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Active Peru and Bolivia: trekking Andean peaks to tropical rainforest

18 days from £3,060pp

(based on two people sharing & excluding flights)

Peru / Bolivia / Lake Titicaca


map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel.

You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the cliff-side Pacific residential and commercial district of Miraflores.  The half-hour drive to the hotel through Lima’s outskirts is not the most enchanting introduction to this city of extreme contrasts, but it does encapsulate the invigorating buzz of a modern-day Latin American capital. Overnight.

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Day 2

Tour of Lima by car ending at the airport for flight to Cusco.

En route back to the airport, drive around some of the city’s most important and interesting historic monuments and vibrant quarters. 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.

Fly to Cusco (1hr). The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire, which reached its zenith at the same time as England was fighting the War of the Roses. It is said that the city was originally built in the shape of a puma and its position atop the precipitous foothills of the Andes is without doubt a commanding one. Capital of the Inca Empire and latterly a strong hold to the Spanish conquistadors, Cusco is not so much a blend of architectures as a defiant mix.

Today its many impressive original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, while the bustling squares are dotted with ornate baroque colonial churches. It’s a vivacious city, where shoeshine boys and postcard sellers jostle for your attention in cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and cafés.


Day 3

Walking tour of Cusco and nearby Inca ruins.

Today you’ll have a guided walking tour of the city, the centre of which is compact and easy to get around on foot. Beyond the squares, museums, churches and markets, you’ll visit some impressive ruins on the outskirts: Tambomachay, Puca Pucara and the monumental Sacsayhuamán, with its foreboding cyclopean fortress.

While the edges of Cusco are dominated by Inca dwellings, temples and fortresses, the historic heart (with the Plaza de Armas flanked by the cathedral and the church of La Compañia) reveal the indelible mark of the Spanish conquistadors.

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Day 4

Guided exploration of the Sacred Valley of the Incas on foot.

1,000m lower than Cusco, the Sacred Valley’s milder climate attracted Inca royalty and later the Spanish Conquistadors who established a series of important agricultural towns and country estates. Before this it was the bread-basket of the Inca empire. It was heavily populated in Inca imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain, where well-preserved ruins bear witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created.

Your guided walk begins at Sihuas, less than an hour’s drive from Cusco, and takes you along narrow trails, many of which are Incan, to the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo, an Inca estate perched high above Urubamba Valley. After lunch, drive across the valley to the ruins of Pisaq. Framed by snow-capped mountains, the site was an important agricultural and trading centre. The Pisac complex, set high above and visible from the eponymous colonial village you will visit, is built on terraces carved into the steep hillsides. The engineering and preservation are unrivalled. From the flat valley floor this intricate hillside rises up like a green staircase to the heavens. After exploring the ruins return to Cusco.

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Day 5

Hike the Salkantay Trail.

The Salkantay Trail clings to the skirts of the eponymous snow-mantled mountain peak (6,271m), crossing high-altitude, chilly pampa grasslands indented with icy lagoons before plunging through steamy cloud-forest and plantations heavy with tropical flowers and succulent fruit to the Santa Teresa river. From here it is a short hop by train to Peru’s most mesmerising attraction, the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu.

You’ll savour panoramic mountain and valley views throughout which are truly out of this world. En route you will pass through small hamlets and farmsteads, where people continue to live a traditional lifestyle. Popular with walkers and horse-riders, the trek can be almost as busy these days as the ultra-hyped classic Inca Trail, but it offers an excellent alternative for those happy to reach the citadel from a different, but still staggeringly beautiful, trekking route, approaching from the other side

Set off by road to the start of the Salkantay Trek at Sayllapata where you meet your guides and the mules which carry the majority of the camping gear.  Camp.

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Day 6

Second day of the Salkantay trek.

Climb to the highest pass of the trek (4,800m), including a steep zig-zag stretch of narrow path where any pain of exertion is mitigated by tremendous views of the Andes including the monumental snow-capped peaks of Salkantay. Pass through surreal landscapes, towered over by huge rock formations. Mists may swirl languidly above you until a break in the clouds reveals majestic ice-jacketed peaks. You may even find yourself crunching through snow, while a bright sun sears the sky above.

Continue through the valley, passing small villages along the way. You’ll see a variety of wildlife, particularly birds. Arrive at your lunch site, Wayraq, and afterwards it is a scenic descent towards your second campsite, Chaullay.

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Day 7

Descending to the valley.

After an early start descend towards Collpapamba (2,600m), and hike along an easy trail through the high jungle terrain with coffee, cocoa and fruits plantations. You may even see Peru’s national bird if you’re lucky – gallito de la rocas – before arriving in the village of Playa to overnight.

The terrain changes rapidly as you descend Santa Teresa valley, leaving the chilly moors of the sparse rocky landscape behind while dense foliage replaces the scrub. Climb into the cloud forest through narrow jungle tracks framed by spider bamboo, its spindly fronds dangling above you. All around is greenery, making it easy to spot the colourful exotic plants poking through, such as the ‘dancing lady’ orchid and bushes tinted with tiny wild raspberries. Fresh mint lining the path was much used by the Incas. The weather is warming up: it may be hot and humid now.

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Day 8

Arrive Machu Picchu.

Begin the day with the ascent to Lucmabamba pass (2,400m) followed by a beautiful trail through the cloud forest to Patallaqta (also known as Llactapata) ruins. From here you get your first sight of Machu Picchu, shyly straddling a steep mountain saddle in the middle distance, and a vast tableau unfurls in front of you.

It is true that the first glimpse of the ruins on the traditional Inca Trail is spectacular but it is compromised by the sight of the motor road taking buses up to the ruins. The views here display a natural theatre seemingly untouched by human enterprise.  After lunch descend to the bridge over the Aobamba river and arrive at the Hidroeléctrica railway halt in time to catch the afternoon train to Machu Picchu village (30mins). Overnight in a hotel in the village.

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Day 9

Guided tour of the ruins. Return to Cusco by rail and road.

The majestic ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, was discovered by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath jungle vegetation. It soon became clear to excavators that the conquistadors had never found the city. It is perhaps the ruins’ location, on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon, that most ignites the imagination. You will have an early morning guided tour of the ruins.

Return by train as far as Ollantaytambo or Poroy, before continuing the journey to Cusco, and your hotel, by road. The Expedition Train service offers you the chance to appreciate the scale of the ever-changing scenery, with portrait windows alongside your seat (seats are configured in pairs facing each other over a table). There are windows in the roof, so you can gaze up to the rim of the canyon. Your comfort is enhanced with air-conditioning and heating, and Andean music is played as a backdrop to the passing scenery.

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Day 10

Tourist coach to Puno and transfer to hotel.

Transfer to bus station for tourist coach service to Puno on Lake Titicaca.

The lonely road follows the fertile Urubamba valley, through fields of crops and livestock and adobe villages, up to a windswept grassy plain framed by jagged mountains.

During the journey there are short stops at: Andahuaylillas, where the town’s ornate, baroque 17th-century church has beautiful frescoes and an impressive gilded altar; Huaro; Raqchi, for the Temple to Viracocha, the largest roofed building ever built by the Incas and one of Peru’s most stunning Inca sites; and Pucará, famous for its pre-Inca ruins and local pottery, where you can visit the little museum. There is an English-speaking guide, complimentary soft drinks and a toilet on board.

Transfer to hotel in Puno, a lively university town and port on Lake Titicaca. It’s an important centre for Peruvian folklore, enjoying a rich tradition of music and dance. It is also a great place for buying local handicrafts.

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Day 11

By road to Copacabana, Bolivia. Guided lake excursion to Sun Island.

Early in the morning leave your hotel in Puno for a delightful, scenic 2.5hr drive to the Peru-Bolivia border town of Kasani. Continue on into Bolivia, broom and brightly coloured flowers line the route. Arrive at Copacabana, a small town doubling as a religious sanctuary overlooked by a steep hill accommodating the 12 stations of the cross. It sits by a sandy beach on a beautiful bay, and attracts many pilgrims who make the trip often from great distances on foot.

Board a motor-powered sailing boat and head towards Sun Island (Isla del Sol), the legendary birth place of the Inca Empire – on the island you’ll visit Pilko Kaina Temple and hike to the Yumani village, which is renowned for its historic Inca fountain and staircase, whilst enjoying wide-ranging views of the surrounding snow-tipped Andes mountains. Overnight in Copacabana in a lakeside hotel.

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Day 12

Continue to La Paz by road.

Morning at leisure to explore the town. Later drive to La Paz. The road crosses the desolate, rust-coloured grasslands of the altiplano, an unforgiving land where only llamas and a few hardy vegetables support the adobe villages. Rimming the plains is the chain of sharp, icy Andean peaks of the Cordillera Real.

Passing through the city of el Alto you suddenly come across the deep mountain bowl in which crouches the capital city, at the foot of the vast, ghostly white bulk of Mt Illimani.

La Paz (3,632m) is the highest capital in the world. The colonial core around Plaza Murillo retains much of its quirky Spanish charm, lively with families and children with balloons at the weekend. Beyond, there are cavernous indigenous markets with restaurant grills open to the street and narrow alleyways lined with museums, churches and craft shops. Ambulant vendors in felt bowler hats and colourful shawls crouch below the skyscrapers in tree-lined modern avenues.

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Day 13

Walking tour of the Bolivian capital.

You’ll have a guided walking tour through the mystic, colonial streets of Bolivia’s capital, a great way to get a real feel for the place – embracing the hustle and bustle, admiring the vibrant colours and inhaling the local fragrances. A highlight is the intriguing Witches’ Market where you’ll see preserved llama foetuses, charm spells, Pachamama offerings and much more.

Then onto the renowned, baroque-style San Francisco Church, and charming Plaza Murillo, before heading on towards cobbled, picturesque Jaen Street. Enter the Costumes Museum and the Gold Museum to discover more about Bolivia’s rich culture and background.

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Day 14

First day of the Choro Trail to Chairo.

Begin the Choro trek. This is Bolivia’s top trek, and for good reason. You need to be pretty fit, but the route is not technically difficult. Mostly downhill, it drops an impressive 3,500m in just 4 days, passing through a kaleidoscope of different landscapes, vegetation, climate and human cultures. Part of the trail is Inca-paved, and the route is clear, offering truly staggering views across near-vertical cliffs towards misty hillsides, negotiating rickety bridges over deep gorges and tumbling streams, and passing tiny, isolated villages.

Transfer by road up out of the canyon to the craggy Andean pass at El Cumbre, a lofty 4,725m above sea level. The chilly landscape here is bleak and uncompromising, slatey grey rock is streaked with snow and ice; a few llamas pick their way towards sunken patches of grass.After a short climb from El Cumbre, the trail (Inca-paved here) begins its relentless descent to the Yungas, a fertile sub-tropical region in the pre-Andean foothills which lies between the stark, snow-capped Andean peaks and the sprawling velvet greenness of the Amazon jungle. Camp beside a river at a sheltered 3,000m.


Day 15

Second day of the trek.

Descend to an agitated river. Crossing the water can be a rather precarious, Indiana Jones operation, depending on the state of the current ‘bridge’, after which the path plunges and rises across bright hillsides and through the undergrowth of densely wooded valleys, over tinkling streams and shadowy gorges, negotiated by fords, capricious cableways or suspension bridges. Camp overnight.

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Day 16

Third day of the trek.

Having reached sub-tropical latitudes with a gentle, balmy climate, flitting hummingbirds and steep fertile slopes, you will be hiking through sunny plantations of coffee, bananas and citrus fruits. The final campsite has long been at the home of a local character of Japanese extraction, a great provider of trail gossip.

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Day 17

Return by road to La Paz.

Continue on foot to the end of the trail at Chairo, arriving mid-morning. Walk down an Inca paved road through ever more succulent vegetation. The final hours of the trek take you through citrus groves and coffee plantations. Return to La Paz from the small town of Coroico, travelling along an invigorating single-track road carved out of the near-vertical mountain face peppered with waterfalls and defined with death-defying drops to the valley below.

Enjoy your last night in La Paz, where there are a number of excellent restaurants to choose from to celebrate your achievements on this exhilarating holiday.


Day 18

Transfer to La Paz international airport.

Inspired by this trip

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.


Your edit for Latin American inspiration

Our exciting range of articles on Latin America explore everything from iconic destinations and lesser-known cultural gems to delicious traditional recipes. You’ll also find exclusive travel tips, first-hand client reviews and the chance to get your personal questions answered by our travel experts.

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Bartolome, Galápagos

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    Kathryn backpacked across Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru before joining us. She has a degree in Philosophy and French and is a keen netball player.

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    Ben fell in love with Latin America on a six month backpacking trip from Colombia to Mexico in 1995. Since then he has explored most of South America, including living in Peru for a year. He is now Head of Sales.

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    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

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    Hannah had an early introduction to Latin America when her family moved to Ecuador and she returned to study in Buenos Aires for a year before backpacking across the continent.

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    Sally Dodge - Travel Expert

    A former Journey Latin America tour leader, Sally spent 7 years working, travelling and living throughout Latin America before returning to the UK to help people arrange their own adventures to this wonderful destination.

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