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Jacana: Crossing the continent

19 days from £2888pp

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Jacana: Crossing the continent

19 days from £2888pp
 

Group Journey

 

UK clients depart arriving Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the same day.
 

Day 1

Overnight at your hotel in Copacabana.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met by the Journey Latin America tour leader or a local representative at the airport and escorted to the group hotel.

Rio de Janeiro is the most romantic, intriguing and beautiful city on the continent. Sumptuous apartments overlook sparkling bays against a backdrop of half-built slum dwellings, favelas, which cling precariously to the hillsides. Rio has an awesome bay-side location among near-vertical granite mountains.

Here, tropical foliage swoops down to white-to-toffee coloured sandy beaches in turn battered by the huge waves of Atlantic surf. The drive into the city gives a fleeting glimpse of the docks and commercial centre as you head towards the magnificent stretch of sand at Copacabana beach; your hotel is close by.

Day 2

Excursion to Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
 
Your tour takes you on board a steep rack-and-pinion railway which glides up through tropical Tijuca National Park, the largest urban forest in the world dripping with fruit and flowers, to reach the summit of Corcovado Mountain. Here the famous 40m art deco Christ the Redeemer statue soars above the city, arms outspread benevolently. On a clear day the views over the city and out across the ocean and outlying islands are stupendous.

We also include a trip to Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain). Ride the cable-car up the twin granite mountains protruding from the ocean and enjoy the magnificent views back over the beaches, Botafogo Bay with its bobbing yachts and into the mountains beyond. There’s a lovely (and safe) nature walk round the foot of the mountain, or you could pop for a beer into the nearby villagey quarter of Urca, leafy home of artists and TV stars.

Rio de Janeiro

Day 3

Day at leisure in Rio.
 
At leisure. A popular optional excursion is a visit to the exotic Botanical Gardens. Walk along the splendid Avenue of the Royal Palms, and see if you can catch a glimpse of the toucans and marmosets that frequent the park, attracted by thousands of species of tropical and subtropical plants. There are also glass houses sheltering bromeliads, and a research institute here.

You might take a drive through old Rio, the arty Santa Theresa district, where colonial houses in pastel hues line the winding, cobbled streets. Football fans might want to travel to the north of the city to visit the Maracanã stadium. Depending on fixtures you might even be able to join the raucous crowds on the terraces.

Day 4

Fly to the Iguazú Falls; guided tour of the Brazilian Falls
 
Fly to Foz do Iguaçú in the subtropical south-west corner of Brazil (2 hours). The Iguazú Falls are unquestionably one of the most extraordinary natural wonders in the world. A total of 275 falls thunder through dense forest over a 2.5km stretch. The u-shaped Devil's Throat is the main gorge, where the frothy water of the Iguazú River crashes over a 1.5km-wide precipice and columns of vapour are thrown skyward. Elsewhere the river flows decorously through the rainforest breaking up into dozens of smaller falls. You might spot toucans with their outsized bright orange beaks perched in the foliage above the tumultuous waters.

You head out to the Brazilian side of the falls, from where there is a broad panorama of these magnificent cataracts, and there are some excellent opportunities to photograph the full sweep of the cascades. Before leaving the Brazilian side, you could stop off at the excellent and rather quirky bird park just outside the entrance of Iguaçu National Park. The enclosure is home to a huge variety of birds and wildlife, including toucans, trogons and the coatimundi, from the same family as the racoon.

Day 5

Iguazú Falls; guided tour of the Argentine side
 
Today there’s an expedition to the Argentine side of the falls with your tour leader. From the National Park Visitor Centre, where there is a display that illustrates the biodiversity of the region's tropical rainforest, a little natural-gas-powered train transfers you to Cataratas Station where the Upper Walk begins. This sequence of causeways and passarelles links dozens of tiny basalt islands at the top of a sheer rock face and the walkways cross the myriad streams of the River Iguazú as they cascade over the lip of the precipice. Your breath is quite literally taken away as the water thunders on to the rocks below.

The train continues to Devil's Throat Station where a 1km-long walkway leads across the river to the thunderous Garganta del Diablo, The Devil's Throat. From this vantage point you can feel the incredible power of the water, and the flow is mesmeric as it plummets into the vortex below.

There is an optional boat trip out to the base of the falls; it's an exhilarating ride that takes you within touching distance of these thunderous cascades and your clothes and hair are soaked with the spray.

Iguazu Falls

Day 6

Drive to Asunción, capital of Paraguay.
 

The adventure continues with a road journey (5 hours) across the Paraguayan border to the capital, Asunción. This rather old world, eclectic city is located on the shores of the Río Paraguay, and an air of nostalgia permeates its busy streets. Paraguay feels caught in a time warp, the legacy of years of isolation from the outside world under the rule of a series of dictators. The wide, tree-lined avenues, parks and stately buildings are impressive, and it's a pleasant place to wander. Or you might like to browse some of the many duty-free goods on sale (mostly perfume, spirits and electronic goods), some of which are of doubtful authenticity.

Day 7-9

Fly to La Paz, capital of Bolivia.
 
At over 3,500m, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. It is a glittering mosaic of tin, slate and tile roofs, interspersed with a line of skyscrapers that march down the valley. Beyond, keeping an eye on it all, is the colossal snow-capped Mount Illimani. This busy, commercial city has a 60% indigenous population; women dress in voluminous multi-coloured skirts, bowler hats and have centre-partings, as decreed by the Spanish monarch 3 centuries ago.

There is a guided walking tour, and 3 nights in the city gives you plenty of opportunity to explore the colonial centre around Plaza Murillo. There is also time for an optional visit to the ruins of Tiwanaku. You travel out of La Paz and across the bleak, tawny earth of the altiplano, past glimmering lakes and herds of haughty alpacas. These pre-Columbian ruins are considered to be some of the most important on the continent, and the massive gateways and imposing walls are redolent of bygone glory.

Alternatively you may like to venture out of town to Chacaltaya, once the world's highest ski resort. From a vertiginous wooden chalet house there are views over 3 countries, and the waters of Lake Titicaca twinkle in the distance.

Day 10

By road across the altiplano to Lake Titicaca. Excursion on the lake.
 
Drive across the altiplano's windswept plains to Lake Titicaca, and cross the lake's narrowest part in a small motor launch, while the bus makes the same journey on a sturdy wooden barge. Lake Titicaca sits high in the Andes on the Peruvian- Bolivian border, and is a focal point for subsistence farmers in the region who fish its icy waters and plant crops along its shores.

Arrive in Copacabana. This pretty little town is a religious sanctuary (it gave Rio's famous beach its name), and its whitewashed buildings and Moorish-style basilica are striking against a clear blue Andean sky. The Basilica is frequented by pilgrims to the miraculous 16th-century Dark Virgin of the Lake, and they bring their rickety cars to the forecourt, bedecked in flowers, to be blessed by her.

If you have the energy in this rarefied air, climb the stations of the cross for views out over the lake and the snow-capped cordillera in the distance. From Copacabana take a boat trip to Isla del Sol (Sun Island). Legend has it that this mystical spot marked the beginning of Inca civilisation. The children of the sun god sprung from the lake's depths to found the mighty empire in Cusco, and a rock at the northern end of the island was their birthplace.

Lake Titicaca

Day 11

By road into Peru and on to Puno. Visit to Uros Islands.
 

Continue by bus across the Peruvian border to Puno where you visit the Uros Islands. You alight on a floating island, made entirely of tortora reeds - the same material used to build their canoes and even their homes. The inhabitants earn their living mainly through selling handicrafts to tourists and, while this is a unique experience, it has the air of a visit to a living museum.

Uros

Day 12

Scenic bus ride to Cusco.
 
A scenic day-long public bus ride takes you from Puno to Cusco (7 hours). You cross the altiplano, a large, windswept plain, punctuated by occasional market towns, where bowler-hatted indigenous women tend herds of llamas and alpacas. As the mountains close in, the bus climbs to its highest pass at la Raya (4,200m), and from here the scenery changes dramatically as you race down through the fertile fields of corn and potatoes to Cusco. You arrive in the early evening.

The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire. Its many impressive, original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, and the squares are dotted with ornate colonial churches. It's a vibrant, lively city, where shoeshine boys and postcard sellers jostle for your attention on cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and clubs.

Day 13

Guided tour of the city and archaeological sites nearby
 

An experienced guide gives you a detailed tour of Cusco, which includes a visit to several nearby Inca ruins. You visit Q’oricancha, once the principal Inca Sun Temple, with extraordinarily intricate stonework, and then explore the colossal zigzag walls of Sacsayhuamán, brooding on a hillside above Cusco.  In 1536 a desperate and defining 3 day battle was fought between the Spaniards and the Incas around this fortress; the first conquistadors to see it were overawed and centuries later it is still an extraordinary and imposing sight.

Cusco

Day 14

Optional excursions
 

There are a number of optional excursions in the surrounding region. About an hour's drive from Cusco is Moray, where ancient agricultural irrigation paths form circular depressions in the earth, and there are wonderful views into the Sacred Valley and of the snowy peak of Mount Veronica. From here it is a short walk to the salt pans at Maras, circular pans of glistening white carved into the mountain side. Ask your tour leader for more optional excursions into the region, including horse riding and white water rafting on the Urubamba river.

Day 15

Full-day excursion to the Sacred Valley, overnight there.
 
This full-day adventure visits several of the villages and archaeological sites which pepper the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Pisac complex, set high above the eponymous village, is composed of steep terraces; their engineering and preservation are unrivalled, and you can clamber among the ancient walls and explore the ruins of temples, residences and storehouses. It takes about an hour and a half to explore the site, after which you stop off in the village below where an arts and crafts market spills across the main square, stalls laden with tapestries and weavings crafted in the surrounding villages.

Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to Ollantaytambo, the snow-capped Andean cordillera forming a stunning backdrop. The Inca fortress towering above the adobe village is well preserved and there are wonderful views down over the gentle sloping hillsides and into the fertile valley. You spend the night in the Sacred Valley.

Ollantaytambo

Day 16

Train to Machu Picchu, guided tour. Overnight in nearby village
 
A dramatic 2 hour train journey from Ollantaytambo delivers you to the ruins of Machu Picchu. As the river Urubamba enters its narrow gorge between thickly-forested granite hills, there is room only for a single rail track, which hugs the right bank and passes through hamlets which are no more than a collection of shacks. The citadel is then reached by minibus up a sinuous road.

In 1911 the American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the ruins buried beneath tropical cloud forest. It is the city’s location which most captures the imagination, on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon. Following a guided tour of the ruins, you spend the night at the spa village of Machu Picchu, a couple of kilometres upstream.

Machu Picchu

Day 17

Optional re-entry to the Inca site. Return by train and bus to Cusco.
 

You might like to return to the ruins the following morning to see the granite mountaintops emerge from the mist before the crowds arrive: a magical experience. Those who are feeling active could choose to set off on one of several short hiking trails: follow the steep path up to Huayna Picchu, the conical peak rising behind the ruins or trek to the vertiginous Inca Bridge, carved into a cliff face (please enquire with the office, as spaces are limited and it's necessary to pre-book). Your tour leader will be on hand to talk through the various walking options. In the afternoon you return to Cusco by train and bus.

Day 18

Fly to Lima.
 

A morning flight takes you to Lima (90 minutes). The City of Kings was once the capital of Spanish America, and the remnants of its glorious past can still be seen in the faded grandeur of the colonial churches and splendid, traditional wooden balconies in the city centre. The explosive growth of the last 50 years, so typical of capital cities in the developing world, has transformed Lima into a bustling and chaotic low-rise city of over 6 million people. Away from the busy centre, there are some superb traditional restaurants as well as archaeological museums filled to the rafters with pre-Columbian treasures. In crowded streets, throngs of traffic race out towards Miraflores, on the coast, a modern middle-class suburb where your hotel is located. There will be a walking tour of the colonial centre with your tour leader.

Day 19

Depart for international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day.
 

19 days from £2888pp

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