Arrive in Lima at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. 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.
Take the morning to explore more of Lima before hopping on a bus for our short trip down the coast to Pisco. Walk the town’s lively peatonal (pedestrian avenue) and find a café to sample some Peruvian food, such as ceviche or papa a la huancaina (potatoes with a chilli cheese sauce). An important port town, Pisco gives its name to the white grape brandy produced in the region. If you haven’t tried the national drink, don’t pass up this chance to sip a tasty and frothy Pisco Sour in the heart of Pisco country. While the town itself is of considerable historical and archaeological interest, we also use it as a starting point for an optional visit to the Ballestas Islands, where you can see sea lion colonies, Humbodlt penguins and a variety of other birds.
Travel south to one of the world's greatest archaeological mysteries, the Nazca Lines. The lines, made famous by German mathematician Maria Reiche, consist of patterns and pictures etched in the ground and 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. As from the ground we can make out very little, the best view is from a light aircraft, which can easily be arranged. 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 the ancient Pre-Inca desert cemetery site of Chauchilla, 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. Night bus to 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 and architecture may want to take an optional visit to the Convent of Santa Catalina, a brief respite from the outside world and a unique view into a bygone way of life. Spectacular mountains surround Arequipa, the most famous of which is El Misti Volcano, at 5822 m (19096 ft) with its beautiful snow-capped peak. Also looming nearby are the volcanoes Chachani and Pichu Pichu. Next travel a rough, rutted road through high plains flanked by extensive Inca and pre-Inca terracing that goes on for kilometres, en route to the Colca Canyon—one of the deepest canyons in the world. We spend one night in the town of Chivay, a picturesque village near the canyon, where we can take a dip in the local hot thermal baths, watch live Andean music at a peña or go for a llama steak. Take a tour around the canyon, stopping in fascinating villages and at “miradors” (scenic lookouts), where with a little luck we see Andean Condors soaring over the majestic Andes. Other unusual animals we may see in the Andean landscape include 3 different species of camelids: alpaca, llama and vicuña. Return to Arequipa on Day 7.
A short flight takes us to Cuzco. Spend the next day relaxing or exploring this fascinating city. 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!
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. Following the visit to Machu Picchu, time allowing, travellers can opt to visit the Inca Bridge (15 min walk away) for no additional charge. 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
Cuzco is considered the mecca of Peru and rightly so. This beautiful colonial town offers nearby ruins, cobble-stoned streets, museums, churches and a lively atmosphere. The more adventurous optional activities available in Cuzco include 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. Note: If you have pre-booked the Peru Adrenaline Theme Pack, you will have the opportunity to do the full-day rafting trip and the half-day horseback riding excursion on two different days between Days 14-16. Optional Amazon Jungle Excursion: Experience 3 days and 2 nights at our G Lodge Amazon. All meals and excursions with a local naturalist are included during your stay. If you are interested in this opportunity, please inquire at time of booking or add it to your experience online. If you pre-book this activity you will travel to the Amazon jungle on Day 14 and will return to Cusco on Day 16.
Enjoy spectacular views of the countryside on this full day of travel from Cuzco to Puno, 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 La Paz, Bolivia. Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) is the highest capital in the world. 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. Optional activities in La Paz include museums 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.
Travel to Uyuni by bus/train. Next spend three days exploring the stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and Chile’s Atacama Desert by four-wheel-drive vehicle. Piercing blue skies contrast with blinding white salt as you drive across the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes, and geysers is like nowhere on earth. 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.
Uyuni is the starting point for our 3-day 4X4 excursion through the spectacular Uyuni Salt Flats. 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 today serve as 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 whose colour is the result of algae & plankton growth in the mineral-rich waters, and Laguna Verde (5000 m/16400 ft), a lake that owes its striking blue-green colour to high concentrations of lead, sulphur, copper and other minerals. The numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, thermal baths and Licancabúr volcano (5960 m/19549 ft), which looms just behind the lagoon, are clear evidence of the region’s volcanic activity. Surprisingly, both wildlife and flora manage to survive and even thrive in the desolate landscape, including vizcachas (of the rodent family), flamingos (3 varieties), and assorted varieties of cacti.
Sitting at 4070m (13,350 ft), Potosí is the highest city of its size on earth. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its tragic history as a silver mining centre 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; it’s said the silver taken out of Cerro Rico (rich hill) propped up the Spanish empire for over 300 years. Working conditions for miners were appalling, and 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. Though sometimes distressing and uncomfortable because of the harsh working conditions, the optional trip underground into the mines of today is an experience that should not be missed.
Often referred to as Bolivia’s White City, the country’s official capital, Sucre, is situated at nearly 2800m (9184 ft) above sea level, offering its visitors and inhabitants a more moderate, comfortable climate than many of Bolivia’s cities at higher elevations. Before the conquest, military, religious and political leaders of the local indigenous population made their homes on the present day city site. Later, the city became the headquarters for the Spanish Royal Court, which by the late 1700s ruled over colonial Paraguay, parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and most of Bolivia. In 1825, in the wake of the Latin American independence movement, the city was renamed Sucre after Simon Bolívar’s second-in-command, General Antonio Jose de Sucre. The city’s fine museums, colonial buildings and ties to the independence movement make it a city of great historical interest. Optional activities include a visit to dinosaur footprints, an old tin baron’s mansion, a textile cooperative, mountain biking and hiking.
A local flight takes us to Santa Cruz, located close to the Cordillera Oriental foothills. Once a backwater frontier town, it has now grown into Bolivia’s second largest city and is our gateway to an overnight train ride to Puerto Suarez, on the Brazilian border.
Puerto Suarez is Bolivia’s gateway into the Pantanal area and has great potential…but unfortunately not much to offer yet! We cross Bolivia’s eastern border at the frontier town of Corumbá, Brazil, on the edge of the Pantanal, an immense wetland area famed for its profuse wildlife. Less well known outside of Brazil and South America, the Pantanal, a largely flat, wetland area about half the size of France, is still one of the best places in the continent for observing wildlife. This vast alluvial plain, seasonally flooded by the Paraguay River from October to March, is all that remains from an ancient inland sea which began to dry out 65 million years ago. Today it is an area rich in bird life such as macaws and Jabiru storks. With luck and appropriate weather you may spot capivara (capybara), howler monkeys, caiman, giant river otters, anacondas and anteaters. The area is sparsely populated and what few roads exist are in poor condition. Most people use small airplanes, 4-wheel-drive vehicles and motorized canoes to get around, so expect some rough travel and more rustic accommodations while visiting the area. The area’s Transpanteneira, an elevated dirt road, which extends 145km’s (91 miles) from outside Pocone to Porto Jofre, becomes an island during the wet season. We take a two-day wildlife excursion to fully appreciate the area’s beauty and bounty. Unfortunately, as in other areas, poachers continue to do damage, and official government resources to protect the zone are scarce. This, combined with corrupt officials and a lack of commitment on the part of the government, have resulted in widespread poaching; latest estimates indicate that anywhere from half a million to two million animals are killed annually in the Pantanal.
**NOTE: Canadians, Australians and Americans are now required to pay a reciprocity fee in order to visit the Argentine side of the falls. This MUST BE PAID IN ADVANCE. See Trip Details 'Visas' for a link. Bonito, as the name (“beautiful”) implies, is a great place for nature lovers. Just outside the Pantanal area, this is water and jungle country with abundant colourful fish in the area’s crystalline rivers. Explore nearby underwater caves and waterfalls, go rafting or snorkelling, or simply spend a lazy day by the river. Next we ride a night bus through the vast cattle ranches of Mato Grosso do Sul en route to the magnificent Iguassu Falls. At Iguassu there are 275 individual falls in all, spread over a 3-km (almost 2 mile) area. Some are over 80m (2642 ft) in height, making these cataracts both wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara! UNESCO declared the region an International Heritage Area in 1986. On Day 37 we will visit the Brazilian side of the falls and have a free afternoon to be able to rest after our long journey in or to visit the Bird Park home to species such as the Hyacinth macaw and tucans. The following day we cross the border to Argentina to visit the Argentine side of the falls. With an extensive series of catwalks and optional boat rides to the base of the falls we will easily have enough to fill a full day here before returning to the Brazilian side for the night and a free morning before our overnight bus ride to Paraty. Note: If you have booked the Iguassu Falls Boat Ride Theme Pack, you will do it on Day 37 or 38 when visiting the Argentine side of the falls. The falls were originally “discovered” by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nuñez in 1541, when he named the falls Saltos de Santa María; the name we use today means “great waters” in the Tupi-Guarani tongue. Film buffs know Iguassu as the site of several scenes from “The Mission,” and 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 is Itaipú, the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. The best time of the year to view the falls is from August to November, as during rainy season flooding often prevents closer viewing from the catwalks.
Our next destination is Paraty, an architectural gem famous for its churches. Located on Brazil's Costa Verde or "Green Coast," UNESCO World Heritage Paraty is known equally for the cobblestone streets and cafés of its historical centre, the natural beauty of its surroundings and its excellent cachaça. A fun option during your time here is a “booze cruise” around the picturesque beaches and coves of the area. 125 miles from Rio de Janeiro, on the edge of picturesque Ilha Grande Bay, Paraty is a lovely colonial town. On the border between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, it is a favourite with those looking to ‘get away from it all’—Brazilians and visitors alike. Considered one of the world's most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture by UNESCO, the historic centre is a well-preserved national historic monument, and today has been closed to vehicles to preserve its laid-back colonial ambience. During high tide the Portuguese cobblestone streets are partly flooded by seawater, adding to the fairy tale atmosphere. Located between the lush green mountains and the sea, Paraty (sometimes spelled Parati) was once a place of significant economic importance due to its sugar cane mills. At its peak the city was home to over 250 distilleries, and the name Paraty was synonymous with world-class sugar cane rum. Founded in 1531, the original settlement was on the opposite side of the river, where a church was erected to their patron "St. Roque." Around 1640 the Indians who used to live here were driven away and the town moved to where it stands now. The founders named it Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, with Our Lady of the Medicines as the patron saint, and they built the main church in her honour. Enlarged and remodelled over the years, the church is now the focal point of the annual Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios on September 8. The festival has been celebrated for over 300 years since a wealthy and reverent benefactor, Maria Jácome de Mello, donated the land to the town for the church, requesting only an annual mass in return. The mass has grown into a procession of the wooden effigy of the Virgen though the town, adorned with gold and silver jewellery. In the 1700s when the mines of Minas Gerais were pouring out gold, the perfect bay of Paraty was a busy port, the second most important in Brazil during the ‘Golden Century.’ The best pinga or cachaça (sugar cane liquor) of Brazil was produced here and the name Paraty became synonymous with the liquor. Later, coffee was brought from the valley of Paraiba to be shipped to Portugal, sparking another economic boom. In 1888 with the abolition of the slavery, Paraty became almost forgotten in time, and a large exodus left only a population of around 600, a considerable difference from the 16 000 of the town’s prime. In 1954 a road was opened linking the town to the rest of the country through the valley of Paraiba, but it was not until 1973-75 with the opening of the highway BR-101 that Paraty’s rebirth as a tourist town began. Paraty was declared a national monument in 1966. Paraty's bay is filled with over 65 tropical islands and dozens of beaches, each offering something different, and all covered with vegetation that remains lush and colourful year-round. The water of the bay is always the right temperature for swimming, diving and snorkelling. The national parks that encircle the town are filled with trails, wildlife and waterfalls. Hiking or horseback riding, for the sports minded, or a jeep or van tour are both excellent ways to appreciate this natural wilderness.
After a visit to Paraty, head out to one of the picturesque, laid-back islands on the coast, llha Grande. Relax and walk the clean sand beaches or bathe in the warm waters of this island paradise. Options include hikes through the jungle to waterfalls, a nearby black sand beach, boats or hikes to other secluded beaches or just hanging out in the laid-back World Heritage town centre. The local fauna and flora in Ilha Grande, a Nacional Patrimony protected area, are extremely diverse. The state park was created in 1971 and encompasses 4.500 hectares of wilderness. Mountain range, coastal, mangrove and prairie vegetation are all found here, along with an astonishing collection of bird life, including parrots, woodpeckers, Brazilian thrushes and saracuras. There are also different kinds of monkeys, squirrels, armadillos, pacas, hedgehogs and snakes, as well as endangered species such as the Alouatta Fusca, generally known as Bugio monkey.
Back on the mainland, a dramatic road takes us north along the coast through superb scenery before rounding the cliffs at Vidigal, where we get our first glimpse of one of the most memorable cities in the world Brazil’s ocean-side jewel, Río de Janeiro. Enjoy your free time to explore the city using our centrally-located hotel in Copacabana as a base, or take an optional city tour. "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 in gold mining. Referred to as a “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, is the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, the best place from which to appreciate the city. From the top of the Pao do Açucar (Sugar Loaf), reached by cable car, superb panoramic views of the city and area unfold. 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. Again in the 19th century, under threat of Napoleon’s invasion, what remained of the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil where they set up court in grand style; many of today’s older structures 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 Bahia as the colonial capital in 1763, the city remained the capital until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. Today, the city is a magnet for tourists who come to walk the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and generally partake in the Carioca zest for life. Many ascend the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao do Açucar), whose image is nearly synonymous with Rio and Carnival. But modern Rio is perhaps best known for the contrasting images offered by the favelhas (shanty towns), and the glitz and glamour preferred by the Samba schools and their Carnival celebrations.
Depart at any time.