The first day of your tour is simply an arrival day with no pre-organised activities. In order to allow time to relax and see some of the sights you may wish to add pre tour accommodation. On arrival please ask at the reception for information on when the pre departure meeting will be held.
Lima was founded by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535 after he eradicated the Incas and made the city his capital. Lima has many fine colonial buildings and some of the best museums in South America including the Gold Museum, Museum of the Inquisition and the Catacombs below the San Francisco Church. Peru's capital has much to offer and many of the sights, including the city's two main squares the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, are within easy walking distance The Plaza de Armas houses the Cathedral, Municipal Palace and Presidential Palace where the changing of the guard can be seen every day at 12 noon. There are also many markets in Lima, possibly the best being in the central district.
Lima - Cuzco. Having spent the previous day exploring Lima's bustling capital city, we take a flight to Cuzco, where you have the rest of the day free to explore the fascinating ancient capital. We recommend taking a city tour, so that you see as much of the city as possible in the time available
The oldest continuously inhabited city in South America, Cuzco was the hub of the Incan Empire and features a population of around 300,000, most of who are indigenous. This marvellous colonial city is situated 3310 metres above sea level and has numerous churches, some of which were built using recycled Inca masonry, as were many other buildings in Cuzco. The main square is called the Plaza de Armas, which has the beautiful cathedral on one side, which took a century to build, and the Church of La Compania de Jesus on the other. The colonial arcades, which occupy the remainder of the plaza, are full of restaurants and shops. If you're in the mood for a cultural experience, take a peek inside the 14th-century Inca palace which was later converted into the city's Museo de Arte Religioso (Museum of Religious Art). Well worth exploring during your time here is the ancient archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman, which has the largest and most impressive Inca stonework of all.
The city also boasts the San Pedro market, where all kinds of textiles and artisan merchandise are sold, and you can enjoy a fresh fruit juice made by one of the welcoming locals. Or you can simply enjoy wandering the cobbled streets, enjoy a cup of coca tea in a local cafe and soak up the friendly atmosphere.
Today we travel by train from Cuzco to the Lost City of Machu Picchu 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 “lost city” 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. After a guided tour learning about the fascinating history of the Lost City, you have the rest of the day to meander around the ruins or enjoy some free time exploring the local markets in Aguas Calientes, before returning to Cuzco by train.
Overnight: Cuzco | Breakfast
A full day is spent visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Firstly we visit the Pisac ruins, perched on a hilltop with incredible views of the snow -capped mountains. We then go down to the famous traditional market of the same name, which is full of colour and atmosphere. A great place for souvenirs! After lunch, we continue along the valley to the temple/fortress of Ollantaytambo with its enormous Inca terracing constructed on the side of a steep mountain.
Overnight: Cuzco | Breakfast
Cuzco - Puno. Leaving Cuzco, we'll drive along roads abundant with herds of llamas, alpacas and vicunas 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 4321 metres, you can see the research station for high altitude animals.
The beautiful scenery continues all the way to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which at 3855 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.
The next morning we depart Puno for our full day excursion on Lake Titicaca. We visit the floating Uros islands in the Bay of Puno, which are constructed by the islanders using reeds that grow in the shallow waters of the bay. You will get to meet the families who live on these islands, learning about their way of life and visiting their homes. You will also have the option to ride in a traditional reed boat before continuing our journey to the island of Taquile, a small island 45km offshore from Puno. It is well known for its tradition of intricate textiles and clothing knitted by the male locals. These textiles are regarded among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru, and you will learn about this important tradition by meeting and interacting with the islanders. You will then have the option to have a lunch made of local produce before returning to Puno.
Overnight: Puno | Breakfast x 2
Puno - La Paz. Built in a steep valley that protects the city from the harsh elements of the Altiplano, just about every building in La Paz is built on some sort of hill, so sightseeing will literally take your breath away! You will have two days to explore La Paz and it's bustling atmosphere. 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 local women in traditional 'Cholita' dress 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 pena show of Andean music and dance to local bands playing time-honoured instruments such as zamponas (pipes) and charangos (the ukulele).
Overnight: La Paz | Breakfast x 2
La Paz - Salar de Uyuni. We fly from La Paz to Uyuni, in the South West corner of Bolivia. If it is a clear day, you will be able to see the huge expanse of the Altiplano as you fly over the landlocked country, perhaps seeing the Andes slowly flattening out to become the Amazonian basin, which spreads to the far East of the country, to the border with Brazil.
The next morning we embark on an exhilarating three day 4WD tour to explore the Salar de Uyuni and the striking landscapes that surround it. 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. From here we drive onto the Salt Flats themselves. Claimed to be the largest salt flat in the world, the brilliant white vast Salar de Uyuní, which covers some 10,500 square kilometres and is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, looks like something from a surrealist painting and its seemingly infinite horizons will amaze you. The highlight of the day is Fish Island (seasonal dependent). Located in the centre of the Salar, 100 kilometres from Uyuní, 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. The otherworldly views from Fish Island will take your breath away, with the brilliant blue sky (weather permitting of course) contrasting with the pure white of the salt flats.
Please Note: Occasionally in the rainy season the salt flats become overly flooded and we may have to alter the itinerary if the salt flats are not safe to traverse. Your tour leader will advise as early as possible if this is likely to happen on your tour.
Overnight: Uyuni / Salar De Uyuni Region | Breakfast x 1, Lunch x 1, Dinner x 1
Salar de Uyuni - Laguna Colorada. We continue south on our epic 4WD expedition, into some of the most remote areas of the Bolivian Altiplano. You will see a variety of dramatic landscapes including smoking volcanoes, barren deserts and gravity-defying rock formations carved by the wind. In this incredibly empty landscape you'll most likely feel the furthest from civilisation you've ever been. You will visit the Laguna Colorada, which offers some truly breathtaking scenery, with several varieties of flamingos gathering in the shallow waters of the beautiful crimson lagoon.
Overnight: Laguna Colorada | Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Laguna Colorada - San Pedro de Atacama. We visit the volcanic zone ‘Sol de Manana' (Morning Sun) at 4850 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 the beautiful Laguna Verde, which is shadowed by the cone of the Licancabur Volcano. Continuing on we will cross into Chile and come to San Pedro de Atacama in the world's driest desert. The area is famous for the salt-covered lunar landscapes, geysers, salt flats and hot springs of the Valley of the Moon, which we will explore by 4WD. There is an excellent archaeological museum at San Pedro de Atacama, housing a good selection of ancient artefacts.
San Pedro de Atacama is a picturesque small town that looks like it has come straight from the scene of a Western with its single-storey buildings, white-washed walls and dusty roads. Due to its remote location and dry climate, the Atacama desert offers some of the clearest skies in the world and as such is used by international space agencies to monitor the skies. If you are lucky enough to have clear nights during your stay in San Pedro de Atacama, the starscape will most likely be the best you'll ever see.
Overnight: San Pedro de Atacama | Breakfast x 2
We fly to the sprawling metropolis of Santiago. If it is a clear day, you will have astounding views of the capital and the surrounding mountains as you come in to land. You are free to explore this cosmopolitan city at your own pace.
For the best views of the city, take a funicular railway to the top of San Cristobal where the Statue of the Virgin overlooks the capital and the distant Andes. Here you can taste some of Chile's best wines and find some beautifully situated swimming pools. Santiago is a very clean, modern city with many fountains and parks, and is well-renowned for its markets such as the famous Mercado Central, one of the best seafood markets in the world. In the Plaza Constitucion at the Palacio de la Moneda you can see the changing of the guard on most days.
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. If you have a late flight or have lengthened your stay by adding post tour accommodation you will have more time to explore the sights.