This is a journey from the Pacific coast of Peru, over the high Andes and through the land of the Incas to the Amazon forest, featuring cultural, archaeological and historical attractions, as well as Peru’s natural riches in the shape of the maritime Paracas National Reserve, the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary and the Tambopata National Reserve, for Peru is one of the five most mega-diverse countries on Earth, with 84 of the 117 life zones known to exist on the planet.
The Chauchilla tombs and the Nasca aqueducts (3.5 hours) One of the region's most interesting excursions can be made to the Chauchilla cemeteries, 30 kilometers from Nasca. This excursion also includes a visit to the subterranean aqueducts built by the Incas, which are still used today by local farmers to irrigate their fields.
The town of Nasca lies in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains. Although the finest remains of the ancient Nasca culture have already been unearthed by archaeologists, more remains are still being found in the area. On the edge of the modern town, there exists a reservoir built by the Nasca culture, as well as a network of subterranean aqueducts, many of which are still in use.
Flights over the Nasca Lines from Ica (one hour)
The best way to fully appreciate the immense archaeological mystery of the Nasca Lines is to take a flight over them, as these huge geometric and zoomorphic figures are only fully visible from the air.
Paracas National Reserve (half day)
This area is particularly famous for its birdlife and marine fauna. The birds nest in colonies numbering thousands of individuals and the many species observed include pelicans, gulls, Humboldt penguins and Chilean flamingoes. The Andean condor also comes down to the coast occasionally. We will also visit colonies of seals and sea birds and the Julio C. Tello Museum to see the remains of the ancient Paracas culture.
We will navigate around the Ballestas Islands and observe the abundant bird and marine life there, including seals basking on the rocks or swimming around our boat, and species like the Humboldt penguin. Return to Lima by car.
Arequipa: This “White City” is surrounded by spectacular mountains, including the volcano El Misti. The city stands at 2380 meters in a beautiful valley and has fine Spanish buildings and many interesting old churches built from white volcanic rock.
Colonial city / Santa Catalina (half day)
We will tour the main attractions such as the Plaza de Armas, the cathedral, the church and cloisters of the Jesuit church, colonial mansions, San Francisco church, the artisan fair and the viewing point at Yanahuara. This tour will also include a trip to the Santa Catalina Convent, built in 1580 and completely isolated from the outside world until 1970.
Colca Canyon (two days)
One of the deepest canyons in the world, Colca is five hours from Arequipa. The road passes Cañahuas, a wildlife reserve where it is possible to see vicuñas and, occasionally, the much rarer guanaco. The scenery at the canyon is truly breathtaking.
Hundreds of Inca agricultural terraces are still used by local farmers, and life in the valley has changed very little over the centuries. Cruz del Condor, 60 km from Chivay, is a perfect place to see condors as they rise on thermal air currents in the morning and afternoon.
We leave Arequipa at 8 am, arriving in Chivay around midday. During the journey we leave the valley and climb to the road's highest point at 4,450 meters, where volcanoes can be seen on the horizon. In the afternoon you will be free to explore the village on foot. You may also choose to visit the thermal pools at Calera, just outside the town.
At around 6 am we will leave Chivay to travel to Cruz del Condor to observe these giant Andean birds as they rise from the valley floor on the morning thermals. Later in the day, on our way back to Chivay, we will have a chance to visit the villages of Tapay, Pinchillo, Maca and Yanque, arriving at our hotel in Arequipa in the late afternoon.
Puno is the major port on Lake Titicaca. The city is a cultural and linguistic frontier, dividing the two dominant ethnic groups, which inhabit the Titicaca area: the Quechua and the Aymara.
Lake Titicaca lies at 3855 meters above sea level. Regarded as the highest navigable body of water in the world, the lake is immense: It measures 233 km (145 miles) from northwest to southeast and 97 km (60 miles) from northeast to southwest.
Throughout history, Lake Titicaca has been home to many different cultures. Its waters have nourished great civilizations like the Tiwanaco, Pukara and Inca.
Sillustani is located between Juliaca and Puno, and it is therefore possible to visit the ruins when traveling between Juliaca airport and Puno: Sillustani is an archaeological complex with tombs dating from both the Inca and pre-Inca periods. They are high, stone tower-like constructions built to house the remains of the Quechua and Colla nobility.
The most fascinating island on the lake is 45 km from Puno. The scenery of the island is beautiful; the soil is a deep earthy red color, which in the strong highland sunlight contrasts magnificently with the intense blue of the lake. The backdrop of the snow-capped Cordillera Real on the far side of the lake completes a splendid picture. The people wear colorful traditional clothes, which they make themselves. They speak Quechua rather than the Aymara language of most Titicaca Indians, maintaining a strong air of group individuality.
We travel by bus to Cusco, crossing the altiplano and visiting a number of interesting sights along the route, including the temple site of Raqchi and the charming village of Andahuaylillas with its church, which has been called the “Sistine Chapel of the Americas”.
Cusco lies in exceptionally beautiful Andean countryside. It is 3400 meters above sea level and its legacy as the hub of the Inca Empire is readily apparent: Most of the city’s streets are lined with Inca-built stone walls and crowded with Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas.
The city of Cusco on foot (half day)
We begin our tour with a visit to the cathedral, which was built between 1560 and 1654 on the site of the palace of the Inca Wiracocha. From the cathedral we move on to Qoricancha, the Inca Temple of the Sun, where we will be able to see some of the finest remaining examples of Inca stonemasonry: We will also walk through streets lined with Inca walls on our way to the San Blas neighborhood, famous today, as it was in Inca times, for its skilled craftsmen.
The ruins of Sacsaywaman (half day)
We will explore this ancient Inca sanctuary with its immense monolithic walls built from stones that weigh up to 130 tons each, all joined perfectly together. We will then visit the amphitheater at Qenqo, the fortress of Puka Pukara and the ritual Inca baths at Tambomachay.
Today we visit the Sacred Valley, accessing this fascinating destination via a little-used road. Heading southeast out of Cusco we will first visit the pre-Inca site of Piquillacta, - the only pre-Inca archaeological site near Cusco.
Piquillacta is noteworthy for its typical Wari culture style architecture, with two-floor houses surrounded by an outer wall.
We will then continue through picturesque scenery to Pisaq.
The colorful markets of the valley are open during the mornings, when you will be able to buy Peruvian crafts, jewelry and textiles, and see the traditional produce market where local people trade.
Pisaq market is open on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, and Chinchero market is open on Sundays.
Afternoon visit of Pisaq Ruins (half day)
Pisaq ruins stand high above the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and comprise an Intiwatana, a temple complex, residential areas and extensive agricultural terracing, with the beautiful Urubamba River far below. We will spend the night in our charming valley hotel.
Travelling along the Sacred Valley we come to Ollantaytambo, with its imposing temple complex and fascinating village, which is the only place in Peru which retains its original Inca street plan. From here we drive up to the plain of Chinchero. This is a typical highland village, with an interesting early colonial church built on the walls of an Inca temple. Just beyond the main square there are extensive Inca ruins and the village boasts fine views of the plain of Chincheros as its sweeps down to the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
The Saltpans of Maras and the ruins of Moray
The saltpans at Maras consist of 3000 small pools. A number of salt water springs emerge from the hillside and are channeled along canals using the natural gradient. This process is repeated every three days and the water evaporates leaving behind the salt which slowly solidifies. This process takes one month, until a 10 cm layer of salt has formed.
The Incas built a series of agricultural terraces in the form of a circular amphitheatre 150m in diameter. Moray was a centre for agricultural experiments and recent research has shown that the different levels of terraces represent different microclimates in the region and that temperatures between the terraces vary greatly. Using this technology, the Incas used Moray to domesticate and adapt the hybrid wild plants they created.
Machu Picchu, the so-called “Lost City of the Incas”, remains intact because it was never discovered by the invading Spanish. Constructed on a high, forested mountain overlooking the Urubamba River, Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu were lost in time and dense foliage until they were discovered in July 1911 by the American historian Hiram Bingham.
Our guide will carefully explain the history of this unique place and escort us around its terraces, temples, palaces and watercourses.
Today is an opportunity to explore the ruins independently, before returning to Cusco by train in the afternoon.
The Tambopata Ecolodge
The Tambopata National Reserve covers an area of 678,800 acres of sub-tropical rainforest under the protection of the Peruvian government. The many studies made of the fauna and flora along the Tambopata River reveals an incredible abundance of life forms. The ecosystems in this part of southeast Peru are the most diverse on the planet, meaning that within the territory of the Tambopata Ecolodge there are limitless opportunities to observe the tropical rainforest and its wildlife.
Following your early morning flight to Puerto Maldonado from Lima or Cusco, you will be met at the airport by your naturalist guide and transferred to a boat for the trip up the Tambopata River to the Ecolodge.
The Tambopata Ecolodge is situated on the banks of the Tambopata River in the heart of the Tambopata National Reserve. The remoteness and tranquility of our lodge make for a richly rewarding visit to the rainforest. But, with a location of approximately only four hours from Cusco it is one of the most accessible rainforest destinations in Latin America.
In the late afternoon you set off for an introductory walk into the forest behind the lodge. Frequently seen mammals on this trail are saddle-back tamarinds, brown capuchins and agoutis. After dinner: Night walk to find nocturnal animals or insects by their eye-shine.
A morning's exploration by foot and paddle canoe of the lake system of Condenado, rich in bird and aquatic life: A family of giant otters lives in the vicinity of the lake and are often observed. Birds abound, especially rufescent tiger-herons, great egrets, wattled jacanas, hoatzin, the noisy donacobius and many others. The afternoon is for exploring the forest close to the lodge (with or without your guide), relaxing and bathing in the Gallucunca, a cool clear stream beside the lodge.
After breakfast a short boat ride downriver to the trail head. Here you embark on a longer trail which leads to a spectacular hidden lake and on the way you are introduced to more aspects of the forest and its animals. At the lake itself it is possible to spot elusive black caiman and giant otters. The afternoon is free for relaxation and bathing.
An early morning start is required for the canoe trip back to Puerto Maldonado, giving memorable views of the sunrise over the river. Look out for the early morning wildlife, which is particularly active at this time. Howler monkeys are frequently heard, as they stake out their territories. Your guide will take care of you on arrival in Puerto Maldonado and will deal with all the formalities at the airport prior to your departure.
Transfer from airport to continue with a tour of Lima's sights, followed by a return transfer to the airport in the evening.
Combine the visit to the center of Lima with a trip to the famous Gold Museum.
This tour begins with a trip to the principal sights in the center of Lima: the government palace, the Arab-influenced design of San Francisco church, which includes a monstrance made in 1671 and a collection of jewels, and catacombs.
We will then visit the nearby cathedral on the main square, which bears the city's coat-of-arms and houses the remains of Francisco Pizarro, the founder of Lima.
The Gold Museum is home to an extraordinary private collection of more than 6500 pieces from the Mochica, Nasca and Chimu cultures, collected by the philanthropist Miguel Mujica Gallo.
Transfer to Lima international airport.