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Andes and Altiplano: Cusco, Lake Titicaca and La Paz

14 days from £2619pp

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Andes and Altiplano: Cusco, Lake Titicaca and La Paz:
Trip Dossier

This thrilling private journey captures the natural and cultural highlights of the southern Andes of Peru and the northern altiplano of Bolivia. Arrive in the vast metropolis of the Peruvian capital, Lima, and move on to historic Cusco, the former Inca capital and a treasure trove of meticulous Inca stonework and graceful colonial architecture.

Travel onwards into the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas and travel by rail alongside a tempestuous river through a narrow gorge leading to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, set on a sub tropical mountain saddle above the Urubamba Valley.

Drive on to the icy, sapphire waters of high-altitude Lake Titicaca and spend a night on the timelessly peaceful and traditional Sun Island. Continue overland to the unique city of La Paz, squatting in a bowl at the foot of the massive bulk of snow-stifled Mount Illimani.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima. Transfer to your hotel in Miraflores on the Pacific coast..

Day 2

Full day guided tour of the street life and markets in Lima.

Day 3

Fly to Cusco, transfer to Urubamba.

Day 4

Full day excursion to Pisaq ruins and the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Day 5

By road to Ollantaytambo then train to Machu Picchu, guided tour of Machu Picchu.

Day 6

By rail and road back to Cusco.

Day 7

Half day guided city tour and visit to Sacsayhuamán ruins.

Day 8

At leisure.

Day 9

Bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Day 10

Travel to Bolivia via Copacabana, cross Lake Titicaca to Sun Island; overnight Isla del Sol.

Day 11

Continue to La Paz, capital of Bolivia.

Day 12

Half day guided city tour and trip to the Moon Valley.

Day 13

Half day guided visit to Tiwanaku Inca ruins.

Day 14

Transfer to airport in La Paz.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima. Transfer to your hotel in Miraflores on the Pacific coast..
 
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.

Lima is a vast, complex metropolis, with a history dating from the era of its wealth and importance to Imperial Spain to its current status as a dynamic, growing city of trade, industry and tourism.  Get down to street level with this unique private guided tour strolling through the avenues and lanes of this atmospheric city. So much of the life here is lived on the streets: markets, stalls, open air restaurants and art displays abound. In addition to being able to view some of the monumental Spanish colonial architecture, you’ll get a real Limeño perspective on the capital. 

Day 2

Full day guided tour of the street life and markets in Lima.
 
Instead of being insulated in a tour operator's vehicle you get around by taxi and local bus. You'll head to the Pacific-side, arty quarter of Barranco, famed for its village-like atmosphere, its innovative restaurants and dawn-defying nightlife, brimming with live shows and bars with spirited bands. Walk through the streets lined with colonial houses and view the evocative The Bridge of Sighs.

Continue to the dock in Chorrillos on the water's edge, and visit a market laden with freshly-landed fish.  Also explore two other markets in this commercial city, selling a vast array of produce including exotic tropical fruits and over 50 varieties of potatoes. In Callao, Lima's neighbour and port, you'll sample ceviche, perhaps Peru's most celebrated seafood dish.  Hopefully you'll still have an appetite for a traditional home-cooked lunch, accompanied by Peru's trademark cocktail - the pisco sour.

Lima Fruit market sellers

Day 3

Fly to Cusco, transfer to Urubamba.
 

Transfer to the airport and fly to Cusco in the Andes (1hr). Continue by road to the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Once the bread-basket of the empire, it was heavily populated in imperial times. Scores of archaeological sites remain, well-preserved ruins bearing witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created. Overnight in the small town of Urubamba, close to the river of the same name.

Day 4

Full day excursion to Pisaq ruins and the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
 
A private guided tour exploring 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. From the flat valley floor this intricate hillside site rises up like a green staircase to the heavens.

Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to the temple of Ollantaytambo, the snow-capped Andean cordillera forming 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 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. Overnight in Urubamba.

Sacred Valley

Day 5

By road to Ollantaytambo then train to Machu Picchu, guided tour of Machu Picchu.
 
Transfer to Ollantaytambo station and travel for 90mins by train 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 track, which hugs the right bank and passes through hamlets that are no more than a collection of shacks beside the railway. Close to the foot of the mountain on a saddle of which the citadel was built is the bustling village of Machu Picchu dedicated to serving the many visitors with artisan markets, bars and restaurants.

The majestic ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, is reached by minibus up a sinuous road, or on foot up a near vertical, rocky path. The American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath jungle vegetation. It sits on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon. 

You will have a guided tour of the ruins and there is time later to take one of the many trails within the site itself, such as the hike to the vertiginous Inca Bridge, carved into a cliff edge or wander amongst the stone buildings and llama-dotted grassy ledges soaking up the atmosphere. 

Machu PIcchu

Day 6

By rail and road back to Cusco.
 
Return to Cusco by rail and road. 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. 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

Day 7

Half day guided city tour and visit to Sacsayhuamán ruins.
 
Guided tour of this fascinating city and nearby sites. 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 three-day battle was fought between the Spaniards and the Incas around this fortress. The first conquistadors to see it were awestruck and centuries later it is still an extraordinary and imposing sight.
Cusco

Day 8

At leisure.
 
Cusco is a compact city, easy to explore on foot independently. You are at leisure to discover the street markets, the many baroque churches and museums, and to wander the attractive narrow streets. There are a number of optional excursions in the surrounding region, including a trip to Maras and Moray, about an hour’s drive from Cusco. Moray is a system of ancient agricultural irrigation paths which now form circular depressions in the earth, with wonderful views into the Sacred Valley and in the shadow 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 mountainside. Feeling you’d like to be active? White-water rafting, cycling and horse riding are on offer.

Day 9

Bus to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
 
A  6-7hr road journey leads across the Andean highlands to the lively port and University town of Puno, at 3,805m above sea level, squatting on the shores of cobalt Lake Titicaca. The scenery along the way is windswept and desolate and the vastness of the landscape yawns towards the distant horizon under a bright Andean sky. The occasional stop alongside a collection of small highland lakes may give you the chance to see flamingos feeding in the mineral-rich waters.

The vast lake - almost an inland sea - sits on the Peruvian- Bolivian border, and the fish-laden waters and surrounding fertile soil are the lifeblood of subsistence farming communities clustered in scores of adobe villages along the water’s edge. Legend has it that this mystical spot is the birthplace of Inca civilisation: the progeny of the Sun God sprung from its depths to found the empire in Cusco.

Lake Titicaca

Day 10

Travel to Bolivia via Copacabana, cross Lake Titicaca to Sun Island; overnight Isla del Sol.
 
Set off along the lakeshore towards the Bolivian border. The still waters almost lap the road, and wader birds may be seen negotiating the reeds. Having stopped to admire the little church at Pomata you continue to Copacabana (3hrs), a pretty little town impressively located between two grand hills on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Its beach gave the name to the better known one in Rio. From here, board a hydrofoil for Moon Island (30 mins), where you will visit the Iñak Uyu Sun Virgins temple, considered one of the most important Inca ruins on the lake. From here, make the short 10min crossing to Sun Island. On arrival, a 30min scenic walk along stone flagged and earth Inca trails lead to your hotel.
Isla de Sol, Lake titicaca

Day 11

Continue to La Paz, capital of Bolivia.
 
Descend to Yamani harbour and visit the Inca stairways and Sacred Fountain, believed to give eternal youth and happiness. Lunch at the archaeological and panoramic Uma Kollo restaurant, which overlooks the lake and Andes from its balcony and original Inca wall. Continue by hydrofoil to Huatajata (3hrs).  At Huatajata, visit the Andean Roots Eco-Village with exhibits depicting the region’s cultural past. Continue by bus through lovely mountain scenery to La Paz (1.5hrs). Set in a deep canyon, dominated by the snow-capped peak of Mount Illimani, La Paz (3,632m) is the highest capital in the world.

Day 12

Half day guided city tour and trip to the Moon Valley.
 

The colonial core around Plaza Murillo retains much of its quirky Spanish charm. 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.

You’ll have a private guided tour to visit the historical centre of La Paz. Continue to visit a selection of small museums. Explore one of the capital's more unusual markets, the Mercado de las Brujas (witches’ market) where you can find cures for everything from heartaches to headaches. Pass through several affluent neighbourhoods en route to Moon Valley - not a valley at all, but a fantastic landscape of gullies and spires formed from an ancient bed of eroded rock. 
Illampu Moutain looms over La Paz, Bolivia

Day 13

Half day guided visit to Tiwanaku Inca ruins.
 
Guided excursion to Tiwanaku ruins. After an early morning start drive 71km west back towards Lake Titicaca and the archaeological site of Tiwanaku. The journey takes about 1½ hours via the town of Laja (the original site of La Paz) before climbing onto the altiplano with its uninterrupted views of the Cordillera Real. The ruins are thought by some archaeologists to date back to 1,600 BC. 

The site is still under excavation, and it is now believed that its inhabitants were more advanced than the Incas in pottery, mathematics, art and astronomy. As well as a new museum which houses over a hundred artefacts, the site is home to several  important ruins including a semi-subterranean temple and the Gateway of the Puma.  Return to La Paz for final night.

Tiwanaku

Day 14

Transfer to airport in La Paz.
 

Essential information

Transport

1 flight (1hr); 4 scenic road journeys (longest 6-7hrs; 2 rail journeys (longest 4hrs). 

Accommodation

This holiday uses a mix of fairly small, good quality mid-range hotels, colonial or modern in style with well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating;  and superior class properties - these are small or mid-sized with special features or in stunning locations.  

Although it’s a unique experience, please note that the night on Isla del Sol is in very simple accommodation.

Meals

Breakfast daily; lunch day 4, 9, 10, 11; dinner day 5, 10.

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

• Full day exploring street life and markets in Lima with guide.
• Full day guided excursion to Pisaq ruins and the Sacred Valley.
• Guided tour of Machu Picchu.
• Guided Cusco city tour and visit to Sacsayhuamán ruins.
• Lake Titicaca crossing to Uros Iruitos islands with overnight on Sun Island.
• Guided La Paz city tour and trip to the Moon Valley.
• Guided visit to Tiwanaku Inca ruins.

Summary of nights

14 days, 13 nights: Lima 2; Urubamba 2; Machu Picchu 1; Cusco 3; Puno 1; Isla del Sol 1; La Paz 3.

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’s the boliviano.

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 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 (American Express are the most widely accepted), though these are gradually falling out of use. 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 is usually included in the ticket.

Journey grade

There are some early mornings and long days of travel on this trip, although punctuated with occasional stops. 

The streets in Cusco are cobbled and steep.

Climate

The rainy season in the Andes runs between November and March when showers can be expected, frequently in the afternoons. The dry season is from June to September, when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (from freezing to 10°C). April, May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells.

Lima is covered in a dull grey mist for much of the year, although the sun does break through between November and March. It almost never rains in Lima, and temperatures are moderate. The rest of the coast is sunnier than Lima and for most part of the year it is warm enough to wear a shirt during the day and perhaps a light jumper at night.

Altitude

Your stays in Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Lake Titicaca and La Paz are at high altitude (2,800-4,000m). 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 and you should bring insect repellent, sun block and sun glasses. 

 Due to luggage restrictions on the train to Machu Picchu, main luggage must be left in Cusco. You can take up to 10kgs per person on the train and an overnight holdall is recommended to separate your luggage for the night spent away from Cusco. 

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 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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