Packed full of highlights, this journey showcases the diversity of wonders across the Andes and Amazon. At Cusco, in the Peruvian Andes, be immersed in the ancient culture of the Incas, visit the Sacred Valley and revel in the magnificent citadel ruins of Machu Picchu. At Lake Titicaca, we visit the floating Uros Islands before continuing to the lofty heights of La Paz. The Chilean capital of Santiago is home to some of Chile's most famous wineries and, further south, the beautiful 'Lakes District', with some of the most stunning mountain scenery in South America. Over the 'Lakes Crossing', lies the stunning alpine surrounds of Bariloche and, later, the lively neighbourhoods and late nights of Buenos Aires. At the border with Brazil, we experience the magnificent might of Iguazu Falls, before finally arriving in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rio de Janeiro.
Please note regional flights are not included in the tour price: Please contact us or your travel agent for flight details and costs.
Day 1 - Quito
On arrival at Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport you are met and transferred to your hotel. The remainder of the day is at your leisure. There is a Welcome Meeting in the evening where you meet your tour leader and other members of your group. This meeting is usually at 6 pm, but please look for a notice in the hotel reception or in an envelope that you've been given on arrival confirming the actual time. The briefing is generally followed by an optional group dinner.
Note: Quito is located at 2850 metres above sea level. At this altitude you may possibly experience some of the milder effects of altitude sickness, such as dizziness, insomnia and a shortness of breath. If this is the case we recommend that you avoid any strenuous activity.
Day 2 - Quito
Quito is not only the capital of Ecuador, but it also has one of the most impressive and well-preserved ‘old town’ areas in South America. In the morning we embark on a walking tour around the charming and evocative ‘Centro Historico’. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, there is much to discover, meandering through the narrow, cobblestone streets and exploring the lively Plaza Grande and Plaza San Francisco. The city is filled with Baroque art and architecture, as exemplified by magnificent churches, monasteries and public buildings. We visit the beautiful Church of the Society of Jesus (La Compania de Jesus). With its ornate facade and intricately decorated and gold-gilded interior, this is undoubtedly Ecuador’s most impressive church. Exploring further afield we head for one of the many viewpoints over the city. ‘El Panecillo’ (The Little Bread Loaf) offers sensational views of the city’s white houses and surrounding volcanoes. The 30-metre high statue of ‘La Virgen de Quito’ sits atop this small hill and can be seen from all over the city. We then drive north of the city to visit ‘La Mitad del Mundo’ (The Middle of the World). This monument is built on what was claimed in 1736 to be the line of the equator. We also visit another smaller complex nearby called Museo Solar Inti Nan, which is supposedly where the equator actually runs through since re-measurements were made. This is an entertaining little place where experiments are conducted before our very eyes. The evening is free for us to dine out at one of the many great eating spots in Quito (optional).
Day 3-4 - Amazon Jungle
After breakfast we travel by vehicle to our lodge in the jungle. It is a day of contrasts, ascending first to a mountain pass crossing, before we descend to the Amazon Basin. Driving towards the eastern mountain range, we reach the highest pass at 4060 metres before dropping down towards the Amazon lowlands. We break our journey at Papllacta where we have the opportunity to enjoy a thermal bath, and then continue descending through an amazing array of scenery and climatic changes: the change from thin-aired mountain scenery to thick, jungle vegetation is quite dramatic. We arrive at our jungle lodge in time for dinner.
Cotococha Lodge is strategically located in the upper Amazon basin on the shores of the great Napo River. Our programs in the jungle are flexible, and together with your native guide you can choose the excursions which attract you the most. Navigate by original dugout canoe across the Napo River to the animal rescue centre, visit local communities and learn about their culture and traditions, pan for gold at the river shore and practise the blowpipe. Other activities include jungle hikes through primary and secondary rainforest accompanied by your native guide who shares his knowledge of the flora and fauna encountered.
Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 5-6 - Banos
We leave our jungle lodge and climb steeply into the Andes, travelling through stunning scenery of soaring mountain peaks and deep gorges. Along the way we take a short hike to one of Ecuador’s most beautiful waterfalls, El Pailon del Diablo. We arrive in the late afternoon at Banos, a small Andean town back-dropped by the magnificent Tungurahua Volcano. A free day is set aside for some total relaxation in the hot springs or, for those feeling more energetic, to discover the many adventurous activities on offer. You can choose from mountain biking, horse-back riding or hiking in the surrounding countryside.
Day 7-8 - Cuenca
Continuing our drive through the mountains we make our way to the lovely city of Cuenca, the third largest in Ecuador and capital of the Azuay province. It is located at about 2500 metres in the Sierra, the highlands of Ecuador. The city's cobblestone streets, towering cathedrals and marble and whitewashed buildings give it a colonial air. The local Cuencanos are known for their traditional demeanor and conservative cultural values, which matches their 18th century surroundings. The city's history is well preserved, earning Cuenca the honor of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. During our visit we visit the nearby ruins of Ingapirca, the most important Inca site in Ecuador. It's not Machu Picchu, but is still well worth a visit. Originally a Canari settlement dominated the surrounding area, but these people were subsumed by the Incas who adapted the site to their own designs. They added their sun temple, which neatly complements the Canari’s temple to the moon. Like many other Inca settlements the overall plan is in the shape of a puma, giving symbolic strength to the villagers.
Day 9 - Tumbes - Lima
Today we drive down through the mountains to the Peruvian border. Here we farewell our Ecuadorian tour leader and are tranfered to the city of Tumbes, where we board a late evening flight to Lima. On arrival at Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport we are transferred to our hotel in the well-known coastal suburb of Miraflores.
Day 10-11 - Lima
Today we start our exploration of the Peruvian capital with a half-day city tour. Founded in 1535 by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, it was from Lima that all Spanish territories in South America were governed. Few cities at that time could rival Lima’s power, wealth and opulence. However its glory days ended in 1746 when the city was virtually destroyed by an earthquake. Many of the colonial buildings were rebuilt and we get a first-hand look at several of them on our tour. The striking Plaza Mayor (Plaza de Armas), flanked by some of the most important buildings in town such as the cathedral, the huge Government Palace and the Archbishop’s Palace, constitutes the heart of the city. We visit the cathedral and the nearby San Francisco Monastery, with its catacombs containing some 70,000 human remains. We also visit the impressive National Museum of Anthropology, Archaeology and History of Peru, which is home to a wonderful collection of cultural exhibits tracing the history, arts and accomplishments of the people of Peru, ranging from the original inhabitants of the land through to the Inca Empire and the Spanish conquerors. The rest of the afternoon and following day are free to do your own exploration of Lima. You may wish to wander around Miraflores or perhaps catch a taxi to visit the Gold Museum or the Larco Museum, which is renowned for its ancient pottery collection. Please remember that you must agree on a fare with the driver before catching a taxi, as the taxis here do not have meters. (Miraflores-Downtown approximately 10-15 soles)
Day 12-13 - Cusco - The Sacred Valley
Today we fly to the ancient Inca capital of Cusco, where we take an afternoon walking tour to explore this fascinating city. Please remember to walk slowly and take it reasonably easy upon arrival, as you will no doubt feel the effects of altitude as we have travelled from sea level up to 3350 metres. Cusco is a favourite destination of many visitors to Peru. Its main sites radiate outwards from the Plaza de Armas, which is dominated by the 17th century Baroque cathedral. It was in this very plaza that the Spanish conquistadors put to death the last Inca king, Tupac Amaru I. As we wander the streets and side alleys of the city we witness the perfect tapering Inca stonework that provided the foundations for many of Cusco’s colonial and modern buildings. Our comprehensive sightseeing tour of the city’s main sights includes the cathedral and Koricancha Temple. We then take to the surrounding hills and visit the impressive ceremonial ruins of Sacsayhuaman, where massive stone blocks that form the walls of this site give us an awesome picture of how highly developed Inca engineering was. In our free time, it is also possible to visit the Inca Museum, Religious Art Museum, Church of San Blas and Santa Catalina Museum.
The Sacred Valley, located between the towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo, was greatly treasured because of its climate, fertile land and the presence of the Urubamba (Sacred) River. On our full day tour of the Sacred Valley, we will see evidence of the Incas' engineering skills in the ruins of ancient aqueducts, irrigation canals, dams on the Urubamba River, imposing sets of terraces and centres of worship dedicated to Pachamama (Mother Earth). At the Sacred Valley we visit the Awana Kancha tourist centre where we see llama, alpaca, vicuna and guanaco all in the one place, the ruins at Qenko, the colourful market town of Pisac and the towering Inca citadel at Ollantaytambo. Built on a steep mountainside this grand citadel served as both a temple and fortress. A walk up to the top is rewarded by fine views over the village and out further into the valley.
Day 14-15 - Machu Picchu - Aguas Calientes - Cusco
We board an early morning train to the town of Aguas Calientes where we overnight. There are some small shops and restaurants in the town where we can while the time away. The next morning we take a bus up the steep, zigzagging road to the impressive Lost City of the Incas - Machu Picchu. Built around 1450 the city was deserted less than a century later following the Spanish invasion and ‘lost’ for hundreds of years before it was rediscovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. The architecture of Machu Picchu is quite extraordinary, with the mortar-free design particularly earthquake resistant and the stones so precisely cut that to this day not even a knife fits between them. We tour the site with our guide and then have some free time to explore by ourselves, before taking the bus down to the small town of Aguas Calientes. In the late afternoon we take the train back to Cusco.
Day 16 - Cusco
Today is a free day to spend in Cusco. The oldest continuously inhabited city in the western hemisphere, Cusco is a wonderful place in which to stroll aimlessly or be entertained by participating in an outdoor activity. If you are feeling energetic there are a myriad of adventures available in and around town, such as cycling and horse riding. There are plenty of opportunities to shop for handicrafts or wander around the cobblestone streets and visit museums, churches and colonial sites. You may just wish to relax with a 'cerveza' or a 'pisco sour' in one of the restaurants and 'penas' (traditional local bars) surrounding Plaza de Armas.
Day 17 - Puno
We travel by bus today to the town of Puno, situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world at 3810 metres. This scheduled tourist service takes us on good roads initially through some spectacular mountain scenery and we stop at several sites along the way, including Inca adobe ruins. Lunch is included on a stop in the small town of Sicuani. Along the way we also make a short roadside stop at La Raya, which at 4335 metres is the highest point on our journey. We also drive through the large sprawling town of Juliaca on our way to Puno, which is a colourful and lively town that is renowned for it traditional street dancing, often performed in celebration of Catholic festive days during February each year. An important agricultural centre, Puno is reasonably compact and centred around the pedestrian part of Calle Lima, which is full of restaurants and bars. The town is a launching pad for excursions out on Lake Titicaca whilst on the surrounding plateaus, grazing alpacas and llamas are familiar sights.
Day 18 - Lake Titicaca - Sillustani - Puno
This morning we leave our hotel by local trishaw and head for the lake and board our boat. One of our first stops is on one of the floating reed islands of the Uros people, who still live as they have done so for centuries. The islanders use totora reeds for many things, from building their homes and boats to producing hand-woven mats. We then make our way across the lake back to Puno and continue by road to Sillustani, where located on a small peninsula are well-preserved burial towers called ‘chullpas’. Constructed by the Colla people in pre-Incan times, these ‘chullpas’ often have lizards carved into their stone exterior; lizards are considered a symbol of life because of their ability to regrow their tails. The complex engineering feat involved in the construction of these conical towers, which stand up to a height of 12 metres, continues to amaze archaeologists even today. We return to our hotel in Puno in the late afternoon.
Day 19 - Tiahuanaco - La Paz
Peru and Bolivia both share the waters of Lake Titicaca. Today we follow the shores of the lake to the Bolivian border at Desaguadero, where we complete our immigration and customs formalities. The journey by road to the Bolivian capital, La Paz, takes us via the ancient ruins of Tiahuanaco. This was the base of a great civilisation that began around 500 BC before mysteriously 'disappearing' around 1200 AD. It is believed that the ceremonial complex date back to the 8th century AD and was once at the centre of a powerful and self-sustaining empire based in the southern Central Andes. The sprawling ruins comprise of temples, courtyards, terraced pyramids, monolithic stone statues and gateways. The most famous structure is the Puerta del Sol (Gateway of the Sun). From the ruins it is less than a two-hour drive to La Paz, where we spend the night. We enjoy spectacular views of the city on our approach, due to its unique location in the middle of a vast volcanic crater that resembles a bowl.
Day 20 - La Paz
We spend a full day visiting the sights of La Paz - the highest capital in the world. Towering over the city is Mount Illimani, which reaches a height of 6439 metres with its snow-covered peaks. Much of La Paz is modern; however, there are still some examples of late 19th century architecture such as the Presidential Palace, La Paz Cathedral and National Congress. We view these and visit a few of the city's small, but fascinating museums as well as wander around the Witches Market, where they sell some unusual medicinal potions. A short distance from the town centre is the Valley of the Moon - an eroded maze of canyons and pinnacles that form a bizarre landscape.
Day 21-22 - La Paz - Santiago
We transfer to the airport for our flight to the Chilean capital, Santiago de Chile. During our stay in Santiago we drive south from the city to the Concha y Toro winery located in Pirque, in Maipo Canyon. Founded in 1883, this is one of Chile’s most famous vineyards. The cellars, built with materials dating back to the 18th century, are situated six metres underground to maintain the ideal temperature needed for fine wines. We stroll around this beautiful estate before moving to the cellars, where some of the different stages involved in the local winemaking process are explained. And finally, we have the opportunity to taste some of the wines that have made this place so famous. Returning to the city we start our exploration of the Chilean capital. This city has experienced a turbulent history that has included native wars, floods and earthquakes. A walking tour takes us to many of the outstanding attractions in the city centre before we drive through the main avenues of the old districts, across the Bohemian neighbourhood of Bellavista and up San Cristobal Hill for a magnificent panoramic view of the city and the Andes Mountain Range. Then we visit the modern parts of Santiago to see elegant residential neighbourhoods, as well as shopping and financial districts. The tour ends at the artisan village of Los Graneros Del Alba, where the craftsmen can be seen at work. Here, we also have time to walk around or do some shopping.
Day 23-24 - Santiago - Lakes District
In the morning we are transferred back to Santiago airport for our flight to Puerto Montt. We are then transfered to Puerto Varas nestled on the shores of Lake Llanquihue, one of the largest natural lakes in South America. The city is well known for its German traditions, its food, its fish and seafood and its superb natural environment. The perfect cone of Osorno volcano and the snowcapped peaks of Mt. Calbuco and Mt. Tronador are clearly visible from the lakefront. We have a free day in Puerto Varas for some optional activities such as a hike to the Orsono Volcano, or a visit to Chiloé Island. Alternatively you may just want to sit back, relax and take in the stunning views from Puerto Varas.
Day 25 - Puerto Varas - Lakes Crossing - Bariloche
Today we take the regular boat and bus crossing service from Chile to Argentina via the Todos Los Santos, Frias and Nahuel Huapi Lakes and so to the Argentinean alpine city of Bariloche. The scenery on this day will be stunning so make sure you have your camera handy.
Day 26 - Bariloche - Buenos Aires
Bariloche has a distinctly alpine feel to it. It is set on the shores of the Nahuel Huapi Lake, the largest lake in Nahuel Huapi National Park, and only 16 kilometres away from Cerro Cathedral. It is also one of the most popular winter ski resort areas in Argentina. We have time this morning for some optional excursions that include exploring the town, visiting the Patagonian Museum or taking a hike to the top of Cerro Otto, located eight kilometres from town. There is a cable car there that takes us to the top for a great view over the lake and town. If you have a sweet tooth, then the chocolate is something that is not to be missed! In the late afternoon we are transfered to the airport for our flight to Buenos Aires.
Day 27-28 - Buenos Aires
We have two full days to explore this marvelous city. Buenos Aires is home to 11 million 'portenos', a name given to the inhabitants of Buenos Aires that literally means 'residents of the port'. It has been shaped by a history riddled with conflict and struggles. Even the achievement of independence in 1816 did not resolve ongoing disputes between local residents and conservative provincial landowners. However, following a succession of military juntas, Argentina now has a stable, democratic government. Our city tour of the Argentine capital combines bus transportation and walking and takes us to the district of Recoleta, famous for its cemetery often referred to as a miniature city-within-a-city because to its size. This place is also famous as the resting place for Argentina's favorite First Lady, Eva Peron. We also visit Palermo, Plaza San Martin, Plaza de Mayo and the colourful neighborhood of La Boca, with its colourful wooden buildings. After our city tour our time is free for us to explore the city further at our leisure. In the evening it is also possible to arrange to see a tango show. This can be arranged with your travel agent when booking this tour, or through your tour leader in Buenos Aires.
Day 29-30 - Buenos Aires - Iguazu Falls
This morning we fly to the Argentinean town of Puerto Iguazu situated on the northern border with Brazil. Once we have checked into our hotel we cross the border and spend the afternoon at the Brazilian side of the stunning Iguazu Falls where we are confronted with fantastic panoramic views. For those who so desire you can also take an optional short helicopter flight over the falls for a birds-eye view of this spectacular setting. In the late afternoon we return to Puerto Iguazu in Argentina.
The following day we visit the Argentinean side of the Iguazu Falls where we enjoy an action-packed day, with some great sightseeing and a jungle walk. Later in the day we get to witness the awesome power of the Falls close-up, as we take a power boat ride to the Falls thunderous base. Twenty metres higher than Niagara Falls, Iguazu Falls are without doubt one of the most impressive waterfalls in the world. Located at the confluence of the Rio Iguazu and the Rio Alto Parana, the water cascades over the edge of a 2.5 kilometre-wide plateau in 275 separate falls. At day's end we return to Puerto Iguazu to spend the night.
Brazilian Visas If you require a visa for Brazil please ensure that you obtain a ''Multiple Entry'' Visa as you will be crossing into Brazil twice during your stay at Iguazu.
Day 31-33 - Puerto Iguazu - Rio de Janeiro
In the morning we cross the border again into Brazil and transfer to the Foz do Iguacu airport for our flight to Rio de Janeiro.
The Portuguese established a small, fortified settlement on the western side of Rio de Janeiro Bay in 1560. The name means 'River of January', a reference to the month when it was founded. The sugar boom and resulting slave trade saw the settlement grow so rapidly that by the 18th century, the population had reached 50,000 and the city had also become the chief port for a thriving gold industry. Rio is today regarded as the holiday capital of Brazil and its inhabitants, known as 'Cariocas', pursue life with a zest. The city is characterised by beautiful white sandy beaches and rolling surf, with towering mountains forming a spectacular backdrop. During our time here we take a tour of the city including a visit to Sugar Loaf Mountain and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, which stands on top of a peak known as Corcovado. The views from here are simply sensational. The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, the colourful and vibrant nightlife and the laid-back and friendly nature of Brazilians will help make your visit to Rio a memorable one.
Day 34 - Rio de Janeiro
Our trip across the South American continent comes to an end after breakfast.