Discover the heart of Ecuador’s Amazon as you take a boat to a community lodge deep in the rainforest. Your welcoming hosts will introduce you to their way of life as you get a true insight into local living.. Get out and about on a city tour of Lima, visiting Miraflores and downtown, and join the Peruvian nightlife in the neighbourhood of Barranco, perhaps sipping cervezas with your newfound travel pals.. 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 floating islands of Uros on Lake Titicaca are a marvel of concept, construction and history. Head on a boat tour on the lake and spend the night with a local family in a traditional island community.
Catching the best of a whole continent is a hard task, but with this 43-day Lonely Planet Experience powered by Intrepid, you’ll get the chance to hit all of South America’s hotspots without the hassle of organising all the logistics yourself. Instead, marvel at the lost Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, Andean condors flying high over the Colca Canyon, floating communities on Lake Titicaca and the puzzling lines of Nazca. From Quito through Lima, Cusco, La Paz and to Buenos Aires, get to know a Latin way of life in more detail, with a local leader joining you to point out the best barrios and beverages you can find at each stop.
Bienvenidos! Welcome to Quito, Ecuador. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 2 pm. After the important meeting, join your leader on a walking tour of the historic centre of Quito. Stroll through Plaza Grande (main square) and by the Archbishop's Palace. From here, walk about 800 metres uphill to reach the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Time permitting, you may wish to spend more time exploring this church and its views from the top towers. Finally, walk to La Ronda Street and pass by La Compania de Jesus and San Francisco churches. At the end of the walk, your leader will recommend a local restaurant on La Ronda Street for an optional group dinner.
Amazon Lodge (Amazon Jungle)
Get ready for an an early start, as you’ll be on the move by 7 am. Catch a local bus from Quito Central Station to Tena (approximately 5 hours). From Tena, travel by private vehicle to Misahualli and then by boat to your Amazon Jungle lodge for the next two nights, arriving by approximately 1.30 pm, just in time for lunch. In the afternoon, your local hosts will take you on a walk around the area. Use this opportunity to try some fresh fruit and – if you’re feeling brave – tree worms. Finish the afternoon making an authentic chocolate dessert from scratch. With the help of the host, you’ll roast, grind and conche chocolate beans into your own chocolate sauce. Delicioso!
Amazon Lodge (Amazon Jungle)
In the morning after breakfast, travel by canoe for 45 minutes to the starting point of today's hike. The hike (approximately 4–5 hours, depending on the group's pace) is relatively easy. During the hike, visit a protected private reserve in the secondary rainforest. This is also a great opportunity to spot insects and birds that call this precious ecosystem home. During the walk, you’ll come to understand the importance of the jungle to the local community as your guide provides in-depth knowledge and history. Afterwards, enjoy a packed lunch on the banks of the Arajuno River, then strap in for the opportunity to go river tubing. The activity will last around an hour, and then you’ll jump back on the canoes and travel back to the Amazon lodge (approximately 1.5 hours). Once you get back to the lodge there will be time to shower and freshen up for dinner. After dinner, head out on a night jungle walk.
Enjoy breakfast at around 7 am in the lodge. Bid your hosts farewell, travel back to Tena the same way you arrived, then catch a local bus to Banos (approximately 3 hours). You should arrive in the city of Banos around midday, with the rest of the day free for you to do as you wish. Perhaps use your free time soaking in the city's natural baths or go for a hike into the valley and to the powerful falls of Pailon del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron).
Enjoy a full day to explore Banos and take advantage of some of the optional activities. Perhaps rise early to watch the sunrise over the mountains near the hot springs. After breakfast, venture to Nuestra Senora del Agua Santa (Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water) and see the intricate murals that depict numerous stories about the virgin. You might also be able to fit in a visit to the Devil’s Cauldron today. If you have time, stroll around the local artisan markets to pick up a memento of the city. If your trip falls on the weekend or during the holidays, be prepared for carnival-like festivities that take place all over town.
Take a local bus to Riobamba (approximately 3 hours), where you’ll swap buses and head south to Cuenca (approximately 5 hours). Cuenca may well be Ecuador's best-looking city. There are lots of impressive 500-year-old churches and colonial buildings, many made out of marble and decorated with stunning woodwork and ironwork. Cuenca is the home of the renowned Panama hat, and if there’s time you could visit a factory and pick up one that fits perfectly. There's also a buzzing nightlife here, due in no small part to the university population.
Meet up with your leader this morning and get to know Cuenca better with an orientation walk. Trundle along cobblestone streets, check out colonial parks and markets and stop by the monumental cathedral at the centre. 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 – if you dare. Otherwise, maybe get out of town to El Cajas National Park, home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Tonight, get some sleep – you have a very early start in the morning.
At approximately 3 am, begin by taking a taxi to the bus station in Cuenca, then a public bus south-east towards the coast and town of Huanquillas (approximately 5–6 hours). After crossing the border into Peru, make your way to the Tumbes Airport before flying to Lima, capital of Peru. Touch down and meet your new leader before heading to your hotel in Miraflores which sits conveniently by the beach. In the afternoon, embark on an orientation walk through Miraflores, passing the arty markets, shops, restaurants and bars before enjoying an evening at your leisure. Enjoy a free evening, perhaps spending it with some of your travel group over a dinner of delicious ceviche alongside some pisco sours.
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.