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Tailor-made tours

South American Explorer

Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina

37 days

Summary

Our South American Explorer tour is the perfect sample tour for those that can spend five weeks in South America.  Travel the length of the former Inca Empire, from Ecuador to Northern Argentina.

Starting with an overland tour through Ecuador’s Avenue of the Volcanoes. Then admire the incredible diversity of wildlife in the Galapagos Islands either by cruise or by island hopping.

Immerse yourself in Peru’s culture starting with Lima, the culinary capital of the continent. Continue to the heart of the Inca Empire visiting Sacred Valley of the Incas, Machu Picchu, Cuzco & Lake Titicaca.

Then cross the border to Bolivia and explore the fascinating city of La Paz continuing to the surreal landscapes of Uyuni Salt Plains and the coloured Andean lagoons before crossing to Atacama, Chile. Spend a few days exploring the driest desert in the world before crossing overland to the beautiful colonial city of Salta, Argentina.

Then witness the majestic Iguazu Falls before arriving to Buenos Aires. This tailor-made five weeks in South America tour is fully flexible to suit your tastes and budget.

Highlights

  • Walk through Quito, a capital city high in the Andes and admire its beautiful and well preserved colonial architecture.
  • Overland through the famous Avenue of the Volcanoes and take spectacular pictures of Cotopaxi volcano.
  • Cuenca is one of the most beautiful colonial cities in Ecuador. Walk through the city centre and watch the artisans make beautiful panama hats!
  • The Galapagos islands are an oasis for many endemic animals and plants. Visit several islands to get to see tortoises, iguanas, blue-footed boobies, and many more of the big 15 of Galapagos.
  • You will fall in love with Lima’s gastronomy after you take a magnificent cooking lesson that will end with a famous pisco sour.
  • Visit the Pisac Market and Ollantaytambo ruins and town. Explore the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas and let Machu Picchu inspire you.
  • Get a great perspective of UNESCO World Heritage Listed city of Cuzco and its nearby ruins.
  • Visit Taquile, Uros Reed floating Islands and Sun Island on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable in the world.
  • Visit La Paz, the highest capital in the world and wander through its famous witches’ market
  • Experience the surreal lanscapes of Bolivia’s southwest, the Uyuni Salt Plains and coloured lagoons
  • Stay in the adobe village of San Pedro Atacama, the perfect base for explorations of this magical desert region
  • Cafayate is known for its iconic rock formations and excellent wines
  • Be amazed by the spectacular views of crashing waterfalls at Iguazu. Both side have beautiful panoramic views of the falls.
  • Explore Buenos Aires most vibrating corners and enjoy a dinner and Tango show at a typical Argentinian venue.

ITINERARY

Day 1 Quito

Welcome to Quito. Transfer to your hotel on arrival.

Day 2 Quito

Free morning. Afternoon walking tour of the UNESCO Heritage listed colonial centre, one of the America’s best preserved historic cities. Visit the El Ejido and Alameda Parks, the monument of Simon Bolivar, the impressive Gothic Basilica of the Heart of Jesus and the huge Plaza de la Independencia. Stroll out of the plaza along the Street of Seven Crosses to arrive at the Jesuit Temple, La Compañía de Jesús, perhaps the most important example of baroque architecture in Ecuador.
Option to include a visit to Middle of the World complex and monument marking 0º0’0” latitude.

Day 3 Quito

You will be picked up at your hotel this morning and depart Quito, arriving at the textile market of Otavalo, one of the most famous indigenous markets of South America. Plenty of time to explore the many stalls full of ponchos, scarves, hats, handbags and more.
Continue to Peguche, a small village near Otavalo, where a number of artisans live and work. Learn about their culture and everyday life. We’ll then drive to one of the region’s beautiful haciendas for lunch before returning to Quito in the afternoon.

Day 4 Quito/Baños

Drive along the Pan-American Highway known as “The Volcanoes Avenue” towards one of the world’s highest active volcano, Cotopaxi (5,897 metres above sea level). We will reach the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. You will drive through a pine forest to Limpiopungo lagoon, an Andean lake located at 3,800 metres, along the slopes of the magnificent Cotopaxi volcano. In the afternoon we will visit an Indigenous Market in this region. Afterwards we will continue to Baños, and have a short tour of the city.

Day 5 Baños/Riobamba

This morning, after breakfast, we will continue touring around this beautiful city. Baños is a small city located in a valley with waterfalls and hot springs nearby. One of the main attractions is the Tungurahua volcano. Today’s tour will begin by visiting the famous waterfalls “Manto de la Novia” and “Pailon del Diablo”, later we will go to a lookout point to see the Tungurahua active volcano. Continue to Riobamba and stay overnight.

Day 6 Riobamba/Cuenca

Very early in the morning, you will be transferred to Alausí’s train station to board the famous “Devil’s Nose”. This section of railroad is a masterpiece of railway engineering, commonly named “the most difficult railway in the world”. The descent is extraordinary; we start the ride at an altitude of 2,346 meters and go down to 1,860 meters in just 30 minutes, in a zigzag-carved railway tracks. After a quick box lunch, we will drive to Ingapirca Ruins, the best preserved and unique Inca ruins in Ecuador. Continue to Cuenca this afternoon and stay overnight.

Day 7 Cuenca

Half day tour of the colonial city centre, including the cathedral, Toquilla Hat Factory (maker’s of the famous Panama Hats!) and the flower market. Afterwards we take a short drive out of town for picturesque views of the red-tiled roofs and church domes, framed by imposing mountains.

Day 8 Cuenca/Guayaquil

After breakfast, only 30 minutes’ drive from Cuenca, you will visit El Cajas National Park which has more than 200 lagoons and is a very important water resource for Cuenca and Ecuador. The rivers that originate here, flow into the Pacific and Amazon. You will have a chance to visit the Toreadora Lagoon and after we will drive to Guayaquil, were you will enjoy a short city tour and overnight.

Day 9 Riobamba/Cuenca

Fly to the Galapagos Islands to join your cruise. There are dozens of ways you can experience the fabulous Galapagos Islands. Choose from 3- to 14-night itineraries on tourist, first class or deluxe vessels, or ask us about island hopping programs.

Day 10 Galapagos Islands

Daily activities with naturalist guides.
Sample itinerary: Disembark at Punta Pitt where you can observe frigates and a colony of sea lions. Strap on a snorkel and explore the marvellous underwater world of the Galapagos Islands. After lunch we’ll visit Cerro Brujos white expansive beach, a great place for a stroll and a chance to see sea lions and Galapagos shore birds.

Day 11 Galapagos Islands

Daily activities with naturalist guides.
Sample itinerary: At Punta Suarez we disembark for a hike along the lava terrain of Espanola Island and visit seabird colonies including boobies, the waved albatross, swallow-tail gulls and hopefully see marine iguanas. Later this afternoon we set down at Gardner Bay and enjoy some time for snorkelling, or ride the glass bottom boat.

Day 12 Galapagos Islands/Guayaquil

Sample itinerary: This morning we visit Charles Darwin Research Centre and witness the efforts of the rearing in captivity program for the giant tortoises. Afterwards transfer to the airport for your flight back to the mainland and transfer to your hotel.

Day 13 Guayaquil/Lima

Fly to Lima this morning. Afternoon half-day sightseeing tour of Lima’s historic centre, the seaside suburbs of Miraflores and San Isidro with a guided tour the Larco Museum.

Day 14 Lima

Free day to explore Lima. There are many options for you to choose from. There is no better place to blend into local life than with a visit to it’s local market followed by a cooking class & lunch, or visit Pachacamac Ruins, an impressive archaeological site in the outskirts of Lima, or bike tour of beautiful Barranco.

Day 15 Lima/Sacred Valley

Fly to Cuzco and transfer to the Sacred Valley of the Incas located at around 2700m above sea level and the best place to adjust to the high altitude of this region.

Day 16 Sacred Valley

Discover the best of the Sacred Valley of the Incas through this full day tour starting on the Inca’s Balcony, a beautiful place with an impressive view of Chinchero ruins and city, where twelve families still preserve their traditional mores, showing you the ancestral way in which they process the wool, and obtain those vivid colours for their textiles.
Afterwards, visit to Ollantaytambo, one of the most monumental architectural complexes of the ancient Inca Empire, one of the few places where the Spanish conquistadors lost a major battle. Very well known for its “andenes” (terraces dug into the slopes of mountains for agricultural purposes), Ollantaytambo was a highly effective fortress, that also served as a temple. Then, we will follow to the town of Ollantaytambo, with narrow cobblestone streets that have been continuously inhabited since the 13th century.

Day 17 Sacred Valley/Machu Picchu

Transfer to the train station in Ollantaytambo for your 90 minute Vistadome train ride to the deserted city of Machu Picchu, the most renowned example of Inca architecture. Today’s visit to magical Machu Picchu will undoubtedly be a highlight of your trip!
Enjoy a guided tour of the ruins & lunch at Sanctuary Lodge before taking a mini-bus back to Aguas Calientes where you will overnight.

Day 18 Machu Picchu/Cuzco

Return to Machu Picchu this morning to continue your unguided exploration of this extensive site. Consider a hike to Huayna Picchu for stunning views. Catch an afternoon train to Cuzco.

Day 19 Cuzco

Depart on a half day sightseeing tour of Cuzco. Visit the Cathedral and Koricancha Temple, before continuing to the Pre-Colombian Art Museum with its impressive collection of archaeological pieces. Finally we head out of the city to the surrounding ruins of Sacsayhuaman, Kenko, Puca-Pucara and Tambomachay. The Cuzco Tourist Ticket, which gives you access to sixteen sites in and around Cuzco, is included in today’s tour.

Day 20 Cuzco

Day at leisure to relax and explore. Optional Community Project day; visit an Andean village for a more indepth cultural encounter. Learn about their way of living and their everyday activities including a one-on-one weaving lesson. We encourage you to bring along a water filter donation which will change the life of a family.

Day 21 Cuzco/Puno

Depart by bus this morning on a full day tour across the altiplano to Puno, situated on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Entry fees to local sites along the way are included. This daily service from Cuzco to Puno steadily climbs up the Vilcanota Valley towards the head waters of the Urubamba River and the highest point of the trip, Abra La Raya at 4321 metres above sea level. From Abra La Raya, it is a gradual descent into the opening grassy plains towards Lake Titicaca and towards the Bolivian Altiplano and eventually to down to the lake’s edge where Puno is nestled.

Day 22 Puno

Depart this morning on a half day tour out to the famous Uros Islands. After short 20-minute trip out of Puno harbour, you arrive at the floating islands of Uros, where 300 Uros Indians live and fish on the man-made islands made entirely of totora reeds that grow in the lake. Enjoy the colourful traditional dress of the men and women and perhaps take a ride in s surprisingly stable totora canoe before returning to your hotel. Option to include the more remote and authentic Taquile Island.

Day 23 Puno/La Paz

Depart by bus skirting Lake Titicaca to Copacabana and visit the Cathedral and Main Square. Sail the Titicaca Lake on board of a catamaran to Sun Island, the legendary birth place of the Inca Empire (buffet lunch on board). Visit the Inca Garden , the Inti Wata Cultural Complex including the Ekako Underground Museum, the Pachamama agricultural Inca terraces, the Manco Kapac look out and much more. Continue overland across the altiplano to La Paz. Option to overnight on Sun Island.

Day 24 La Paz

Depart on a half-day city tour of La Paz with a visit to the Valley of the Moon and the Witches’ Market where you’ll learn about local traditions and customs. Free afternoon to explore this fascinating city on your own.

Day 25 La Paz/Uyuni

Fly to Uyuni. Upon arrival into Uyuni Airport, you will be picked up from the airport by your driver and guide for the spectacular Uyuni Salt Flats and Incahuasi Island. You will cross the expanse of the salt plains to reach Isla Incahuasi, an ‘island’ of volcanic rock and enormous cactus with stunning views over the surrounding salt plains. Continue north to see the pre-Columbian Aique Pucara fort and the nearby chullpares and then west to Tahua, a village in the foothills of Tunupa Volcano. Enjoy the sunset and stay overnight at the Salt Hotel.
Please note that during the wet season (November to March) the salt plains can be flooded, making it impossible for vehicles to reach Incahuasi. In this case, you will visit the train cemetery outside of Uyuni before continuing to Colchani to see how the locals extract salt by hand. You will travel as far onto the salt plains as possible – an incredible experience in the wet season as the entire salt flat is covered with water and perfectly reflects the sky. Please note that all itineraries in the Uyuni Salt Plains are subject to changes pending local conditions.

Day 26 Uyuni/Villamar

Morning trip crossing the salt flats heading south, leaving these magnificent white plains behind in Chuvica, to enter the highlands and small branches of the range. You will pass the remote villages of San Juan and San Agustín before reaching the high valley of Alota. From here you will continue south, across a barren landscape studded with great stone formations created by wind erosion, to finally reach Villamar.

Day 27 Villamar/San Pedro de Atacama

After breakfast, we cross the Siloli desert where you will be able to appreciate an interesting rock formation known as the Stone Tree. Along the way, you will be able to observe llamas, vicuñas and a species of rodent called vizcacha. Enter the National Reserve of Andean Fauna Eduardo Avaroa and visit Laguna Colorada (the Red Lagoon), populated by 3 species of flamingos. The lagoon gets its deep red colour from the fine sediment accumulation on the surface, as well as the pigmentation of a certain type of seaweed. Box lunch will be served en route. Your trip continues towards Sol de Mañana (Morning Sun), where you will see clouds of sulphuric gasses and geysers. Afterwards you will visit Laguna Verde (the Green Lagoon), whose waters are emerald green, especially when the wind is blowing in a certain direction. Its colour is due to the high magnesium content in the water. Near the lagoon is Licancabur Volcano, towering 5,916m above sea level. Continue the journey towards Hito Cajon (border between Chile and Bolivia) and to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama. Reward yourself with a stay in one of Atacama’s luxury all-inclusive lodges.

Day 28 San Pedro de Atacama

Free day. Suggested excursions:
– El Tatio Geysers: a geothermal field sitting at 4,321 metres above sea level. Beginning at dawn, you will explore the Geysers, which consist of large pools of boiling water and mud, fumaroles, and natural hot springs. This is also a good chance to appreciate the unique flora and fauna adapted to flourish in this extreme environment. On return, you will stop at Machuca, a traditional village previously used by local shepherds.
– Wetlands & Pecan Monks: The Wetlands tour offers the chance to delve deep into the Andean landscape, observing a variety of wildlife. The first stop is the wetland park of Quepiaco, an important protected area in the region, and a great place to spot native bird species. Next it is the Salar de Pujsa, the largest reserve of its kind and the migration point for nesting flamingos to lay their eggs. Finally, guests visit the immense rock formations known as the ‘Pecan monks’, noted for their sheer size
and sudden emergence from the Desert floor.

Day 29 San Pedro de Atacama/Salta

A full day bus ride across wild and remote Andean landscapes will take you to Salta, one of Argentina’s most beautiful cities with some of the best preserved colonial architecture in the country.

Day 30 Salta

Day at leisure to relax and explore. We suggest to visit the excellent Museum of High Mountain Archaeology and see the brilliantly preserved remains of child sacrifices found over 6000m in the Andean Range.

Day 31 Salta

Today’s tour will take you to one of Argentina’s picturesque wine regions. We’ll head south passing through the Quebrada de Cafayate, with its beautiful colours and rock formations, to arrive in Cafayate, a lovely town right in the heart of the Calchaquies Valley.
Cafayate is surrounded by vineyards and rivers and is home to many impressive colonial buildings. You’ll see traditionally dressed gauchos (Argentine cowboys) riding through town on horseback and many old-style stores selling locally made cheeses, preserves and cured meats. Return to Salta. Why not add a night in a beautiful wine lodge?

Day 32 Salta/Puerto Iguazu

Morning at leisure. Fly to Puerto Iguazu this afternoon and transfer to your hotel.

Day 33 Puerto Iguazu

After breakfast we depart on a full day tour of the Argentina side of the Iguazú Falls. From the Visitor’s Centre we take a train on a 15-minute journey up to the ‘Cataratas Station’. We walk along the Upper and Lower trails of the Iguazú National Park to get a closer look of the 275 falls and of the amazing variety of ferns, orchids, begonias, birds and butterflies. Continue by train to ‘Garganta Station’ and from there you will descend 1200 meters to the Devil’s Throat balcony, to share one of the greatest shows on earth. Return by train to the Visitor’s Centre & transfer back to your hotel. Option to add Speedboat to the falls & 4WD truck ride in the jungle

Day 34 Puerto Iguazu/Buenos Aires

Fly to cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. and transfer to your hotel.
Option to include a visit to the Brazilian side of the falls this morning, for the best panoramic view of the magnificent falls. Or travel overland from Iguazu to the Ibera Wetlands for a chance to see jaguar, giant anteater and more!

Day 35 Buenos Aires

Depart on a half day tour of Buenos Aires, known as the “Paris of the Americas” with its strong European influence. A city of grand architecture, beautiful parks, wide avenues and wonderful walks. The tour takes in the most important monuments and sights of the city, including Plaza 25 de Mayo, the Government House (La Casa Rosa) and City Hall, the old neighbourhood of San Telmo, the eclectic neighbourhood of La Boca and the portside district of Puerto Madero. The tour finishes in Recoleta, home to the famous Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried.
This evening, learn the basic steps of tango before your dinner and tango show.

Day 36 Buenos Aires

Free day. Consider an Estancia visit in Areco, famous for the conservation of Creole customs and home to the Guiraldes Museum, or a day trip to charming and historic Colonia del Sacramento (Uruguay).

Day 37 Buenos Aires

Transfer to the airport for your flight back home.

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