Elegant colonial architecture, political history in spades and the hilly neighbourhoods dotted with terracotta roofs – Sucre might be Bolivia’s most beautiful city.. Take an unforgettable 4WD adventure across the Salar de Uyuni – some of the largest salt lakes in the world. Pass cactus islands, train cemeteries and mineral lakes teeming with flamingos.. The giant desert inscriptions of the Nazca Lines are one of Peru’s great unsolved mysteries, and so is the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu. You’ll experience both your own way, with a range of options to choose from.. Enjoy delicious home-cooking and warm hospitality during your three-day estancia stay, and learn about Uruguay’s gauchos – legendary cowboys – while on the ranch.
Take a deep dive into Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil on a 51-day Latin Lonely Planet Experience. With local leaders guiding you to the best neighbourhoods as well as plenty of time to explore independently, you’ll wonder what took you so long to appreciate this corner of the globe. Trek or train to the lost Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, spend a few days on a working estancia in Uruguay, take a 4WD adventure through the Andean desert to the Uyuni salt flats and wind up in all the best cities – Buenos Aires, La Paz and Lima, to name a few. Finish up with beach and party vibes in Brazil – a perfect spot to chill out after your adventure to South America’s hotspots.
Bievenidos! Welcome to Peru's coastal capital. Your Lonely Planet Experience begins with a welcome meeting at 6 pm where you'll meet your group leader and fellow travellers. With no activities planned until then, why not take a walk around the vibrant Miraflores area. Alternatively, stroll along to Parque del Amor (Love Park) for a great view of Lima's beaches. After your important briefing, get to know each other better over dinner. Whether you dine with the group or sample the city's renowned food scene on your own, don't miss Peru's national dish: ceviche. If you're not a fan of seafood, there are plenty of other excellent options on offer – be sure to ask your local leader of their favourite dishes.
If you arrive early, perhaps take a walk around the vibrant Miraflores area. Alternatively, stroll along to Parque del Amor (Love Park) for a great view of Lima's beaches.
This morning, set out on a half-day walking tour of Lima's historical centre. Flanked by streets of ornate mansions, palaces and churches, Plaza Mayor is the best place to start any exploration of Lima. Take a walk through the old streets to get a feel for colonial life. On one side of the plaza is the Cathedral of Lima, which houses the remains of Lima's founder, Francisco Pizarro. Nearby is the San Francisco Monastery, with its catacombs containing some 70,000 human remains (entry is optional and at travellers' expense). Then go and browse the fresh produce on offer at Lima's central market, tasting fresh fruit and street food. Your walking tour wraps up in Lima's main square, with the rest of the day free to do as you wish. Later, perhaps head out for dinner with the group.
Be ready for an early start as you head to Lima’s bus station around 6 am and hop on a local bus to Paracas (approximately 4 hours). During this journey it's unlikely the bus will make any stops, so please ensure you prepare yourself with water, snacks and anything else you need. The small fishing town of Paracas is the gateway to the Islas Ballestas and the Paracas National Reserve. One you’ve arrived, you'll have the option of visiting Paracas National Reserve today with a local guide. The duration of the tour is around 2–2.5 hours, allowing you to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and expansive desert. For some local food specialities back in town, head to the boulevard near the beach and try some tejas – small sweets made from nuts and dried fruits.
This morning, there may be the chance to visit Islas Ballestas for an optional day trip. Here there will be lots of opportunities to see wildlife such as penguins, sea lions and flamingos from a speedboat. Speak to your group leader about your options and when the best time to visit would be. Later on this morning, continue on to Nazca, travelling for around 3 hours and arriving in the early afternoon. Nazca is famous for the Nazca Lines – enormous designs inscribed into the desert floor. Who drew them, how and why is unknown, but most scientists believe the Nazca people created them around 2000 years ago. For the best view this afternoon, consider an optional scenic flight to see them from the air – this lasts 30 minutes and covers most of the 26 impressions. Be wary though – the planes turn sharply from side to side for viewing from both sides of the plane, so it’s not for the faint hearted!
Enjoy a lazy morning in Nazca, then in the early afternoon, transfer to the local bus station and board a bus to Arequipa (approximately 11 hours, with no stops). Lunch will be served on board the bus, and later around dinner time there will be a small snack. Don't forget to pack plenty of water, more snacks and a good book! You’ll arrive into Arequipa around midnight and transfer to the hotel. Standing at the foot of El Misti volcano and oozing all that Spanish colonial charm, Arequipa vies with Cusco for the title of Peru's most attractive city.
This morning, head on a leader-led orientation walk with your group, where you’ll visit the main square and Mercado San Camilo. During your walk around Arequipa, you'll come to understand why it’s referred to as the ‘White City’. Built out of the pale volcanic rock, the old buildings shine brightly in the sunshine. The remainder of the day is free for you to relax and explore Arequipa. Perhaps start at Monasterio de Santa Catalina – this 16th-century convent has a unique history, having once only accepted women from high-class Spanish families. From here, drop by the Juanita Museum and take a look at the ‘Ice Maiden’ – the well-preserved mummified remains of a young Inca girl who died in the 1440s. Otherwise, while away the rest of your day in the cafes and restaurants surrounding the main plaza, tasting a rich Peruvian coffee.
In the morning, around 8 am, venture out by private vehicle to Chivay (approximately 5 hours). There’ll be plenty of time to stop and take pictures along the way as you're likely to see llamas, alpacas and vicunas. You'll have the chance to try some coca tea – a local herbal variety made from leaves of the coca plant – from roadside tea stalls. After a third stop at Patapampa (the highest point of your adventure, standing at 4800 metres above sea level), descend into Chivay town for a free evening. Choose to spend it soaking in the local baths, dining on Alpaca steak or listening to live Andean music at a pena (music hall). Your group leader will know all of the best spots to go, so be sure to ask them.
Early in the morning, take a short drive from town into the renowned Colca Canyon. This river canyon in southern Peru is sprinkled with traditional villages, terraced agriculture and trekking routes, and is home to the predatory Andean condor. Witness the morning routine of this mighty ruler of the sky, gazing as they circle this extraordinary natural ravine. Depending on weather conditions you’ll head on a short hike around the area (approximately 45 minutes) before returning to Chivay town. In the afternoon, travel back to Arequipa (approximately 5 hours), and on arrival, relax into a free evening with your fellow adventurers.
Arequipa/ Overnight Bus to Cusco
Another day in Arequipa is a perfect time to get out your Lonely Planet app and see what highlights you can go out and explore today. For a bit of culture, why not stroll down to Casa Museo Villalobos for a look at the extensive art collection. If you’re looking for something a bit more hands-on, there are regular cooking classes in the city – be sure to speak to your group leader for their recommendations. Keep in mind that tonight (around 7.30 pm), you’ll transfer to the bus station and board an overnight bus to Cusco (approximately 11 hours with no stops).
Arrive in Cusco on your overnight bus sometime between 6.30 and 7.30 am. On arrival, transfer to your hotel to drop your bags and head into town for breakfast. Afterwards, your leader will give you the choice of heading straight out for an orientation walk or resting in the hotel for a few hours before a stroll in the afternoon. On your leader-led tour you’ll visit the facade of Qoricancha temple, local San Pedro market, the main square, the 12 Angled Stone, Regocijo Square and San Blas Square. This afternoon, enjoy some more time at your leisure to explore Cusco. In the evening, join your group leader and fellow travellers for an Inca Trail and Machu Picchu briefing.
Inca Trail, Inca 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 stay in Cusco for another two days before taking the train to Aguas Calientes.
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
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 3100 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 Inca 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 3700 metres 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 Inca 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 4450 metres 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 to Ollantaytambo. From here take a train through the winding Urubamba Valley to the town of Aguas Calientes where you’ll spend a third night.
Inca Trail, Inca Quarry Trail or Train option
Route 1 Classic Inca Trail:
This is the most challenging day of the trek, as we ascend a long steep path (approximately 5 hours) to reach the highest point of the trail. Colloquially known as 'Dead Woman's Pass', Warmiwanusca sits at a height of 4200 metres above sea level, providing amazing views of the valley below. The group will then descend to the campsite in the Pacaymayo Valley at 3650 metres.
Route 2 Inca Quarry Trail:
This is the most challenging and rewarding day of the hike. A three-hour walk takes us to the top of the first pass of Puccaqasa (approximately 4370 metres high). After enjoying picturesque views of the valley, it’s a short walk before stopping for lunch. Afterwards, make the hike to Kuychicassa (approximately 2 hours); this is the highest pass of the trek at 4450 metres. From here, descend to the sacred site the Incas called Intipunku (Sun Gate), with views of the Nevado Veronica mountain. Head to the campsite, which is only a stone’s throw away at Choquetacarpo.
Route 3 Train:
Today, perhaps use your free day indulging your inner foodie in the eateries of Cusco. Head to lunch at the arty Fallen Angel restaurant, and if you still have room for dessert, the ChocoMuseo offers tastings and chocolate-marking workshops.