchu the next morning. Approximate Distance: 95km Estimated Travel Time: 2.30 hours
We board a morning train that winds through the steep Urubamba Valley to its final destination of Aguas Calientes. Relax in the natural mountain hot baths that gave the town its name. For serious archaeology buffs, there is time for an optional independent visit to Machu Picchu before the guided tour the following morning. Those who have chosen the option in advance to hike the "1-day Inca Trail" will disembark the train at km 104 to begin the trek. The trail rises steeply up into the mountains and will take hikers past the archaeological sites of Wiñay Wayna and Inti Pata, where the local guide will provide insights into the fascinating culture of the Incas en route to the trek's culmination at Machu Picchu. Enjoy a packed lunch along the way and reach the Sun Gate in the late afternoon with a chance for a preliminary exploration of Machu Picchu before the guided tour of the site the following day with the rest of the group. Transfer by bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes to rejoin the group and spend the night in a hotel. If time permits, take an optional visit to the nearby hot springs to soak the sore muscles. Approximate Distance: 43km Estimated Travel Time: 1.45 hours Those taking the 1-day Inca Trail option: Approximate Distance: 7km Estimated hiking Time: 5-6 hours
Rise early to take advantage of viewing Machu Picchu in the early morning light. This is the best time to view the 'Lost City of the Incas'. Join our local guide for a detailed interpretation of the site and Inca history without the pressure of other tour groups that arrive at midday. Later in the afternoon of Day 12 we return by train to Ollantaytambo or Poroy and will then be transferred by van to Cusco, arriving in the evening. 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. Approximate Distance: 118km Estimated Travel Time: 3.15 hours
Time for some last minute shopping in Puno before our flight back to Lima and the final stop on our journey. Enjoy one last night out on the town. Overnight Lima. Approximate Distance: 572km Estimated Travel Time: 2.20 hours