Arrive Lima at any time. There are no planned activities so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. Your Chief Experience Officer (CEO) will hold a general briefing in the evening, normally between 7pm and 8pm (a note will be posted in the arrival hotel with details). 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. In this trip we concentrate on the Andes region of south-central Peru and the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco. 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 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. Note: If you have pre-booked the Peru Culinary Theme Pack, your Lima cooking class will be today and the Cuzco cooking class will be on day 8. As this pack does not include extra on-trip time in Lima, it is necessary to bundle it with a pre-trip stay.
Transfer to the airport for the flight to Cuzco (the flight usually departs early – we may leave the hotel by 4:30 am). In Cuzco meet your guide and transfer to your hotel. Enjoy an included city tour in the afternoon to familiarize with all that the wonderful city has to offer and learn about the fascinating history. This city tour is the perfect introduction to whet the appetite for further individual exploration. 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 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 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). 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 40-km (25 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. Explore the site with the expert local guide before returning to Cuzco by train in the evening for the night and for some well-deserved rest. 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. 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 take an alternate route along the Urubamba River.
Today is a free day to explore Cuzco or relax before an included dinner show in the evening. Active options include whitewater rafting, horseback riding and mountain biking.
Fly back to Lima for a final night in the 'City of Kings.'
Fly across the continent to the Iguassu Falls area near the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In order to see the falls properly you need to view them from both the Brazilian and the Argentinean side. The Brazilian side offers the grand overview, and the Argentinean side, a closer look. The best time of the year to see them is from August to November, as from May to July you may not be able to approach the swollen waters on the catwalks. We include a visit to both the Argentine and Brazilian side of the Falls. Experience an exhilarating optional boat tour at the falls or a trip to the bird sanctuary on the Brazilian side of the falls. The torrential Iguassu River crosses the State of Paraná in Southern Brazil from East to West. A few kilometres before its junction with the Paraná River forms one of the most splendorous natural beauties of the world: Iguassu Falls. Over 2.7 kilometres long and an average flow of 1.750 m3/s, this wonder is located in a very special place. The contrast between the green of the vegetation and the dark colour of the basalt rocks with whirring waters plunging from a 72 metre high cliff is magical. At Iguassu there are 275 falls in all, spread over a 3-km area, some over 80m (262.4 ft) in height, making these cataracts wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara! It should come as no surprise that UNESCO declared the region a World Heritage Site in 1986. Originally “discovered” in 1541 by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nuñez, he named the falls Saltos de Santa María. The name we use today means “great waters” in the Tupi-Guarani tongue. The falls are protected by two National Parks—one in Brazil and another in Argentina. Tours utilise trails and catwalks adapted to the landscape of the area, and walking is easy for all ages; guided tours of the complex are available several times a day. In order to see the falls properly, you need to view them from both the Brazilian and the Argentinean side: the Brazilian side offers the grand overview, and the Argentine side a closer look. The best time of the year to visit is from August to November, as during rainy season from May to July, flooding will likely prevent closer viewing from the catwalks. Film buffs will remember that Iguassu was the site of several scenes from the film “The Mission.” Not far from the falls, the ruins of the Jesuit missions of the era can still be visited on a day trip. Also of interest in the area is Itaipú, the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. Experience an exhilarating optional boat tour or helicopter trip for a bird's eye view, or simply marvel at nature’s breadth and the roar of the falls.
Take a flight to one of the most memorable cities in the world: Brazil’s ocean-side jewel, Río de Janeiro. Enjoy free time by exploring the wonders that this city has to offer from our centrally-located hotel in Copacabana. Enjoy a full-day city tour on day 14 to see famous landmarks of the city like Sugarloaf Moutain, Christ the Redeemer and Maracana stadium. "God made the world in six days, the seventh he devoted to Rio," so say the Cariocas, residents of this beautiful city. This is a densely packed city of over 9 million inhabitants, whose economic foundations lie in the cultivation of sugar cane and gold mining. Referred to as the “cidade maravilhosa” (Marvellous City), few cities enjoy such a dramatic setting as Rio. Brilliant, white beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema, deep blue waters of the Atlantic, the luminescent green of Guanabara Bay, the bare blue slopes of the Sugar Loaf combine to make Rio unique. Standing over it all, atop Corcovado (Hunchback), is the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, the best place from which to appreciate the city. Superb panoramic views of the city and area can also be found from the top of the Pao do Açucar (Sugar Loaf), reached by cable car. Head to some of the famous beaches, and prepare yourself for an experience unlike anything else on Earth. Although the Portuguese first sailed and entered the bay, it was the French who first established a settlement in the area, logging Brazil wood along the coast. Their first permanent settlement lasted a brief five years, when they were attacked and driven from the area by the encroaching Portuguese. A series of skirmishes ensued, with the Tomaio people allied with the French against the Portuguese. In 1567, the Portuguese began construction of a fortified town to repel any invaders, naming it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. Amassing wealth with the gold rush of Minas Gerais, in the early 18th century, Rio became Brazil’s most important city and a great temptation to the French who, in 1710, waged war against the Portuguese and held the city for a sizeable gold ransom. In the 19th century, the last members of the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil under the threat of Napoleon’s invasion. Many of today’s older structures of the city date from this period. The gold rush was followed by a coffee boom in the mid-1800s, and the wealth generated led to the city’s initial modernization. Replacing Salvador de Bahía as the colonial capital in 1763, Rio remained the capital until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. Today, the city is a magnet for tourists who come to walk along the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and generally partake in the Carioca zest for life. Many ascend the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao de Açucar), whose image is nearly synonymous with Rio and Carnival. Modern Rio is perhaps best known for the contrasting images offered by the favelas (shanty towns), and the glitz and glamour preferred by the Samba schools and their Carnival celebrations. Rio is definitely a tale of two cities: the city is divided into a Zona Norte (North Zone) and a Zona Sul (South Zone) by the Serra da Carioca, steep mountains that are part of the Parque Nacional da Tijuca. These mountains descend to the edge of the city centre, where the two zones meet. The upper and middle classes reside in the Zona Sul, the lower class in the Zona Norte. Favelas cover steep hillsides on both sides of town - Rocinha, Brazil's largest favela, is in Sao Conrado, one of Rio's richest neighbourhoods. Most industry is in the Zona Norte, as is most of the pollution. The ocean and beaches are in the Zona Sul.
Depart at any time.