Day 1 Lima
Arrive in Lima at any time. There are no planned activities, so check into our hotel and enjoy the city.
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.
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.
Day 2 Pisco
Take the morning to explore more of Lima before hopping on a bus for our short trip down the coast to Pisco. Walk the town’s lively peatonal (pedestrian avenue) and find a café to sample some Peruvian food, such as ceviche or papa a la huancaina (potatoes with a chilli cheese sauce).
An important port town, Pisco gives its name to the white grape brandy produced in the region. If you haven’t tried the national drink, don’t pass up this chance to sip a tasty and frothy Pisco Sour in the heart of Pisco country. 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 you can see sea lion colonies, Humbodlt penguins and a variety of other birds.
Days 3-4 Nazca
Travel south to one of the world's greatest archaeological mysteries, the Nazca Lines. The lines, made famous by German mathematician Maria Reiche, consist of patterns and pictures etched in the ground and 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. As from the ground we can make out very little, the best view is from a light aircraft, which can easily be arranged.
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 the ancient Pre-Inca desert cemetery site of Chauchilla, 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.
Night bus to Arequipa.
Days 5-7 Arequipa/Chivay/Colca Canyon (3B)
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 and architecture may want to take an optional visit to the Convent of Santa Catalina, a brief respite from the outside world and a unique view into a bygone way of life. Spectacular mountains surround Arequipa, the most famous of which is El Misti Volcano, at 5822 m (19096 ft) with its beautiful snow-capped peak. Also looming nearby are the volcanoes Chachani and Pichu Pichu.
Next travel a rough, rutted road through high plains flanked by extensive Inca and pre-Inca terracing that goes on for kilometres, en route to the Colca Canyon—one of the deepest canyons in the world. We spend one night in the town of Chivay, a picturesque village near the canyon, where we can take a dip in the local hot thermal baths, watch live Andean music at a peña or go for a llama steak. Take a tour around the canyon, stopping in fascinating villages and at “miradors” (scenic lookouts), where with a little luck we see Andean Condors soaring over the majestic Andes. Other unusual animals we may see in the Andean landscape include 3 different species of camelids: alpaca, llama and vicuña. Return to Arequipa on Day 7.
Day 8 Cusco (1B)
A short flight takes us to Cusco. Spend the next day relaxing or exploring this fascinating city.
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.
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 9 Ollantaytambo (1B,1L)
Travel through the stunning Sacred Valley of the Incas, visit a Planeterra-supported women's weaving co-op, the impressive Pisac ruins, the colourful artisan market (market days only) and the large ruin site of Ollantaytambo that lies adjacent to the town of the same name where we catch our breath and prepare for the hike ahead.
Planeterra has been working with the Ccaccaccollo community since 2005 to develop a viable economic alternative for women by creating a weaving cooperative to sell traditional textiles to travellers. Donations by travelers have helped build a community centre supplied with looms and sewing machines for the women to use to expand their production. This project allows the women of the Ccaccaccollo community to maintain their cultural heritage and benefit from the tourism industry.
Ollantaytambo is your first taste of what lies ahead on the Inca Trail. 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 for the start of the hike the next morning.
Days 10-13 Inca Trail to Machu Picchu (4B, 3L, 3D)
The 4-day Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is physically challenging but worthwhile, and the excursion is within the ability of most reasonably fit people. It is a 44km (27 mile) hike, with three high passes to be crossed, one of which reaches an elevation of 4200m (13,776 ft). The trail is often steep, and it may rain even during the dry season. The temperatures at night may fall below freezing, so it is important to come prepared.
NOTE: We offer two alternatives to hiking the Inca Trail. If Inca Trail permits are sold out, travellers will be given the option to hike the Lares Trek (details below). Travellers not able to hike or not interested in hiking, can opt to spend two extra days in Cusco (details below) before travelling to Machu Picchu. If you do not want to hike, we need to know at the time of booking in order to obtain train tickets. Once Inca Trail permits are confirmed there will be fee for any changes made. The fee may vary depending on the changes that are made to your itinerary. Please advise your agent or G Adventures.
Also note the Inca Trail is closed for general maintenance every February for the entire month. Travellers will be hiking the Lares Trek during this time. Other closures to either trek may occur at anytime throughout the year due to inclement weather or other conditions beyond our control. In these instances, itineraries will be reworked to provide the best and safest possible experience.
INCA TRAIL DETAILS
Day 1 of the Inca Trail:
Depart Ollantaytambo by van to km 82 where the hike begins. This takes about 40 mins. Our crew of local porters, cooks and guides will take care of all the details for the duration of the hike. Porters carry the majority of the gear so you’ll only need to carry a small daypack with water, rain gear, snacks, a camera, etc. You’ll trek through beautiful scenery with a variety of flora, changing with the seasons, passing several smaller ruin sites like Llactapata.
Start point Km 82 to Wayllambama
Approximate distance: 11km/6.8mi
Estimated hiking time: 5-6 hrs
Day 2 of the Inca Trail:
Start early to climb the long steep path to Warmiwañusca, better known as Dead Woman’s Pass. This is the highest point of the trek at 4198m (13,769ft). Most hikers reach camp by early afternoon, with ample time to rest and relax.
Wayllabamba to Paqaymayo
Approximate distance: 12km/7.5mi
Estimated hiking time: 6-7 hrs
Day 3 of the Inca Trail:
Today we cross two more passes and more ruins along the way. The first pass is at 3998m (13,113ft) where, on a clear day, you can catch a glimpse of the snow-capped Cordillera Vilcabamba. You’ll hike through cloud forest on the gentle climb to the second pass of the day where you walk through original Incan constructions. The highest point of this pass is 3700m (12,136ft). On a clear day, enjoy the views of the Urubamba Valley. At 3650m (11,972ft) you’ll reach the ruins of Phuyupatamarca, the ‘Town Above the Clouds’. We either camp here or an hour and half further along, near the Wiñay Wayna ruins (Forever Young).
Paqaymayo to Wiñaywayna
Approximate distance: 16km/10mi
Estimated hiking time: 8 hrs
Day 4 of the Inca Trail:
The final day of the hike starts pre-dawn to reach the Sun Gate before the sun rises. When the morning is clear, you soak in your first views of the breathtaking ruins of Machu Picchu as the mist rises off the mountains and the sun begins to illuminate the site. Hike down to Machu Picchu about 45 minutes more where you’ll have a guided tour of the site and free time to explore. Travellers can opt to visit the Inca Bridge (15 min walk) for no additional charge, if time allows. After your visit, catch the bus from outside the Machu Picchu gate and take it 15 mins downhill to Aguas Calientes where you’ll meet your CEO and any non-hiking members of your group. Eat and relax before your train back to Cusco this evening.
Wiñaywayna to Intipunku (Sun Gate)
Approximate distance: 4km/2.5mi
Estimated hiking time: 1.5 hrs
Aguas Calientes to Cusco
Approximate Distance: 118km/73mi
Estimated Travel Time: 3.15 hrs
LARES TREK DETAILS:
The Lares Trek is one day shorter than the Inca Trail, but higher in elevation (33km/20.5 miles, with a high point of 4600m/14,928ft). Travellers hiking the Lares Trek will start the same day as those hiking the Inca Trail. The 3-day hike starts with a van ride from Ollantaytambo to the trekking start point and returns back to Ollantaytambo by van from the trekking end point. From there, hikers will take a scenic train to Aguas Calientes for one overnight stay. In most cases, your CEO will hike the Lares Trek with you. From Aguas Calientes you will take the bus (15 mins) to Machu Picchu early the next morning for a guided tour of Machu Picchu. After the tour and some free time, catch the bus down to Aguas Calientes and take the train back to Cusco with the rest of the group.
NOTE: The locations and distances may change on this hike as we will camp in different locations depending on pace, ability and weather. Starting in 2014 travellers will stay in a newly established community-owned and managed campsite in an indigenous village previously bypassed by the tourism industry. Details on this IDB/MIF and Planeterra project can be found in the Associated Planeterra Project section of our “Before You Go”.
Day 1 of the Lares Trek:
Start early and take a van (3 hrs) to Lares town where the hike will start with a leisurely pace through the valley of Cuncani. Hike 4km (2.5mi) to Chancachaca where we stop for lunch. Altitude here is around 3480m (11,417ft). Continue on to Wacawasi where we camp for the night at 3825m (12,549ft).
Lares town to Wacawasi
Approximate distance: 11km/6.85mi
Estimated hiking time: 4 hrs
Highest point: 4200m/13,780ft
Day 2 of the Lares Trek:
Start early and hike for about 4 hrs from Wacawasi to Wacawasi-Ccassa for a total of 7.5km (4.6mi). Head downhill another hour or so before stopping for lunch in Auroracocha. Continue down for another 2.5 hrs to Mantanay where we stay the night (3200m/10,499ft).
Wacawasi to Mantanay
Approximate distance: 11km/6.8mi
Estimated hiking time: 6.5hrs
Highest point: 4600m/15092ft
Day 3 of the Lares Trek:
Today we hike about 2.5 hrs (9km/5.6mi) to Punta Carretera where we stop for lunch. Take a bus about 30 mins back to Ollantaytambo were we catch the train for a relaxing, scenic ride to Aguas Calientes.
Mantanay to Punta Carretera
Approximate distance: 9km/5.6mi
Estimated hiking time: 3.5 hrs
Highest point: 4100m/13451ft
Punta Carretera to Ollantaytambo
Estimated travel time (bus): 30 mins
Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Estimated travel time (train): 2 hrs
Rise early to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu with your guide. Enjoy a guided visit to the ruins followed by free time to explore. When you’re ready, head back down by bus to Aguas where you’ll meet up with the rest of the group and take a train back to Cusco.
Aguas Calientes to Cusco:
Approximate distance: 118km/73mi
Estimated travel time: 3.15 hours
CUSCO STAY DETAILS:
Anyone electing to do the Cusco Stay will have two extra days to explore this ancient Inca capital city. You will travel with your group, CEO and local guide through the Sacred Valley, visiting the Planeterra-supported Ccaccacollo Women’s Weaving Co-op on the way. Stay the night in Ollantaytambo. When the hikers leave the next morning, travellers doing the Cusco Stay will return to Cusco with their CEO, visiting the sites of Maras and Moray Salt Mines on the way. The next day, enjoy an included tour of the archaeological sites around Cusco, including Saqsaywaman. The next day, travel by van to Ollantaytambo where you catch the scenic train to Aguas Calientes. The next morning, rise early to catch the first bus up to Machu Picchu with your guide. Enjoy a guided visit to the ruins followed by free time to explore. When you’re ready, head back down by bus to Aguas where you’ll meet up with the rest of your group and take atrain back to Cusco.
Days 14-16 Cusco (3B)
Cusco is considered the mecca of Peru and rightly so. This beautiful colonial town offers nearby ruins, cobble-stoned streets, museums, churches and a lively atmosphere. The more adventurous optional activities available in Cusco include horseback riding around archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara; white water rafting on the Urubamba River; and mountain biking down to the Sacred Valley, perhaps visiting an Inca ruin along the way.
Please note that if you booked the Adrenaline Theme Pack, on Day 15 you will be picked up from your hotel at approx 8:00 for the fantastic opportunity to raft in Class III and IV rapids. You will return back to your hotel around 17:00. On Day 16 you will be picked up from your hotel at approx 9:00 and transferred to the ranch for horseback riding. You will ride to a few archaeological sites and enjoy the countryside of Cusco. You will return back to your hotel around 13:00.
Optional Amazon Jungle Excursion: Experience 3 days and 2 nights at our G Lodge Amazon. All meals and excursions with a local naturalist are included during your stay. If you are interested in this opportunity, please inquire at time of booking or add it to your experience online. If you pre-book this activity you will travel to the Amazon jungle on Day 14 and will return to Cusco on Day 16.
Day 17 Puno (1B)
Enjoy spectacular views of the countryside on this full day of travel from Cusco to Puno, through the high Altiplano region.
Located at 3830 m above sea level, Puno is the highest altitude of any place we sleep on the tour. As a result the weather can be extreme with very cold nights and a strong sun during the day (don’t worry, if you get cold, buy an alpaca sweater from the market —they are inexpensive). 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. A popular optional activity in Puno is a visit to the spectacular chullpas (funerary towers) of Sillustani, a pre-Inca archaeological site.
Titicaca is also the largest lake in the world above 2000m, and the views from both Amantaní and Taquile Islands are stunning.
Days 18-19 Lake Titicaca (2B,1L,1B)
This morning we board a boat and 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.
Days 20-21 La Paz (2B)
The day begins with an impressive journey along the shores of Titicaca, to La Paz, Bolivia. 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 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.
Day 22 Uyuni (1B)
Travel to Uyuni by bus/train. Next spend three days exploring the stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and Chile’s Atacama Desert by four-wheel-drive vehicle. Piercing blue skies contrast with blinding white salt as you drive across the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes, and geysers is like nowhere on earth.
Despite its isolation and challenging climate (cold and blustery most of the year), Uyuni has earned the nickname of Hija Predilecta de Bolivia (Bolivia’s Favourite Daughter). Most of its hardy residents are either public sector workers or salt miners in the dried out lakebeds, with tour operators a close third. The main attraction in town is the Train Cemetery, a collection of rusting railway relics just southwest of the present train station.
Days 23-25 Uyuni/Salt Flats Excursion (3B, 3L, 2D)
Travel through the Bolivian landscape to the town of Uyuni. Despite its isolation and challenging climate (cold and blustery most of the year), the town of Uyuni has earned the nickname of Hija Predilecta de Bolivia (Bolivia’s Favourite Daughter). It is also the starting point for our 3-night excursion through the spectacular Salar de Uyuni (Uyuni Salt Flats) in 4x4 vehicles.
Spend three days in the stunning landscapes between the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert in Chile. The salt flats now cover a total area of over 12000 square km (7440 square miles) and is one of Bolivia's main salt mining centers. Driving across the salt flats is a fantastic experience, particularly for the contrast of piercing blue skies and blinding white salt on the flat lakebed. The area’s unusual landscape of mountains, active volcanoes and geysers is like nowhere on earth. Our groups like to get creative with photography, as the endless white of the salt flats creates some great depth illusions that are fun to play with in photos.
The tour takes us through the impressive large red lagoon of Laguna Colorada the striking blue-green Laguna Verde at 5000m. The region's volcanic activity is present as we pass by numerous geysers, boiling mud pools, thermal baths and Licancabúr Volcano. Surprisingly, both wildlife and flora manage to survive and even thrive in the desolate landscape; this includes vizcachas (of the rodent family), flamingos and assorted varieties of cacti.
We offer unique accommodation on the Uyuni Salt Flats. Instead of very basic refuges and homestays most operators use, we have upgraded to simple hotels that are equipped with solar panels to provide electricity and hot water. Rooms are multi-share and each with a private bathroom. Meals are made from local ingredients, most of which are grown on-site.
Note: During the rainy season the locations visited may change due to some routes being covered by water.
Day 26 Potosí (1B)
Sitting at 4070m (13,350 ft), Potosí is the highest city of its size on earth. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 in recognition of its tragic history as a silver mining centre during the time of Spanish colonization. Potosí provided a large share of the silver mined and shipped back to Spain until the early 1800s, when both the supply of silver and world market prices began to decline; it’s said the silver taken out of Cerro Rico (rich hill) propped up the Spanish empire for over 300 years.
Working conditions for miners were appalling, and the indigenous population was decimated. African slaves were brought in to replace the native workers, and it is estimated that as many as eight million indigenous people and Africans died in the mines during the first three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Though sometimes distressing and uncomfortable because of the harsh working conditions, the optional trip underground into the mines of today is an experience that should not be missed.
Days 27-29 Sucre (3B)
Often referred to as Bolivia’s White City, the country’s official capital, Sucre, is situated at nearly 2800m (9184 ft) above sea level, offering its visitors and inhabitants a more moderate, comfortable climate than many of Bolivia’s cities at higher elevations. Before the conquest, military, religious and political leaders of the local indigenous population made their homes on the present day city site. Later, the city became the headquarters for the Spanish Royal Court, which by the late 1700s ruled over colonial Paraguay, parts of Peru, Argentina, Chile, and most of Bolivia. In 1825, in the wake of the Latin American independence movement, the city was renamed Sucre after Simon Bolívar’s second-in-command, General Antonio Jose de Sucre. The city’s fine museums, colonial buildings and ties to the independence movement make it a city of great historical interest. Optional activities include a visit to dinosaur footprints, an old tin baron’s mansion, a textile cooperative, mountain biking and hiking.
Days 30-31 Santa Cruz/Puerto Suarez (2B)
A local flight takes us to Santa Cruz, located close to the Cordillera Oriental foothills. Once a backwater frontier town, it has now grown into Bolivia’s second largest city and is our gateway to an overnight train ride to Puerto Suarez, on the Brazilian border. Please note: train service is not available on Thursdays and Saturdays. Instead of the train, you will take an overnight bus.
Days 32-33 Corumbá/Pantanal (1B, 2L, 2D)
Puerto Suarez is Bolivia’s gateway into the Pantanal area and has great potential…but unfortunately not much to offer yet! We cross Bolivia’s eastern border at the frontier town of Corumbá, Brazil, on the edge of the Pantanal, an immense wetland area famed for its profuse wildlife.
Less well known outside of Brazil and South America, the Pantanal, a largely flat, wetland area about half the size of France, is still one of the best places in the continent for observing wildlife. This vast alluvial plain, seasonally flooded by the Paraguay River from October to March, is all that remains from an ancient inland sea which began to dry out 65 million years ago. Today it is an area rich in bird life such as macaws and Jabiru storks. With luck and appropriate weather you may spot capivara (capybara), howler monkeys, caiman, giant river otters, anacondas and anteaters.
The area is sparsely populated and what few roads exist are in poor condition. Most people use small airplanes, 4-wheel-drive vehicles and motorized canoes to get around, so expect some rough travel and more rustic accommodations while visiting the area. The area’s Transpanteneira, an elevated dirt road, which extends 145km’s (91 miles) from outside Pocone to Porto Jofre, becomes an island during the wet season. We take a two-day wildlife excursion to fully appreciate the area’s beauty and bounty.
Unfortunately, as in other areas, poachers continue to do damage, and official government resources to protect the zone are scarce. This, combined with corrupt officials and a lack of commitment on the part of the government, have resulted in widespread poaching; latest estimates indicate that anywhere from half a million to two million animals are killed annually in the Pantanal.
Days 34-38 Bonito/Iguassu Falls (5B)
**NOTE: Canadians, Australians and Americans are now required to pay a reciprocity fee in order to visit the Argentine side of the falls. This MUST BE PAID IN ADVANCE. See Trip Details 'Visas' for a link.
Bonito, as the name (“beautiful”) implies, is a great place for nature lovers. Just outside the Pantanal area, this is water and jungle country with abundant colourful fish in the area’s crystalline rivers. Explore nearby underwater caves and waterfalls, go rafting or snorkelling, or simply spend a lazy day by the river.
Next we ride a night bus through the vast cattle ranches of Mato Grosso do Sul en route to the magnificent Iguassu Falls.
At Iguassu there are 275 individual falls in all, spread over a 3-km (almost 2 mile) area. Some are over 80m (2642 ft) in height, making these cataracts both wider than Victoria Falls and higher than Niagara! UNESCO declared the region an International Heritage Area in 1986.
On Day 37 we will visit the Brazilian side of the falls and have a free afternoon to be able to rest after our long journey in or to visit the Bird Park home to species such as the Hyacinth macaw and tucans. The following day we cross the border to Argentina to visit the Argentine side of the falls. With an extensive series of catwalks and optional boat rides to the base of the falls we will easily have enough to fill a full day here before returning to the Brazilian side for the night.
Note: If you have booked the Iguassu Falls Boat Ride Theme Pack, you will do it on Day 38 when visiting the Argentine side of the falls.
The falls were originally “discovered” by the Spaniard Juan Alvar Nuñez in 1541, when he named the falls Saltos de Santa María; the name we use today means “great waters” in the Tupi-Guarani tongue.
Film buffs know Iguassu as the site of several scenes from “The Mission,” and not far from the falls, the ruins of the Jesuit missions of the era can still be visited on a day trip. Also of interest is Itaipú, the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. The best time of the year to view the falls is from August to November, as during rainy season flooding often prevents closer viewing from the catwalks.
Days 39-41 Paraty (3B)
Our next destination is Paraty, an architectural gem famous for its churches. Located on Brazil's Costa Verde or "Green Coast," UNESCO World Heritage Paraty is known equally for the cobblestone streets and cafés of its historical centre, the natural beauty of its surroundings and its excellent cachaça. A fun option during your time here is a “booze cruise” around the picturesque beaches and coves of the area.
125 miles from Rio de Janeiro, on the edge of picturesque Ilha Grande Bay, Paraty is a lovely colonial town. On the border between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states, it is a favourite with those looking to ‘get away from it all’—Brazilians and visitors alike. Considered one of the world's most important examples of Portuguese colonial architecture by UNESCO, the historic centre is a well-preserved national historic monument, and today has been closed to vehicles to preserve its laid-back colonial ambience. During high tide the Portuguese cobblestone streets are partly flooded by seawater, adding to the fairy tale atmosphere.
Located between the lush green mountains and the sea, Paraty (sometimes spelled Parati) was once a place of significant economic importance due to its sugar cane mills. At its peak the city was home to over 250 distilleries, and the name Paraty was synonymous with world-class sugar cane rum.
Founded in 1531, the original settlement was on the opposite side of the river, where a church was erected to their patron "St. Roque." Around 1640 the Indians who used to live here were driven away and the town moved to where it stands now. The founders named it Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, with Our Lady of the Medicines as the patron saint, and they built the main church in her honour. Enlarged and remodelled over the years, the church is now the focal point of the annual Festa de Nossa Senhora dos Remédios on September 8. The festival has been celebrated for over 300 years since a wealthy and reverent benefactor, Maria Jácome de Mello, donated the land to the town for the church, requesting only an annual mass in return. The mass has grown into a procession of the wooden effigy of the Virgen though the town, adorned with gold and silver jewellery.
In the 1700s when the mines of Minas Gerais were pouring out gold, the perfect bay of Paraty was a busy port, the second most important in Brazil during the ‘Golden Century.’ The best pinga or cachaça (sugar cane liquor) of Brazil was produced here and the name Paraty became synonymous with the liquor. Later, coffee was brought from the valley of Paraiba to be shipped to Portugal, sparking another economic boom. In 1888 with the abolition of the slavery, Paraty became almost forgotten in time, and a large exodus left only a population of around 600, a considerable difference from the 16 000 of the town’s prime. In 1954 a road was opened linking the town to the rest of the country through the valley of Paraiba, but it was not until 1973-75 with the opening of the highway BR-101 that Paraty’s rebirth as a tourist town began. Paraty was declared a national monument in 1966.
Paraty's bay is filled with over 65 tropical islands and dozens of beaches, each offering something different, and all covered with vegetation that remains lush and colourful year-round. The water of the bay is always the right temperature for swimming, diving and snorkelling. The national parks that encircle the town are filled with trails, wildlife and waterfalls. Hiking or horseback riding, for the sports minded, or a jeep or van tour are both excellent ways to appreciate this natural wilderness.
Days 42-43 Ihla Grande
After a visit to Paraty, head out to one of the picturesque, laid-back islands on the coast, llha Grande. Relax and walk the clean sand beaches or bathe in the warm waters of this island paradise. Options include hikes through the jungle to waterfalls, a nearby black sand beach, boats or hikes to other secluded beaches or just hanging out in the laid-back World Heritage town centre.
The local fauna and flora in Ilha Grande, a Nacional Patrimony protected area, are extremely diverse. The state park was created in 1971 and encompasses 4.500 hectares of wilderness. Mountain range, coastal, mangrove and prairie vegetation are all found here, along with an astonishing collection of bird life, including parrots, woodpeckers, Brazilian thrushes and saracuras. There are also different kinds of monkeys, squirrels, armadillos, pacas, hedgehogs and snakes, as well as endangered species such as the Alouatta Fusca, generally known as Bugio monkey.
Day 44 Rio de Janeiro (1B)
Back on the mainland, a dramatic road takes us north along the coast through superb scenery before rounding the cliffs at Vidigal, where we get our first glimpse of one of the most memorable cities in the world Brazil’s ocean-side jewel, Río de Janeiro. Enjoy your free time to explore the city using our centrally-located hotel in Copacabana as a base, or take an optional city tour.
"God made the world in six days, the seventh he devoted to Rio," so say the Cariocas, residents of this beautiful city. This is a densely packed city of over 9 million inhabitants, whose economic foundations lie in the cultivation of sugar cane and in gold mining. Referred to as a “cidade maravilhosa” (Marvellous City), few cities enjoy such a dramatic setting as Rio. Brilliant, white beaches at Copacabana and Ipanema, deep blue waters of the Atlantic, the luminescent green of Guanabara Bay, the bare blue slopes of the Sugar Loaf combine to make Rio unique. Standing over it all, atop Corcovado, is the huge statue of Christ the Redeemer, the best place from which to appreciate the city. From the top of the Pao do Açucar (Sugar Loaf), reached by cable car, superb panoramic views of the city and area unfold. Head to some of the famous beaches, and prepare yourself for an experience unlike anything else on Earth.
Although the Portuguese first sailed and entered the bay, it was the French who first established a settlement in the area, logging Brazil wood along the coast. Their first permanent settlement lasted a brief five years, when they were attacked and driven from the area by the encroaching Portuguese. A series of skirmishes ensued, with the Tomaio people allied with the French against the Portuguese.
In 1567 the Portuguese began construction of a fortified town to repel any invaders, naming it Sao Sebastiao do Rio de Janeiro. Amassing wealth with the gold rush of Minas Gerais, in the early 18th century, Rio became Brazil’s most important city and a great temptation to the French who, in 1710, waged war against the Portuguese and held the city for a sizeable gold ransom. Again in the 19th century, under threat of Napoleon’s invasion, what remained of the Portuguese monarchy fled to Brazil where they set up court in grand style; many of today’s older structures date from this period.
The gold rush was followed by a coffee boom in the mid-1800s and the wealth generated led to the city’s initial modernization. Replacing Salvador de Bahia as the colonial capital in 1763, the city remained the capital until 1960, when it was replaced by Brasilia. Today, the city is a magnet for tourists who come to walk the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, and generally partake in the Carioca zest for life. Many ascend the Sugarloaf Mountain (Pao do Açucar), whose image is nearly synonymous with Rio and Carnival. But modern Rio is perhaps best known for the contrasting images offered by the favelhas (shanty towns), and the glitz and glamour preferred by the Samba schools and their Carnival celebrations.
Day 45 Rio (1B)
Depart at any time.