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Galapagos South Islands and Inca Explorer

Map

Route map for Galapagos South Islands and Inca Explorer (EP07MA)

Day 1 Quito

Arrive in Quito at any time and catch an included arrival transfer to the hotel. There are no planned activities, so check into our hotel and enjoy the city. A G Adventures representative will greet you at the hotel and brief you on the various aspects of the tour. If you are not able to attend the welcome meeting, our representative will leave all important information at your hotel’s reception indicating what time to be ready on Day 2 of your trip. If there is any confusion on arrival, please do not hesitate to call the contact number listed in this dossier.

Please note that hot water shortages and power outages can be fairly common in Latin America (even in upgraded hotels and private homes). We appreciate your patience and understanding that these occurrences are outside of our control.

Located 2850m (9348 ft) above sea level, the Ecuadorian capital of Quito enjoys a wonderful spring-like climate, despite the fact that it is only 22 km (14 miles) south of the Equator. Nestled in a valley flanked by mountains, on a clear day several snow-capped volcanoes, including nearby Pichincha, are visible from the city centre. Add to its beautiful location a rich history and well-preserved colonial district, and you begin to understand Quito’s appeal to thousands of tourists every year.

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.

Since pre-Columbian times, the site of Quito has been inhabited by the Quitus, the Shyris and the Puruhas. The Inca reached this city before the Spaniards, but levelled it to the ground rather than give it up to the Spanish. The present capital was founded by the Spanish on December 6th, 1534. Quito is separated into two basic sections, the old and the new cities. The old city is full of historical buildings and churches. One of the more noteworthy is 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).

There are several excellent museums scattered throughout the city. The Casa de la Cultura Ecuadoriana has an interesting display of traditional musical instruments and Ecuadorian traditional dress, a large art collection, and a small natural history museum. For archaeology the best museum to visit is the Museo del Banco Central with its well displayed pottery, gold ornaments, skulls showing deformities and early surgical methods, a mummy and many other objects of interest. The small, rounded hill dominating the old town is El Panecillo or 'the Little Bread Loaf,' a major Quito landmark. From here there are marvellous panoramic views of the entire city and surrounding volcanoes. You can easily take a trolley (streetcar) or a cab between the Old Town and New Town.

Quito’s large foreign population and steady stream of travellers have given it a varied and vibrant nightlife, and 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.

Just a couple of hours south of Quito is Parque National Cotopaxi, home to Cotopaxi Volcano (5897 m/19342 ft). the beautiful cone-shaped, snow covered volcano is Ecuador’s second highest peak and the highest active volcano in the world. This is a great spot for a days hiking (up to the refuge on the glacier’s edge) or mountain biking (downhill all the way). True enthusiasts attempt the climb to the summit (overnight excursion). Allow yourself an extra day or two in Quito, before or after your trip, if you want to conquer Cotopaxi.

Day 2 Baltra / Santa Cruz (B,L,D)

Transfer early to the airport for our flight to the Galapagos Islands. Upon arrival meet our naturalist guide, who will assist with the transfer to the g4, moored in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz Island. Visit the Charles Darwin Station, see giant tortoises and learn about Charles Darwin’s studies of Galapagos wildlife. Free time to do some shopping and exploring.

The Galapagos Islands are located about 1000 km (620 miles) off the Pacific coast of South America. The archipelago is comprised of 13 major islands and scores of islets that served as a living laboratory for Charles Darwin, the renowned evolution theorist.

Long before Darwin arrived in the Galapagos, seafarers knew these isolated islands as home to some of the strangest and most wonderful wildlife imaginable, including birds that could swim but no longer fly, aquatic iguanas, dragon-like lizards left over from prehistoric times, and the giant Galapagos tortoises for which the islands were named.

Covering nearly 5000 square km (3100 square miles), the Galapagos Islands are now a National Park. The Galapagos National Park is the institution that controls the preservation of this environment, assisted by the Charles Darwin Research Station. Inaugurated in 1964 and based in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island, the Charles Darwin Research Station is the one place where visitors can easily see the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which may live up to two hundred years. This is also the training centre for naturalist guides who accompany all visitors landing at more than 40 approved sites on the islands, and members of the international scientific community often come to study at the station.

The National Park charges a visitor fee of $100 USD, payable on arrival, which funds Park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador's other National Parks. Entry fees and the funds they generate for the National Park System are among measures taken by the Ecuadorian government to protect its natural heritage.

Santa Cruz is the most populated island within the archipelago, and Puerto Ayora is its main town. The Charles Darwin Research Station is a 10 minute walk from the centre of the town. Here, an exhibition centre displays photos of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. A corral houses adult Galapagos Tortoises, and a nursery cares for young tortoises until they are about three years old, when their shells have hardened enough to resist attack from feral dogs.

Turtle Bay is a 45 minute walk from Puerto Ayora along a well established trail. This pristine, white sand beach is a tranquil place, with white surf accentuating the Caribbean blues of the deeper waters. Follow the beach to a small peninsula; on the other side you find a large lagoon.

Day 3 Rábida / Bachas Beach (B,L,D)

In the morning we will take an excursion to Rábida Island, where we will land on a red sand beach. From here a short trail leads to a salt water lagoon, often home to wading flamingos. Another trail goes past the lagoon to the interior, where the revered palo santo trees grow. When burned, the branches of this tree give off a pleasing aroma and ward off mosquitoes. Back on the beach among low-lying bushes nest the prehistoric-looking pelicans. This is the best area for close viewing of these nesting birds, and it's a rare treat to watch parent pelicans return with gullets full of fish for the squawking youngsters.

Afternoon excursion to Bachas Beach to see the sea lions and plentiful bird life.

Day 4 Floreana (B,L,D)

Make your way to Post Office Bay, on Floreana Island. The history of Floreana Island (also called Charles) has gradually evolved to reach near mythic proportions. The story begins when a baroness and her two lovers, a German doctor and his mistress, and a German couple and their young son all came to settle on this land. Their dalliances and disasters, shrouded in mystery, were chronicled in John Treherne’s book The Galapagos Affair. Descendants of the German family, the Wittmers, still live on the island in the small community of Puerto Velasco Ibarra. Mrs. Margaret Wittmer has also written a booked entitled "Floreana" and this can be purchased at the airport in Baltra or at a local bookstore.

Morning visit to Punta Cormorant , in the afternoon we visit Post Office Bay that has an older and less mysterious history. A barrel was placed here in the late 18th century by English whaling vessels to be used as a post office. Passing ships would stop to leave mail for loved ones, collecting at the same time any mail destined for ports on their itineraries. Today the box is used mainly by tourists, who may drop off and pick up unstamped letters to be carried to far destinations. The remains of a Norwegian canning factory are the only evidence of the Island’s history prior to its designation as a protected area. A short hike up past the post barrel takes you to an interesting lava cave. With the aid of a flashlight, you can descend about 80 m (262 ft) to the point where the sea enters the cave.

Later in the afternoon we make our way towards Punta Cormorant on the northern part of Floreana. The landing is on a beach of green sand, coloured by olivine crystals, volcanic-derived silicates of magnesium and iron. The trail leads to a lake normally inhabited by flamingos and other shore birds and continues to a beach of fine white sand particles known as “Flour Beach”, an important nesting site for turtles. Around the point, Devil's Crown derives its name from the broken remains of a partially submerged volcanic cone. This is a perfect spot to go snorkelling from the boat, as the waters are home to a multitude of colourful fish and sea lions. Please make sure you are a comfortable swimmer, however, as despite the protection from the open sea provided by the "crown," the water here can be rough and the currents strong.

Day 5 Española (B,L,D)

Head to Punta Suarez on Española Island. The southernmost island in the Galapagos archipelago is home to several wildlife species, including masked and blue-footed boobies. A hike to the top of the cliff makes for spectacular photo opportunities.

Punta Suarez on the western side of Española Island (also called Hood) is spectacular: gargantuan waves break on jagged cliffs and large bird colonies thickly populate the interior of the island; there is a distinct feel of desolate wilderness here. The Waved Albatross is seen here from April to December during its mating/nesting season. This bird leaves land between January and March each year to make its annual odyssey far out to sea. Amazingly, Española is the nesting site to virtually the entire world population of this species, with more than 12000 pairs residing here. Large numbers of Masked and Blue-footed Boobies are also found here, Red-billed Tropic Birds dash madly through the air, and both Marine Iguanas and sea lions are common. A huge blowhole, where the surf is forced through a natural rock formation spouting seawater 15 to 20 m (49 – 66 ft) into the air, adds to the island’s impression of untamed beauty.

Follow the trail through a rookery and learn the geological history of the island from our naturalist, including its dramatic volcanic features, climate, flora and fauna. Sail in the afternoon to Garner Bay, an excellent swimming and snorkelling site

Day 6 San Cristóbal / Quito (B)

Reach San Cristóbal in the morning. San Cristóbal is the easternmost island of Galapagos and one of the oldest. Its principal town is Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the capital of the Galapagos. Disembark after breakfast then we visit the interpretation center, and transfer to the airport for our flight to Quito. Transfer to our group hotel upon arrival, and enjoy one last night on the town.

Day 7 Quito / Lima (B)

Included in this trip is your transfer to the airport and your flight to Lima. A transfer will be waiting for you at Lima airport and will transfer you to your hotel. Overnight in Lima.

Known as the City of Kings, Peru’s capital city Lima was founded by Francisco Pizarro on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima, and it is here you 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 the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to get a taste for life in a large South American city. An optional city tour visits many of the city’s highlights.

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. The more affluent coastal districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro offer good nightlife and cafés all within walking distance. Limeños (Lima’s residents) are friendly, and the city is filled with excellent restaurants; seafood lovers in particular should be sure to try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.

NOTE: Care should be taken when wandering around on your own in central Lima, as some areas can be dangerous and pickpockets are daring.

Day 8 Paracas (B)

Today we will travel three hours to Paracas, a sleeping fishing village that serves as the starting point for all tours to the Ballestas Islands, often referred to as "the poor man's Galapagos". Home to hundreds of sea lions, many species of marine birds, including the Humboldt penguin you are guaranteed to see some incredible wildlife. There is little to do in town but for those that love seafood and are looking to try Peru's national drink, the Pisco Sour, you will be in heaven.

Approximate Distance: 285km
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours

Day 9 Ballestas Islands/Nazca (B)

This morning we visit the Ballestas Islands by boat to view sea lion colonies, penguins and other bird life.

Continue south by land to Nazca with a stop to see the Huacachina sand dunes along the way. The pleasant colonial town of Ica enjoys a dry and sunny climate and is known for its huge sand dunes around the Huacachina oasis. Apart from the dunes, the town is well known for its wines, and there are several wineries and distilleries in the area.

Approximate Distance: 175km
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hours

Day 10 Nazca (1B,1D)

Next visit 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 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 as an optional activity.

The entire desert area was also once the home for the ancient Paracas and the Nazca cultures, which preceded the Incas by more than half a millennium. Remains of the Nazca culture are still visible during our included tour of an ancient Pre-Inca desert cemetery site, with 1500 year-old mummies, bones and pottery on the desert floor. The tour also includes a visit to an artisan’s workshop, where modern masters create Nazca style pottery.

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.

Day 11-12 Arequipa (2B)

A full day of travel awaits as we continue south to the town of Arequipa.

Peru’s second most important city after Lima, Arequipa maintains a traditional colonial style and more laid back pace in comparison with the capital. Sitting at 2325 m (7626 ft) above sea level and surrounded by the Andes mountains, this delightful colonial town is well worth a visit. Arequipa was built from a very light coloured volcanic rock called sillar, so older buildings dazzle in the sun, 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, culture and architecture will enjoy our visit to the Convent of Santa Catalina during our city tour, 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.

Approximate Distance: 420km
Estimated Travel Time: 7 hours

Day 13 Cuzco (1B)

Catch our flight to Cusco.

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.

Every year Cusco attracts thousands of travellers who come to delve into its noble but tragic past. It is the perfect base for optional explorations around the city and area as well as a range of outdoor activities. Relax and explore this fascinating city, and take time to acclimatize to the high altitude.

Note: If you have pre-booked the Peru Culinary Theme Pack, your Cusco cooking class will be on Day 13 or 17 and your Lima cooking class will be Day 21. As this pack does not include extra on-trip time in Lima, it is necessary to bundle it with a pre-trip stay.

Approximate Distance: 389km
Estimated Travel Time: 6 hours

Day 14 Sacred Valley/Ollantaytambo (1B,1L)

Travel with our local guide through the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Visit the impressive Pisac ruins and the colourful artisan market (market days only). The day trip finishes in the picturesque village of Ollantaytambo, site of another large Inca ruin.

The town and fortress of Ollantaytambo are strategically situated overlooking the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. 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 towards Machu Picchu the next morning.

Approximate Distance: 95km
Estimated Travel Time: 2.30 hours

Day 15 Aguas Calientes (1B)

We board a morning train that winds through the steep Urubamba Valley to its final destination of Aguas Calientes. Relax in the natural mountain hot baths that gave the town its name. For serious archaeology buffs, there is time for an optional independent visit to Machu Picchu before the guided tour the following morning.

*Please note: those who have pre-booked and purchased the "1-day Inca Trail" hiking option will disembark the train at km 104 to begin the trek. The trail rises steeply up into the mountains and will take hikers past the archaeological sites of Wiñay Wayna and Inti Pata, where the local guide will provide insights into the fascinating culture of the Incas en route to the trek's culmination at Machu Picchu. Enjoy a packed lunch along the way and reach the Sun Gate in the late afternoon with a chance for a preliminary exploration of Machu Picchu before the guided tour on Day 16.

Transfer by bus from Machu Picchu to Aguas Calientes to rejoin the group and spend the night in a hotel. If time permits, take an optional visit to the nearby hot springs to soak the sore muscles.

Approximate Distance: 43km
Estimated Travel Time: 1.45 hours

Those taking the 1-day Inca Trail option:
Approximate Distance: 15km
Estimated hiking Time: 5-6 hours

Day 16 Machu Picchu/Cuzco (1B)

Rise early to take advantage of viewing Machu Picchu in the early morning light. This is the best time to view the 'Lost City of the Incas'. Join our local guide for a detailed interpretation of the site and Inca history without the pressure of other tour groups that arrive at midday. Later in the afternoon of Day 10 we return by train to Ollantaytambo or Poroy and will then be transferred by van to Cusco, arriving in the evening.

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.

Approximate Distance: 118km
Estimated Travel Time: 3.15 hours

Day 17 Cuzco (1B)

Enjoy the day at leisure with option to visit the many museums and ruins in and around Cusco.

Please note that if you booked the Culinary Theme Pack, on day 17 you will be picked up from your hotel at approx 12:30 and taken to a local market and restaurant to prepare and enjoy a traditional Peruvian meal. You will return back to your hotel around 16:00.

Cusco’s numerous colonial churches are one of the city’s 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. Today the 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. Our best advice for exploring Cusco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore!

Day 18-19 Puno/Lake Titicaca (2B)

The trip to Puno takes the better part of the day, with stark, beautiful scenery en route as you travel through the high Altiplano region. The remainder of the day is at leisure in the town. The next morning we board our comfortable 35 foot fully equipped speed boat to explore the Taquile and/or Amantaní Island, we will also visit the remarkable floating reed islands of Uros.

Located at 3830 m above sea level, Puno is the highest night stop on the tour. As a result the weather can be extreme with very cold nights and a strong sun during the day. Puno is also known for its wealth of traditional dances: there are up to 100 different varieties, usually performed in the street processions celebrating Catholic feast days. If you are fortunate enough to be visiting at the right time you may even catch one of these celebrations.

Titicaca is also the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from the islands are stunning. We explore the unique floating islands of the Uros people, made of Totora reeds. 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 the islanders speak Aymara due to intermarriage with Aymara-speaking clans. 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.

Approximate Distance: 321km
Estimated Travel Time: 2.05 hours

Day 20 Lima (1B)

Time for some last minute shopping in Puno before our flight back to Lima and the final stop on our journey. Enjoy one last night out on the town. Overnight Lima.

Approximate Distance: 572km
Estimated Travel Time: 2.20 hours

Day 21 Lima (1B)

Departure day, depart at any time.

Please note that if you booked the Culinary Theme Pack you will be picked up from your hotel at approx 10:00am and taken to a local market and restaurant to prepare and enjoy a traditional Peruvian meal. You will return back to your hotel around 13:00. As this pack does not include extra on-trip time in Lima, it is necessary to bundle it with a post-trip stay.