Arrive in Lima at any time where you are met and transferred to your hotel. Check into the 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 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. 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, head to the Plaza de Armas at noon to watch the changing of the Palace Guard. 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 districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro, which are on the coast, 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 and fly to Juliaca on Day 2 and take a short bus ride to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The next morning board a boat to visit the floating reed islands of Uros. Located at 3830m 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 you can buy an imitation alpaca sweater from the market — they are inexpensive, real alpaca costs around $60). Puno is also known for its wealth of traditional dances: there are up to 304 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. Our first stop on Lake Titicaca is 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 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 well constructed will last up to 6 months.
Today we take a spectacular rail journey on the Andean Explorer route between Puno and historic Cuzco including lunch and afternoon tea. As the train travels from Puno (Lake Titicaca) it makes a gentle decent from higher and cooler altitudes through gentle, rolling Andean Plains, where alpacas and llamas can be seen. The journey is broken by a scenic stop at La Raya, which is also the highest point on the route. The second half of the journey is dominated by the magnificent Andean mountains which tower over the deep valleys of the meandering Huatanay River. The train takes approximately 10 hours, so sit back and enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in Peru. 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 21st Century way of life. 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 and 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!
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).
Ride an early morning train to Aguas Calientes, relax and enjoy the day and overnight in this small town. On Day 7 rise early for a guided tour of the inspiring Machu Picchu ruins, then spend some time on your own at the site before returning to Cuzco in the late afternoon and transfer to your hotel for the night. This town is the base for all visitors planning on touring the magnificent ruins of Machu Picchu. Accessable by train that winds through the steep Urubamba Valley of on foot by trekking the Inca Trail, Aguas Calientes is a gem in the heart of the Andes. Visit the town market, enjoy the numerous restaurants or 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 full guided tour the following morning.
Transfer to the airport is included today.