You will be met at the airport and transferred to the group hotel where you are free to rest or just wander around Miraflores, the area of Lima where our hotel is located. Some of Lima's best galleries, shops and restaurants are found in this area. Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, Lima is the oldest capital in South America, with a superb combination of Spanish Colonial and 19th century European architecture.
Early morning wake-up call (in some cases very early as most flights leave for Cusco early morning!) for breakfast and short drive to the airport. On arrival you'll be met by your guide and transferred from Cusco airport to our hotel for a short initial briefing and then a few hours of rest, essential to initiate successful acclimatisation. In the evening you'll have a longer briefing to discuss aspects of the itinerary.
Every alleyway we enter or corner we turn brings another surprise or enigma in the form of the superbly constructed Inca walls or the more architecturally extravagant colonial churches and palaces. The city, once capital of the extensive Inca Empire, has seen many changes since Francisco Pizarro's men took the city with such apparent ease in November 1533. We also take a short drive to visit the monolithic walls of Sacsayhuaman, spectacularly set above the city. In the afternoon you may have time to explore some of the central parts of the city and a chance to look at some of the great varieties of local craft work on sale in open air stalls and shop.
A day is set aside to relax, shop or undertake your own sightseeing at your own pace. Cusco is such an incredibly interesting city with many interesting buildings, churches, museums or plazas. Those looking for something more adventurous may wish to go rafting or horse trekking.
After breakfast we drive for one hour to the Sunday Market at the town of Chinchero 3750m (12,300ft). Chinchero was once the agricultural centre of the Inca empire and is still renowned for its traditional weavings. We continue into the Sacred Valley of the Incas for lunch. During our time in the valley we visit some of the enthralling citadels, fortresses and temple ruins, including the site at Ollantaytambo. The valley follows the course of the famous Urubamba River, one of the main tributaries of the Amazon. The evening is spent at our hotel in the heart of the valley.
From our hotel, we stroll to the railway station at Ollantaytambo where we take an early morning train to Machu Picchu. Today we start early to thoroughly explore these remarkable and truly enigmatic ruins. After a professionally led tour of the site we're free to wander around the rest of the amazing sights for up to 2 hours in the company of our guide. We then take a late afternoon bus down to Aguas Calientes, where we spend the night.
Without a doubt the best time to view Machu Picchu is at dawn before the crowds arrive on the train. After breakfast, those who wish can make an optional second visit to Machu Picchu. We include one entry to Machu Picchu and transport to and from Machu Picchu on the previous day and should you wish to visit today, then entry and the bus is to be paid locally. In the afternoon or early evening we depart from Machu Picchu for the train ride back to Ollantaytambo where we transfer to our vehicle for the drive back to Cusco. Overnight in Cusco hotel. NB - depending on train schedules, we may arrive into Cusco very late at night.
We depart early in the morning for the 6 to 8 hour journey by private vehicle* to Puno set on the shores of Lake Titicaca at 12,630' (3,820m). The road takes us south along the great valley below Cusco and then as we head further south we start to climb towards the great continental divide at La Raya. To the east we see some of the strange peaks of the Carabaya Range. From the pass we descend quickly onto the vast dry altiplano with its isolated villages and herds of Andean camelid including the alpaca and vicu a. Our first glimpses of lake Titicaca remind us that this is hardly a lake - its more like a vast inland sea that also happens to be the highest navigable lake in the world! We spend our night at our hotel in Puno.
*Note: For smaller groups of 2 - 5 passengers we use the first class public bus to Puno.
Puno is a typical high Andean town, set on the shores of the lake and located on the great altiplano that stretches all the way to La Paz. There will be an opportunity to cruise Lake Titicaca the highest navigable lake in the world and visit some of the unique floating 'tortora' reed islands of the Uros Indians. We'll also visit the impressively built pre-Inca burial towers or 'chulpas' at Sillustani near Lake Umayo, an hour's drive from Puno.
Transfer to the airport in Guayaquil for the flight to the Galapagos. Upon arrival in the Galapagos you will be met and transferred to your boat and commence your cruise.
Morning tour of Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador and is situated in a fertile valley in the southern highlands of Ecuador. Perhaps because of its isolation, Cuenca has kept its old-world architectural charm and its colonial ambience, with its cobbled streets and many buildings of interest. Many visitors consider it to be the most beautiful city in the country, as well as the centre of arts and crafts such as jewelry making and ceramics. This afternoon we drive 5 hours to Guayaquil.
After an early breakfast we will be transferred to Alausi, where we will take the best portion of the infamous Devils Nose Train journey to Sibambe. This short section gives the railway its name with a series of 'hair raising' switchbacks that negotiate the descent down to the lowlands. This was one of the great train journeys of the world and a fantastic piece of engineering with a maximum gradient of 5.5%. The track originally climbed from Duran on the coast to its highest point at 3700m. It has recently been re-constructed to once again be Ecuador's pride and joy. Our transportation will be waiting in Alausi to take us to Ecuador's most significant Inca site of Ingapirca at 3160m. Though famed as a classic Inca site, Ingapirca, actually translates to "Wall of the Incas", but is thought to be sacred to the Canari Indians prior to the Inca's. Ingapirca was strategically positioned on the main ancient highway from Quito to Cusco and soldiers would have settled here to maintain order in this region. From Ingapirca we will then be transferred to our hotel in Cuenca.
Please note that the Devil's Nose Train ds not operate on Monday's or due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, and if it ds not operate, it is important to understand that the only alternative is to drive instead.
This morning we will visit Cotopaxi National Park. In the afternoon, we will be transferred south through the Avenue of the Volcans. This route offers great views of various volcans, including Cotopaxi, Tungurahua, Chimborazo, Sangay and Altar. Overnight hacienda in Riobamba.
Morning drive to Juliaca airport and flight to Lima. Upon arrival in Lima we shall undertake a half day tour of the city with a local guide. Founded by Francisco Pizarro in 1535, it features a superb combination of Spanish colonial and 19th-century European architecture. We'll also visit the famous Gold Museum containing the world's largest private collection of gold and silver artefacts.
We drive north through beautiful Andean countryside to the famous market town of Otavalo. The markets here date from pre-Incan times when people came from jungle areas to trade their produce with those of the highlands. This is still the case today, as well as being many crafts and wares for tourists. It is considered by many to be one of the best markets for textiles and crafts in South America. Time permitting we hope to have the opportunity to visit the surrounding area around Otavalo. The main market day is Saturday, but Wednesday, Friday and Sunday are also good. Tonight we will overnight in Otavalo.
This morning we transfer to the airport for the flight to Quito. On arrival in Quito we will be met and transferred to the group hotel. This afternoon we take a tour of this fascinating city. There are features of interest in both the new and old parts of the town. Out tour may include San Agustin Monastery, Independence Plaza, La Compania Church and a view of Quito from Panecillo Hill. In the evening you are free to sample some of the wonderful local seafood or grilled meats in one of the city's many fine restaurants.
During the next few days you cruise to, among others, the islands of Espanola, Santa Cruz (including the Darwin Research Station), North Seymour, Isabela, Sombrero Chino, Rabida, Bartolome and Santiago. Itineraries are flexible and may vary according to weather and local conditions. Every day we are woken early for breakfast on board before taking the dinghy to walk along the beaches or onto the well marked trails on the islands. We are accompanied at all times by our onboard naturalist guides who also give us comprehensive lectures and debriefings after each day's cruise and island visits. Distances between the islands varies greatly. Some days we could be motoring for no more than 2 hours whereas on other days we will cover greater distances and 5 or 6 hours of cruising (sometimes at night - depending on sea conditions). The itineraries are designed to make maximum use of the generally smaller vessels we use and therefore the advantage of a shallow draught and the greater accessibility this allows to some of the smaller islands and coves.
This morning we head south past Quito towards the foot of Cotopaxi volcano. Nestled in the foothills of Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world, our hacienda accommodation provides the perfect setting for those wishing to enjoy this unique countryside (3500-4000m approx). This afternoon we shall have the opportunity to visit Cotopaxi National Park or simply relax and enjoy this historic hacienda with its pretty gardens and eucalyptus grove.
On the eighth cruise day we head back to either the airport at Baltra or San Cristobal islands for the flight back to Quito on the mainland. Upon arrival on the mainland your trip concludes.