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Active Peru and Bolivia trekking Andean peaks to tropical rainforest

18 days from £2,785pp

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Active Peru and Bolivia trekking Andean peaks to tropical rainforest:
Trip Dossier

Andean Peru and Bolivia have some of the best hiking opportunities in Latin America, if not the world. This private trekking holiday combines two popular and spectacular trails.

The Salkantay Trail, an Inca path which ends close to Machu Picchu, is sometimes regarded as a less desirable alternative to the often congested Classic Inca Trail. But it can really rank alongside the better known trek for its dramatic scenery, and has the added attractions of passing remote farmsteads, fields rich with tropical crops, and what is probably the best first-time view of Machu Picchu currently accessible. 

The Choro Trail in Bolivia, leading from high altitude La Paz down into the semi-tropical pre-Amazon valleys, has the appeal of being mostly downhill. You can easily appreciate the influence of altitude on the landscape: from the skeletal rocky pass down to the tropical plantations of the Yungas area in the foothills separating the high Andes from the Amazon region. 

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel.

Day 2

Tour of Lima by car ending at the airport for flight to Cusco.

Day 3

Walking tour of Cusco and nearby Inca ruins.

Day 4

Guided exploration of the Sacred Valley of the Incas on foot.

Day 5

Hike the Salkantay Trail.

Day 6

Second day of the Salkantay trek.

Day 7

Descending to the valley.

Day 8

Arrive Machu Picchu.

Day 9

Guided tour of the ruins. Return to Cusco by rail and road.

Day 10

Tourist coach to Puno and transfer to hotel.

Day 11

By road to Copacabana, Bolivia. Guided lake excursion to Sun Island.

Day 12

Continue to La Paz by road.

Day 13

Walking tour of the Bolivian capital.

Day 14

First day of the Choro Trail to Chairo.

Day 15

Second day of the trek.

Day 16

Third day of the trek.

Day 17

Return by road to La Paz.

Day 18

Transfer to La Paz international airport.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel.
 
You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the cliff-side Pacific residential and commercial district of Miraflores.  The half-hour drive to the hotel through Lima’s outskirts is not the most enchanting introduction to this city of extreme contrasts, but it does encapsulate the invigorating buzz of a modern-day Latin American capital. Overnight.
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Miraflores

Day 2

Tour of Lima by car ending at the airport for flight to Cusco.
 
En route back to the airport, drive around some of the city’s most important and interesting historic monuments and vibrant quarters. Colonial Spain's City of Kings is now a modern, bustling metropolis of eight million people, and growing. The colonial centre, which is gradually being renovated, has many historic churches and buildings famed for their traditional intricate balconies.

Fly to Cusco (1hr). The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire, which reached its zenith at the same time as England was fighting the War of the Roses. It is said that the city was originally built in the shape of a puma and its position atop the precipitous foothills of the Andes is without doubt a commanding one. Capital of the Inca Empire and latterly a strong hold to the Spanish conquistadors, Cusco is not so much a blend of architectures as a defiant mix.

Today its many impressive original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, while the bustling squares are dotted with ornate baroque colonial churches. It’s a vivacious city, where shoeshine boys and postcard sellers jostle for your attention in cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and cafés.

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Lima

Day 3

Walking tour of Cusco and nearby Inca ruins.
 

Today you’ll have a guided walking tour of the city, the centre of which is compact and easy to get around on foot. Beyond the squares, museums, churches and markets, you’ll visit some impressive ruins on the outskirts: Tambomachay, Puca Pucara and the monumental Sacsayhuamán, with its foreboding cyclopean fortress. 

While the edges of Cusco are dominated by Inca dwellings, temples and fortresses, the historic heart (with the Plaza de Armas flanked by the cathedral and the church of La Compañia) reveal the indelible mark of the Spanish conquistadors.

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Cusco

Day 4

Guided exploration of the Sacred Valley of the Incas on foot.
 
1,000m lower than Cusco, the Sacred Valley’s milder climate attracted Inca royalty and later the Spanish Conquistadors who established a series of important agricultural towns and country estates. Before this it was the bread-basket of the Inca empire. It was heavily populated in Inca imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain, where well-preserved ruins bear witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created.

Your guided walk begins at Sihuas, less than an hour's drive from Cusco, and takes you along narrow trails, many of which are Incan, to the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo, an Inca estate perched high above Urubamba Valley. After lunch, drive across the valley to the ruins of Pisaq. Framed by snow-capped mountains, the site was an important agricultural and trading centre. The Pisac complex, set high above and visible from the eponymous colonial village you will visit, is built on terraces carved into the steep hillsides. The engineering and preservation are unrivalled. From the flat valley floor this intricate hillside rises up like a green staircase to the heavens. After exploring the ruins return to Cusco.

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Pisaq

Day 5

Hike the Salkantay Trail.
 
The Salkantay Trail clings to the skirts of the eponymous snow-mantled mountain peak (6,271m), crossing high-altitude, chilly pampa grasslands indented with icy lagoons before plunging through steamy cloud-forest and plantations heavy with tropical flowers and succulent fruit to the Santa Teresa river. From here it is a short hop by train to Peru's most mesmerising attraction, the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu.

You’ll savour panoramic mountain and valley views throughout which are truly out of this world. En route you will pass through small hamlets and farmsteads, where people continue to live a traditional lifestyle. Popular with walkers and horse-riders, the trek can be almost as busy these days as the ultra-hyped classic Inca Trail, but it offers an excellent alternative for those happy to reach the citadel from a different, but still staggeringly beautiful, trekking route, approaching from the other side

Set off by road to the start of the Salkantay Trek at Sayllapata where you meet your guides and the mules which carry the majority of the camping gear.  Camp.

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Andean views on the Salkantay trek

Day 6

Second day of the Salkantay trek.
 
Climb to the highest pass of the trek (4,800m), including a steep zig-zag stretch of narrow path where any pain of exertion is mitigated by tremendous views of the Andes including the monumental snow-capped peaks of Salkantay. Pass through surreal landscapes, towered over by huge rock formations. Mists may swirl languidly above you until a break in the clouds reveals majestic ice-jacketed peaks. You may even find yourself crunching through snow, while a bright sun sears the sky above.

Continue through the valley, passing small villages along the way. You’ll see a variety of wildlife, particularly birds. Arrive at your lunch site, Wayraq, and afterwards it is a scenic descent towards your second campsite, Chaullay.

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Salkantay trek

Day 7

Descending to the valley.
 
After an early start descend towards Collpapamba (2,600m), and hike along an easy trail through the high jungle terrain with coffee, cocoa and fruits plantations. You may even see Peru's national bird if you're lucky - gallito de la rocas - before arriving in the village of Playa to overnight.

The terrain changes rapidly as you descend Santa Teresa valley, leaving the chilly moors of the sparse rocky landscape behind while dense foliage replaces the scrub. Climb into the cloud forest through narrow jungle tracks framed by spider bamboo, its spindly fronds dangling above you. All around is greenery, making it easy to spot the colourful exotic plants poking through, such as the ‘dancing lady’ orchid and bushes tinted with tiny wild raspberries. Fresh mint lining the path was much used by the Incas. The weather is warming up: it may be hot and humid now.

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Descending on the Salkantay trail

Day 8

Arrive Machu Picchu.
 
Begin the day with the ascent to Lucmabamba pass (2,400m) followed by a beautiful trail through the cloud forest to Patallaqta (also known as Llactapata) ruins. From here you get your first sight of Machu Picchu, shyly straddling a steep mountain saddle in the middle distance, and a vast tableau unfurls in front of you.

It is true that the first glimpse of the ruins on the traditional Inca Trail is spectacular but it is compromised by the sight of the motor road taking buses up to the ruins. The views here display a natural theatre seemingly untouched by human enterprise.  After lunch descend to the bridge over the Aobamba river and arrive at the Hidroeléctrica railway halt in time to catch the afternoon train to Machu Picchu village (30mins). Overnight in a hotel in the village.

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View of Machu Pichu from the Salkantay trek

Day 9

Guided tour of the ruins. Return to Cusco by rail and road.
 

The majestic ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath jungle vegetation. It soon became clear to excavators that the conquistadors had never found the city. It is perhaps the ruins’ location, on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon, that most ignites the imagination. You will have an early morning guided tour of the ruins.

Return by train as far as Ollantaytambo or Poroy, before continuing the journey to Cusco, and your hotel, by road. The Expedition Train service offers you the chance to appreciate the scale of the ever-changing scenery, with portrait windows alongside your seat (seats are configured in pairs facing each other over a table). There are windows in the roof, so you can gaze up to the rim of the canyon. Your comfort is enhanced with air-conditioning and heating, and Andean music is played as a backdrop to the passing scenery.

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Machu Picchu

Day 10

Tourist coach to Puno and transfer to hotel.
 
Transfer to bus station for tourist coach service to Puno on Lake Titicaca.

The lonely road follows the fertile Urubamba valley, through fields of crops and livestock and adobe villages, up to a windswept grassy plain framed by jagged mountains.

During the journey there are short stops at: Andahuaylillas, where the town's ornate, baroque 17th-century church has beautiful frescoes and an impressive gilded altar; Huaro; Raqchi, for the Temple to Viracocha, the largest roofed building ever built by the Incas and one of Peru's most stunning Inca sites; and Pucará, famous for its pre-Inca ruins and local pottery, where you can visit the little museum. There is an English-speaking guide, complimentary soft drinks and a toilet on board.

Transfer to hotel in Puno, a lively university town and port on Lake Titicaca. It's an important centre for Peruvian folklore, enjoying a rich tradition of music and dance. It is also a great place for buying local handicrafts.

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Raqchi

Day 11

By road to Copacabana, Bolivia. Guided lake excursion to Sun Island.
 
Early in the morning leave your hotel in Puno for a delightful, scenic 2.5hr drive to the Peru-Bolivia border town of Kasani. Continue on into Bolivia, broom and brightly coloured flowers line the route. Arrive at Copacabana, a small town doubling as a religious sanctuary overlooked by a steep hill accommodating the 12 stations of the cross. It sits by a sandy beach on a beautiful bay, and attracts many pilgrims who make the trip often from great distances on foot.

Board a motor-powered sailing boat and head towards Sun Island (Isla del Sol), the legendary birth place of the Inca Empire - on the island you'll visit Pilko Kaina Temple and hike to the Yumani village, which is renowned for its historic Inca fountain and staircase, whilst enjoying wide-ranging views of the surrounding snow-tipped Andes mountains. Overnight in Copacabana in a lakeside hotel.

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Lake Titicaca

Day 12

Continue to La Paz by road.
 
Morning at leisure to explore the town. Later drive to La Paz. The road crosses the desolate, rust-coloured grasslands of the altiplano, an unforgiving land where only llamas and a few hardy vegetables support the adobe villages. Rimming the plains is the chain of sharp, icy Andean peaks of the Cordillera Real.

Passing through the city of el Alto you suddenly come across the deep mountain bowl in which crouches the capital city, at the foot of the vast, ghostly white bulk of Mt Illimani.

La Paz (3,632m) is the highest capital in the world. The colonial core around Plaza Murillo retains much of its quirky Spanish charm, lively with families and children with balloons at the weekend. Beyond, there are cavernous indigenous markets with restaurant grills open to the street and narrow alleyways lined with museums, churches and craft shops. Ambulant vendors in felt bowler hats and colourful shawls crouch below the skyscrapers in tree-lined modern avenues. 

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Mount Illimani

Day 13

Walking tour of the Bolivian capital.
 
You’ll have a guided walking tour through the mystic, colonial streets of Bolivia's capital, a great way to get a real feel for the place - embracing the hustle and bustle, admiring the vibrant colours and inhaling the local fragrances. A highlight is the intriguing Witches' Market where you'll see preserved llama foetuses, charm spells, Pachamama offerings and much more.

Then onto the renowned, baroque-style San Francisco Church, and charming Plaza Murillo, before heading on towards cobbled, picturesque Jaen Street. Enter the Costumes Museum and the Gold Museum to discover more about Bolivia's rich culture and background. 

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La Paz

Day 14

First day of the Choro Trail to Chairo.
 
Begin the Choro trek. This is Bolivia’s top trek, and for good reason. You need to be pretty fit, but the route is not technically difficult. Mostly downhill, it drops an impressive 3,500m in just 4 days, passing through a kaleidoscope of different landscapes, vegetation, climate and human cultures. Part of the trail is Inca-paved, and the route is clear, offering truly staggering views across near-vertical cliffs towards misty hillsides, negotiating rickety bridges over deep gorges and tumbling streams, and passing tiny, isolated villages.

Transfer by road up out of the canyon to the craggy Andean pass at El Cumbre, a lofty 4,725m above sea level. The chilly landscape here is bleak and uncompromising, slatey grey rock is streaked with snow and ice; a few llamas pick their way towards sunken patches of grass.

After a short climb from El Cumbre, the trail (Inca-paved here) begins its relentless descent to the Yungas, a fertile sub-tropical region in the pre-Andean foothills which lies between the stark, snow-capped Andean peaks and the sprawling velvet greenness of the Amazon jungle. Camp beside a river at a sheltered 3,000m.

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La Cumbre La Paz

Day 15

Second day of the trek.
 
Descend to an agitated river. Crossing the water can be a rather precarious, Indiana Jones operation, depending on the state of the current 'bridge', after which the path plunges and rises across bright hillsides and through the undergrowth of densely wooded valleys, over tinkling streams and shadowy gorges, negotiated by fords, capricious cableways or suspension bridges. Camp overnight.
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Choro trek

Day 16

Third day of the trek.
 
Having reached sub-tropical latitudes with a gentle, balmy climate, flitting hummingbirds and steep fertile slopes, you will be hiking through sunny plantations of coffee, bananas and citrus fruits. The final campsite has long been at the home of a local character of Japanese extraction, a great provider of trail gossip.
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Las Yungas

Day 17

Return by road to La Paz.
 
Continue on foot to the end of the trail at Chairo, arriving mid-morning. Walk down an Inca paved road through ever more succulent vegetation. The final hours of the trek take you through citrus groves and coffee plantations. Return to La Paz from the small town of Coroico, travelling along an invigorating single-track road carved out of the near-vertical mountain face peppered with waterfalls and defined with death-defying drops to the valley below.

Enjoy your last night in La Paz, where there are a number of excellent restaurants to choose from to celebrate your achievements on this exhilarating holiday.

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Choro trek

Day 18

Transfer to La Paz international airport.

Essential information

Transport

1 flight (approx 1hr); 2 scenic road journeys (9hrs each approx); 1 rail journey (3.5-4hrs). 

Accommodation

On this tour we use good value hotels; they are small, friendly establishments, colonial or modern in style with well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating. You spend 6 nights under canvas.

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch day 4, full board days 5-7, 14-17.

Guides

We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Included excursions

• Panoramic tour round Lima’s important sites en route to the airport.
• Walking tour of the city of Cusco and nearby ruins.
• Guided discovery of the Sacred Valley of the Incas on foot.
• Guided Salkantay trek.
• Guided tour of Machu Picchu.
• Cultural highlights en route to Lake Titicaca.
• Sun Island, Lake Titicaca.
• Walking tour of La Paz.
• Guided Choro trek.

Summary of nights

18 days, 17 nights: Lima 1; Cusco 3; Salkantay Trail camping 3; Cusco 1; Puno 1; Sun Island 1; La Paz 2; Choro Trail 3; La Paz 1.

Included in the journey price

• Services of our team of experts in our London office. 
• Services of Journey Latin America local representatives and guides. 
• All land and air transport within Latin America. 
• Accommodation as specified. 
• Meals as specified. 
• Excursions as specified, including entrance fees.

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities 
• Meals other than specified.
• International flights to Latin America.
• Airport taxes, when not included in the ticket
• Optional excursions

Currency

The unit of currency in Peru is the sol, in Bolivia it is the Bolivian peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$35 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.

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 additionally you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency, and possibly some travellers’ cheques, though these are gradually falling out of use (American Express are the most widely accepted). Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are expected and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 
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.

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

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax and taxes on internal flights are usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

This holiday is suitable for all able-bodied, fit visitors, including families with reasonably strong older children.  Experience of outdoor activities including hiking or hill walking is an advantage.

The Salkantay and Choro Trails are moderately challenging, including steep climbs at high altitude, reaching over 4,200m. You should be able to walk over undulating rocky terrain foe several hours.

Climate

Lima is covered in a dull grey mist for much of the year. It almost never rains in Lima, and temperatures are moderate. 

In the highlands (Cusco, Puno, La Paz), June to August is the dry season: it can be very cold at night, but days are usually extremely clear with sun. November to March are the wettest months of the year – note that rains tend to be in short, heavy bursts, rather than continual showers, with rains clearing towards the end of April. May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells. 

Nights are cold throughout the year at altitude.

Altitude

Your stay in Cusco, Puno and La Paz is at high altitude (3,500-4,000m). A small minority of visitors may suffer temporarily from altitude sickness. Symptoms vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. If you don’t recover in a day or two speak to our representatives; in very rare instances it is necessary to descend to lower altitudes. 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, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants, although clothing is not formal (no need for jacket and tie), something quite smart would be appropriate. Strong, comfortable footwear is essential.

For the camping on the Salkantay trek sleeping bags are provided. However for the camping on the Choro trek you will need to bring your own (minimum 3 season) or rent a sleeping bag locally, our team on the ground will help with this. You may wish to bring your own sleeping bag liner. 

For the treks you should bring a back pack to carry your personal items. Spare clothing and your sleeping bag will be carried by mules and porters. There are luggage restrictions in place for the train back from Machu Picchu, so you should ensure that your trekking kit does not exceed 10kg. 
Bring comfortable and adequate clothing to protect you from cold (and possibly wet) weather.

We recommend you layer with synthetic clothing as synthetic fabrics are the most effective barriers against the cold.  We discourage the use of cotton garments in cold or wet mountain conditions.  The innermost layer should be long underwear. The middle layer can be a synthetic turtleneck or woollen shirt, and shorts or trousers.  The outermost layer should be a synthetic or down jacket, and/or a good quality Gore-Tex wind/rain parka and over-trousers. 
You will also need a bag in which to store the gear you aren’t taking on the trek. You might want to consider bringing trekking poles. 

For further details about what to bring on treks see our Briefing Dossier. 

Camping equipment is provided, including sleeping mats and 2-man tents. 

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 the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 

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.  Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the Peruvian and Bolivian Consulates. 

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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