Hola! Welcome to Cusco. Once the heart of the Inca Empire, it’s now the modern-day starting point for visits to Peru’s most famous site, Machu Picchu. With huge numbers of travellers flocking to the site every year, it’s led to the development of loads of awesome attractions, so there’s plenty of cool ways to spend your time. First up we’ll help you get your bearings on a walking tour of the city including a visit to the neighborhood of San Blas, and a stop on Calle Hatunrumiyoc, not far from Plaza de Armas. It is a narrow pedestrian street, famous for its Inca walls where huge stones are precisely carved to fit together without mud or concrete. Hatunrumiyoc is a great place to have a closer look at the engineering skills of the Incas. The 12 sided stone, and the wall it is found on, is a perfect example of the stonework that was reserved for the 'elite' of Incan society who lived in houses of perfect stonework, cut and shaped with not a gap to be seen. The walls were so well built that the Spanish used them for the foundations of their buildings after the conquest. From here we’ll head to the Koricancha or Santa Domingo Church. Originally an Inca temple devoted to the worship of the sun god, in its glory days it was covered in gold leaf with a field filled with gold statues surrounding it. The site was later converted into a Dominican church during the Spanish conquest. We’ll take a guided tour so you can really get into the history as we learn about the differences in architecture and cultural beliefs. Our next stop is Cusco Cathedral. Built over a period of more than 100 years, the cathedral is a true testament to the place of the church in both the heart of the Spanish conquistadors and their desire to convert the religious beliefs of the locals to coincide with their own. It is filled with beautiful examples of the ‘Cusco School’ style of paintings, gold and religious icons. Take a break for lunch before visiting the famous San Pedro market. As you cruise from aisle to aisle you will be amazed by the variety of foods on offer here. From delicious jungle fruits, whole animals to ‘cacao buds’ (one of the new ‘it’ super foods) there is little that you can’t find. A must-do is trying a tasty and refreshing freshly squeezed juice. If getting an adrenalin fix or getting back to nature is what you’re looking for, then Cusco is perfect for getting amongst it. With a free afternoon, there are tons of options - from biking, rafting and horseback riding and best of all, your Tour Manager can arrange these for you. Or, for those wanting to explore town, simply take a stroll through the city’s cobble-stone streets for a load of examples of Inca constructions and the intricately-carved, wooden colonial doors and balconies. For the shopaholics in the group, this is the perfect spot to pick up some gifts for friends and family (or for yourself), there’s loads of artists selling items like woolen and alpaca goods, gorgeous jewelry to artwork. These can be purchased from low-priced market stalls to expensive boutiques that line the streets near the main square, so there’s something to suit all tastes and budgets. For the foodies on tour, you are in for a treat in Cusco. Peru’s cuisine is exquisite and can be tried in lots of places dotted throughout the town. If you’re feeling like a taste of home, there’s also a number of cosmopolitan restaurants here too, it’s perfect for finding something for everyone. Tonight we’ll check out the nightlife that is sure to keep you hopping into the wee hours of the night.
Cusco to Sacred Valley
Say farewell to Cusco this morning as we make our way to the Sacred Valley of the ancient Incas. The Sacred Valley was the heart of the Inca’s agricultural setting and an important ceremonial region, with the sacred sites of Cuzco at one end and Machu Picchu at the other and countless ceremonial sites in between. Our first stop is to one of these sites, Pisac. On our guided tour we will see two of the most important aspects of the Inca culture – terracing – a farming technique created by the Inca’s and their religion. We’ll take a walk before descending in the village below for a quick visit to the market. This will be great practice for those who have chosen the one-day hike to Machu Picchu tomorrow. Don’t miss the town’s huge wood-oven bakery! After a stop for lunch in Urubamba we’ll make our way to one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns of South America – Ollantaytambo. On our way, we can see the ‘salineras’ or salt mines of the area from a distance. For hundreds of years these pools, constructed by the Inca’s, have provided salt to the surrounding communities. We’ll also make a quick stop to try the local brew “Chicha de Jora” (traditional beverage made from fermented maize) and play a traditional Peruvia game of “Sapo” (Frog) if you’re up for it. We soon arrive to the town and archaeological site of the same name, Ollantaytambo, the last fully-functioning Inca town. We’ll wander around the site or visit the still inhabited Inca buildings before checking into the hotel.
Train to Aguas Calientes or trek the Inca Trail
For those that have chosen the Inca Trail trek, well wake up this morning and take the train to KM104 to start your trek. Under the guidance of our professional Inca Trail Guide you’ll climb a gentle slope and experience the wildlife and cloudforest found here. You’ll pass a beautiful waterfall on your trek to Winayhuayna where we’ll stop for lunch at a trekker’s lodge. Explore the area if you’re up for it, to get you warmed up for Machu Picchu. After lunch begin the journey to our highlight, Machu Picchu. We’ll walk along the original Inca stonework path, past an altar to the Sun Gate where you’ll catch your first look at this awesome site. Another 45 minutes will take us to the Guardian’s House, where there’s the opportunity to take photos of the site at its best. After a wander around the site and some stunning photos to show off back home, we’ll take a bus back into town to meet up with the rest of the group where you can tell your stories from your day of hiking. If you haven’t chosen our Inca Trail Trek today, then the morning is free to explore Sacred Valley. If you’re up for it, rafting and horse-riding await you today. Or if relaxing is more your thing, visit the town’s spectacular square and have a wander through the local markets. This afternoon, we’ll catch a train through the lush and verdant mountains to Aguas Calientes the town at the base of the ruins. Tonight, soak up the atmosphere, wander through the market stalls, or visit the hot springs which gave the town its former name of Aguas Calientes. Later, we’ll meet up with those who chose to do the one-day hike into Machu Picchu and listen to the stories of their day! The chilled atmosphere and amazing setting makes for a great place to enjoy a couple of drinks on the patio with the group.
Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu) to Cusco
It’s an early start this morning to be among the first to enter Machu Picchu. Take advantage of the peaceful early morning quiet to grab some awesome pics from every angle as the sun rises above the mountain tops. You’ll learn all about the site as we take a tour through the most important parts of the site such as the Temple of Three Windows, the ceremonial baths and the altar. Widely believed to be the country retreat for wealthy Incas, this site is as fascinating as it is stunning. After the tour, there’s time to explore more of the site in your own time. For those finishing early and looking for a little exercise you can walk down to the simple but interesting Machu Picchu museum at the base of the mountain. Or, for those really feeling up for it, you could continue on to the waterfall 40 minutes outside of town or simply return to "main street" and have a drink before we return to Cusco via train then coach. Being full of knowledge about Cusco past and present, now might be time to try one of the delicacies of the Peruvian highlands, ‘cuy’ or crispy fried guinea pig. It’s a must-try in Peru. If you are not feeling quite so adventurous, a traditional dish of trout or some of Peru’s fusion cuisine that mixes traditional ingredients such as quinoa with non-traditional flavors might be a better option. Tonight is a great night to become a bona fide member of our "Illary Club" - by heading to one of the clubs and dancing until the sun rises.
Today it’s your chance to totally chill. Laze around town enjoying a cappuccino while overlooking the Plaza de Armas, or you can pick it up a notch and try one of the adrenaline filled options here. Spend a half-day horseback riding through the X-zone just north of the city, white water raft down the sacred Urubamba River or do some mountain biking. Tonight, ask your Tour Manager for some tips on where to head for a meal and have a good time on your last night out in Cusco. Try a salsa lesson or go to a peña to listen to live Peruvian music and to dance the night away.
Cusco to Jungle Lodge
We’ll catch a flight over the Andes to the city of Puerto Maldonado in Peru’s southern jungle. We’ll have lunch on the river as we travel upstream by a traditional Peruvian boat to our Contiki Special Stay Rainforest Lodge, where we’ll try to spot toucans, macaws and capybaras along the way. Our lodge is a special experience in itself! Located in then luscious rainforest and made from wood and clay, its open walls leave you sleeping virtually amongst the rainforest! After you settle in, we’ll get a different take on the jungle as we take a hike to the canopy tower. After climbing the 100ft of stairs you will be provided with a birds-eye view of the rainforest! Home to monkeys, birds, bromeliads and other jungle life, this is the ultimate way to see the jungle. After dinner you can experience something really different, heading out to look for caiman, a member of the alligator family native to the Amazon. Scan the shores with flashlights and see if you can catch the red gleam of the light as it reflects off of the caiman’s eyes.
Jungle Lodge to Puerto Maldonado
We’ll wake early for best view of some the wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled as we travel further downstream to Tres Chimadas, an oxbow lake. We’ll board a simple catamaran with a jungle guide to learn about the flora and fauna of the area while looking out for the prehistoric hoatzin bird, the giant river otter, or try your luck fishing for piranha. After our cruise, we’ll head to the native community of Infierno, where we will visit a local fish farm to see some of the species that are native to the Peruvian Amazon. After lunch, time is yours to do what you wish. For those keen on footy (soccer), spend the afternoon playing soccer, volleyball or take a dip. There are other options for your free time too. You can take an optional kayaking trip, try a 30 metre Canopy Climb with a rope, harness and jumar (a mechanical device used for ascending on a rope. After a long day exploring, we head to Puerto Maldonado our home for the night.
Puerto Maldonado to Lima
Our local guide will accompany us to the airport for our flight back into Lima. The rest of the day is yours to explore and you’ll have a night to relax before we start the next stage of our adventure. Tonight you can explore Miraflores, Larcomar mall or Parque Kennedy where you can grab a bite to eat, have your last Pisco Sour and practice your Spanish before switching gears and heading into the land where wine is king.
Lima to Buenos Aires
It’s so long Peru, and hello to Argentina. Known as the Country of Seven Continents, the diversity of landscapes here is super cool. You’ll find rainforest, plains and deltas, red sand desert, the southern Lakes District of Patagonia including Ushuaia the world’s most southern city. You’ll also find the Andes and Aconcagua (the western hemisphere’s highest peak) let’s not forget Iguassu Falls. We’ll arrive in the capital city, Buenos Aires, known as South America’s most cosmopolitan city and paradise for the urbanite. As a refuge for many Europeans after the Second World War, its diversity is reflected in its people, an awesome melting pot of Spanish, Italian, German, Slavic and Syrian descent.
On the first day we will dive into the heart of the city witha coach tour.. We’ll visit the city’s historic center, San Telmo, the renowned neighborhoods like the colourful La Boca, including Maradona’s Statue at Boca Juniors stadium, Caminito and other renowned neighborhoods and areas such as Puerto Madero with it’s trendy shops and cafes. You'll also get a an in-depth look at the history and modern-day Buenos Aires as you visit parks, pass by colonial mansions and learn about the historic figures that made the city and the country what it is today. During our tour we will visit the neighborhoods of Recoleta, Palermo Chico and Palermo Lagos y Bosques. Buenos Aires is perfect for unleashing the culture vulture within! It is the birthplace of Tango and there is a love of music, art, dance and of course football! The Argentines also love to dine and no visit to the capital would be complete without trying their world-renowned beef and of course, their delicious red wine. To bring all of the best of the Portenos (people of Buenos Aires) together any visit to Buenos Aires wouldn’t be complete without a night of Tango, on us! We’ll take you to a Tango show and dinner where you’ll be able to get down and learn this intense dance for yourself. At dinner you’ll have the chance to taste some Argentine wine, food and of course experience an authentic tango show that originated in Buenos Aires. After the show, your Tour Manager can recommend one of the many bars, lounges or clubs for those looking to experience Buenos Aires’ pumping nightlife.
Your second day in BA is a day to enjoy the city your way. We’ll give you some ideas of how to spend it, doing stuff like watching a Polo game and then experiencing it for yourself, or get into the Argentinian cuisine with a lesson on how to cook different types of local favourites. The best part is you get to eat them when you're done! If hanging in town is what you’re after, there are loads of options. Check with your Tour Manager what is going on in town, there might be a football (soccer) game on, maybe rub elbows with the city’s elite while drinking champagne at a polo match or try your luck at the racetrack. For those interested in hitting the shops there is fantastic shopping in the boutiques and galleries that line La Florida, one of two pedestrian streets in the city centre. You could also visit the historic Gran Café Tortoni where you can ask for a ‘café con leche’ (Spanish for coffee with milk). Tonight, head out and find a local night spot to get a taste of Argentina’s famous beef, or try some of the homemade pizza and pasta that is the pride of the Italian population found in BA (Buenos Aires). Whatever you choose remember to save a little bit of energy for another night out on the town.
Buenos Aires to Iguassu Falls
Today we depart Argentina to stay on the Brazilian side of Iguassu Falls. Iguassu Falls lies along the border of Argentina and Brazil, with awesome views from both sides, and you’ll experience them both! From the airport in Puerto Iguazu we’ll cross the border into Brazil and head to the Foz do Iguacu. You could get things started with a different perspective of the falls on an optional helicopter flight, providing you with awesome panoramic views and photo ops. Although the parks on both sides are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, there is often debate about who has the better side of the Falls. We’ll leave it up to you, but it’s widely believed that that the view from the Brazilian side is second to none. Take in all 275 individual waterfalls that make up the falls and get an up-close view of the Devil’s Throat (the largest of the 275 falls). Later, make an optional stop at a bird sanctuary on the way back to town, where you can get up close to some of the Amazon’s famous residents like the toucan, Hyacinth Macaw and other tropical species living in their natural habitat. This evening we’ll check into our hotel and enjoy the Brazilian national drink, a caipirinha.
Get ready for an awesome day at Iguassu. First up, we’ll cross back into Argentina and visit their side of the falls. You could feel the spray of the falls on a speed boat ride, or if you feel like a wander, there’s a short hike to the edge of the Devil’s Throat. We have all day, so you can do it all if you want to. Later, we’ll say farewell Argentina and it’s back to Brazil for another night of wining, dining and dancing. Tonight join us for a rooftop BBQ and chill night in Iguassu.
Iguassu Falls to Buzios
It’s time to take it down a notch today as we start the next part of our journey in beachside Buzios. We’ll catch a flight to Rio de Janiero where we’ll transfer to this famous beachside resort town. Located on a peninsula and surrounded by more than 20 different beaches from small coves with white sand, to endless stretches of gold this is the perfect place for a little bit of R&R. Later on head out for a tasty local meal. Buzios is the perfect place to try some delicious seafood that is on offered all along Brazil’s coast. Don’t forget, it’s a place to dress to impress, so maybe glam up & get ready for a night on the town.
If you’re keen, you can rise early and catch a gorgeous sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. For those that prefer to sleep in, don’t worry, today’s another day to relax, chill and do what you want. Head down to the beach and try surfing, get a bit of a workout with an ocean swim or simply read a book while working on your tan with a cocktail in hand. Tonight, you could take a stroll through town and check out all of the shops, restaurants and bars here, before settling on one to spend your last night in town.
Buzios to Rio de Janeiro
Hello, Rio! Say farewell to the beach as we head to the city for our last 2 days on tour. Home to the world’s largest Carnival celebration, the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, the Brazilian bikini and of course some of the world’s best football (soccer) players, Rio goes off! First up, we will head to Rio’s old Cathedral, one of the city’s most important historical buildings before visiting the Lapa district and its 150 year-old aqueduct, the Arches of Lapa and Passeio Publico, the first public park in the city. After the orientation tour of the city, we’ll check–in to our hotel with time to rest up before a night out on the town. From evening football games, to bars, clubs and Favela parties, Rio’s nightlife will not disappoint. Just ask your Tour Manager for some cool places to head.
Rio de Janeiro
This morning we'll visit the Christ the Redeemer statue located atop ‘Corcovado’ and recently designated as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Not only will you be amazed by the sheer size of the monument, but also by the incredible view of Rio in its entirety. Next up is Sugarloaf Mountain. Climb 1299ft (396m) in glass-paneled cable cars to the summit for more astounding views of the city and its beaches. The trip is broken in two and if you take a break after the first car on Morro de Acucar you might meet some of the mountain’s naughtier residents, tiny monkeys who will be more than happy to steal your food. This afternoon you can opt for a Favela, tour to get a deeper understanding of how many of the city’s inhabitants live. You can visit the markets and shops throughout the city or just relax on the beach and watch the Cariocas, (residents of Rio), do what they do best, play football and practice Capoeira a martial art mixed with dance from the northeast of the country. You could also learn some tricks yourself if you’re keen.
Rio de Janeiro
Today is yours to explore this amazing city. Try hang gliding, hang on the beach and this afternoon chill on a boat cruise around Rio's famous harbour. Tonight, end the trip as we head out for a meal & our last night out in this amazing city!
Depart Rio de Janeiro
Don’t forget to swap addresses with your mates and Tour Manager, as our South American adventure ends this morning after breakfast.