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Signature Peru, Bolivia, Chile: Explorations and adventures

16 days from £6,687pp

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Signature Peru, Bolivia, Chile: Explorations and adventures:
Trip Dossier

The innovative countryside-based explora hotels make exploration-in-comfort their watchword, offering a range of high class, imaginative guided excursions and activities and the flexibility to allow you to choose exactly what you want to see and do. Visit two of these highly rated properties, in the Sacred Valley of the Incas outside Cusco and among the skeletal landscapes of the Atacama desert. Add Machu Picchu, the shimmering salt pans of Bolivia, and punctuate your trip with three distinctive capitals: Lima, La Paz and Santiago, plus the capital of the Inca Empire, Cusco.

This holiday is all about the experiences, the adventures, the unforgettable things you’ll see and do. The landscapes of the Andes fall from ice-jagged peaks down to soft valleys crammed with fruit and pasture and rise again to sun-baked deserts. This is the home of the condor, llama and alpaca, living alongside little-changing traditional communities. The seismic history of empire, colonisation and resistance is evident in the haunting Inca ruins, Spanish baroque architecture and gaudy local markets.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima. Transfer to hotel in Pacific-side Miraflores.

Day 2

Fly to Cusco; by road to hotel explora in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Days 3,4

Choice of complimentary excursions and activities in the area.

Day 5

By road to Ollantaytambo, on to Machu Picchu by train, guided tour of the ruins.

Day 6

Return to Cusco by rail and road.

Day 7

Guided walking tour of Cusco.

Day 8

Fly to La Paz, capital of Bolivia, transfer to hotel in the colonial centre.

Day 9

Walking tour of colonial La Paz, ride in the cable car across the canyon.

Day 10

Fly to Uyuni , visit Uyuni salt flats, overnight in salt hotel.

Day 11

Further explorations of the salt flats.

Day 12

Over the border to Hotel explora in the Atacama desert, Chile.

Days 13,14

Choice of complimentary excursions and activities in the area.

Day 15

Fly to Santiago and transfer to central hotel.

Day 16

Guided walking tour of the historic core of the Chilean capital.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Lima. Transfer to hotel in Pacific-side Miraflores.
 

You will be met at Lima airport and escorted to your hotel by one of our local representatives. The half-hour drive through town and along the coast introduces you to the invigorating buzz of a modern-day Latin American capital.

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lima by night

Day 2

Fly to Cusco; by road to hotel explora in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
 

Return to the airport for the one hour flight to Cusco. Upon arrival you continue by road to 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 recall the intricacies of the bygone, highly developed Inca society. The valley is run through by a stately river and rimmed by lofty snow-covered peaks; every view is captivating.

Stay in the heart of the valley for three days, based at the exploration-focussed countryside explora all-inclusive resort beneath the dome of a vast, clear Andean sky.

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Sacred valley

Days 3,4

Choice of complimentary excursions and activities in the area.
 

explora offers you a top quality, yet low-key, homely and informal base from which to venture out and discover this exquisite region rich in natural and cultural interest.  It’s all-inclusive, so you can leave your wallet in the safe: all your meals and most drinks are included; there are welcoming public areas for you to sit on a sofa by a log fire with a pisco sour cocktail or pore over books and maps.

You’ll be invited to discuss with the team of highly qualified guides which of the choice of excursions and activities would suit you best: these range from local walks, cycling expeditions, visits by road to archaeological sites and more challenging high altitude treks. You may look in at remote hamlets and come across a llama driver or lady weaving intricate textiles.  Many of these are well paced, full-day trips: you’ll have a packed lunch or a meal in a carefully chosen local restaurant.

When you get home in the evening there’s time before or after dinner to relax and chat with other guests, gaze at the stars and enjoy the silence of this divine rural spot.

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Explora Valle Sagrada

Day 5

By road to Ollantaytambo, on to Machu Picchu by train, guided tour of the ruins.
 

Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to the fortress/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 conquistadores. 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 valley.

Here you pick up the train to 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 village of Machu Picchu, which welcomes  visitors with artisan markets, bars and restaurants.

The ruined citadel, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, sits on a terraced ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon. It is reached by a zigzag 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 vegetation. 

You will have a guided tour of the ruins and there’s 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. Overnight at Sumaq, a riverside hotel in the village.

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Machu Picchu Peru

Day 6

Return to Cusco by rail and road.
 

Getting up early and taking the first buses up to the ruins is well worth it. The site is virtually empty and the early morning mists swirl around the surrounding mountain tops. There’s an option to climb either Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain (entrance to these mountains is not included and must be booked in advance) or back up the Inca Trail to the Gate of the Sun.

Alternatively enjoy the thermal baths or walks around the village.  Return to Cusco by rail and road (about 4 hrs). 

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Cusco, Peru

Day 7

Guided walking tour of Cusco.
 

Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire until the Spanish took over and changed the face of the city. But there are still remaining many original, beautifully crafted Inca walls, while the neat squares are dotted with ornate baroque colonial churches. It’s a busy place, where cobbled streets are lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and cafés.

You’ll have a guided walking tour to get underneath the skin of the city while not missing out on its highlights. Stroll to the Bohemian arty quarter of San Blas. Continue walking towards the Plaza de Armas, popping in to the cathedral, other ornate churches and the famous  Koricancha temple. Next stop is a traditional textiles museum before you move on to popular San Pedro market that sells meats, fruits and vegetables.

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Cusco

Day 8

Fly to La Paz, capital of Bolivia, transfer to hotel in the colonial centre.
 

It’s a short drive to the airport to board your flight over the altiplano to La Paz. If it is clear you will have staggering views of the landscape, and will appreciate the vastness of the altiplano.

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. 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.

Your first sight will be of a city made up of an anarchic jumble of buildings clinging to craggy slopes and marching down a sinuous river bed.  But partly owing to this topography it's easy to get around, the streets are tightly packed and crammed with interesting features.

Your hotel is on the Prado, the historic city centre’s  main artery, a good starting point for your first steps out into this intriguing city which so invites exploration.  

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la paz

Day 9

Walking tour of colonial La Paz, ride in the cable car across the canyon.
 

A guided city tour on foot will help you make sensed of all this, taking you to the narrow lanes around the colonial heart, exploring markets such as the famous Mercado de las Brujas (Witches' Market) as well as the stately boulevards of the modern business and residential neighbourhoods.

How the city's structure knits together is best appreciated from the air, and it is now possible for you to enjoy stupendous views from a cable-car erected primarily to relieve traffic congestion on the commuter routes between La Paz city centre and the city of El Alto on the canyon rim, hundreds of metres above. Eventually this system will be the largest urban cable-car network in the world: for now, it has the added asset of being a superb new attraction for visitors.

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Day 10

Fly to Uyuni , visit Uyuni salt flats, overnight in salt hotel.
 

It’s back to the airport to fly south to Uyuni.  Here it’s a brutal, unforgiving landscape where volcanic geology is laid bare and hardy people scratch a living on poor wind-strafed soils.

Now you’ll set off on a surreal adventure by 4WD vehicle to the Salar de Uyuni. The bleak plains of the southern altiplano make for an austere, uncompromising wilderness, scoured by bitter gales, where cut-glass lakes and un-trodden, luminous salt pans reflect the vast dome of an icy sky.

At 3,650m the salar is the highest salt desert in the world and arguably the largest. When the rains fall, the desert is turned into a mirror, salt plains and sky fuse, and the world is turned upside down. In the dry season, however, the dazzling white of the salt crystals extends as far as the eye can see: an other-worldly sight. You’ll observe desolate, denuded peaks, sunlit lagoons of gem-stone clarity and a white sea of salt that bends the horizon.  

Return to Uyuni to spend the night at an atmospheric hotel constructed using locally-mined salt.

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Uyuni Salt Flat

Day 11

Further explorations of the salt flats.
 

Uyuni is an isolated, chilly highland town where you’ll visit the “train cemetery” full of abandoned, rusting engines evocative of more prosperous and dynamic times. Uyuni has been an important railway junction for over a century, where the line from Antofagasta in the west meets the north-south line that originally served La Paz and Argentina.

Continue your exploration of the salt flats along a paved highway - built to service the modern mining camp settlements and funded by international conglomerates.  Of note are the road signs warning of llamas which might stray across the road. Eventually you turn off the road to pick your way over rutted tracks and frozen mountain streams until you reach what appears to be an abandoned medieval town which is actually a naturally eroded rock formation; there seems to be a church tower, a fortified parapet, dwellings and mansions.  The day's travel finishes at Villa Mar, a remote rocky settlement.

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Uyuni

Day 12

Over the border to Hotel explora in the Atacama desert, Chile.
 

An early morning start takes you to the shores of the fiery red Laguna Colorada, a bird-filled gash of vivid colour relieving the tawny monochrome of the desert. Continue up to a giddying 5,000m and descend to reach the sulphurous Sol de Mañana geysers and the hot springs of Polques - in which you can dip if you wish - and survey perhaps the most captivatingly beautiful and other-worldly scenery of the trip.

The surreal landscape here is of tortured rock formations splashed with a rainbow of colour, defined by a rim of snow-dusted volcanoes. You will reach Laguna Verde, a stunning aquamarine lake at the foot of Licancabur Volcano before changing vehicle for the last part of the journey, into Chile, which takes you along a road descending into the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama and on to your second explora hotel.

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Atacama desert

Days 13,14

Choice of complimentary excursions and activities in the area.
 

Excursions are graded according to their length and difficulty and the multi-lingual tour leaders tailor their itineraries to the interests and fitness of their guests. There’s a wide range of excursions to choose from, from short treks through picturesque valleys to challenging high altitude walks and horseriding.  

Whatever the activity or level of endurance, there’s  diversity and richness in the natural surroundings from the bubbling geysers and natural hot springs to more salt flats with their pearly lakes framed by snow-capped volcanoes.

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Atacama desert

Day 15

Fly to Santiago and transfer to central hotel.
 

Fly to Santiago from Calama airport and transfer to your hotel in Lastarria, an arty, up and coming residential and commercial district close to the historic centre of the Chilean capital.

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Luciano K

Day 16

Guided walking tour of the historic core of the Chilean capital.
 

Modern, high-rise buildings dominating Santiago’s skyline but at street level the city retains some fine historic buildings alongside eye-catching contemporary structures.

On this guided exploited on foot you’ll  get acquainted with some of Santiago's more interesting landmarks and neighbourhoods allowing you to soak up the atmosphere of the city. 

Pass by the Museo de Bellas Artes, romantic Santa Lucia hill, the Central Market and the stately former Mapocho railway station. The tour includes a stop at the former National Congress where Salvador Allende was overthrown in 1973 and ends in the Plaza Mayor, the heart of Santiago's busy historic centre.

Transfer to the airport for your international flight. UK clients arrive home the following day.

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Santiago

Essential information

Clothes 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 waterproof/breathable outer shell makes a good combination along with gloves, scarf and woolly hat. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials are appropriate. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants in the cities, 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 repellant, sun block and sun glasses. 

 Due to luggage restrictions on the train to Machu Picchu, most of your luggage will be taken direct from the Sacred Valley hotel to your hotel 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 at Machu Picchu. 

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.

Transport

4 flights (longest 2hrs); 6 scenic road journeys (longest 6-7hrs); 2 rail journeys (longest 4hrs). 

Accommodation

On this holiday, location and local character are more importants factors in our choice of accommodation than a consistent type or standard.  Tne explora resorts are self -contained, all-inclusive properites with a focus on daily explorations in the surrounding countryside returning to good quality food and accommodation in the evening. In the cities, we have chosen smart, customer-focussed, fairly small and good quality hotels, colonial or modern in style with well-equipped rooms, private bathroom and heating. The accommodation in the salt flats is basic, but unique: one hotel is built almost entirely from salt. 

Meals

Breakfast daily; dinner day 2; lunch day 5; full board days 3,4; 11,12; 13,14.

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 of Lima.
• Choice of activities in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
• Visit to the ruined temple fortress at Ollantaytambo.
• Guided tour of Machu Picchu.
• Guided walking Cusco city tour.
• Guided La Paz city tour and cable car.
• Excursions in the Uyuni salt flats.
• Choice of activities in the Atacama desert.
• Walking tour of old Santiago.

Summary of nights

16 days, 15 nights: Lima 1; Sacred Valley 3; Machu Picchu 1; Cusco 2; La Paz 2; salt flats 2; San Pedro de Atacama 3; Santiago 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’s the boliviano, and in Chile the Chilean peso.

Daily spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$40-50 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. Dollar bills should be in good condition, ($100 bills should be the new format), soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling or euros, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Tipping

Tips are welcomed 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 a few long days of travel on this trip which are punctuated with frequent stops. 
  Cusco, La Paz, along with the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats), and the Atacama desert are situated at 3,500-4,000m - you may feel woozy and headachy at first and breathless before you get accustomed to the altitude.   If your symptoms are severe please contact our local representatives (see Altitude paragraph below). If you have cardio-vascular problems you should consult your doctor before undertaking this trip.

Although a unique experience, please note that one night spent  near the salt flats is in basic accommodation.

Climate

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

Uyuni is a very remote region and is subject to harsh climatic changes: what you do and where you stay may be modified according to the weather and terrain, particularly in the wet season.

Altitude

If you have cardio-vascular problems you should consult your doctor before undertaking this trip. Your stays in the Sacred Valley (2,800m-3,000m), Cusco (3,400m),  La Paz/Uyuni (3,700m) and the Atacama Desert (2,400m) are at high altitude. The highest point you’ll reach (during a vehicle ride from Bolivia into Chile) is 5,000m. Because the trip gains altitude slowly, most people are only mildly affected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol for the first couple of days at altitude), you’ll probably be OK. 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. 

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

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 Health Travel 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, and must be applied for by you personally.
Passports must also be digital e-passports with an in-built chip. 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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