Welcome to Peru! Upon arrival at Lima Airport you'll be met and transferred to our joining hotel. The rest of the day is at leisure. 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 Jiron de la Union for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to get a taste for life in a large South American city. Later this evening our group welcome meeting takes place.
Lima - Cuzco. A short flight high over the spectacular scenery of the Andes brings us to the former capital of the Incas. Cuzco, which means ânavel of the earthâ in the Inca language, is home to a mostly indigenous population and we enjoy an orientation walking tour of this fascinating city.
On day 3 we take the scenic train to the lost city of Machu Picchu (Old Mountain) which was originally completely self -contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs. Located high above the fast flowing Urubamba River, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation that will simply take your breath away. The ruins were only discovered by the outside world in 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham found them while looking for another âlost cityâ called Vilcabamba. Due to their isolation many of the buildings are still quite intact and you can't help but admire Huayna Picchu (Young Mountain), which towers above the ruins.
Day 4 is is spent visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas, including the Pisac ruins, the famous traditional Indian market of the same name and the temple fortress of Ollantaytambo.
Cuzco - The Amazon. Transferring to the airport on day 5, we begin our visit to the mighty Amazon with a flight to the jungle community of Puerto Maldonado. Once settled in our Amazon lodge, we will begin to explore the jungle, enjoying the rich landscapes and the diverse flora and fauna. We visit Monkey Island, home to a great variety of monkeys as well as an array of birdlife. Trekking through the rainforest our guide will point out the many different species of bird and explain the use of plants in local medicine. Opt for a canoe ride later in the day to spot the caiman alligator and observe the abundant birdlife from our lakeside-viewing platform.
Overnight: Amazon | Breakfast x 1, Lunch x 2, Dinner x 2
Cuzco - Puno. Leaving Cuzco, we'll drive along roads abundant with herds of llamas, alpacas and vicuĂ±as before reaching the Altiplano (high plain) where our journey takes us past hot mineral pools, snow capped mountains and through villages where the locals sell food, fur hats and alpaca sweaters. At the highest point, the La Raya pass at 4,321 metres, you can see the research station for high altitude animals.
The beautiful scenery is continual all the way to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which at 3,855 metres above sea level, is the highest navigable lake in the world. We'll arrive in time so you can visit the colourful local market.
Overnight: Puno | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Today we depart Puno for our overnight excursion to the floating reed islands in the Bay of Puno to see the Uros islanders way of life and we will have the option to ride in a traditional reed boat before continuing our boat journey to the island of AmantanĂ. Here we enjoy the hospitality of the local Aymara/Quechua families sleeping in their homes. We recommend you to purchase gifts for the families at the port of Puno before leaving to offer to the families â they will greatly appreciate this gesture as it is often difficult and expensive for them to acquire goods from the mainland. There is limited/no electricity in the homestays and very basic bathroom facilities. We recommend charging your cameras in Puno.
Tonight you will have the chance to dress up in local costumes and take part in traditional dances and celebrations put on in your honour on the island. You can also watch the sunset from the top of AmantanĂ Island for exceptional views and participate in football matches with the local children.
Overnight: Lake Titicaca | Lunch, Dinner
This morning we visit Taquile Island, where the men stand around knitting distinctive woollen hats while the women work the fields. You can buy some of these unique handicrafts in the local cooperative shops. After lunch we board our boat for the return journey to Puno.
Overnight: Puno | Breakfast
Puno - La Paz. We travel around Lake Titicaca as we make our way towards Bolivia. After crossing the border, we continue to travel across the scenic Altiplano (high plateau) following the shores of Lake Titicaca. As we continue our journey we have breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains as the road winds its way into La Paz, 3,636 metres above sea level.
Built on a series of hills and considered one of the world's most beautiful cities, La Paz was established in the basin of a canyon with the snow -capped Mount Illimani in the background. Our hotel is very centrally located and is just around the corner from the city's colourful indigenous street markets including the fascinating and suitably named "witches market'' where bowler hat wearing women in their flared skirts sell such items as dead cats and llamas foetuses said to ward off evil spirits. The main square, Plaza Murillo, is also within walking distance. The square still retains its colonial buildings including the Presidential Palace. La Paz is possibly the best place to experience a traditional peĂ±a show of Andean music and dance where local bands play time -honoured instruments such as zampoĂ±as (pipes) and charangos (ukulele).
There are also many optional excursions available. You might like to visit the Moon Valley with its strange rock formations shaped by the weather. Another fantastic excursion is to the emerald green area of Coroico, the gateway to the Bolivian jungle region and a great place to see sub -tropical vegetation and plants. En route you will cross a 5,000 metre high pass before descending to 1,300 metres on narrow mountain roads bordered by sheer drops. The excursion to Coroico can also be done by mountain bike, as it is downhill nearly all the way and very exhilarating, but not for the fainthearted!
Overnight: La Paz
La Paz - Potosi. After our final day in La Paz we transfer to the bus station for our comfortable overnight bus through the beautiful landscapes of the Atliplano to the mining town of Potosi.
Overnight: Overnight Bus
The city of Potosi was established by the Spanish in 1545 soon after the discovery of a rich vein of silver in a nearby hill, the Cerro Rico (or ârich hillâ). It soon became the world's largest silver producer and silver from PotosĂ underwrote the Spanish economy, particularly the monarchy's extravagance, for over two centuries. In Spanish there is still a saying âvaler un potosĂâ (to be worth a fortune).
Millions of the indigenous population, and later, African slaves, worked in the mines in appalling conditions. You have the option to visit the mines, stopping first at the miners market to buy gifts such as coca leaves, dynamite and cigarettes. In the mines we will experience the difficult conditions in which the miners work - including 50Â°C heat. We'll pass several of the shrines they have made to the âTiosâ which they hope will protect them while they are working in what they believe is the devil's territory. If you'd like to learn more of the historic silver industry you can take a tour of the Moneda, a museum exhibiting coins, artwork, mummies and many other interesting artefacts from PotosĂ's history
After a night in the town, we visit what is claimed to be the largest salt flat in the world, the brilliant white vast Salar de UyunĂ. Travelling by 4WD vehicles we will spend two days exploring the salt lake and surrounds. First on the agenda is a visit to the Train Cemetery, where you can see the remains of 19th and early 20th century steam locomotives - a good place for artistic photographs. We will then come to Colchani, the main plant for the iodisation of salt and the best place to observe the methods of salt extraction from the salar. Here ovens are used to dry the salt, which is then formed into cakes. The highlight of the day is Fish Island (seasonal dependent). Located in the centre of the salar, 100 kilometres from UyunĂ, this hilly outpost is covered in giant cacti amid a flat, white sea of hexagonal salt tiles. The island is so named because it has the shape of a fish. Visiting Fish Island is quite otherworldly and the fantastic contrast of the brilliant blue sky (weather permitting of course) and the pure white of the salt flats will take your breath away. Tonight we may stay in a hotel made of salt.
Overnight: Uyuni / Salar De Uyuni Region | Lunch, Dinner
Following breakfast we head for the Red Lagoon (Laguna Colorada). We pass through the Siloli Desert where we encounter spectacular landscapes with multicoloured volcanic rock formations and stop at other lagoons en route. Covering an area of 60 square kilometres, the lagoon has a rich red colouration derived from algae and plankton which thrive in its minerals. The shoreline is fringed with brilliant white deposits of sodium, magnesium, borax and gypsum and the lagoon is inhabited by numerous flamingos, three unique species of which breed there.
Overnight: Laguna Colorada | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Laguna Colorada â San Pedro de Atacama. Leaving Laguna Colorada we visit the volcanic zone âSol de Manana' (Morning Sun) at 4,850 metres above sea level. Here you'll discover a geyser basin with bubbling mud pots, hellish fumaroles and a thick aroma of sulphur fumes. Inside a small crater we will observe boiling lava and we will also stop at hot springs where you can bathe. Crossing a 5,000 metre pass we come to Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) rich in lead, sulphur and calcium carbonate and shadowed by the cone of the Licancabur Volcano.
Continuing on we will cross into Chile and come to San Pedro de Atacama for the next 3 nights - the world's driest desert. The area is famous for its lunar landscapes, geysers, salt flats and hot springs. There is an excellent archaeological museum at San Pedro de Atacama, housing a good selection of mummies and other ancient artefacts. Here we have the included visit to the eerie eroded salt mountains of the Valley of the Moon.
Overnight: San Pedro de Atacama | Breakfast x 3
San Pedro de Atacama â La Serena. After our final day in San Pedro de Atacama - we board an overnight bus for our next stop - the charming coastal town of La Serena.
Overnight: Overnight Bus | Breakfast
Upon arrival into La Serena we have free time. You could take a trip to the Elqui Valley, home of Chilean Pisco, a strong colourless brandy. Or simply spend the day relaxing on the long beach and when dark begins to descend, get a birdâs eye view of the night sky with a trip to one of the many observatories in town. We spend two nights here.
Overnight: La Serena | Breakfast x 1
This morning we make our way to Santiago. We enter the fertile region of the Chilean heartlands, passing farmland and vineyards before arriving in the Chilean capital. Enjoy this city at your leisure. Visit Santa Lucia Hill for excellent views over the city or take the funicular railway to the top of San Cristobal where the Statue of the Virgin overlooks the capital and the distant Andes.
Overnight: Santiago | Breakfast
Today marks the end of your holiday. Consider visiting Plaza Constitucion at the Palacio de la Moneda or further exploring this exciting capital city before hotel check out at 12 noon. Post tour accommodation can be arranged, should you require.