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Andean Flamingo: Andes laid bare

17 days from £4448pp

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Andean Flamingo: Andes laid bare

17 days from £4448pp
 

Group Journey

 

UK clients depart arriving Lima, Peru, the same day.
 

Day 1

Overnight in the capital.
 
Those passengers arriving on an international flight will be met at the airport by the Journey Latin America tour leader or a local representative. The drive to the hotel encapsulates the invigorating chaos of a modern Latin American capital city. Lima, 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 low-rise city of more than 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.

Cathedral, Lima, Peru

Day 2

Fly to Cusco, afternoon at leisure.
 

Fly to Cusco (1 hour). The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire; one that reached its peak as Columbus prepared to sail across the Atlantic. 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 squares fill with people flocking to the many restaurants (both upmarket and sophisticated cuisine and local delicacies are on offer), bars and clubs.

Day 3

Excursion to the Sacred Valley of the Incas; overnight.
 
Today, head out from Cusco over the high plains and descend to explore the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas. Once the bread-basket of the Inca Empire, it was heavily populated in imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain, where well-preserved ruins bear witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created. The drive passes through or close to several of the villages and temple fortresses that pepper the valley.

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.

Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to the temple of Ollantaytambo. The snow-frosted Andean cordillera forms a stunning backdrop. Ollantaytambo, sitting strategically at the gateway to the Amazon basin, was never captured by the Spanish conquistadors, but the inhabitants decided that the settlement was too vulnerable and would eventually fail, and so they abandoned it. The fortress, the colonial grid plan and the Inca foundations are still intact and there are wonderful views down over the sloping hillsides and into the fertile valley. You spend the night in the tranquil valley.

Sacred

Day 4

By train to Machu Picchu, guided tour of the ruins.
 
Set off by rail to Machu Picchu (2½ hours). As the Urubamba river enters its narrow gorge between thickly-forested granite hills, there is room only for a single track, which hugs the right bank and passes through hamlets that are no more than a collection of shacks beside the railway. Arrive in the small, sub-tropical spa village of Machu Picchu, where you leave your bags at the hotel and board a bus for a precipitous journey up a sinuous road to the Inca site of Machu Picchu and take a guided tour.

The American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the site in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath tropical cloud forest. It soon became clear to excavators that the conquistadors had never found the city, and for many years it was mistaken for the legendary last refuge of the Incas, Vilcabamba.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Day 5

Optional re-entry to the site; return to Cusco by train.
 
Optional revisit to the ruins. It is the location, perhaps, that most captures the imagination, set on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon. Over the 2 days there is time to explore some of the many trails within the site; follow the steep path up Huayna Picchu the conical peak which juts out behind the ruins (please enquire with the office, as spaces are limited and it's necessary to pre-book) for wonderful views over the site, or hike to the vertiginous Inca Bridge, carved into a cliff edge. Your tour leader will be on hand to talk through the various walks.

You may prefer to relax and wander the narrow vehicle-free streets of Machu Picchu village, lined with bars and cafés. You return to Cusco on the afternoon train, arriving in the early evening.

Day 6

Guided tour of Cusco and Sacsayhuamán.
 
A guided 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/temple; the first conquistadors to see it were overawed, and centuries later it is still an extraordinary and imposing sight.
Lam

Day 7

Scenic road journey to Lake Titicaca.
 
The memorable drive from Cusco to Puno (7 hours - with comfort breaks at places of interest and photo opportunities) follows the narrow Huatanay Valley south through an intensively farmed arable landscape. Ancient villages, small farmsteads and market towns line the river banks as the road climbs steadily to the high pass at La Raya (4,300 metres), after which point the scenery changes dramatically as you cross the altiplano, a vast, windswept plain, punctuated by occasional market towns, where bowler-hatted women tend herds of llamas and alpacas. (If you would prefer to travel this route by train, please enquire with one of our consultants for further information.)

Puno is situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca and the town has a huge market and one of the largest universities in Peru. Exquisite Lake Titicaca sits high in the Andes (at 3,805 metres, the highest navigable lake in the world) on the Peruvian-Bolivian border, and is the focal point for subsistence farmers in the region who fish its dazzling sapphire waters and plant crops along the fertile shores.

Day 8

Boat excursion on Lake Titicaca; overnight on Sun Island.
 
By road to Copacabana, a small town with a rich colonial history, and board a hydrofoil for a half-hour trip across the lake to Moon Island (Isla de la Luna). Here you visit the Sun Virgin's temple, considered by some to be the most significant ruins on the lake, before continuing by boat to the nearby Sun Island (Isla del Sol).

Sun Island was an important pilgrimage destination even before the arrival of the Incas; originally called Titicaca, it gave the lake its name. Terraced slopes provide sustenance for its small farming communities. From one of the walking trails here you can squint across the sparkling lake to the ice-jacketed peaks of the Cordillera Real beyond. There is a short walk to reach the comfortable hotel where you spend the night.

Sun Island, Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

Day 9

Visit a lakeside community; continue to La Paz.
 
Descend a steep Inca stairway containing an ancient “fountain of youth”. After lunch on the island, board the hydrofoil to Huatajata (3 hours). Here you will learn about the traditional living on the lake's islands and the creation of structures from local tortora.

At Huatajata board a bus for the final drive to La Paz (90 minutes). The road crosses the bleak altiplano and has views over the snow-tipped, spidery peaks of the Cordillera Real before its spectacular descent into La Paz. At over 3,500m this is the highest capital city in the world. You arrive through the highland suburb of El Alto, which has grown so rapidly with an influx of rural migrants in search of work, that it is now a huge city in its own right. Soon after, you find yourself on the rim of a vast canyon and the city of La Paz spreads out before you, a glittering mosaic of tin, slate and tile roofs, interspersed with a line of skyscrapers that march down the valley. And beyond, keeping an eye on it all, is the colossal bulk of Mount Illimani.

Day 10

Walking tour of the city.
 

This busy city has a 60% indigenous population; women dress in voluminous multicoloured skirts and bowler hats and have centre partings, as decreed by the Spanish monarch 3 centuries ago. Your 2 full days in the city give you plenty of opportunity to explore the colonial centre around Plaza Murillo, to stroll through the steep narrow streets, and around the many open and covered markets; it's the street life here, the sounds and smells, that make it so fascinating. You are orientated in the compact city centre by a walking tour.

La Paz, Bolivia

Day 11

At leisure; optional excursions.
 
At leisure further to explore.  There is an optional excursion to the ruins of Tiwanaku, about which little is known. Travel 2 hours from of La Paz across the bleak, tawny earth of the altiplano, past glimmering lakes and herds of haughty alpacas. These pre-Columbian ruins are considered among the most important on the continent, and the massive gateways and imposing walls are redolent of bygone glory. It is believed that the inhabitants here were more advanced than the Incas in pottery, mathematics, art and astronomy. Explore a new museum on the site which houses more than 100 artefacts and provides a fascinating insight into the history of the ruins.

Alternatively you may choose to venture out of town to Chacaltaya, once the world's highest ski resort, located at 5,000m in the Cordillera Real. It takes around 90 minutes to climb the 7km of winding, rural roads. There's no longer any snow here, but from a wooden chalet house, set on a steep cliff there are views over 3 countries, the cordillera and Lake Titicaca twinkling in the distance.

Days 12-14

Fly to Uyuni and begin your exploration of the Uyuni salt flats.
 

Early start to fly south from La Paz to Uyuni (45 minutes), a small and unremarkable settlement which cowers on a wind ravaged and remote plateau; gateway to a starkly intense area of outstanding natural beauty. After a visit to the 'train cemetery' on the outskirts of town it is straight onto the salt flats for the next 3 days of your journey. The salar is a dizzying sight. The surface is utterly featureless, smooth, and composed of nothing but pure, dazzling white salt. After rain a thin layer of water covers the surface, turning the salt flats into a huge mirror reflecting an inverted sky. In the centre lies the Isla del Pescado, a small island covered in giant cacti, where you stop to stretch your legs and soak up the view.

The next 2 days are spent travelling by 4WD on this extraordinary, other-worldly journey.

Once across the Salar, the drive continues on unpaved tracks across a lofty and bitterly cold plateau. The pale ochre beauty of the ashen hills and moonlike rock formations is suddenly broken by the opalescent colours of remote lagunas Verde and Colorado. As you swoop down into the Atacama Desert you see a distant patch of green, the oasis of San Pedro.

Uyuni

Day 15

Explore San Pedro de Atacama.
 

San Pedro is a timeless adobe town with a laid back atmosphere and an erratic electricity supply. Its dusty streets are lined with bars, cafés and tour operators offering various kinds of excursions into the surrounding desert. The excellent museum here has a comprehensive history of the indigenous population and an interesting display of local archaeological discoveries.

Should you choose to take the morning optional excursion to El Tatio Geysers, be prepared for a very early start. But it's well worth it. You arrive on the pitted, craggy geyser field just before dawn, and as the sun rises and warms the earth, hot steam projects dramatically out of the crater into the freezing morning air, creating a wall of mist through which you can make out dark silhouettes and the penetrating sunlight. Note that a rapid ascent to an altitude of 4,500m makes this excursion unsuitable for some.

Alternatively you may want to walk to Pukará de Quitor (3 km). This old Inca fortress has superb views of the mountains and volcanoes bordering Bolivia and Argentina.

On the included excursion to the Moon Valley you arrive late afternoon to explore shady gorges and dramatic canyons formed over centuries by the erosion of salt mountains. Just before dusk, climb to the ridge of a vast golden sand dune to see the landscape lit up in different shades of pink, crimson and mandarin cast by the setting sun.

Atacama desert

Day 16

Fly to Santiago: time permitting, optional excursion to a vineyard.
 
A bus takes you to nearby Calama (90 minutes) for the 2 hour flight to Santiago. Set in a broad valley between the high Andes and a smaller coastal range, Chile's capital has a distinctly Mediterranean feel.

For a panoramic view over the city, visit Cerro Santa Lucía, a central romantic park; for even more dramatic vistas, a cable car leads to the summit of San Cristóbal, where you can join Chilean families wandering along the leafy paths. Afterwards, have a beer at one of the pavement cafés in Bellavista. This is an Italian quarter of narrow streets peppered with bars and shops selling local lapis lazuli (only Chile and Afghanistan produce the stones in commercial quantities).

The museum and house of Chilean poet laureate Pablo Neruda is close by, and its unusual interior with an eclectic collection of paintings and bric-a-brac is well worth a visit. Time permitting, you may wish to visit one of the vineyards close to Santiago, to sample some famous Chilean wine.

Santiago, Chile

Day 17

Depart on international flight or extension.
 

UK clients arrive home the following day.
 

17 days from £4448pp

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