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Today is an arrival day, so no activities are planned. Check into our hotel, relax, enjoy the city and take some time to adjust to the altitude.
Founded by Alonso de Mendoza in 1548, La Ciudad de Nuestra Señora de La Paz (the City of Our Lady of Peace) is the highest capital in the world. Although Sucre is the official capital, La Paz is the Bolivian centre of commerce, finance and industry, and the de facto capital. This is a busy modern city, with its centre at the base of a canyon 5 km (3 miles) wide and sprawling impromptu housing all the way up the surrounding hillsides. The city is at nearly 4000 m (13,120 ft) above sea level, so visitors should be prepared for cool evenings and mornings.
Explore the city’s many fine museums or its historic ecclesiastical structures, such as the Iglesia de San Francisco, whose architectural details reflect the indigenous and mestizo heritage of modern Bolivia. The city is also renowned for its many markets, including the Mercado de Hechicería (Witches’ Market), where Paceños and visitors may purchase potions and incantations made from all sorts of herbs, seeds, and secret ingredients to remedy any number of illnesses (real or imagined) and protect from evil spirits. With streets lined with market stalls and vendors, the pace on the street and the vibrant atmosphere is an incredible experience. There is also a thriving black market and a Carnaval market, where locals purchase carnival costumes. You’ll also find a wealth of shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, mainly alpaca wool products, silver jewellery, woven textiles and leather goods.
Optional activities in La Paz include museums, excursions to Tiahuanaco ruins (cradle of Inca civilization), a tour of the Valley of the Moon, or a visit to the world’s highest ski resort, Chacaltaya (5600 m/18,368 ft). To the south of the city is the Valley of the Moon, with crater-like formations made of sand.
Note: When you arrive in La Paz, you will likely feel the effects of the altitude. Symptoms include shortness of breath, headaches, general lethargy and a reduced appetite. This is no cause for alarm; it is simply your body’s reaction to the altitude. It may take a little time to acclimatize, but before long you probably will not even notice it. Just take it easy for the first day or two, and reduce alcohol and cigarette consumption to minimize the effects. Be sure to drink plenty of water and do not attempt too much in any given day.
The drive around Lake Titicaca and through the altiplano from La Paz to Peru is impressive. Once crossing into Peru we head to Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We overnight in Puno and the next morning we board a boat on Lake Titicaca. We head to Taquile Island for lunch in a local restaurant and the chance for some shopping in the local weaving cooperatives. From there we head to Amantani where overnight with a local family and enjoy typical music of the area. The following morning we will visit the floating islands of Uros en route to Puno.
Titicaca is the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from both Amantaní and Taquile Islands are stunning. On our way to Taquile Island we pass the floating islands of the Uros people. The Uros began their unusual floating existence centuries ago in an effort to isolate themselves from the Colla and Inca tribes. Sadly, the Uros language has died out, and today they speak Aymara due to intermarriage with Aymara-speakers. Today about 300 families live on the islands, however their numbers are slowly declining.
The Totora reeds that grow in the shallows of the lake are used for making everything from the islands themselves to the model boats that the islanders sell. The islands are made up of layers upon layers of reeds; as the layers closest to the water start to rot, they are replaced with fresh reeds on top. The reeds are also used to build their boats, which if constructed well will last up to 6 months.
The people of Taquile Island's unique culture, style of dress and lifestyle make for a memorable visit. The men of the community do all the knitting, as this is strictly a male domain, while the women do the spinning. High quality, locally knitted goods are available for purchase at various cooperatives on the island. Despite the short distance that separates the two islands, Amantaní is quite distinct. Its soil is a rich terra cotta red, due to the high iron deposits, and the colour contrasts brightly with the deep azure blue of the lake and sky and the greenery of the local crops. For the night we split into smaller groups and billet into family homes to experience their style of living first-hand.
The following morning we visit the Uros Islands on our way back to Puno.
La Paz to Puno
Approximate Distance: 297km
Estimated Travel Time: 7.30 hours
Cusco to Puno
Approximate Distance: 389km
Estimated Travel Time: 7.30 hours
Today a full day's bus journey takes us through the high Altiplano region to get from Puno to Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire.
Every year Cusco attracts thousands of travellers who come to experience an age-old culture and to delve into its tragic and noble past. It is the perfect base for optional explorations around the city and area as well as a range of outdoor activities. We spend the next few days relaxing and exploring this fascinating city, while taking time to acclimatize to the higher altitude before our trek.
Note: If you have booked the Peru Adrenaline Theme Pack, you will have the opportunity to do the full-day rafting trip and the half-day horseback riding excursion on 2 different days during your free time in Cusco (days 6, 7, 12 and 13).
Note: If you have booked the Peru Culinary Theme Pack, you will have the opportunity to do the first cooking class in Cusco on day 7 and the second class in Lima on day 21.
Cusco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travellers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 20th century way of life; one could easily spend a week just in and around the area. Inca-built stone walls line most of the central streets and you don't have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend.
Cusco’s numerous colonial churches are one of the most common sights. The Cathedral was started in 1559 and took 100 years to build. It is also one of the city’s greatest repositories of colonial art. Immediately in front of the entrance is a vault containing the remains of the famous Inca historian, Garcilaso de la Vega. Also worth visiting are the churches of La Compañía, La Merced and San Francisco.
While most ruins are just outside of the city, the main ruin within is that of the Coricancha, once the Inca Empire's richest temple. This ruin forms the base of the colonial church of Santo Domingo. During Inca times this temple was literally covered with gold, but within months of the arrival of the first conquistadors this incredible wealth had all been melted down. It is left to the individual imagination to envision the magnificence of the original structure.
There are several good museums in Cusco, including the Archaeological Museum, which also houses a small art museum, the Regional History Museum and the Religious Art Museum. The best advice in exploring Cusco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore!
Ollantaytambo is a major Inca ruin site and your first taste of what lies ahead on the Inca Trail. This major ruin site is known as the best surviving example of Inca urban planning and engineering. It is admired for its huge steep terraces guarding the Inca Fortress and for being one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the conquest. We spend the night in this small town before heading out for the start of the hike the next morning.
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is physically challenging but worthwhile, and the excursion is within the ability of most reasonably fit. It is a 44-km (27 mile) hike, with 3 high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13776 ft). The trail is often steep, and it may rain even during the dry season. The temperatures at night may fall below zero, so it is important to come prepared.
Depart Ollantaytambo for km 82 where we begin our walk in the footsteps of the Incas. Our local crew of porters, cook and guide look after us well for the duration of the hike. Porters carry the majority of the gear for the hike, so those passengers doing the hike only carry a small daypack with water, rain gear, snacks, a camera, etc. As you walk the trail that linked this ancient empire, admire breathtaking views at every step as we move from high plateau areas to dense cloud forest. Depending on the season, you may see a great variety of flora, including miniature and large orchids, and fiery rhododendron bushes.
You pass several smaller ruin sites, the first of which is Llactapata. The second day climb the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, or Dead Woman’s Pass. At 4198 m (13769 ft) above sea level, this pass is the highest point of the trek. The second pass of the hike is at 3998 m (13113 ft) where on clear days, we enjoy superb views of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba. The trail goes through some beautiful cloud forest on the gentle climb to the third pass, where you will walk through a causeway and a tunnel, both original Inca constructions. The highest point of the third pass is at 3700m (12136 ft). On clear days you are rewarded for all this work with beautiful views of the Urubamba Valley below. Soon you reach the serene ruins of Phuyupatamarca, or the 'Town above the Clouds', at about 3650 m (11972 ft) above sea level. We will camp either here or an hour and a half further along close to Wiñay Wayna (Forever Young) ruins, a grandiose terraced hillside site, with panoramic views of the valley below and just a short hike from Machu Picchu.
On the final day of the hike we climb the steps to the Sun Gate overlooking the peaks that surround Machu Picchu. When the morning is clear, there is no way to describe the feeling of the first views of Machu Picchu, as the mist rises off the mountains early in the morning and the famous site appears in front of you.
Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archaeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian Hiram Bingham (who was in search of Vilcabamba) to the site on July 24, 1911, that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many unanswered questions remain.
NOTE: Those passengers not able or interested in the hike spend 2 days in Cusco, then travel by train to Aguas Calientes, where they overnight. Next morning they take the bus to the Machu Picchu entrance and rendezvous with the hikers at the ruins. If you decide not to do the hike we need to know prior to your departure in order to obtain train tickets. There is an additional fee for any changes made once Inca Trail permits are confirmed. This fee may vary depending on the changes that are made to your itinerary. Please advise your agent or G Adventures.
Also note that portions of the Inca Trail will be closed for general maintenance during the month of February each year. Also, closures may occur at various times throughout the year due to inclement weather or other conditions beyond our control. During these periods, any tour affected will hike the Lares Trek.
Cusco to Ollantayambo
Approximate Distance: 75 km
Estimated Travel Time: 1.30 hrs
Ollantaytambo to Inca Trail Start
Approximate Distance: 20 km
Estimated Travel Time: 40 min
Aguas Callientes to Cusco
Approximate Distance: 118km
Estimated Travel Time: 3.15 hrs
Distances of the Inca trail:
Day 1 Km 82 to Wayllambama
Approximate distance: 11 km
Estimated hiking time: 5-6 hrs
Day 2 Wayllabamba to Paqaymayo
Approximate distance: 12 km
Estimated hiking time: 6-7 hrs
Day 3 Paqaymayo to Wiñaywayna
Approximate distance: 16 km
Estimated hiking time: 8 hrs
Wiñaywayna to Intipunku (Sun Gate)
Approximate distance: 4 km
Estimated hiking time: 1.5 hrs
Intipunku to Machu Picchu
Approximate distance: 1.5 km
Estimated hiking time: 45 mins
Peru’s second most important city after Lima, Arequipa maintains a traditional colonial style and more laid back pace in comparison with the capital. Arequipa was built from a very light coloured volcanic rock called sillar, so older buildings dazzle in the sun, thus giving the city its nickname, “the White City.” The main plaza with its cafés and nearby cathedral is a top draw for visitors.
Those with an interest in history and architecture may take an optional visit to the Convent of Santa Catalina, offering a brief respite from the outside world and a unique view into a by-gone way of life. Spectacular mountains surround Arequipa, the most famous of which is El Misti Volcano, at 5822 m (19096 ft) and with a beautiful snow-capped peak.
Our overnight excursion to the Colca Canyon — one of the deepest canyons in the world — involves a remarkable drive through Inca and pre-Inca terracing. Once at the Canyon look for the king of the Andes, the Andean Condor, as well as alpacas, llamas and vicuñas, while enjoying the stunning highland scenery.
Approximate Distance: 158km
Estimated Travel Time: 4.30 hours
Travel north to one of the world's greatest archaeological mysteries, the Nazca Lines. The lines consist of patterns and pictures etched in the ground, crisscrossing a wide area of flat desert. Some of the lines measure up to 10 km (32 miles) in length, and yet remain perfectly straight. The depictions of birds, insects and animals are only recognizable from the air. Who drew the lines, and why, is something that modern archaeologists can only theorize about, but current beliefs suggest that they may be part of complex agricultural calendar. From the ground we can make out very little, and the best view is from a light aircraft, which can easily be arranged.
The entire desert area was also once the home for the Paracas and the Nazca cultures, which preceded the Incas by more than half a millennia. Remains of the Nazca culture are still visible during an optional tour of an ancient desert cemetery site, which also includes a visit to a pottery workshop.
In the evening we assist in the preparation of a thousand year-old tradition: a "Pachamanca", an ancient ceremony akin to the Polynesian meal of burying a variety of delicious treats wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooking them with pre-heated rocks buried in the ground.
Continuing north arrive in Pisco, an oasis in this barren land and an important port town. It derives its name from the white grape brandy produced in the region. If you haven’t yet tried the national drink, the Pisco Sour, then this is the place to do it. While the town itself is of considerable historical and archaeological interest, we also use it as a starting point for an optional visit to the Ballestas Islands, where we observe the sea lion colonies, penguins and a variety of other birds.
Arequipa to Nazca
Approximate Distance: 570km
Estimated Travel Time: 8-9 hours
Nazca to Paracas
Approximate Distance: 175km
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours
Founded by Francisco Pizarro, on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535, Peru’s capital city Lima is known as the City of Kings. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima and here you’ll find the Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral dates back to the 1700s and houses the remains of the conquistador Pizarro.
To get a feel for colonial Lima, take a cab to the Plaza de Armas and watch the changing of the Palace Guard in the afternoon. Walk around the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to experience life in a large South American city. There are many fine museums in and around the city, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses an equally impressive collection of pottery, mummies and textiles from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. An optional city tour visits many of the cities highlights.
The more affluent coastal districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro offer good nightlife and cafés. The Limeños are friendly and the city’s many interesting museums, churches, markets, restaurants and nightlife will surely entice you. Seafood lovers should be sure and try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.
Approximate Distance: 285km
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hours
Heading north from Lima along the coast, we reach Trujillo, the largest city in northern Peru. Trujillo is the capital of the Department of La Libertad and is well known for its colonial buildings, proximity to the Chimu ruins of Chan-Chan and our resting point for the evening, the resort of Huanchaco, where the fishermen’s boats are constructed of buoyant reeds and the seafood is both tasty and abundant.
Next we head further north through the Sechuara Desert, one of the driest places on the continent despite infrequent torrential rains brought on by El Niño. The entire Pacific coastline of South America, encompassing Peru and Chile is washed by the cold Humboldt Current, which travels north from the frigid Antarctic waters. Though the land is fairly devoid of life, the ocean waters are rich with shoals of fish and both the Peruvian and Japanese fishing fleets are well represented along the coast.
We follow the Pan-American Highway north to the seaside town of Mancora, a village populated by fishermen and surfers from around Peru and the world. Enjoy the relaxing beach atmosphere before heading north across the border, through the busy town of Huaquillas. The border crossing into Ecuador through Huaquillas is one of the busiest in South America and definitely an experience you won’t soon forget.
Lima to Huanchaco
Approximate Distance: 582km
Estimated Travel Time: 8.30 hours
Huanchaco to Mancora
Approximate Distance: 654km
Estimated Travel Time: 8.30 hours
Ecuador's third largest town, Cuenca retains a pleasant provincial air with its colonial architecture, art galleries, and museums. The surrounding countryside is an outdoor playground. Visit National Parks, take walks in the beautiful countryside and see Ecuador’s only Inca ruin site.
Cuenca is considered the most beautiful city in Ecuador and has had an exciting history. Barely half a century before the arrival of the Spaniards, the powerful Inca Tupac Yupanqui was undertaking the difficult conquest of the local Cañari people, who struggled bravely to stem the expansion of the Inca Empire. After several years of bitter fighting, Tupac Yupanqui's forces prevailed.
The Inca began the construction of a major city whose splendour and importance was to rival that of the imperial capital of Cusco. Stories of sun temples covered with gold sheets and palaces built using the finest skill of Cuzqueño stonemasons abound. What happened to Tomebamba, as the city was called, is however, a complete mystery. By the time the Spanish chronicler Cieza de Léon passed through in 1547, Tomebamba lay in ruins, although well-stocked storehouses indicated how great it had recently been.
The Tomebamba River divides Cuenca in half, and south of the river lie fairly recent suburbs and the modern university. To the north is the heart of the colonial city. Although Cuenca has expanded to become Ecuador's third largest city with 165,000 inhabitants, it still retains a pleasantly provincial air and the old centre has churches dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. The earliest building is the original Cathedral, construction of which began in 1557, the year Cuenca was founded by the Spanish conquerors.
Explore the city’s sights including cobbled streets, red-tiled roofs, art galleries, flower markets, shady plazas and museums. The villagers in the surrounding areas are expert milliners, creating beautiful and useful Panama hats (which should perhaps more accurately be called Ecuador hats). The ruins of Ingapirca lie approximately an hour and a half drive north of Cuenca, through some of Ecuador's most beautiful countryside. Although it is a major Inca site, not a lot is known about its history
Yet another nearby attraction is Area Nacional de Recreacion Cajas, a protected area of 28,000 ha, about 30 km (19 miles) northwest of the city of Cuenca. The terrain is quite stark, mostly above 4000m (13120 ft) in the páramo (grassy highlands), with many clear lakes and a great variety of bird life, beautiful scenery and good hiking possibilities.
Approximate Distance: 393km
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Baños means 'baths' and there are several in and around the town. Some thermal springs come from the base of Tungurahua Volcano (‘little hell' in Quichua), others have melt water running into them from the volcano’s glaciated flanks. Locals swear that the baths are good for your health; it’s definitely worth rising early to watch the dawn creep over the mountains from a hot spring vantage point.
The town is the perfect setting for outdoor pursuits, including canyoning, climbing, horseback riding, hiking, mountain biking and rafting in the surrounding mountains and on the River Patate. Baños is one of the most popular and important tourist spots in the country and you will find many Ecuadorian families vacationing here. One look at this delightfully green mountain town and you will know why. Surprisingly, it is pleasant and unspoiled.
Approximate Distance: 310km
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hours
Today we travel overland to Tena, located on the edge of the Amazon. From there we are transferred for half an hour by truck to the river for a short motorized canoe ride. From here we will walk between 1 and 5 hours to the local community that will be our home for 3 nights. The distance depends on the community with which we will be staying as we move our groups from community to community to equally support the families of that area. When possible we will replace part of the longer hikes with a transfer.
The rainforest is the traditional home of many indigenous communities, whose traditional homelands and way of life are threatened by the encroachment of 20th century industries like mining, petroleum exploitation and large-scale cash-crop farming. Among the most representative are the Siona-Secoya, Cofan, Huaorani, Shuar, Ashuar and Quichua. We will visit the Ricancie community and learn about the traditional lifestyle of these indigenous people.
There is also an incredible amount of biodiversity in this area. We will see a staggering variety of rainforest vegetation and may be able to spot some of the birds that spend their time hiding in the canopy of the forest. There are over 500 species of trees per acre have been recorded in the jungles of the upper Amazon. If this doesn’t seem particularly astonishing, consider that this is ten times greater than either Europe or North America, and you will begin to appreciate the significance of the conservation of this area and others like it.
Approximate Distance: 180km
Estimated Travel Time: 4.30 hours
Spend the last few days of your trip wandering Ecuador’s capital city and exploring the countryside around Quito. Take the excursion into the depths of the Amazon jungle, sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Located 2850m (9348 ft) above sea level, Quito, the Ecuadorian capital, enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 22 km (14 miles) south of the Equator. It is in a valley flanked by mountains, and on a clear day, several snow-capped volcanoes are visible. As well as its beautiful location, it is rich in history and much of the Colonial Old Town is well preserved.
In 1978 UNESCO declared Quito a World Heritage site, and any new development in Quito's old town is now strictly controlled. Life in Quito tends to be peaceful, though the drivers are fond of using their car horns! There are approximately 2,000,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area, but the pace is relaxed and the residents hospitable.
Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. The old city is full of interesting historical buildings and many churches. Some of the more interesting ones include the Catedral de Quito, located on the Plaza de la Independencia. Built between 1550 and 1562, it was one of the first neoclassical works in Quito. La Compañía de Jésus Church is considered one of the most beautiful in the Americas. The decorations in the Compañía contain approximately one and one-half tons of gold, and construction of the church took 170 years (1605-1775).
The small, rounded hill that dominates the old town is called El Panecillo or 'the Little Bread Loaf', and is a major Quito landmark. Marvellous panoramic views of the entire city, as well as views of the surrounding volcanoes stretch out at your feet. You can take a trolley (streetcar) or a cab to the Old Town from the New Town.
Quito has a large population of foreigners and is a popular destination for travellers, resulting in a varied and vibrant nightlife where salsotecas and other dance clubs abound. For a real Ecuadorian experience though, be sure and drop by a peña if you can; these are great places for meeting locals and dancing, as well as enjoying local cooking.
Approximate Distance: 186km
Estimated Travel Time: 6.30 hours
Depart at any time.