Roam the Amazon jungle at night while pretending you’re David Attenborough (it has a calming influence). Float down the river, keeping an out for the glaring eyes of jaguars and caimans.. The floating islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca seem like the sort of thing Pixar would come up with. Spend the night under the stars in a traditional island village.. Whether you trek the classic Inca Trail, the Inca Quarry Trail or take the scenic train route to Machu Picchu, trust us, this is going to be one of the highlights of your life.. Don’t worry, we won’t hog all of your time. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to bounce around Cusco, digging deep into the pockets of Inca history.
Spend time in the heart of the Amazon jungle, trek the iconic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, then tick two incredible items off your bucket list. And that’s just the first half of this epic adventure across South America. See the gravity-defying floating islands of Uros, browse weird and wonderful trinkets in La Paz’s famous Witches’ Market, walk on Bolivia’s incredible sprawling salt flats, then enjoy plenty of time in romantic Buenos Aires. At 34-days in length, this immersive adventure is destined to be a trip of a lifetime.
Welcome to Quito, Ecuador. Things kick off today when you meet you leader and new travel mates at a welcome meeting at 2pm. Double check with the hotel reception for the exact time and place. Insurance details and next of kin information will be collected at this meeting, so please have this on hand for your leader. If you’re going to be late, please let the hotel reception know. Quito’s a pretty amazing place surrounded by mountainous volcanoes, but it’s not just the view that can take your breath away – Quito is way up at 2,800 metres above sea level and it can be common for travellers to experience some adverse health effects due to the altitude, regardless of age, gender or fitness. Please check out the ‘Is This Trip Right For You?’ and ‘Health’ sections of the trip notes for important information about altitude sickness before and during your trip. There’s plenty of stuff to do in Quito if you get here early – hit up the Old Town, the Plaza Grande and the Plaza San Francisco to get a feel for local life, then head to El Panecillo (The Little Bread Loaf) for awesome views over the city’s white houses and mountains. After the meeting tonight, maybe dine with your new buddies – grab some empanadas for sure.
Otavalo / Quito
How good’s your Spanish? You’ll find out this morning when you catch a local bus to the famous Otavalo Market (approximately 2-3 hours). This is the perfect chance to (try to) chat with the locals and maybe get some tips on the best stuff to pick up. This day trip will give you loads of time to squeeze your way through the streets that surround the Plaza de los Ponchos and check out the rainbow of stalls that make up Ecuador’s largest indigenous market. Once a week it feels like every villager from the surrounding countryside has descended on the town to buy everything from handmade crafts to fruits, vegetables, and even livestock. A bit further out of the city all types of animals are up for trade, from llamas to masses of (edible) guinea pigs. This is the perfect place to stock up on some souvenirs – silver jewellery, a poncho, wooden carvings, a Panama hat (which actually originated in Ecuador) – and practice your bargaining skills. And that’s not to mention the great, colourful photos you’ll get. In the afternoon, hop back on the bus and return to Quito. Maybe grab some dinner and drinks with the group, then try Old Town’s strange ice cream flavours – morocho corn or quinoa anyone?
Say bye to Quito as you take a private transfer to the bus station. From here you’ll hop a local bus to Banos, the adventure capital of Ecuador (approximately 3 hours). Location, location, location, that’s what Banos is all about. It’s got a subtropical climate and from town you can see waterfalls crashing down green hills and the occasional eruption of the Tungurahua volcano. This is a great place to get into some small town vibes and explore the Ecuadorian great outdoors. The town might seem quiet during the week, but at night and the weekend Banos really kicks off as a party town. The rumbling volcano means hot water bubbles up out of the ground here so, if you have time after you arrive, maybe head to the hot springs of Las Piscinas de la Virgen. This is the perfect way to relax after your bus journey and get your body ready for tomorrow's adventures.
Hear that? That’s adventure calling! If you didn’t get too into the nightlife yesterday, rise early to catch a sweet sunrise over the mountains before breakfast. Then it’s decision time. How will you explore this outdoor playground? Get on some sturdy shoes and hike through the lush forests visit the near-by Devils Cauldrom waterfall!
If you're feeling cruisey, hit up the hot springs and spas for some chill out me-time. Other stuff to explore in town includes the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Agua Santa (a basilica dedicated to the Virgin of the Holy Water) and the artisan markets. If you didn’t get enough stuff at Otavalo, then negotiate for leather goods, jewellery and carvings. Tonight, swap stories of your adventures while you get into the regular carnival-like atmosphere.
Let’s be straight – today is a long travel day on local buses. This is your chance to catch up on few Z’s after partying and adventuring in Banos, to get to know your travel buddies better, to write in that journal or read that book, or to just press your face up against the glass and watch Ecuador go by. You’ll take a local bus to Riobamba (approximately 3 hours), where you’ll swap buses and head south to Cuenca (approximately 5 hours). Is Cuenca the best-looking city in Ecuador? Probably, with UNESCO sticking it on their list of things they love. There are loads of impressive 500-year-old churches and colonial buildings, made out of marble and decorated with stunning woodwork and ironwork. It’s the country’s third largest city but still has a small town and Old World air, and it’s great for just wandering around and exploring. Think you can pull off a Panama hat? Well Cuenca is the home of the famous headwear, and if there’s time you could visit a factory and pick up one that fits perfectly. Cuenca is also a university town, so all the students give it a buzzing nightlife, and there are some good bars and restaurants to choose from. Add in an evening stroll around the Plaza and you’ve got the perfect end to your first day in Cuenca.
Meet up with your leader this morning and get to know Cuenca better with an orientation walk. Trundle along cobblestone streets and check out colonial parks, buzzing markets, and stop by the monumental cathedral at the centre. La Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción took 100 years to finish, and its blue and white domes are a real standout. The rest of the day is free to explore Cuenca and the surrounding area. If you’re feeling cultural, maybe head to the Museo Pumapungo, which features an impressive range of artistic, historical, cultural, and ethnological exhibits (including a collection of real shrunken heads from the Shuar civilisation – for the strong stomached only!). Otherwise, maybe get out of town to El Cajas National Park, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. 70,000 acres shelter everything from cloud forest to rocky lunar landscapes, but it's the lakes (more than 200 of them) scattered among jagged peaks that are its best-known image. Feel the solitude while hiking or trout fishing. Look out for the reintroduced wild llamas that roam around, as well as elusive spectacled bears, pumas and tigrillos. There are also hummingbirds, toucans and Andean condors flying about the park. El Cajas is a simple one-hour bus ride from Cuenca. Once there, pay the entrance fee, hire a native guide and start hiking around the beautiful lakes. Tonight you might want to get to bed early, in preparation for a very early start early tomorrow morning.
Tumbes / Lima Flight
Peru takes a bit of getting to, so strap in once again for a long day of travelling – just look forward to that first sip of Pisco sour this evening. At approximately 3am start off with a taxi to the bus station in Cuenca, then take a public bus south east towards the coast and the town of Huanquillas, which sits on the border of Ecuador and Peru (approximately 5-6 hours). Get all the boring border stuff out the way, then cross into Peru and make your way to Tumbes airport (approximately 30 minutes). Say bye to your Ecuadorian leader, then hop on a plane for an included flight to the Peruvian capital, Lima (approximately 1 hour 45 minutes). Touch down and meet your Peruvian leader, who’ll take you to your hotel in Miraflores, which sits along the coast, offering easy access to beaches and Pacific sunsets. This afternoon your leader will take you on an orientation walk around Miraflores, one of the city's most popular districts and filled with arty markets, shops, restaurants, bars and ‘discotheques’. Get that Pisco sour tonight, washing down some fresh ceviche.
Today is a free day in Peru. Your tour leader will give you some suggestions of things to do and there are plenty of optional activities available.
Puerto Maldonado (Amazon Jungle lodge)
Take a flight to Puerto Maldonado in the Amazon Jungle, where you'll be staying for two nights. Upon your arrival, the lodge staff will take you to their office in town. Here you can leave most of your luggage in safe storage and continue travelling with a small pack with just the necessary items for your next two nights in the jungle. You’ll then take a motorised canoe upriver to your jungle lodge in the Madre de Dios area. There will be time to unpack and unwind once you get there. The next two days are packed with activities. Your full day in the jungle includes a trek which lasts approximately half a day. At times the paths can get quite muddy and some people can find the trek a little exhausting. Along the way there will be regular stops, and you'll encounter magnificent fauna and flora in their natural habitat. You might spot everything from macaws and monkeys to peccaries, jabirus, otters and thousands of butterflies. The guides can also teach you about the medicinal properties and practical uses of the plants. For lunch you will return to the lodge.
For your night-time excursion, you will venture out in the dark in search of caimans on the Tambopata River. The naturalist guide will use a spotlight in order to locate them on the banks of the river, so you can observe them from a respectable distance.
Notes: We stay at two different lodges in the same area. The activities may vary slightly according to which lodge you are at. Depending on which lodge you are staying at, the included night excursion may be on the night of Day 1 or Day 2. As both of our lodges are in the same area of the jungle, you will see the same wildlife and your overall jungle experience will be the same in either lodge.
Say farewell to the jungle today and fly to Cusco, which takes just under an hour. Spend the next day trying to acclimatise to the high altitude of this location (i.e. no strenuous activity).
After dropping your luggage off and having some lunch, your tour leader will take you on a walk around downtown Cusco. You’ll visit the facade of Qoricancha temple, the local San Pedro market, the main square, past the 12 Angled Stone, Regocijo Square and San Blas Square.
The order of visiting these locations, may vary according to hotel location and your tour leaders preference.
In your free time may want to book some of the optional activities available in Cusco. Please speak with your leader about this.
In your free time in Cusco why not stop & check out Café Daria? This café and pizzeria in the centre of Cusco it’s the first vocational training site for young adults with special needs. Manos Unidas’ core purpose is to improve the quality of life for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities through vocational training, education and parent advocacy, leading to successful inclusion within a society in which they had traditionally been ostracised from.
The food is all natural, prepared and baked by the students on site and students are trained across all aspects of hospitality so this is a great way for our travellers to interact with locals and in doing so, give a young adult who would normally be isolated from society the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and hone their skills.
Sacred Valley / Ollantaytambo
Today takes you a little closer to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Unwind on a private bus for around two hours through the Sacred Valley, which is on the fringes of Cusco. Known as Wilcamayo to the Incas, the lush, fertile valley has long been the main source of food for the high Andes. Head to a community in the valley to learn about the local lifestyle and activities, and hopefully your visit will coincide with market day (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday). Comb the stalls in search of hand-painted beads or warm ponchos, and master the local Quechuan language (a few words will be deemed a success). Continuing on, drive 20 minutes to Ollantaytambo. Later in the afternoon, perhaps head out to visit to Ollantaytambo’s awesome Incan ruins. You’ll spend the night at a hotel in Ollantaytambo, ready for your early morning start on the Inca Trail.
Inca Trail, Quarry Trail or Train Option
Depending on your pre-arranged travel arrangements, during the next four days you may: hike the Classic Inca Trail, hike the Inca Quarry Trail or head back to Cusco for another two nights before taking the train to Aguas Calientes. While away from Cusco, the bulk of your luggage will be stored at your hotel. If you’re hiking the Inca Trail or the Inca Quarry Trail, the evening before you leave Cusco you'll receive a small duffle bag to carry your clothes in for the next four days (5 kg maximum).
Your team of porters will carry these bags for you, together with the food and equipment for the trail. Please note that you won't have access to these items until the end of each day, as the porters will always be ahead of the group. If you’re travelling to Aguas Calientes by train, you'll be able to leave most of your luggage at the hotel in Cusco and only travel with the necessary items for the next few days.
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
Today travel by minivan to the 82 km marker and meet your crew of local porters, cook and guide. The first day includes uphill trekking to the campsite, which is at 3,100 metres above sea level. On the way you’ll see the ruins of Llactapata, which was burnt to the ground by the last Inca emperor to discourage Spanish pursuit down the trail. In the evening, set up camp while the cook makes dinner.
Notes: The Inca Trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people, but please come prepared, as the trail is 45 km long and often steep. Each day's journey generally consists of seven hours of walking (uphill and downhill), with stops for snacks and lunch. Trekking usually begins at 7 am (except on the fourth morning) and you reach the campsite around 5 pm. Accommodation on the trek is camping (three nights). Double tents (twin-share) and foam camping mats will be provided. The porters will set up the tents while the cook prepares meals.
Route 2 Quarry Trail:
Make an early start today and drive to Choquequilla, a small ceremonial place where Incas worshipped the moon. Drive to the starting point of the trek, Rafq'a, and meet the horsemen who join us on the hike. After an hour’s walk, reach the small community of Socma. Carry on to the Perolniyoc cascade lookout, an opportunity to stop for photos and a food break. Continue to the campsite, which is 3,700 meters above sea level. You should reach the campsite around lunchtime. After lunch, set off to explore the Q'orimarca archaeological site, which once served as a checkpoint to the Incas.
Notes: The Quarry Trail is within the abilities of most reasonably fit people. The hike is 26 km long in total and its highest pass is at 4,450 meters above sea level. Throughout the trek, horses will carry your gear and camping equipment. The first two nights are spent camping and the third night you will stay at a simple hotel. Double tents (twin-share) and foam camping mats will be provided. The porters will set up the tents while the cook prepares meals.
Route 3 Train:
For those travellers disinterested in hiking the trail or who are unable to, spend two extra nights in Cusco before travelling by bus back through Ollantaytambo. From here take a train through the winding Urubamba Valley to the town of Aguas Calientes where you’ll spend a third night.
Notes: Included lunch and dinner on this day is for people trekking the Inca or Quarry Trail only.