This trip is made for the following people: Unlucky lovers (hello La Paz Witches Market), wine snobs (hello Mendoza Valley) the sloth-like (hello Amazon Jungle) and people with healthy blood pressure levels (hello Uyuni Salt Flats).
Unlucky in love? Out for revenge? Need a cure for hayfever? Get your cocoa leaves read, buy a spell or pick up a dried llama fetus (ideal for sacrificing) at the witches market in La Paz.
Day 1-2 - Quito
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Quito.
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting in the evening of Day 1. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting; please check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. If you can't arrange a flight that will have you arrive at the hotel by early evening, you may wish to arrive a day early so you're able to attend. We'll be happy to book additional accommodation for you (subject to availability). If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader.
Quito is located above 2800 metres/9200 feet, where it is common for travellers to experience some adverse health effects due to the altitude - regardless of your age, gender and fitness. It even happened to Sir Edmund Hillary!
Before your trip: some pre-existing medical conditions are known to severely worsen at high altitude and be difficult to adequately treat on the ground, leading to more serious consequences. It is imperative that you discuss your pre-existing medical condition(s) with your doctor. We understand certain medications are reported to aid acclimatising to high altitude. Please discuss these options with your doctor.
On arrival in Quito: while our local representatives and hotel staff are aware of the closest medical facilities, it is very important that you are aware of the cause and effects of travelling at altitude, monitor your health and seek assistance accordingly. Please read the following document carefully and, during your trip, utilise the table on the back daily to record your own perspective of your general health and any symptoms you may experience: https://www.geckosadventures.com/sites/default/files/geckos_altitude-sickness.pdf
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, this charming colonial centre offers a wealth of things to see and you could lose yourself for hours meandering through the narrow, winding 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. If your feel like exploring further afield, you might like to 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. Incredible vistas can also be enjoyed from La Cima de la Libertad, the site of Ecuadorian independence from Spain. The Monastery of San Diego is home to the only version of 'The Last Supper' painting where Christ and company are feasting on cuy (roast guinea pig). Visit ‘La Mitad del Mundo’ (The Middle of the World), which was built on what was claimed in 1736 to be the line of the equator.Also visit the the smaller monument nearby called Museo Solar Inti Nan - supposedly where the equator actually runs through since re-measurements were made.Enjoy a free evening and perhaps grab some dinner from a local restaurant.
Day 3-5 - Amazon Jungle
We leave Quito early in the morning and travel by local bus to Misahualli (approx. 6 hours) From here we travel by boat to our local community (approx 10 minutes).
After breakfast we travel by canoe for 45 minutes to the starting point of our hike. The hike is relatively easy and takes approximately 3-4 hours (depending on the group’s pace). During the hike we visit a protected private reserve with sections of secondary and primary forest. Stay alert and try to spot the immense variety of insects and birds that inhabit this precious ecosystem. Your local guide will help understand the importance of the jungle to the local community.
We dedicate our third day at the jungle to learn about what it takes to live in this secluded part of the world. A community local leader will explain, demonstrate and encourage you to have a go at some of the skills necessary to survive here, such as fishing in the Napo river, understanding the use of different medicinal plants, blow pipe hunting as well are more social aspects of life such traditional dances, preparing chicha and other cultural events.
Accommodation in the community is very basic and it consists of a bed and bed linen. Bathroom facilities are shared.
Keep an eye out for sloths, monkeys, jaguars, toucans, armadillos and caimans. That's when you're not busy checking under your bed for anacondas!Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 6-8 - Banos
Travel back to Tena by local bus (approx 20 mins).
From Tena we travel to Banos by local bus (approx 5 hrs). Half way through the journey we stop in Puyo for a quick toilet stop and to grab some snacks.
Situated in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs, Banos has become a mecca for international travellers seeking year-round temperate weather, a small-town atmosphere and a base for exploring the great Ecuadorian outdoors.
Located on the northern foothills of the active Tungurahua volcano, Banos is a sanctuary of peace and tranquility during the week, broken only by the occasional performance of a traditional Andean band, English language movie at the Hood Cinema, or drinks with friends at a local bar. On the weekends and during holidays however, Banos explodes with carnival-like festivities. You will have two full free days here to take advantage of the optional activities - horse riding, mountain biking, hiking or even rafting. Perhaps rise early to watch the sun rise over the mountains from Banos' famous hot springs. You can also visit the cathedral and local artisan markets.
Day 9-10 - Riobamba - Cuenca
Travel by local bus to Riobamba (approx 3 hrs), where we swap buses and head south to Cuenca (approx 8 hrs).
Possibly the most attractive city in Ecuador, Cuenca has managed to retain its Old World air, despite being the country's third largest city. The city has many 16th and 17th-century buildings, including its cathedral built in 1557, the year the city was founded by the Spanish. However, the city's history stretches back hundreds of years earlier. This was the site of a native Canari village that was later conquered by the Incas and called Tomebamba. The city was said to have rivalled Peru's Cuzco for its beauty, but the glory was short lived and the city was razed during the Inca civil war. The city's history is well preserved, earning Cuenca the honour of being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Head out to El Cajas National Park, which features some of the most varied and spectacular scenery in the country. Its 70,000 acres shelter everything from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes, but it's the lakes (more than 200 of them) scattered among jagged peaks that most characterise the reserve. Despite its proximity to Cuenca, El Cajas is an easy place to find a surprising amount of solitude, whether you are there for the hiking or trout fishing. Visitors stand a good chance of seeing the wild llamas that were reintroduced to the park in the late 1990s. The park's other animal inhabitants, such as the spectacled bear, puma and tigrillo, are more elusive. Hummingbirds, toucans and Andean condors head the list of birds in the park.
You can reach El Cajas by local bus from Cuenca (approx 1 hr and 45 mins). Once there, pay the entrance fee, hire a native guide and start hiking around the beautiful lakes.
Day 11-12 - Zorritos Beach
Travel by local bus to Huaquillas, on the border of Ecuador and Peru at Tumbes (approx 5 hrs). After crossing the border we continue our journey south into the Sechura Desert and travel on to Zorritos, on the Pacific coast (approx 30 mins).
Zorritos is a fishing village and a great spot to sit under a palm tree and watch the sun go down. Time permitting, Zorritos also offers hiking, horseback riding and nearby mud baths.
Despite the arid conditions of the Peruvian coastline, the waters around Zorritos are rich with sea life. The town's population is made up of fishermen and surfers.Breakfast
Day 13-15 - Chiclayo- Trujillo - overnight bus
Heading further down the coast we arrive at beachside Chiclayo. Rice production, sugar cane and cotton are popular in this strong agricultural region, which is also well known for its natural medicines, fine Peruvian cuisine and archaeological sites. From Chiclayo we venture further down the coast to the city of Trujillo on the Moche River, gateway to the magnificent ruins at Chan Chan.
In your free time, perhaps visit the mud city of Chan Chan near Trujillo. It's not an Inca city, but part of the Chimu and Moche civilisations, renowned for their pottery. Possibly head to Huanchaco, a small fishing village that's now a relaxed beach haven for travellers keen on seeing the nearby ruins. Another nearby archaeological site is Huaca del Sol y la Luna.
Travel by overnight bus to Lima (approx 8-10 hrs).Breakfast
Day 16 - Lima
While Peru's capital officially began life in 1535, when Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro founded the city on the Day of the Three Kings, settlements had been scattered through the valley since before the Incas. The city was built on top of an existing palace and temples that belonged to the local chief who had little choice but to move on. Lima was in its prime during the Spanish colonial days and much of the city's attraction now lies in its well-preserved historical centre.
Your leader will take you on a walking tour of downtown Lima, including the city's historical centre. Flanked by streets of ornate colonial mansions, palaces and churches, Plaza Mayor is the best place to start any exploration of Lima. Take a walk through the old streets to get a feel for colonial life. On one side of the plaza is the cathedral, which houses the remains of Lima's founder, Francisco Pizarro.
In your free time, we recommend you take a walk around Miraflores. Go from Central Park (Parque Kennedy) to LarcoMar via Larco Avenue. Alternatively go to Parque del Amor (Love's Park) for a nice view of Lima's beaches. Other things to see and do include a tour to Pachacamac (approx 30 km from downtown Lima), the Museo de la Nacion and the Gold Museum. Limenos (Lima's residents) are friendly and there are plenty of great restaurants and cafes to sample ceviche, a local seafood speciality.
You have one-and-a-half free days to explore Peru's capital and our hotel is well located in the pleasant seaside suburb of Miraflores. The desert city of Lima, once deemed ‘La Ciudad de los Reyes’ or ‘The City of Kings’, is a vast buzzing metropolis of over 8 million people. The heart of the city is full with Spanish colonial splendour, fine art and baroque architecture. Highly recommended is a visit to the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses impressive collections of ceramics, traditional weaving and remarkable illustrations of pre-Columbian erotic pots. If you are keen to soak up the history of Peru’s ancient civilisations, then you should not miss the Museo de La Nacion which is home to priceless artefacts from the ancient Inca and coastal civilisations. In the evening be sure to indulge in the local seafood; Lima has some of the finest dining in South America and the city is alive with music and dancing. The lively Barranco Quarter has many bars, discos and clubs where traditional Afro-Peruvian music and Creole food can be enjoyed. Your tour guide is on hand to help you arrange any optional sightseeing tours required.
Day 17-18 - Pisco - Nazca
Travel by taxi or minivan to Lima's bus station and take a local bus to Pisco (approx 4 hrs). The bus will stop three or four times before reaching our destination.
This small fishing town is the gateway to the Ballestas Islands and the Paracas National Reserve but it's most famous as the birthplace of Peru's national drink, the pisco sour, made from a local brandy of the same name. For some local food specialities, head to the Plaza de Armas where the locals hang out and munch on tejas, small sweets made from nuts and dried fruits.
The Ballestas Islands are in the Paracas National Reserve. Sometimes called the 'Galapagos of Peru' the islands are a haven for wildlife and hundreds of pelicans, red-footed boobies, flamingos, sea lions and even penguins.
Travel on to Nazca (approx 3 hrs), stopping en route at the oasis of Huacachina. The town of Huacachina is built around a small natural lake surrounded by dramatic sand dunes, which offer endless photography and sandboarding opportunities.
The entire desert in the Nazca area was once home to the ancient Nazca and Paracas cultures which preceded the Incas by over 500 years. Remains of their cultures are still visible - Nazca is home to the famous and enigmatic Nazca lines, enormous designs inscribed in the desert on the arid high plateau. The enormous lines have been etched into the ground by scraping away the top darker layer of gravel which then contrasts with the paler one underneath. Animals, insects and birds are depicted, and some of the simpler line formations are up to 10 km (32 miles) in length. Who drew them, how and why, can only be guessed at, but theories range from alien invaders to complex Nazca calendars. These mysterious shapes are better seen from the air. Small four/six seater planes offer 30 minute flights that allow viewing all 26 figures scattered through the desert floor.
Warning! Planes turn sharply from one side to another to facilitate viewing from both sides of the plane. Plastic bags are provided on board but needless to say, this flight is not recommended for those with a weak stomach.
A safety note. A number of local operators offer flights over the Nazca lines. It should be noted that there have been numerous safety issues over Nazca in the past – as such Intrepid has used its best endeavors to assess the safety of the operation of some of these companies. While it is impossible to guarantee the safety of air operations, your leader can only assist you to book this activity through companies Geckos assesses are safer to fly with. Your leader is specifically prohibited from recommending or assisting booking this activity through any other operators.Breakfast
Day 19-20 - Arequipa
Early in the afternoon we travel from Nazca to Arequipa by local bus (approx 9hrs)
Standing at the foot of El Misti Volcano and oozing the best of Spanish colonial charm, Arequipa vies with Cuzco for the title of Peru's most attractive city. Built out of a pale volcanic rock called sillar, the old buildings dazzle in the sun, giving the city its nickname - the 'White City'. The main plaza, with its cafes and nearby cathedral, is a lovely place to while away the day. For a glimpse into a bygone way of life, visit the Monasterio de Santa Catalina. When the convent was built in the 16th century it was traditional for the second son or daughter of a family to enter the religious service. The Santa Catalina accepted only women from high-class Spanish families, with each family paying a hefty dowry for her acceptance. But life inside the convent was far from modest - each nun had between one and four servants, many brought rugs, fine china and silk curtains, and they often held parties. Visit the Juanita Museum, home to the 'Ice Maiden' - the Incan mummy of a 12-14-year-old girl who died in the 1440s, and was discovered in 1995.Breakfast
Day 21-22 - Colca Canyon - Arequipa
We travel by minivan to Chivay (approx 5 hrs). Along the way you'll see llamas, alpacas and vicunas and discover the differences between these similar creatures. There will also be the opportunity to stop for pictures. At our second stop (after approx 2 hrs) you'll have the chance to try some coca tea. After a third stop at Patapampa (the highest place on our tour at 4800 m above sea level), we descend to Chivay town.
More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon provides some breathtaking views. The Incan and pre-Incan terraces that are carved into the walls are still cultivated and traditional Indian villages are dotted throughout the canyon. In the afternoon, your local guide will organise a short trek, finishing at the local hot thermal baths. You may choose to spend your evening soaking in the baths, dining on llama steak or listening to live Andean music at a pena.
Accommodation in Chivay is in a very basic hostel. There are en suite toilets, however there's no heating (you can request extra blankets) and some rooms can be noisy.
The main star of the canyon is not the amazing scenery but the magnificent Andean condor, the world's largest flying bird. Andean condors have gross-looking faces. We know that sounds shallow, but wait until you see one! Wake up very early and drive to a viewpoint where condors can normally be seen in their morning routine. Following this stop there will be a short walk of about 45 minutes, before returning to Chivay. Travel back to Arequipa in the afternoon.Breakfast
Day 23-24 - Cusco
We farewell Arequipa and travel by local bus to Cusco (10 hrs).
Your leader will take you on a walking tour including a visit to the Coca Musuem - where you can learn more about this infamous plant which has been an essential part of life in the Andes for centuries - and the local San Pedro market.
The Cusco region truly is the heart and soul of Peru. The city itself is the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city and was the home of the Incas for two centuries before the Spanish built their first capital here. Today Cusco is a fascinating combination of both cultures. Inca-built walls line the central streets and many of the elegant colonial buildings are built on or around Inca foundations. This is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend and is a perfect base for explorations into the Inca world or to enjoy a range of outdoor activities.
Take the time to acclimatise to the city's 3,450 m (11,150 ft) altitude and explore the many Baroque churches and ancient temples that dot the city. The cathedral, built on top of an Inca palace, dominates the Plaza de Armas, Cusco's picturesque heart. The cathedral is one of the city's greatest repositories of art and houses an elegantly carved choir stall and a silver-covered Neoclassic altar. There are several impressive Inca ruins within the city. The most easily accessible is Koricancha, which was the Inca empire's richest temple. Once plated in thick gold, the Spanish built a Dominican church atop its sturdy walls.
For lunch or mid-morning coffee and cake head to Yanapay Restaurant at 415 Ruinas St. This restaurant uses all its profits to support children in Cuzco through Aldea Yanapay and its social projects. For more info on Aldea Yanapay visit: http://yanapay.facipub.com/Breakfast
Day 25-29 - The Sacred Valley - Inca Trail - Cusco
Travel by private bus through the Sacred Valley (approx 2 hours total drive), on the outskirts of Cusco. Known as Wilcamayo to the Incas, the lush, fertile valley has long been the main source of food for the high Andes. Maize crops can be seen surrounding the river and covering the terraces carved high into the valley walls. We will head to a community in the valley to learn about local lifestyle and activities and if our visit coincides with market day we can spend time browsing the stalls in search of hand-painted beads or warm ponchos and maybe practising some of the local language, Quechua.
On Day 26 we start epending on your pre-arranged travel arrangements, during the next four days you may: hike the Classic Inca Trail, hike the Inca Quarry Trail, or stay in Cusco for another two days before heading by train to Aguas Calientes.
While you are away from Cusco the bulk of your luggage will be stored at your hotel in Cusco.
If you are hiking the Inca Trail or the Inca Quarry Trail, the evening before you leave Cusco, you'll receive a small duffle bag to pack clothes for the next four days (6 kg maximum). Your team of porters will carry these bags for you, together with the food and equipment for the trail. Please note that you won't have access to these items until the end of each day, as the porters will always be ahead of the group.
If you are travelling to Aguas Calientes by train, you'll have the option to leave most of your luggage at your hotel storage room and only travel with the necessary items for the next few days.
INCA TRAIL: The Inca Trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people, but do come prepared: the trail is 45 km (28 miles) long and often steep. Generally each day's journey consists of 7 hours walking on average (both uphill and downhill), plus stops for snacks and lunch. Normally trekking starts at 7am (except for the fourth morning) and you reach the campsite around 4-5pm.
Accommodation on the trek is camping (3 nights). Double tents (twin-share) and foam camping mats will be provided. Tents are set up by the porters. Meals are prepared by the trek cook.
Day 1: Today we travel by minivan to the 82 km marker and join our crew of local porters, cook and guide. The starting point of the trek is located at 2,850m. Our first day includes some uphill trekking to the campsite - at over 3,300 m above sea level. Today you will see the ruins of Llactapata, burnt to the ground by the last Inca emperor to discourage Spanish pursuit down the trail.
Day 2: This is the most challenging day of the trek as we ascend a long steep path (approx 4 hours) to reach the highest point of our trek, Warmiwanusca ('Dead Woman's Pass'), at a height of 4,200 m (13,779 ft), before descending to the Pacaymayo Valley at 3650 m. Next is a climb up to the second pass known as Runkuracay at 3,980 m - approximately 90 minutes uphill from the Pacaymayo Valley. From here we can enjoy views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba before descending to the ruins of Sayacmarca (2-3 hours). From here it's only a short walk to the Chaquicocha campsite at 3,620 m.
Day 3: Continue over the third pass and soon reach the beautiful ruins of Phuyupatamarca, the 'Town above the Clouds', at 3,850 m (approx 90 mins walk). From here we start our descent along Inca steps (2 hours) to reach our final night's camp by the Winay Wayna ('Forever Young') archaeological site at 2,750 m. Grab a drink and enjoy the panoramic views of the valley below.
Day 4: The day starts before dawn with breakfast served nice and early at approximately 4.30 am. The early start serves two purposes, one we farewell our porters as they descend to the train station to catch their 6.30am train home and two, we are ready to start hiking by 6am by when the gate that leads through to the Inti-Punku (sun gate) opens. The walk to the sun gate takes approximately 2 to 2.5 hours.
Here you will enjoy your first views of the complex of Machu Picchu, often referred to as the Lost City of the Incas. On a clear morning the view from the Sun Gate can be quite stunning and creates a lasting impression that will stay with you long after you return home.
QUARRY TRAIL: The Quarry Trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people. This hike is 26km long in total and its highest pass is at 4,450 meters above sea level.
Throughout the trek your gear (and camping gear) will be carried by horses (as opposed to porter).
The first two nights of the trek are spent camping and the third one at a simple hotel. Double tents (twin-share) and foam camping mats will be provided. Tents are set up by the porters. Meals are prepared by the trek cook.
Day 1 - Today is an early start as we drive to Choquequilla, a small ceremonial place where Incas used to venerate the moon. A short drive from here takes us to Rafq'a, the starting point of our trek and where we meet the horsemen that will join us during the hike. After an approx. 1hr walk we reach the small community of Socma.
A further 60min walk takes to the Perolniyoc cascade lookout. This is a perfect opportunity to stop for photos and a snack.
From here we continue on to our campsite, at 3700 meters above sea level. All going well, we should reach our campsite by lunch time. After lunch we set off to explore the Q'orimarca archaeological site, which used to serve as a check point during the times of the Incas.
Day 2 - This is the most challenging but most rewarding day of the hike. A 3hr walk takes us to the top of the first pass, known as Puccaqasa (approx 4370 meters). After enjoying the views of the valley below we walk down for 30min to our lunch spot.
Rested and full of energy again we take on a 2hr hike to the highest pass of the trek: Kuychicassa (4450 meters).
From here we head down for 2hr to a site the Incas called Inti Punku, (meaning Sun Gate) with imposing views over the valley bellow and the Veronica mountain raising over the horizon.
Our campsites is a stone throw away at Choquetacarpo (3600 metres)
Day 3 - Day three is all downhill hiking. The first stop is at the Kachiqata quarry, where we witness the work the Incas could not complete due to the Spanish conquest.
Approximately at midday we finally arrive to the town of Kachiqata - the end of this challenging and fascinating trek.
From here we visit Ollantaytambo. In the afternoon we travel by train to Aguas Calientes where we meet with our fellow travellers who didn't hike. The natural hot springs in town are an unbeatable way to spend a late afternoon/early evening. Tonight we overnight at a simple but comfortable hotel.
Day 4 - Today we take a very early bus (5:30am depending on weather conditions) along the winding road to Machu Picchu (approx. 30 minutes). In Machu Picchu we join the travellers who opted to hike the Classic Inca Trail option of this trip before taking on a guided walk of Machu Picchu.
TRAIN OPTION: For those travellers not interested or unable to hike the trail, it's possible to spend two extra nights Cuzco before travelling by bus to Ollantaytambo (approx. 90 minutes) and train through the winding Urubamba Valley to Aguas Calientes (1.5 hrs approx.) where you spend a third night.
Aguas Calientes is nestled in the cloud forest in the hills at the foot of Machu Picchu. For those who want a sneak peak, there is time to visit Machu Picchu independently before a guided tour the following day. If you would like to do this please advise your group leader at the welcome meeting. Otherwise, you can while away the afternoon in the natural hot springs that give the town its name.
MACHU PICCHU: While it's thought Machu Picchu was built around 1440 as a country retreat for Incan nobility, there is evidence this had been a sacred Incan site for much longer. Another school of thought is that this was an astronomical observatory. There's plenty of time for you to decide for yourself as you wander around the many temples, palaces and living quarters. You will have a guided visit (approx 1.5-2 hrs) with plenty of free time afterwards.
After taking advantage of the seemingly endless photo opportunities, it's time to return to Cuzco for a well deserved shower and a pisco sour.
WAYNA PICCHU: Due to Intrepid's internal safety policy our leaders are specifically prohibited from recommending or assisting with booking this activity.
Return to Cusco by train.Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 30 - Cusco
Just relax and rest your weary legs, which should be looking quite svelte by this stage of the trip. Bonus.
A free day in Cusco can be spent shopping for handicrafts or taking in some further sightseeing. Cusco is a maze of markets, artisan shops lining the streets and many museums filled with the rich history of Inca art. You might like to try some traditional cuisine- perhaps guinea pig, alpaca steak or ceviche, a raw seafood delicacy marinated in lime. Relax and absorb the incredible experiences of the last few days whilst resting in one of the many cafes that line the streets of this quaint and fascinating town.Breakfast
Day 31-33 - Puno - Lake Titicaca
Travel by local bus through the dramatic scenery of the high altiplano to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca (approx 6 hrs). There will be a couple of stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers.
Located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Puno is a melting pot of Aymara and Quechuan Indian culture and traditional Andean customs are still strongly represented here. The town is known as the folklore capital of Peru and is famous for its traditional dances. Many festivals are celebrated here, so if you're lucky your visit might coincide with one of the colourful evening parades, when the streets fill with costumed dancers and musicians.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, sitting at 3,820 m above sea level. From the shoreline, the water stretches out almost as far as the eye can see, its expanses just waiting to be explored. Take a tour of the lake by slow motor boat, stopping off to visit the Uros floating islands. The Uros originally built their islands to isolate themselves from rival tribes. The islands are built from many layers of totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake. As the reeds closest to the water begin to rot, more layers are added on top. These reeds are used for making everything on the islands, including the boats which can last up to 12 months.
To get a closer look at daily life in the Lake Titicaca region, we'll be welcomed into local homes for an overnight stay with a local family on the island of Amantani. This is one of the more remote islands so prepare yourself for a 'real' house with a lot of mod-cons (ie no hairdryer). Make the most of your visit by helping your host family with their daily activities or trying to chat in the local language, Quechua. A game of soccer is also a great way to make local friends.
Our homestay is a mudbrick house. Rooms have beds and many blankets, there are shared drop toilets but no showers.
After breakfast the next day, board the boat again for a visit to Taquile Island (approx 1 hour), where knitting is strictly a male domain and women do the spinning. This is a great place to pick up some high quality, locally knitted goods. An uphill trek of about an hour brings us to the main area of the island and after the visit we descend about 500 steps back to our boat.
Transfer back to Puno by boat (approx 3 hrs).Breakfast | Lunch | Dinner
Day 34-37 - La Paz - overnight bus
Travel by comfortable local bus to Desaguadero, where we cross the border into Bolivia. The first stop is the Peruvian migration office where you'll be asked to leave the bus and proceed through Peruvian migration. Then walk via a bridge to the Bolivian side, submit your passport at the Bolivian migration office and re-board the bus, which will continue to La Paz. About 30 minutes after crossing the border there's another stop where the army will again check your documents.
The journey to La Paz takes about 5 hours - don't forget that Bolivia's timezone is 1-2 hours ahead of Peru.
At around 3,600 m, La Paz feels like the top of the world. It's not far from it and vies with Tibet for the title of highest capital in the world. Although Sucre is the constitutional capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the administrative capital and the centre of commerce, finance and industry. Despite the abundance of colonial architecture, La Paz's indigenous roots run deep, and the atmosphere in the market-filled streets is both modern and traditional. La Paz is renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechiceria or Witches' Market. Browse through the weird and wonderful stalls which sell everything from potions to incantations made from herbs, seeds, dried llama foetuses and unidentified bits and pieces to cure any ailment. If this is all too much for you, try the more conventional markets where you'll find ponchos, gloves, hats and many other products made of alpaca wool, leather and other traditional materials. Visit the Coca Museum and learn about this infamous plant that has been an essential part of life in the Andes for centuries.
Late in the afternoon of our last day in La Paz, we jump on an overnight bus to Sucre (approx 12-13hrs). On this overnight bus you can expect your seat to recline to a more comfortable position than you would expect on a plane. Buses normally have a toilet at the back which, with a bit of luck will work - however the bus will make one or two toilet stops on the way. Temperatures overnight can be very cold so ensure you take warm clothing with you.Breakfast
Day 38-39 - Sucre
Leave La Paz for Sucre, known as Bolivia's most beautiful city. Bolivia's official capital, Sucre was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1991. Most of the town's colonial buildings have been whitewashed, earning its nickname - the 'White City'. For great views of the city head up to Recoleta, an old convent on top of the hill.
Head to the Plaza 25 de Mayo to mingle with Sucre's well-heeled residents and have a look at the beautiful interior of the Iglesia de la Merced.
For something completely different, compare shoe sizes with a dinosaur at Cal Orcko, where 60 million-year-old footprints have been discovered.
Day 40-41 - Potosi
A journey by local bus takes us to Potosi (approx 3-4 hrs).
The highest city of its kind in the world, Potosi has had a turbulent past, centred mostly around its mining successes and failures. During the Spanish colonial days, the extensive mining of Potosi's silver rich Cerro Rico was said to have kept Spain running for 300 years. During this time, Potosi briefly celebrated life as one of the richest cities in the world. In the 1800s, the supply of silver declined as did the market price and the city started to suffer. Working conditions in the mines were appalling and huge numbers of indigenous people died. African slaves were brought in to replace them and it's said that as many as 8 million people died in the mines during the Spanish era.
In Potosi you can take a trip into one of Bolivia's old tin mines. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but those who squeeze through the tunnels will surely be in for an unforgettable (see: dark, dirty and scary) experience. Alternatively spend time exploring colonial art and architecture in the town.
Day 42-44 - Uyuni - Salar de Uyuni
Travel by local bus from Potosi to Uyuni (between 5-7 hrs).
Arriving in Uyuni feels a bit like you've reached the end of the road, which in many ways is true. This remote small town sits on the edge of the high altiplano, a wilderness that extends for hundreds of kilometres towards the border with Argentina and Chile. So it's hardly surprising that the town has a bit of a wild west feel about it. Uyuni is best known for its proximity to the Bolivian salt flats known locally as the Salar de Uyuni.
Uyuni is the starting point of our 3-day 4WD excursion into Salar de Uyuni. The first day is spent mostly on the salt lake itself. The massive salt plains of Bolivia are an incredible sight and offer plenty of opportunities for bizarre, perspective-defying photos. Endless blue skies meet endless white salt on what was once a prehistoric lake. From December to March there is a risk of the salt lake being flooded and the itinerary will be adapted to accommodate this.
The second day is spent driving through amazing landscapes. We stop by Laguna Colorado, a rich red lake vividly coloured by algae and rich minerals. One of the strangest sights in such arid and inhospitable land is be the abundant wildlife. Spot llamas, flamingos, vizcachas and foxes.
Apart from providing geysers and snow-capped volcanoes, the volcanic landscape also gives us the chance to relax in the region's thermal baths. The third day is a very early (and freezing) start with more driving ahead.
Accommodation in Salar de Uyuni is basic. There are no showers and electricity is generated by solar panel so not enough to charge electronic devices. Salar de Uyuni is at high altitude and can experience extremely cold weather, particularly at night. In the rainy season, the itinerary may be altered depending on the accessibility of roads.
Be aware, this trip can be tough going. There will be long travel days in 4WDs on dusty washboard tracks, freezing temperatures, basic toilet facilities and multishare accommodation. However, without a doubt, this amazing journey will be one of the main highlights of your trip to South America.Breakfast
Day 45-46 - San Pedro de Atacama
Take a 4x4 adventure through the Salt Flat region ends in San Pedro de Atacama.
San Pedro de Atacama isn't the kind of town you'll forget in a hurry. Surrounded by the kind of scenery that makes you happy to be alive. It's also renowed for being a stargazing hotspot, which is nice. It is a small oasis town in the Atacama desert and a quirky little place with low-lying adobe buildings lining narrow streets which lead to a sleepy tree-lined plaza that is home of a pretty white-washed church and a fascinating small museum, home to some interesting mummies and various other Indian artefacts.Breakfast
Day 47-49 - Salta
Today is a long travel day as we leave San Pedro de Atacama behind and move on to Salta - Argentina (approx 12 hrs).
Salta's rich history, colonial architecture, surrounding natural attractions and friendly locals make this town of half a million people one of Argentina's main attractions. The central square, Plaza 9 de Julio, has been called the nicest plaza in all of Argentina, with its lush gardens, fountains, statues and beautiful white buildings including the Cabildo, Cathedral and Casa del Gobierno (Government House).
For the active, there's a hike to the top of Cerro San Bernardo, the massive green mountain that looms over Salta. There are 1070 steps to the top, starting at the monument to Don Martin de Guemes and passing the Stations of the Cross along the way. It's a rugged and tiring hike but the view from the top is spectacular and there's a cafe for a nice refreshing drink. If you're not so active, there's a gondola. This is an amazing place to watch the sunset.
There's also all manner of adventure activities available, such as rafting, bungee jumping and horse riding. Or you can stroll the streets, take a paddleboat on the lake or pop into one of the many museums.
In the afternoon/evening of our last day in Salta we travel by overnight bus to Mendoza (approx 18 hrs). We arrive at about midday the next day. The overnight bus on this leg of the trip is quite comfortable. You can expect the seat to recline to a more comfortable position than you would expect on a plane. These buses normally have a toilet that minimise the number of stops along the way.
Day 50-52 - Mendoza
Mendoza is Argentina's most important grape growing region, producing 70% of the country's wine. Malbec is the region's signature variety.
The city centre is beautifully landscaped and full of trees, squares and parks. During the day Peatonal Sarmiento (Sarmiento pedestrian street) is the place to be. This coffee shop-lined street joins the busy San Martin St with Plaza Independencia making it a must destination for all mendocinos coming to the city. Near Plaza Independencia is Mercado Central (Central Market) a great destination to try the regional specialities such as empanadas (meat pastries), cheese, ham, marinated olives and local wines. Most commercial activity in Mendoza breaks from 1pm to 4pm to allow for the traditional siesta.
At night, attentions shifts to Av. Aristides Villanueva. The many restaurants, bars and pubs make this area the epicentre of Mendoza's night life. If you're feeling adventurous, try one of the most popular drinks in town: Fernet with Coke - an acquired taste and not for the faint-hearted!
Spend a day tantalising the tastebuds. Tour the wineries and learn about the region's wine making history while sampling crisp whites and robust reds.
Day 53-56 - Santiago - overnight bus
Another long drive, but arriving in Santiago will make you forget about your numb bum. With more galleries, cafes and bars than you can shake a chacarero (Chile's signature sandwich) at.
Travel by local bus across the Andes to Chile and its capital, Santiago (approx 7-9 hours depending on border crossing conditions).
Although Santiago covers a large area, the city centre is quite compact and easy to get around. The city's centre is roughly triangular in shape with the Plaza de Armas, the main plaza and home to the Cathedral, sitting in the centre. Panning out from here are wall-to-wall shops, restaurants and parks. For a more serene look at Chilean life, head out to Barrio Bella Vista, Santiago's 'Paris Quarter'.
Your leader will take you on a walking tour of Santiago visiting the Plaza de Armas in the city's historic centre, the Central Market with its colourful seafood restaurants and the Palacio de la Moneda, the seat of government and presidential residence. Perhaps take a cable car up to Cerro San Cristobal. If the weather permits you'll have impressive views over the city and the peaks of the Andes.
Catch a comfortable overnight bus to Pucon (approx 10 hrs) on the evening of Day 56.
Day 57-59 - Pucon
In the heart of the Lake District and set on the foot of the active Volcan Villarrica, Pucon is every outdoors fanatic's dreamland. Mountain biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, climbing, horse riding - you name it, you can do it in Pucon. There's even a casino inside the luxurious Hotel del Lago and busy nightlife.
Pucon is a thrillseeker's dream. Hike up a volcano, go mountain biking, whitewater rafting, hiking, climbing, horse riding, or whatever else you can think of to get your adrenaline pumping. If adrenaline isn't your thing, blow off some steam in one of the many bars of restaurants. You have two full days (after your arrival day) in Pucon to enjoy the optional activities.
Day 60-61 - San Martin de Los Andes
Travel by local bus across the Andes to San Martin de los Andes in the Lake District of Argentina. Hopefully you will arrive in San Martin de los Andes before 4pm, but that depends on the border crossing.
Nested on the shores of Lake Lacar and surrounded by the majestic Lanin National Park, San Martin de los Andes is one of Argentina most picturesque towns.
What to do in town varies depending on the season. The best way to discover the natural wonders of San Martin is hiking. Lanin National Park has many treks to keep you busy for a few days. In winter, Chapelco ski resort offers some of the best sport in the area.
San Martin de Los Andes plays host to heaps of optional lakeside pursuits....or skiing.....or trekking....or sleeping!
Day 62-63 - Bariloche - overnight bus
Travel to Bariloche (approx 3hrs).
A year-round playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all types, Bariloche sits on the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi. Outdoor activities range from skiing on the peaks of Cerro Catedral (in season), to hiking or biking around its base.
One of Bariloche's renowned pastimes is dining: find a comfortable café and try the fresh salmon or lake trout, or even a hearty beef parrillada. The town is famous for its handmade chocolates and there are some really spectacular displays in the local chocolate shops.
Be warned, Bariloche is well known for its fine chocolates. A tour to one of the main chocolate factories is a great way to try the many flavours available before settling for a kilo of your favourite.
Cerro Otto is one of locals' favourite lookout points. You can hike or bike to the top or travel via a cable car. At the summit there's a revolving café which offers 360° views of the breathtaking surrounds.
On the last day in Bariloche we take an overnight bus to Buenos Aires (approx 25 hrs including stops along the way). The bus is semi-cama, meaning that seats recline to a far more comfortable position that you would expect on a plane . There's a toilet on board.
Day 64-67 - Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires must be the ultimate cosmopolitan city. With Latin passion, European elegance and a distinctive style all of its own, this is a city that will steal your heart. The Portenos (the local residents) are justifiably proud of BA, which is comprised of distinct neighbourhoods, each with their own style.
If you're in Buenos Aires for a weekend, visit San Telmo for its antiques market and artists displays. La Boca, settled by waves of immigrants who built brightly painted buildings, is home to the world-class Boca Juniors football team. Recoleta is the place to browse museums with Buenos Aires' well-to-do. There are many sights in the heart of the city with churches, cathedrals and historic buildings aplenty.
Take a guided orientation walk around the Microcentro district, passing some of the historic buildings along Avenida de Mayo, including the Casa Rosada (Argentina's government house) and the impressive Palacia Barolo.
Vegetarians, look away. Everyone else, your first order of business is to find the nearest parrilla (steak house) and order a big, plump, juicy piece of the world's best steak.
When you've finished exploring, settle down at one of the many streetside cafes and prepare yourself for a night of tango at one of the many milongas.
The trip ends on Day 67 and there are no activities planned for this day.Breakfast
What to Know
An experienced tour guide in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and in Brazil, and there will be the services of local guides at some sites. All transportation, sightseeing, accommodation and meals as indicated.
- International flights, arrival and departure transfers, departure and airport taxes, visas, all other meals, all optional tours or activities during free time, transfers outside of the tour program, travel insurance, tips and items of a personal nature.
This tour passes through volcanic areas. In the instance a volcano becomes potentially dangerous and authorities declare nearby towns unsafe for travel, the itinerary will be re-routed. Where possible, Geckos will provide advance notice of such changes. At short notice, when this is not possible, your tour leader will provide up to date information on behalf of Geckos.
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