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Jacana: Crossing the continent

19 days from £2888pp

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Jacana: Crossing the continent:
Trip Dossier

This is an epic journey which traverses this diverse continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific in just under 3 exhilarating weeks. Landscapes of infinite variety unfold before you; wide, white-sand beaches and sultry forests give way to the shimmering lakes and bleak wilderness of the altiplano, fringed by the ice-jacketed peaks of the high Andes. The human history is no less captivating; narratives are preserved in the magnificent Inca temples and baroque colonial architecture, whilst the indigenous villages and a multitude of open-air and covered markets offer an insight into a more contemporary way of life. 

The trip begins in Rio de Janeiro, a spellbinding city in a peerless location, sandwiched between steep forested mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, and continues to the thundering Iguazú Falls. From here you journey into the backwater that is Paraguay before venturing into Bolivia to cross the sapphire waters of Lake Titicaca. At last you reach Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, and a visit to the awe inspiring ruins of Machu Picchu, before heading back to sea level on the Pacific side at Lima, the former imperial City of Kings.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

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

Day 1

Overnight at your hotel in Copacabana.

Day 2

Excursion to Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain.

Day 3

Day at leisure in Rio.

Day 4

Fly to the Iguazú Falls; guided tour of the Brazilian Falls

Day 5

Iguazú Falls; guided tour of the Argentine side

Day 6

Drive to Asunción, capital of Paraguay.

Day 7-9

Fly to La Paz, capital of Bolivia.

Day 10

By road across the altiplano to Lake Titicaca. Excursion on the lake.

Day 11

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

Day 12

Scenic bus ride to Cusco.

Day 13

Guided tour of the city and archaeological sites nearby

Day 14

Optional excursions

Day 15

Full-day excursion to the Sacred Valley, overnight there.

Day 16

Train to Machu Picchu, guided tour. Overnight in nearby village

Day 17

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

Day 18

Fly to Lima.

Day 19

Depart for international flight or extension.

UK clients arrive home the following day.

Detailed itinerary

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.
 

Essential information

Transport

3 flights (longest 2 hours), 2 train journeys (longest 3.5 hours), 4 road journeys (longest 8 hours).

Accommodation

On our Discovery Journeys the standard of accommodation varies. We aim to keep the price competitive while ensuring the basic comforts. Hotels / guesthouses are comfortable and attractive in most places but elsewhere are purely functional. All properties are well maintained and all will have a private bathroom with hot water. (If you prefer greater comfort see our Hummingbird tour that follows a very similar route).

Examples of hotels include:

• Rio de Janeiro: Hotel Augusto's
• Foz do Iguaçú: Best Western Taroba.
• Asunción: Asunción Palace
• La Paz: Hotel Rosario
• Copacabana (Lake Titicaca): Rosario del Lago
• Puno: Hotel Intiqa
• Cusco: Hotel Ruinas
• Sacred Valley: Tunupa Lodge
• Machu Picchu: Waman Inn
• Lima: Hotel El Tambo

These hotels are subject to change and are dependent on availability. Address and contact details will be sent out with your final documents.

Meals

Breakfast daily.

Included excursions

• Rio: Corcovado moutain
• Rio: Sugar Loaf moutain
• Iguazú: Iguazú Falls (Brazilian and Argentine sides) 
• La Paz: city tour
• Lake Titicaca: boat trip to Sun Island
• Lake Titicaca: Uros Islands
• Cusco: guided city tour 
• Sacred Valley: guided tour 
• Machu Picchu: guided tour of the ruins
• Lima: Walking tour of colonial

Summary of nights

19 days, 18 nights: Rio 3; Foz do Iguaçú 2; Asunción 1; La Paz 3; Copacabana (Lake Titicaca) 1; Puno 1; Cusco 3; Sacred Valley 1; Machu Picchu 1; Cusco 1; Lima 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America tour leader
• All land and domestic air transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and insurance
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions
• Some domestic airport tax 

Optional excursions

There are optional excursions available throughout this tour, which are booked locally through your tour leader once you are in Latin America. Not all excursions available will suit everybody, whilst others only operate within certain seasons, with minimum numbers or may not be included due to time constraints. A budget of around $200USD should cover participation in the following options, but prices can fluctuate depending on the size of the party and so cannot be provided accurately until travel commences. The list below is only a guideline, so please enquire with your tour leader for any further areas of interest: 

• Iguazú Falls: Bird Park
• Iguazú Falls: Gran Safari boat ride to the falls
• La Paz: Pre-Inca ruins at Tiwanaku
• La Paz: the Moon Valley or the Cerro Chacaltaya
• La Paz: Ride the Telefericos over the city
• Sacred Valley: Moras and Moray
• Cusco: Horse riding or white water rafting
• Machu Picchu: re-entry to the ruins
• Machu Picchu: climb Huayna Picchu (this excursion must be pre-booked due to availability issues so please let the office know before travel)

Travelling alone

There is no extra cost for single travellers who are willing to share a room. You will be accommodated with another same-sex member of the group who is also travelling solo. For single travellers who wish to have their own room there are a limited number of single rooms available, which carry a surcharge.

Currency

The unit of currency in Peru is the sol, in Bolivia the boliviano, in Brazil the real, and in Paraguay the guaraní.

Budget

A budget of around $35USD per day should cover the cost of meals not included, drinks and the odd souvenir.

How to take it

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds. 

We recommend that you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency. These bills should be in good condition as soiled or torn bills may be refused. Travellers’ cheques are increasingly less favoured by travellers who find them difficult to exchange as well as offering a poor rate of exchange. If you do decide to carry some with you they should be US dollar cheques only (American Express are by far the most accepted brand).

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed and expected. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. We recommend approximately $3USD (or local equivalent) per person per day for each of guides and drivers, depending on the size of the group.

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

If you would like to show your appreciation to your Journey Latin America tour leader, who you may feel has exceeded your expectations, a discretionary gratuity would be gratefully received. As a guideline we recommend an amount of between $4 and $6USD per person, per day. You are obviously free to tip more or less as you see fit, depending on your perception of service quality.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Airport taxes

International departure tax from Lima is normally included in the ticket. Domestic flight taxes are normally included however they can sometimes be charged at a rate of approximately $5USD per flight.

Journey grade

The pace of this trip is fast; there are some early mornings and long days spent travelling (albeit with frequent stops and fantastic scenery). The streets in Cusco and La Paz are cobbled and steep and you must be cautious at altitude. You should consult your tour leader to make sure your chosen optional excursions are suitable for you.

Climate

December- March are the hottest months in Brazil, but also the most humid. Rain is possible at any time. In the southern hemisphere the seasons are the reverse of our own. Summer on the Peruvian coast (November-April) is hot, temperatures rise above 30°C. 

In the mountains, rain can be expected at anytime October-April, although January and February are historically the wettest months. The thinness of the air and the strength of the sun mean you can expect warm if invigorating days (up to 25°C), but once the sun sets the temperature drops dramatically (below freezing, depending on altitude). In the Bolivian lowlands and Paraguay it will be hot and humid, with frequent showers.

Altitude

Some of the excursions in and around La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and the Sacred Valley are at high altitude (over 3,000m). Symptoms of altitude sickness vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. Most people are unaffected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don't exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of suffering any symptoms. Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials also work well. It can get very cold at altitude, particularly after sundown and so warm clothes are essential as is a good waterproof jacket. Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellent, sun block and sunglasses. You should take swimwear for visits to thermal baths.
At the Iguazú Falls you can get very wet from the spray. Some visitors like to take dry clothes in a bag and simply wear swimwear and flip flops. 

If you plan to go to good restaurants or out on evening entertainment trips, you might want to bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required). 

Due to luggage restrictions on the train to Machu Picchu, most of your luggage must be left in Cusco. You can take up to 10 kgs per person on the train and an overnight holdall is recommended so that you can separate your luggage for the nights spent away from Cusco. A separate bag is also useful if you are planning an extension from Lima, usually the rest of your luggage can be left in the hotel. 

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. A yellow fever certificate may be a compulsory requirement for onward travel and immigration purposes. The rules are complex and subject to change. We advise you check the most up to date information at www.iatatravelcentre.com. Please consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on malaria tablets. You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Cases of Zika virus have been reported in parts of Latin America. If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should follow the advice of the  National Travel Health Network and Centre

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Other nationalities should enquire or check with the relevant consulate. 

APIS and ESTA - important flight information:

ESTA - if flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your application to ESTA online

This costs $14 per person. This must be done by you personally.

Passports must also be machine-readable (MRP). Avoid locking suitcases if transiting the USA, as their customs authorities retain the right to break into them.

APIS - Many countries now oblige airlines to provide additional information about passengers prior to the flight departure. This Advance Passenger Information (APIS) must be supplied to us promptly in order to issue tickets and avoid fare increases. We will provide the airlines with the relevant details if we are booking your international flights. If the information is not provided you may be denied boarding.

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