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Our ultimate journey to Latin America

Our ultimate journey to Latin America:
Trip Dossier

For senior sales consultant Sophie Barber, it’s the mixture of exotic wildlife and natural landscapes combined with living culture and historic heritage which continue to draw her back to Latin America. To celebrate our 40th anniversary, she has devised an awe-inspiring 40-day holiday celebrating her favourite places and experiences. We are delighted to share it with you, and invite you to include some of her suggestions in your own holiday – or book the whole thing as it is, if you dare!

It isn’t, of course, fully comprehensive – there are a multitude of other places and activities which she could happily have included had there been time. But in this personal choice she has highlighted the most stupendous cities, a few of the best wildlife spotting destinations, some of the most dramatic natural scenery and staggering human achievements. She’s referred to her huge bank of knowledge to suggest innovative and sometimes quirky ways to enhance your experiences. 

With judicious timing, you’ll catch colourful indigenous markets and historic religious festivals.  After all the excitement of exploration, relaxing on a sunlit beach is the perfect way to end the holiday.

Short itinerary

Holiday itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Rio de Janeiro.

Day 2

Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountain.

Day 3

At leisure in Rio

Day 4

Explorations from the lodge.

Day 5

Explorations from the lodge.

Day 6

Optional activities from the lodge.

Day 7

By road to Cuiabá, overnight.

Day 8

Fly south to Iguazú Falls.

Day 9

Take to the Iguazú river in a boat.

Day 10

Fly to Buenos Aires.

Day 11

Visit the underground tunnels in San Telmo.

Day 12

Fly to El Calafate in Patagonia.

Day 13

Excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier.

Day 14

On to Chilean Patagonia – Torres del Paine.

Days 15-16

Exploring the national park.

Day 17

Fly to Santiago.

Day 18

Fly north to the Atacama desert.

Day 19

Guided excursion to Tocanao and the salt flats.

Day 20

On through the salt flats to Bolivia.

Day 21

Discovering the Uyuni salt flats.

Day 22

Fly to Cusco in Peru.

Day 23

Guided tour of the city, its environs and San Pedro market.

Day 24

By road into the Sacred valley of the Incas.

Day 25

Explore the Sacred Valley and Pisac ruins.

Day 26

Visit Machu Picchu by train.

Day 27

Return to Cusco on the Hiram Bingham luxury train.

Day 28

By rail to Lake Titicaca.

Day 29

From your hotel, explore the lake's shores and hinterland.

Day 30

Fly to Lima, Peruvian capital.

Day 31

Fly north to Mexico City.

Day 32

Visit the ruined temples of Teotihuacán.

Day 33

Day at leisure in Mexico City.

Day 34

Fly to Oaxaca in the mountainous interior.

Day 35

Day of the Dead – or explore at leisure.

Day 36

Cooking class in Oaxaca.

Days 37-39

Fly to Huatulco on the Pacific coast.

Day 40

Fly to Mexico City and connect with your homeward international flight.

Detailed itinerary

Day 1

Arrive in Rio de Janeiro.
 
Rio de Janeiro

What better way to start your dream holiday than in Latin America’s most beguiling city, Rio de Janeiro? You’ll be whisked from the airport to be welcomed at your first class hotel right next to the famous yawning sands of Copacabana beach - and your adventure begins.

Rio, with its world renowned mountain-flanked setting on the shores of Guanabara Bay, encapsulates the contrasts to be found all over the Latin American continent.  Over-the-top luxury apartments sit almost side by side with a jumble of humbler homes, while tunnel-linked neighbourhoods are crammed with family shops and sophisticated boutiques, simple pavement cafés and sleek piano bars, fast food joints and chic fusion restaurants.     

This is an outdoor city. What better way to feel the pulse of the city than by stepping out onto the palm-flecked beachside promenade to join the sporty Cariocas (Rio residents) as they stroll along, chatting away and pausing at a kiosk to sip a coconut water straight from the fruit. You may be serenaded by an impromptu live musical performance as you stop to admire an intricate piece of sand art or buy a colourful beach throw from the pavement displays. Later, round off the evening with a refreshing caipirinha cocktail as the sun sets beyond the skyline.     

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Rio de Janeiro

Day 2

Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountain.
 
sugar loaf

You won’t want to miss the opportunity to ride the cable car up Sugar Loaf mountain. But you’ll be surprised by the troop of chattering monkeys which lives in the woodland on the peak!  Your feet will hardly have touched the ground again before you are boarding the cog railway to ride up the steep jungle-clad slopes of Corcovado mountain, smothered in jackfruit and tropical flowers. At the top you’ll climb the last few steps to the feet of the statue of Christ the Redeemer, from where the impact of the stupendous city-wide views cannot be exaggerated. Look out for the distinctive doughnut of the Maracanã football stadium, the horse racing track, and the waters of the beautiful inland lagoon just behind Ipanema beach. Return to your hotel via Tijuca Forest, the largest urban park in the world, an oasis of tropical foliage cut trough by waterfalls. 

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sugar loaf

Day 3

At leisure in Rio
 
Rio de Janeiro

After the excitement of yesterday you might just want to relax on the beach or beside the rooftop infinity pool of your hotel. But there are loads of other things you might do, either booking an optional guided activity or exploring independently. You might head downtown to arty Santa Teresa, Rio's colonial heart, or the refurbished port area, a futuristic space where the interactive Museum of Tomorrow is the standout feature, and where former warehouses have been decorated with vivid street art depicting the ethnic diversity of Brazil. Alternatively, explore the exuberant Botanical Gardens, or, if that’s a bit too sedate for you, take a cycle tour or book a hang-gliding or helicopter experience for a bird’s eye perspective over the city.

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Rio de Janeiro

Day 4

Explorations from the lodge.
 
hyacinth macaw on pantanal swamp

What a contrast!  From the teeming city of Rio you’ll fly into the peaceful, remote interior of Brazil’s heartland, to spend a couple of days in the Pantanal wetlands. This vast (the size of France) and seasonally-flooded area of swampy grasslands and lagoons bustles with wildlife all year round and is a paradise for nature lovers. Unlike the areas of high jungle, the Pantanal is an open area of swampy grasslands, leaving some of the highest concentration of fauna in the continent exposed to view; thriving happily alongside the cattle of the huge ranches which cover the region. There is nowhere else on the continent where you can feast your eyes on so much wildlife in one place.  

Travel by road to your wildlife lodge and set off on a night-time canoe trip to spot the glinting red eyes of the watchful caiman. 

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hyacinth macaw on pantanal swamp

Day 5

Explorations from the lodge.
 
river otters

Put on your expedition hat for a full-day safari discovering the area around the lodge, which is set on the banks of a lake populated by giant river otters. Your experience will be dictated by how you prefer to explore - on horse-back, by canoe, or on foot. Sun-seeking alligators stretch out on the river beaches while gangs of the ubiquitous capyvara - giant rodent - stroll lazily across the road. Giant storks and rosy spoonbills wade through the standing water while agitated parakeets and clouds of snowy ibis take to the sky. You could visit a farm on the banks of a shimmering lake for sunset, when birds congregate for evening feeding with a raucous cacophony of sound.

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river otters

Day 6

Optional activities from the lodge.
 
Pantanal cattle

How does the sparse rural population of the Pantanal live?  On your free day, you may elect to find out with a guided visit to the riverside village Cuiabá-Mirim, where you’ll visit a wooden family house and learn about the traditions of the pantaneiros.  Alternatively, you might opt to go fishing for piranhas, or go on a photography safari.  The wildlife is so varied that later you may spot a lumbering anteater munching his tea, while squawking macaws flutter overhead.

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Pantanal cattle

Day 7

By road to Cuiabá, overnight.
 
Jabiru

Head back down the lonely Pantanal road for three hours to Cuiabá, where you will spend the night owing to an early flight departure time the following day.  Founded in 1719 during the gold rush, prosperous Cuiabá is now one of Brazil's fastest-growing cities thanks to booming cattle ranching and agricultural industries.

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Jabiru

Day 8

Fly south to Iguazú Falls.
 
Iguazu falls

It’s just one top experience after another! From the unique wildlife extravaganza in the Pantanal you move on to view the most spectacular waterfalls in the world, almost universally agreed to surpass both Victoria and Niagara in size and drama. A grand total of 275 falls thunder over a high, rust-coloured cliff decorated by dense tropical forest. The Iguazú river flows decorously through the rainforest, dispersing into dozens of smaller cascades. You will probably spot toucans and many other exotic birds perched in the foliage above the agitated waters.

On your way to your hotel across the border in Argentina, you’ll stop off to admire the panoramic vistas from the Brazilian side, where the cataracts seem to consist of one continuous, never ending curtain of rushing water. But it’s even better than that: you’ll board a helicopter for a short flight over the whole length and breadth of the falls, when you’ll really get to appreciate the immense magnitude of this remarkable natural phenomenon.

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Iguazu falls

Day 9

Take to the Iguazú river in a boat.
 
Iguassu Falls

Happily, your hotel is the only accommodation inside the national park, just a short stroll from the falls themselves. If you get up early and enter the park when it opens, you can walk along a rustic path to the walkway which leads to the U-shaped Devil’s Throat: here, the frothing water crashes mercilessly over a 1.5km-wide precipice and columns of vapour are thrown skyward. From the lookout point on the edge you can peer right down into the fathomless vortex. If you go a bit later you can take a little train to get to the walkway, but you certainly won’t be alone there if you do.

In the afternoon, there’s an exhilarating boat ride taking you up to the base of the falls, dwarfed by the monumental size of the cataracts - so close that you are bound to get soaking wet: but what an experience - you won’t forget it in a hurry.

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Iguassu Falls

Day 10

Fly to Buenos Aires.
 
Buenos Aires

Continue your journey south with a 2hr flight to the capital, Buenos Aires, a city which rivals Rio for its grandeur and variety.  Here you’ll have a real treat: a two night stay in one of the capitals’ most exclusive hotels, the Four Seasons.  This is an ultra-luxurious property, pool befitting the graceful belle époque and Italianate architecture surrounding it, with a spa and outdoor pool where you will be right-royally pampered.

Wander around the chic neighbourhood, Recoleta, maybe popping into the Ateneo Grande, a former theatre and now one of the most ornate bookshops in the world, voted the most beautiful bookshop by National Geographic in 2019. In the evening, you will bypass the regular touristy tango shows to dine out local-style, tasting authentic Argentine dishes in a variety of settings and then experience the excitement of an authentic milonga or peña. These can be wonderfully atmospheric venues, especially late at night when they tend to get busy with dancing into the early hours.

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Buenos Aires

Day 11

Visit the underground tunnels in San Telmo.
 
San telmo

In a city where so much is on a huge scale, the neighbourhood of San Telmo has a reassuringly bohemian, villagey feel. Two storey colonial houses with intricate wrought iron balconies line streets stuffed with flea markets, and house antique shops, steak houses, art galleries and late night tango bars.  Visit the oldest neighbourhood of Buenos Aires’ mysterious vaulted underground tunnels, some built as drainage, others as refuges for the sometime persecuted Jesuit community. Also within the Jesuit quarter, your guided walking tour includes the Metropolitan cathedral.

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San telmo

Day 12

Fly to El Calafate in Patagonia.
 
EL Calafate

Now you are heading off into a true wilderness: Patagonia, the land of translucent glaciers, chilly berg-bound rivers, ice-ravaged spiked mountains and wind-buffeted steppes.  You’ll explore the remote landscapes in both Argentina and Chile; the sweeping scenery knows no frontiers.

Here your hotel is  a modern take on Patagonian wooden style,  close to the centre of this agreeable little lakeside town catering to tourists to the region. Spend the afternoon however at a traditional working sheep ranch, Nibepo Aike, where cattle and sheep roam. It’s abuzz with an unalloyed sense of everyday Patagonian life. Depending on the time of year, you might observe sheep being sheared, or watch gauchos herd cattle.

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EL Calafate

Day 13

Excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier.
 
Perito Moreno

Today's adventure reveals Perito Moreno Glacier from an alternative perspective. Although most visitors arrive at the glacier by road, on this full-day trip you will approach by boat from the south. You'll have time to appreciate the glacier away from the crowds from a natural vantage point which faces its southern wall, whilst not missing out on the chance to visit to the extensive panoramic boardwalks.

Board a small covered boat on the milky, glacial waters of Lago Roca and sail across to a beach where you disembark. Stroll through native Patagonian forest to a lookout point facing the south side of Perito Moreno Glacier, which is a breathtaking 5km wide and stands 60m above the surface of the lake. Then it’s back on the boat, and you continue to trace the glacier's southern flanks, with a chance to sip whisky cooled by glacial ice before disembarking once more to visit the glacier's famous boardwalks. Of course the boat trip is weather dependent, but there will always be a way to observe this monumental star of nature. Drive back to El Calafate, and you can celebrate the day in the evening with a few beers at La Zorra, a local Argentine tap room.

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Perito Moreno

Day 14

On to Chilean Patagonia – Torres del Paine.
 
Torres del Paine

The Patagonian experience only gets better as you cross by road the frontier with Chile, heading for Torres del Paine National Park. There, a granite massif of smooth rock towers and icy pinnacles dominate the landscape in what is one of South America's greatest national parks. Milky blue and gem-sharp emerald lakes, sinuous rivers, glaciers and wind-scoured steppes have created a remarkable and unique environment.

Wild and rugged it is, but it is home to scores of bird families  including pink flamingos, condors, eagles and ñandus (ostriches) while 25 species of mammal including guanacos, armadillos, silver foxes and pumas thrive there. You are bound to spot some of them.

Your base for three days is Tierra’s wonderful designer hotel set on a bluff with staggering views over the mountains.

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Torres del Paine

Days 15-16

Exploring the national park.
 

The property has a comprehensive programme of outdoor activities offering you various options a day, either on foot, by van, horseback and launch. If you are up for a challenging but extremely rewarding walk, you could head out on a guided trek to the base of the monumental, vertical-side towers, right in the heart of the massif.  Other suggestions include a horse-ride across the grassy plains, or even a cycling adventure along its gravelly trails.  However you choose to explore, you will welcome the comforts of the accommodation when you return: luxuriate in the spa with a facial or massage; soak in the steaming open-air Jacuzzi; enjoy a glass of wine in the bar.

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Day 17

Fly to Santiago.
 
Santiago

Big changes today: you’ll fly to the cosmopolitan capital, Santiago, a huge metropolis where the old blends with the new in a Mediterranean-like landscape at the foot of a snowy chain of Andean peaks.  You have just a night there, but we have a suggestion for dinner: savour a gourmet meal at Boca Nariz restaurant in the trendy Lastarria district. It’s a celebrated wine bar, and the food and wine pairings are exquisite. Ask us to make you a reservation.

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Santiago

Day 18

Fly north to the Atacama desert.
 
san pedro de atacama

You’re headed for the northern end of this long, skinny country now, the Atacama desert, one of the driest in the world. But far from featureless desert the north-eastern corner of the Atacama is a dramatic, high-altitude landscape of shimmering white salt flats and crystal lagoons home to pink flamingos. Centuries-old adobe villages are framed by snow-tipped volcanoes and geysers hissing with life. Cacti stride off to the distant horizon while oases splash the tawny landscape with vigorous vegetation.

Your low-key hotel is in the little town of San Pedro de Atacama, set on an oasis at 2,450m above sea level. San Pedro was established by the indigenous pre-Columbian Atacameñan culture and was later a significant colonial town - with a Jesuit mission - under Spanish rule. It became a trading and mining centre before morphing into a base for visitors:  it has maintained its laid-back, low-rise adobe-style character however and is a really pleasant place to spend a couple of days.

In the late afternoon we suggest you head to the nearby other-worldly Moon Valley, where you might sand-board down the dunes before pausing to watch a vivid apricot sunset.

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san pedro de atacama

Day 19

Guided excursion to Tocanao and the salt flats.
 
Flamingo

Before setting off on your tour you might sign up for a hot-air balloon ride over the wind-sculpted desert landscape - an unforgettable way to appreciate the scale and remoteness of the region.

On your guided adventure, head south by road, passing the outstanding Lincancabur volcano and cutting across a corner of the Salar de Atacama before reaching the village of Toconao, typical of the small oasis settlements of the area. Figs and quinces and a handsome whitewashed bell tower help give the village its own distinctive character. Continue south, entering the Atacama salt flats a national reserve and natural habitat for three of the world's five species of flamingo, some of which you can spot at shimmering Laguna Chaxa.

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Flamingo

Day 20

On through the salt flats to Bolivia.
 
Uyuni Salt Flat

The bleak plains of the southern altiplano make for an austere, uncompromising wilderness, scoured by bitter gales, where cut-glass lakes and un-trodden, luminous salt pans - the Salar de Uyuni, 3,656m - reflect the vast dome of an icy sky. You’ll survey desolate, denuded peaks, eerie blood-red canyons, contorted rock faces, sunlit lagoons of gem-stone clarity and a white sea of salt bending the horizon. Snow-tipped volcanic cones and steaming geysers serve to remind you of the turbulent geology which created this challenging landscape.

For two unforgettable nights, you’ll be based at a hotel constructed almost entirely from locally-mined salt. It’s a truly magical place, sparkling silvery white walls and even furniture, warmed by Bolivian textiles.

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Uyuni Salt Flat

Day 21

Discovering the Uyuni salt flats.
 
salt flats uyuni

Spend the whole day exploring (by 4WD) the great salt flat of Uyuni, the settlements around its fringes, ancient caves, the 'islands' which protrude from its solid white millpond surface, and subsistence salt-packing industries supporting a handful of hardy families – you’ll spot white fields of tiny salt pyramids.  Climb on foot to a macabre cave of mummies.

There are tracks, of a sort, across the thick ice-like crust of salt which stretches to the horizon - which has precipitated into irregular hexagonal patterns. If the timing is right, the short drive to your hotel could coincide with the setting of the sun.

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salt flats uyuni

Day 22

Fly to Cusco in Peru.
 
Cusco

Another big change of scene, as your plane lands in Cusco, the former capital of the Inca Empire, central to the operation of the Spanish colonial power which followed it and now a UNESCO World heritage site - top of the list of the country's must-see cities. An extraordinary mélange of rich cultural vestiges, from geometrically perfect Inca stone-masonry to the baroque churches of the Hispanic era, its stately colonnaded squares, mansions, museums and religious sites line narrow lanes which radiate an atmosphere of rich history and undiluted tradition.

Modern-day Cusco is dynamic and exciting too - there is a raft of gourmet restaurants serving fusion cuisine and funky pisco cocktail bars, while traditional live music and theatre blossom here.

Pop into the glamorous Hotel Monasterio for afternoon tea or a pisco sour overlooking what is probably the most beautiful cloistered garden in the city. To keep you in the colonial vibe, we’ve booked you into La Casona, one of the most beguiling luxury boutique properties in the country.

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Cusco

Day 23

Guided tour of the city, its environs and San Pedro market.
 
San Pedro market Cusco

You have a full day here – and half of it will be absorbed by a comprehensive guided exploration of the city centre, introducing you to the city's Inca heritage, masterpieces of the Spanish colonial era and aspects of the everyday life of the modern day inhabitants. First, you head up to the lip of the basin in which Cusco nestles to explore the vast temple fortress Sacsayhuaman, where colossal stone walls glower over the city.

Back down in Cusco, enter the covered market at San Pedro, the city's largest and most varied where you will find mountains of juicy fresh fruit and vegetables, creating a kaleidoscope of colour alongside vivid traditional weavings. Continue to Santo Domingo, a stately colonial church which sits on the site of the Koricancha, the best known of Peru’s sacred Inca temples. Equally impressive is the giant Spanish colonial cathedral on the main square, the well-tailored Plaza de Armas.

If you dare, pop back to the market for lunch – the local delicacy, guinea pig, roasted on a spit.

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San Pedro market Cusco

Day 24

By road into the Sacred valley of the Incas.
 
sacred valley

The Sacred Valley, less than an hour way from Cusco by scenic road, is a broad, fertile plain where the mature river Urubamba s bordered by fields bulging with vegetables, fruit and cereals. This was the breadbasket of the Incas, and as such attracted the building of many temples, administrative centres and barracks; at the peak of the empire it was home to tens of thousands of inhabitants. Nowadays the oft well preserved, abandoned ruins share the beautiful rural landscape with modest Spanish colonial settlements and upmarket hotels. You are based at one of these, the enchanting, community-friendly Sol y Luna.

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sacred valley

Day 25

Explore the Sacred Valley and Pisac ruins.
 
Pisac

Your excursion today visits picturesque Pisac, a colonial town hosting a colourful Indian market. Above it lie the spectacular ruins and terraces carved into the hillside. It contains a large complex of temples, observatories and grain stores linked by paths. After lunch, your tour proceeds along the valley to Ollantaytambo. Rising above the community below, the walled terraces and fortress of this Inca sanctuary provide some of the finest examples of Inca architecture. The colonial village was built on top of an existing Inca settlement and the original Inca town blocks can still be seen.

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Pisac

Day 26

Visit Machu Picchu by train.
 
machu picchu

Today is surely one of the highlights of the trip.  You get to discover Machu Picchu, Peru’s greatest icon. No roads can reach the site, set on a mountain saddle rising above a narrow gorge which passes through some of Peru's most exquisite and dramatic scenery. You travel there by rail - from the fertile valley floor studded with fields bulging with cereals, fruit and vegetables, rimmed by rugged brooding mountains, the track enters an ever-narrowing gorge: the river froths over water-smoothed boulders and vertical cliffs, increasingly draped in dripping tropical vegetation, tower skywards.

Pick up the train in Ollantaytambo. You can appreciate the scale of the ever-changing scenery, with large windows alongside your padded leather seat. There are windows in the roof, so you can gaze up to the rim of the canyon. A gourmet meal is served en route.

Upon arrival below the ruins, transfer to a bus up the zig-zagged road to the site. Machu Picchu, the breathtaking Lost City of the Incas, sits astride terraced slopes falling away to the fast-flowing river, which crashes around a hairpin bend far below the citadel. Historically a remote, secret place, it was never discovered by the Spanish conquistadors nor disturbed by looters since its abandonment by the Incas. Your guide will take you around the ruins: staircases, terraces, temples, palaces, towers, fountains and the famous sundial.

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machu picchu

Day 27

Return to Cusco on the Hiram Bingham luxury train.
 
Luxury Belmond Hiram Bingham Train Experience

If you wish you can revisit the ruins in the morning and explore further afield – maybe climb Machu Picchu or Huayna Picchu mountains. Return to Cusco on the Hiram Bingham train. You may be sorry to leave, but the return journey is a real treat. Take your seat on the luxury service.  The train, two of the coaches of which are dining carriages offering a supreme gastronomic experience, is sumptuously kitted out and harks back to the golden age of rail travel. The last part of your journey back to Cusco and your hotel is by road.

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Luxury Belmond Hiram Bingham Train Experience

Day 28

By rail to Lake Titicaca.
 
lake titicaca

Next day you are back on a train, for the ultimate picturesque journey to Lake Titicaca, south of Cusco on the high altitude altiplano. It’s is a spectacular 10hr trip which climbs to over the watershed at  4,300m and takes you through the remote highland plains, a landscape of adobe huts, llamas and flocks of sheep fleetingly flanked by snow capped mountains. It is not just a way to get from A to B however: the train itself offers a unique and luxurious experience. There is a dining car where a gourmet lunch is served, a separate observation car where you can enjoy the views and a luggage car.

Lake Titicaca, the world's highest navigable lake is also the most sacred in the Andes. It’s a body of deep sapphire water lapping shores of fertile soil where cereals and vegetables are cultivated by indigenous communities.  The birdlife is abundant and varied, bird-watching can be extremely rewarding here. Your accommodation, Titilaka, is in a peaceful lakeside location a few kilometres from the lively port Puno, where there are some magnificent Spanish colonial buildings.

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lake titicaca

Day 29

From your hotel, explore the lake's shores and hinterland.
 
Titilaka

The experiences and activities in which you are invited to participate from Titilaka are broad in range and inspiration and reflect the hotel's desire to give you a profound understanding of the lake and its natural and cultural life. Instead of just looking at the bucolic comings and goings of the people of the surprisingly well populated lake shores, you will be able to interact with them. Guided excursions you can sign up to include visits to local villages, churches, indian archaeological sites, birdwatching and sailing on the lake as well as more active outings by 4WD, cycle or kayak.

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Titilaka

Day 30

Fly to Lima, Peruvian capital.
 
Lima

Fly to Lima, set on the coastal desert strip between the Pacific and the Andes. Colonial Spain's City of Kings is now a modern, bustling metropolis of eight million people, and growing. The colonial centre, which is gradually being renovated, has many historic churches and buildings famed for their traditional intricate balconies. There are also several excellent museums. In recent years a number of world-class restaurants have opened, and the city is fast becoming the gastronomic capital of the western hemisphere. Your first class hotel overlooks the Pacific Ocean. 

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Lima

Day 31

Fly north to Mexico City.
 
Mexico City

Leaving South America behind and leap-frogging Central America (do think about coming back to explore this wonderful region another time!), you’ll take a flight to Mexico City, mirroring Lima as one of the continent’s largest, most important megapolises. The city was built on the site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire, is vast, chaotic and vibrant, a sprawling megalopolis of more than 20 million people with a multitude of attractions. Unsurprisingly given its size the capital is composed of a number of contrasting neighbourhoods. The focal point is the vast, ever-lively Zócalo, the main square with its huge cathedral - the largest in Latin America. 

On your fun excursion by foldable bike you will ride through Polanco - where your hotel is located - and the Roma/Condesa area, the heart of the chic, hipster neighbourhoods. You will ride past parks, art deco buildings, markets and tortillerias to find the most delicious tacos in hole-in-the-wall taquerias, street stands and traditional cantinas. You will sample food from all over Mexico from the Caribbean Sea to the sun-bleached mountain and green valleys of the interior. The guided tour ends with a glug of Mezcal or a beer (over 18s only!).

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Mexico City

Day 32

Visit the ruined temples of Teotihuacán.
 
Hot-air balloon over teitihuacan

Teotihuacán is home to one of the largest and most remarkable relics of bygone civilisation in the world. What better way to see the vast ruined city than from the air –elevated by a hot air balloon! You will glide over the huge palaces, pyramids and ball courts and see the ruins from a unique perspective. The scale is incredible: no one knows much about the founders, or why they abandoned it, but the Aztecs took over and it thrived in the 7th century.  

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Hot-air balloon over teitihuacan

Day 33

Day at leisure in Mexico City.
 
mexico city

There’s so much to choose from in Mexico City. Beyond the grandiose architecture of the historic core, you'll find smaller-scale colonial quarters such as tree-lined, cobbled Coyoacán with its al fresco eateries, galleries and museums - notably that of renowned Mexican artist Frieda Kahlo. In fact the city has art at its heart, and the influence of muralist Diego Rivera is to be found in many spots.

For a contrast you can visit (by traditional raft) the rustic canals and peaceful  kitchen gardens of the city's larder at Xochimilco, or the vast leisure area that is Chapultepec Park, featuring the world-famous Museum of Anthropology with exhibitions of pre-Conquest Mexican culture, shady walks and a boating lake.  

In the evening we whisk you off to a free-wrestling (Lucho libre) show, a sport that was once an event solely for the working classes. It now has wider appeal and has gained a retro status amongst a new generation of fight fans.  Lycra clad, mask wearing wrestlers show off their acrobatic skills using every inch of the ring to pin, hold or throw their opponents.  You cannot help but get involved as the crowd cheers the heroes and boos the villains.

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mexico city

Day 34

Fly to Oaxaca in the mountainous interior.
 
Oaxaca

Leave the capital by air and travel southeast towards the southern highlands and the city of Oaxaca, set among arid mountains. The population in this area is still mostly of Zapotec and Mixtec descent, although the town has many examples of well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture, some fine museums and a thriving artistic community, as well as a wonderful climate. The peace and quiet of the cobbled streets is a welcome contrast to the busy capital.

The Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) on November 1 is enthusiastically celebrated here. The festivities involve involves a traditional ritual, both vivacious and contemplative, during which Mexicans pray for and remember friends or family members who have passed away and assist them on their spiritual journey.

If you have landed in Oaxaca on October 31 join in the festivities of the Day of the Dead, you will be driven to one of the oldest towns in the Valley of Oaxaca, Xoxocotlan to visit the tombs of both the old and modern cemeteries of San Miguel, where you will watch celebrations with flowers and candles brought by villagers.

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Oaxaca

Day 35

Day of the Dead – or explore at leisure.
 
Day of the dead

If you are here on November 1,  head north to the village of Soledad Etla to view or even take part in the magnificent Comparsa Parade. Walk with the jubilant procession alongside 3m tall stilt walkers dressed as spirits, marching bands playing loud banda music and local people dressed in elaborate costumes. You’ll pass rows of vendors where you can stop to buy food, mezcal, flowers, coffee and hand-made crafts.

But Oaxaca is a delightful place to visit at any time of the year.  Discover at your leisure the colonial highlights. You can get around easily on foot with the main square (zócalo), and the boulevard of Calle Alcalá being free from traffic. You might visit the city's government palace, cathedral and Santo Domingo church, as well as its colourful food market. Oaxaca is a centre for Mexican art; there are also opportunities to buy gifts in some of its art and craft shops.

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Day of the dead

Day 36

Cooking class in Oaxaca.
 
Oaxaca cuisine

Oaxacan cuisine is famous for its complexity and rich variety of ingredients and flavours. In your unique and friendly cookery class, you will learn how to prepare traditional Oaxacan dishes from a local cookery teacher using recipes passed down through the generations. First, you will be escorted to visit the local market to buy and sample the ingredients; fruits, vegetables and regional herbs and spices. After a short talk on Oaxacan cuisine, you'll head into the kitchen to prepare and then enjoy eating a delicious four course meal.

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Oaxaca cuisine

Days 37-39

Fly to Huatulco on the Pacific coast.
 
Huatulco Bay Pacific coast Mexico

Huatulco, once a small, unassuming coastal village has embraced ambitious tourism projects but is definitely more low-key and laid-back than Cancún on the Caribbean resort. Its location is certainly impressive, set around nine stunning bays and surrounded by lush jungly forest fed by a multitude of streams. The resort is especially popular with sun-worshipping Mexican holidaymakers, but you don't have to just laze on the beach:  active adventures such as watersports, golf, rafting and horse-riding are on offer. There are some good eating and nightlife options too.

Your Moorish-style beachfront hotel is a great choice for both relaxation and outdoor activities. You have two full days to lay back and contemplate your amazing adventure – and plan the next one!

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Huatulco Bay Pacific coast Mexico

Day 40

Fly to Mexico City and connect with your homeward international flight.
 

Essential information

Transport

11 flights, most approximately 1-2 hours long, 7 road journeys, 3 rail journeys (longest 10 hours).

Accommodation

This is a once-in-a-lifetime holiday so we want you spend your nights in accommodation which is really special, and a part of the magical experience. So Sophie has chosen top quality upper mid-range or first class properties, often with innovative features and a good range of facilities, always service orientated, whether hotel,, lodge or countryside hacienda.  

Meals

Breakfast daily, lunch on most full day excursions, all meals at hotels/lodges/on excursions in the Pantanal, Torres del Paine, Uyuni salt flats, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu. 

Included excursions

• Rio de Janeiro: Sugar Loaf Mountain.
• Rio de Janeiro: Corcovado Mountain.
• Iguazú Falls: Brazilian and Argentina sides with helicopter ride and boat tour 
• Pantanal: excursions from the lodge. 
• Buenos Aires: night excursion with milonga show 
• Buenos Aires: walking city tour 
• El Calafate Patagonia: Excursion to Estancia Nibepo Aike 
• El Calafate Patagonia: Boat trip to the glaciers 
• Torres del Paine Patagonia: choice of activities at the lodge 
• Atacama desert: Tocanao village and Atacama salt flats. 
• Uyuni salt flats: excursions en route 
• Cusco: city tour and San Pedro market 
• Sacred Valley: tour of valley with Pisac and Ollantaytambo Inca sites 
• Machu Picchu: guided tour
• Lake Titicaca: choice of activities from the lodge 
• Mexico City: cycle, tacos and beer tour 
• Mexico City: lucho libre wrestling match 
• Oaxaca:  Night time excursion (on 31 October only) for Day of the Dead 
• Oaxaca:  Day of the Dead (Nov 1 only) Night time excursion  
• Oaxaca:  Cookery class  
• Huatulco:  some activities at the hotel 

Summary of nights

40 days, 39 nights: Rio 3 nights; Pantanal 4; Iguazú 2; Buenos Aires 2; El Calafate 2; Torres del Paine 3; Santiago 1; Atacama desert 2; Uyuni salt flats 2; Cusco 2; Sacred Valley 2; Machu Picchu 1; Cusco 1; Lake Titicaca 2; Lima 1; Mexico City 3; Oaxaca 3; Huatulco 3. 

Included in the journey price

• Services of Journey Latin America local partners
• All land and domestic air transport
• Accommodation as specified
• Meals as specified
• Excursions as specified

Not included in the journey price

• Tips and gratuities
• Meals other than specified
• Optional excursions

Tipping

Tips are normally welcomed. Local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income.

Most service industry workers will expect a gratuity so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common practice to leave 10 - 12% in restaurants.

See the Journey Latin America briefing dossier for further details.

Insurance

Travel insurance is essential. Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page.

Climate

 In the southern hemisphere the seasons are the reverse of our own.

December- March are the hottest months in Brazil, and at Iguazú, but also the most humid. Rain is possible at any time.

Buenos Aires is at its hottest Jan-Mar (very humid with tropical showers, occasionally over 40C during the day). It can be cold and cloudy Jul-Aug,  

In Santiago October and November and March and April see temperatures of 15-25°C and a good deal of sunshine. January and February are hot, around 30°C. The Atacama desert is warm and sunny all year round during the day time but temperatures drop dramatically at night. In Jan-Mar the region can be susceptible to heavy rains coming from the Bolivian Andes.

In the south of Chile and Argentina (Patagonia) the weather is notoriously unpredictable throughout the year. During the southern hemisphere summer (October to March) be prepared for everything from a blizzard to a heat wave. Strong winds and rain are possible at any time and it can get extremely cold when the wind blows off the ice cap. On the other hand, hot days are not unknown in summer.

In the Andean mountains of Bolivia and Peru, rain can be expected at any time from October to April, although January and February are historically the wettest months. The thinness of the air and the strength of the sun mean you can expect warm if invigorating days (up to 25°C), but once the sun sets the temperature drops dramatically (below freezing, depending on altitude).

In Mexico City and Oaxaca the climate is temperate all year round.  The wet/rainy season lasts through June to August, which usually means a couple of hours of rain in the afternoon. Don't be discouraged from visiting the mountains during rainy season - you'll see a lush, green landscape (as opposed to the dry season's parched, brown landscape) and it often only rains in the late afternoons and evenings. During the rest of the year there is little or no rain.

On the Pacific coast it’s hot, sunny and humid all the year round. Most rain falls Jun-Sep when the vegetation wakes up in a carpet of lush verdure. The landscape is pretty parched by March. The high season for tourism is mid-Dec to mid-Jan and Jul-Aug.

Altitude

Some of the excursions in and around La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and the Sacred Valley are at high altitude (over 3,000m). Symptoms of altitude sickness vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. Most people are unaffected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don't exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of suffering any symptoms. Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing and special equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials also work well. It can get very cold at altitude, particularly after sun down and so warm clothes are essential as is a good waterproof jacket. Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellent, sun block and sunglasses. At the Iguazú Falls you can get very wet from the spray. Some visitors like to take dry clothes in a bag and simply wear swimwear and flip flops. 

If you plan to go to good restaurants or out on evening entertainment trips, you might want to bring something a bit smarter as well (although formal attire will not be required). 

Due to luggage restrictions on the train to Machu Picchu, most of your luggage must be left in Cusco. You can take up to 5kgs per person on the train and an overnight holdall is recommended so that you can separate your luggage for the nights spent away from Cusco. A separate bag is also useful if you are planning an extension from Lima, usually the rest of your luggage can be left in the hotel. 

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America.

Vaccinations

Preventative vaccinations are recommended against typhoid, polio, tetanus, hepatitis A and yellow fever. A yellow fever certificate may also be a compulsory requirement for onward travel and immigration purposes. The rules are complex and subject to change. We advise you check the most up to date information at www.iatatravelcentre.com. Please consult your GP for specific requirements, including advice on malaria tablets. 

As of 2018, visitors to Brazil travelling on our holidays should be protected with a vaccination against yellow fever, and carry the corresponding certificate. In April 2013, the World Health Organisation Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation concluded that a single primary dose of yellow fever vaccine is sufficient to confer sustained immunity and lifelong protection against yellow fever disease, and that a booster dose is not needed.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website.

Visas

Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

If flying via the USA you will need to fill in an ESTA (visa waiver) application online.

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