With some of South America’s most exceptional sights, Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lake Titicaca, Peru will never disappoint.
Selected departures April to October 2017
You should arrive at the airport for your overnight flight to Lima, via Madrid.
On arrival transfer to the four-star Casa Andina Select Mira Florez, where you stay overnight night with breakfast. Please note 2016 dates will continue straight to Arequipa and the whole itinerary will be one day shorter
On arrival early this morning we transfer on to a domestic flight to the beautiful colonial city of Arequipa where we stay for two nights at the three-star superior El Cabildo Hotel, with breakfast. The rest of the day is at leisure to relax after your flight.
Situated at an altitude of 7,660ft, Arequipa is Peru’s second-largest city and a good place to start acclimatising to the higher altitude. Its skyline is dominated by a trio of spectacular volcanoes – in fact many buildings are constructed from volcanic sillar rock, the hue of which gives Arequipa its ‘White City’ moniker. After breakfast we set out on a tour that begins at the Carmen Alto viewpoint, which offers spectacular views of the city. We head through the Yanahuara quarter with its small, cobblestone streets and beautiful mestizo baroque church dating from 1750. We then head downtown to Arequipa’s UNESCO-listed historic centre and arguably Peru’s prettiest square, the Plaza des Armas, which features the 17th century baroque Jesuit church of La Compáñia. We then head across the plaza to the cathedral, a grand piece of colonial architecture. With 12 giant marble columns, a high-vaulted ceiling, the cathedral is impressive on its own, but is given further dramatic emphasis when viewed against the backdrop of the three mighty snow-capped volcanoes. We move on to the Monastery of Santa Catalina, founded by the Spanish in 1580 for the nuns of the Order of Saint Catherine of Siena. Peru has many magnificent religious structures, but none can match the grandeur and sheer scale of this working convent, which includes streets, chapels, cloisters, squares and an art gallery. The afternoon is at leisure, giving you the opportunity to browse the local craft market or further explore the pretty streets of dazzling colonial buildings. Many have been transformed into shops, hotels and restaurants, where you can sample some of the excellent cuisine for which the city is famed. Try locally caught trout cooked on a hot stone, the sweetest corn on the cob you’ll ever taste or even an alpaca steak … all washed down with a pisco sour, of course.
After breakfast we head north to Colca, site of one of the world’s deepest canyons. As we pass through the Pampa Cañahuas Reserve we see desert landscapes, exotic rock formations and grasslands populated by vicuñas, llamas and Andean deer. We climb even further to over 12,000ft and the Pampa de Toccra, a plain featuring a lake where pink flamingos reside in season. The trip features several jaw-dropping viewpoints, including the Mirador de los Andes at Patapampa – at over 16,000ft above sea level the air here is thin but the view of the volcanoes around Arequipa is simply jaw dropping. In the afternoon we reach Chivay (alt.11,900ft), the small town near Colca Canyon where we stay for one night at the three-star superior Casa Andina Hotel, with breakfast.
Today will undoubtedly be another of this tour’s many highlights as we head to Condor Cross for some magnificent views of the Colca Canyon. Prepare to be amazed, the canyon is more than twice the depth of the Grand Canyon and is one of Peru’s most popular sights. This is also where you can get some amazing close-up views of one of the world’s most spectacular birds in flight – the Andean Condor. The Colca Canyon region is one of the last remaining habitats of this endangered giant vulture, which has a wingspan of up to 10ft. At around midday we continue eastwards to Puno on Lake Titicaca, where we stay two nights on bed and breakfast basis at the three-star superior Posada del Inca Hotel, overlooking the lake. A packed lunch is included today.
The panorama of Lake Titicaca has to be seen to be believed. Reflecting the blue sky above, is a fabulous deep blue expanse of water stretching as far as the eye can see. After breakfast we board our private motor launch and visit the famous floating Uros Islands where the local Indians, living much as they always have, construct these islands using many layers of totora reeds. We then visit the island of Taquile, further into the lake and famed for the highest quality knitware in Peru. It’s very much a typical village, with no roads or electricity, where the Indians proudly still adhere to their traditional culture and dress. Lunch is included in Taquile.
This morning we say goodbye to Lake Titicaca and head northwards to Cusco. We firstly drive through the altiplano, the high-altitude Andean plateau observing small herds of llama, alpaca and the low mud-brick, thatch-roofed houses of the local farmers. As the scenery slips by we start climbing gradually towards La Raya, at 14,170ft, the highest point on this stunning journey. After our included lunch, we also visit the fascinating church of the Andahuayillas, known as the Sistine Chapel of the America’s due to the high quality of its artwork, arriving in Cusco in the late afternoon. Our coach is adapted for this high-altitude journey by having oxygen-enriched air piped into seating area. Our Cusco hotel for two nights is the four-star Ramada Costa del Sol, with breakfast.
After breakfast we have a tour of Cusco, one of the most beautiful cities in South America, a heady mixture of traditional colonial architecture interspersed with fascinating Inca remains. The main square, nestling within a maze of narrow streets and quaint piazzas, has been the centre of the city since Inca times and used to be surrounded by three palaces. Today it is the site of three churches, including the 16th century cathedral, so huge it took 100 years to complete. It has an exquisitely carved wooden choirstall and over 400 paintings, including one thought to be a Van Dyck, plus the Last Supper featuring guinea pig as the main course! We then visit the Qorichancha, the Incas’ principle temple to the sun. This was the ‘navel’ of the Inca world, originally covered in sheets of pure gold and contained the Incas’ most sacred object, the golden disc of the sun. Although the Spanish built the Santo Domingo convent over the Inca temple, many of the internal walls remain and have now been excavated. Our final Inca site is the extraordinary Sachsayhuaman with three vast megalithic walls, a staggering thousand feet long and with the largest blocks of stone ever found in Inca structures, all moved with no wheels. This was also the site of the final epic four-day last stand of the Inca rebellion. Had the conquistadors lost, the history of South America could have been quite different.
Today will certainly be the highlight of your tour! After driving to Ollaytambo station we board the specially constructed Explorer train taking us on one of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys through the increasingly narrow Urubamba river gorge to the legendary Machu Picchu. As we descend, the scenery changes from semi-arid brush and cactus to dense, lush rainforest. Below us, the river rushes headlong into numerous rapids whilst above, the precipitous sides of the gorge rise to dizzying heights. Nothing can prepare you for your first sight of the ‘Lost City of the Incas’. It suddenly and magically appears before you, its wonder and mystique astounds - the only Inca settlement never discovered or destroyed by the Spanish. Set on a ridge overlooking the gorge of the Urubamba River, it was rediscovered in 1910 by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, but with the site being completely overgrown, he had no idea of the immense significance of his find. No one knows why it was built in such an inaccessible spot or why it was mysteriously abandoned. As you walk through its gates, temples and houses, our guide will explain the significance of the location in relation to the equinoxes and how central mountain-worship was to the Incas. We return by train to the Urumbamba Valley, known as the ‘Sacred Valley of the Incas’ where we spend two nights at the four-star Casa Andina Sacred Valley Hotel with breakfast.
The Sacred Valley was the empire’s breadbasket, spiritual centre and home to some of its most iconic symbols. Its wide fertile plain, with ancient terraces hugging the valley sides and the imposing peaks of the Andes beyond is truly an awesome sight. Firstly we visit Pisac, famous for its dominating fortress and colourful Indian market. It is a fantastic sight, full of traditionally dressed locals bartering for all kinds of produce, chickens and goats. Every kind of local handicraft is available too – from vibrant hand-made rugs and ponchos in bright reds and yellows, to local ceramics and a huge variety of high quality llama and alpaca knit-ware. After an included lunch we visit the massive fortress and temple of Ollantaytambo. Built along a dominant rocky bluff, and was the site of a rare Conquistador defeat. You can examine the astonishingly intricate Inca stonework – its beauty and precision unique in the world and all hand-crafted using stone tools Interestingly, Ollantaytambo was unfinished and still has the earthwork ramp used to transport the huge stone blocks used in its construction.
Today we travel back to Cuzco airport for our short flight to Lima, staying one night at the four-star Casa Andina Select Mira Florez (El Pardo Doubletree by Hilton for 2016 dates), with breakfast.
This morning we enjoy a city tour, including lunch, visiting Lima’s most important colonial sites. You will see the Presidential Palace, the Plaza del Armas, Lima’s central square, surrounded by colonial-era buildings and the cathedral, in the central UNESCO listed area of the city. We will also visit the Casa Aliaga one of Lima’s best-known colonial mansions built by Pizarro for one of his lieutenants in the 16th century. Lunch is included today. In the afternoon we transfer to the airport for our return overnight flight.
We arrive back in the UK, after a superb and highly memorable tour.
Peru is without doubt the most intriguing and fascinating of all South American countries. The incredible remains of the Inca civilization are a huge draw and combined with its colonial architecture, the stunning vistas of the jagged peaks of the Andes, the Amazonian jungle, its superb cuisine and the warmth of the Peruvians themselves, this is one of the most captivating destinations in the world!
Firstly, its scenery is world-class: the Andes, the second highest mountain range in the world rising to a jaw-dropping 20,000 feet, run like a backbone down the entire country. Snow-clad volcanoes pierce the sky, whilst torrential rivers surge through rocky valleys from the numerous glaciers. At lower altitudes is the altiplano, a timeless plateau covered with tufts of wiry grass and studded with occasional but distinctive low thatched houses of the indigenous Indians. Completing the scene are small herds of instantly recognisable llama, whilst above, giant condors soar on the rising thermals.
Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. At 13,000 feet the luminescent light and clear air cause the lake to emit a stunning sapphire-blue colour and its infinite vastness stretches into the horizon. With the ever-present Andes as the backdrop, the dark greens of the altiplano plunge into the deep waters whilst an eerily haunting silence pervades; it exudes an almost other-worldly natural beauty. The lake itself is home to the Uros, an Indian people who live much as they have always done, on extensive floating islands constructed from reeds.
Peru, in all our minds though, is indivisible from the fabled Incas, that remarkable people who, by the early 16th century had created the greatest empire in the then world. Stretching from Colombia to Chile, amazingly without the benefit of writing, ferrous metals, horses, currency or wheels. The Incas were the last of dozens of pre-Colombian civilisations, but how did a tiny group of 160 Spaniards manage to conquer this highly organised and sophisticated society of 32 million people? We visit the sites of battles, palaces and the most sacred temples of the Incas answering this question and many others.
We stay a few days in Cusco, the oldest inhabited city in the Americas. As Peru’s undisputed archaeological capital, surrounded by exceptionally beautiful Andean countryside, it is one of South America’s most charming cities. It is a curious blend of old and new with immense, virtually earthquake-proof Inca walls lining cobbled streets and forming the foundations of some gorgeous colonial buildings, reminiscent of medieval Spain. We see its 16th century cathedral, fabulous art and opulent treasure collections, the main square where the conquistadors were almost overwhelmed and the last Inca emperor was executed in a public display of Spanish supremacy.
The most striking image of Peru, and probably the entire continent, is of course the awesome Machu Picchu. One of the greatest archaeological discoveries of modern times, it is set in a breathtaking landscape of rich rainforest, deep perilous gorges and lofty snow-covered peaks. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer exhilaration felt as you approach the site and it gloriously comes into view. You ascend a slope and suddenly there it is, its magic hits you right between the eyes: the classic view from countless travel posters, it will truly take your breath away!
Peru is also the culinary centre of South America with many specialities. You should try ceviche, a meaty sea-fish similar to sea-bass, marinated in lime juice. Alpaca steaks are popular too, but you may wish to draw the line at the Inca speciality of guinea pig, still considered a delicacy. There are over thirty different types of potatoes, one of which is bright yellow and delicious baked in salt, and the most mouth-watering corn on the cob, totally different from the selectively bred varieties we are used to.
Peru is fascinating: a striking mixture of old-world Spanish influence combined with many Inca customs and beliefs persisting to this day. Peruvians are justly proud of their unique and complex cultural heritage and no visitor can fail to be enchanted by their genuine kindness, intrigued by their long and colourful history and captivated by their spectacular and beautiful country.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room and includes return scheduled flights; 11 nights on bed and breakfast basis in four and three-star hotels (10 for 2016 dates), all tours as mentioned, guided visits to the Colca Canyon, Sacred Valley, Pisac market, guided tour of Arequipa, Machu Picchu, Cusco, visits to Uros & Taquile islands; all transfers and one item of luggage per person; the services of a Riviera tour manager.
This tour includes five days at altitudes in excess of 11,000 feet so you do need to be reasonably fit and mobile. In order to minimise the effects of altitude, we have designed our tour to encourage a slow acclimatisation process by spending the first three nights in the Andes at the slightly lower altitudes of Arequipa and Colca Canyon, before visiting the higher elevations of Lake Titicaca and Cuzco.
The NHS Fit for Travel website provides useful information for travellers in general, and has a section on altitude sickness and how to avoid or minimise it. Our experienced tour managers will also be able to advise on how to minimise the effects of the altitude.
If you suffer from heart or respiratory problems, anaemia or high blood pressure, we strongly recommend you talk to your GP prior to travel. Please also ask a health professional about relevant inoculations.