Private Journeys

Peru: Drive across the Andes

16 days from £4,990pp



map marker Map

Day 1

Arrive Lima and transfer to hotel in Miraflores on the Pacific coast.

You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel by one of our local representatives.  

You are staying in Miraflores, a modern, upmarket residential and commercial district right on the Pacific coast.

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Day 2

Meet your guide and expedition vehicles and depart down the Panamerican Highway to Nazca.

There will be a detailed briefing in relation to routing and equipment before you are familiarised with your Toyota Hi Lux 4×4 expedition vehicle. This will take place at your hotel or on the edge of town.

You will follow the guide/safety vehicle out of the teeming suburbs, heading south along the Pan American Highway, Latin America’s most significant thoroughfare.

This paved road follows the Pacific coast and suddenly the views over the populous city give way to immense, unpeopled desert vistas, with surf-capped ocean waves crashing down onto wild beaches.

From the little port of Pisco, if there is time, you may have the opportunity to take a light aircraft flight over the Nazca Lines, huge geometrical figures carved into desert rock by a long vanished pre-Columbian civilisation.

Lunch is taken at the palm-shaded desert oasis of Huacachina, with its undulating sand dunes and lake. From here you head inland through skeletal desert landscapes to Nazca, a settlement established over 2,000 years ago. If you have not flown over the lines you can climb an observation town for an aerial view of one of them.

At sunset, you’ll arrive at a hacienda with lush gardens, pools and peacocks.


Day 3

Drive up into the Andes on a paved road. Overnight at Chalhuanca gorge.

After breakfast you will head off road into the desert to discover the surreal and ghoulish cemetery of Chauchilla, where the well preserved mummified remains of individuals from the Nazca culture are scattered across a bleak, stony plain.

The site was discovered in the 1920s with the oldest mummies dating back to 200AD. From here, the adventure continues as you start to climb up into the Andes proper.

You ascend a lonely, winding road – all paved and relatively easy to navigate – to  a heady altitude of over 4,000m above sea level in just 90km. This will be your first encounter with altitude and the coca leaf, which is served in tea to help relieve any altitude symptoms.

As you rise above the desert to a region where rain falls, the landscape takes on a more fertile allure as green-gold pampas grass covers steep slopes where vicuñas graze. You can also see eagles, pink flamingos and the occasional watchful condor in the Pampas Galera National Park.

As you head higher towards the clouds, the route is studded with translucent glacial lakes and the horizon is rimmed by snow-crowned peaks. Picnic among wild alpacas then descend to a lodge in a gorge, half-way between Nazca and Cusco. It’s quiet, with large rooms, but there are no amenities such as phone, TV or internet.

Day 4

Continue the ascent to Cachora, overnight overlooking the Apurimac canyon.

Today you drive ever higher into the Andes and head ‘off-road’ to the village of Cachora, which sits on the south side of the river Apurimac close to the ruined Inca city Choquequeirao.

With views of the imperious snow-stifled peak of Mount Saltankay towering over the gorge your accommodation is a traditional, rustic Peruvian lodge. It’s a cosy place with a log fire and expansive views from floor-to-ceiling windows.

An optional afternoon horse-ride takes you off road to enjoy the views in the open air at a slower pace. Return to the lodge for a home-cooked Peruvian dinner.


Day 5

Explore the area, continue to Cusco in the afternoon (4 nights).

Back in your vehicle to head out from Apurimac towards Cusco (3,300m), the Imperial City of the Incas with an optional stop at Tarawasi – an Inca edifice dating back thousands of years and a great picnic spot.

Declared a World Heritage Site in 1983 Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire. Here, precision Inca masonry and Andean colonial baroque architecture are inter-locked in Cusco’s stone-flagged streets, which resonate with vestiges of the city’s multi-layered history.

You will spend three full days in the area to visit the museums, palaces, markets and abandoned Inca temples and citadels. You won’t have access to your vehicle during your time in Cusco, and you won’t need it.


Day 6

City tour of Cusco and the surrounding Inca ruins.

It’s easy to explore this easy-going, increasingly chic (but still historically evocative) city on foot.

Along its narrow cobbled lanes you will find artisan craft stalls, fruit and vegetable markets and ornamental plazas.

After a free morning, you will be offered a guided city tour visiting the churches, squares and the monumental temple/fortress Sacsayhuamán which glowers over the city from the rim of the highland bowl in which Cusco is set.

In the evenings you are at liberty to sample dinner in any of the plethora of eateries in town, which range from street market barbecues to trendy, minimalist restaurants serving fusion cuisine.

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Day 7

Optional day trip to Machu Picchu with guided tour.

This is your opportunity to take an optional excursion by road and rail down towards the Amazon jungle to discover the Inca citadel Machu Picchu. The rail journey is worth doing in itself: the track clings to the banks of a shaded gorge confining the spluttering river Urubamba between vertical cliffs.

One of the most recognisable places on earth, Machu Picchu never disappoints. On a guided tour you explore the well preserved temples, residences and palaces, all set on sunlit terraces cut out of a mountain saddle smothered with tangled jungle vegetation. A buffet lunch at Belmond’s first class Sanctuary Lodge is included.

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Day 8

At leisure to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

On a free day you can choose from a range of optional adventures. Top of the list is a visit to the colonial adobe villages, handkerchief-sized farmsteads, rural markets and Inca ruins which pepper the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas, once the breadbasket of the Incas. Today corn, peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables vie for space in the fecund plain defined by steep, tawny hills.

Alternatively, take a full day white-water river-rafting trip, crossing a series of foaming rapids on the river Urubamba as it tumbles towards the Amazon basin.  

Horse-riding, mountain-biking and other excursions to cultural sites beyond Cusco are also on offer from this city of limitless possibilities.

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Day 9

Drive to the highland town Andahuaylas, overnight.

Back behind the wheel of your 4×4, you head north away from the tourist Mecca of Cusco heading gently down towards the jungle.

It’s a truly isolated area of subtropical forest swathing bulky mountains, home to endangered species such as the spectacled bear. Here you can spot the Andean condor high in the sky while at your feet bromeliads and orchids abound.

This is one of your ‘Camel trophy’ moments, as the route then takes you on dirt roads to the small town of Andahuaylas which occupies a delightful, fertile valley supporting meadows, cornfields and eucalyptus and willow, at an altitude of around 3,000m.


Day 10

Drive to colonial city Ayacucho.

You now head into some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in Peru as you traverse the Andes watershed, high above the Amazon jungle to the east, and the Pacific coast to the west.

Pass through Andean indigenous villages high up on the windswept plains with views overlooking the icy peaks beyond. Local people live a traditional lifestyle unchanged over the centuries, and their preferred mode of transport is the horse.

You then head down into the evocative city Ayacucho. This architecturally graceful place, brimming with ornate Spanish colonial churches (33 of them), was a centre of rebel activity and for decades off limits to tourists but is now peaceful and celebrating a renaissance. It’s still unspoilt: Cusco without the tourists, some say. Houses fronting cobbled streets are hung with wooden balconies, there are plenty of restaurants serving fortifying regional cuisine and with its mild climate it is a very agreeable place to wander around. 

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Day 11

Drive past the Mantaro gorge, overnight on a ranch near Huancavelica.

From Ayacucho you ascend again and follow the narrow pass along the Rio Mantaro Gorge for some exciting on and off road adventure. This area is rich in both landscape and tradition: the sunlit valley floor is verdant with lush pasture and flecked with dairy farms; while the region plays hosts to numerous festivals and traditional weaving communities. 

The valleys are hemmed in by rocky mountains, with whispering eucalyptus trees clinging to the steep slopes. 

This road requires concentration and a steady nerve, before a steep ascent on an equally challenging track to the colonial Casa Hacienda San Juan near to Pampas, famous for its dairy products, and only accessible by 4×4.

The hacienda offers an optional horse ride into the mountains in the afternoon or morning. It may be chilly at night but you’ll be able to sit next to a vigorous log fire in the evening following your home-cooked dinner.


Day 12

Morning horse-ride, continue down to Tarma valley, flower producing region.

After a morning horse ride from the hacienda (optional), set off once again in your 4×4 to climb up over a chilly pass and descend 1,000m towards Tarma (3,000m), the centre of Peru’s principal flower-producing region, a quiet little town enlivened at Easter by its procession over pavements carpeted with blooms.

As you approach you’ll drive through pea-green pastures rising to terraced fields splashed with the vivid colours of the flowers which blanket steep mountain slopes and glades shaded by eucalyptus and cactus.

Along the way you can way enjoy views of craggy limestone cliffs above which humpy mountains are mantled by treeless moorland.

This is the exquisite bucolic setting for Hacienda Santa Maria, a white-washed Spanish colonial ranch near Tarma, itself an attractive town on the brow of the Amazon basin devoted to producing leather and textile goods in addition to exporting flowers. You’ll have a hearty supper in the frescoed dining room, after which you can unwind over a pisco sour next to the open fire.


Day 13

Descend to the jungle, overnight in Pampa Hermosa Jungle Lodge.

Now you’ll be heading further down towards the Amazon basin. As you descend this challenging route, the climate becomes warmer and more humid, and the vegetation more dense and succulent.

This is cloud forest: misty tangles of trees – their vine-strangled boughs heavy with dripping leaves – ferns, orchids and bromeliads cling to steep slopes of valleys cut through the ranges by energetic streams and rivers.

Wildlife becomes more evident: butterflies, hummingbirds, macaws, toucans and the bright orange cock-of-the-rock bird may cross your path. It’s a precipitous route taking up to three hours further down to your eco-lodge (850m above sea level approx.), where palm-thatched cabins blend in seamlessly with the tropical hardwood forest enveloping the property. Here alongside the many birds mammals and reptiles may be spotted, including deer, river otters and monkeys all inhabit the grounds.

To unwind after a day confined at the wheel, explore some of the forest trails leading to one of the many impressive waterfalls in the area.


Day 14

Re-ascend to Tarma for farewell dinner, overnight.

Climb back out of the jungle to Tarma, where you will attend a traditional Peruvian pachamanca celebration. This is basically a cooking ritual, where a dish buried underground and heated over hot stones for 3-4 hours is the manifestation of homage to the earth mother, Pachamama.

Spend an atmospheric night at a historic adobe hacienda which has been in the same family for over 200 years.

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Day 15

Return to Lima, overnight.

Today you can sit back and let someone else do the driving. According to road conditions, you will continue with a local driver, in car or minibus. Your 4×4 vehicle remains in Tarma.

From an altitude of just over 3,000m above sea level at Tarma the road climbs back over the lofty spine of the Andes and the bare-boned, elemental wilderness of the world’s second highest railway pass at a frosty 4,829m.

Vegetation is minimal here: you may have been shocked by how quickly it has changed over the past couple of days as the warm, soft jungle breeze is replaced by a chilly, knife-sharp wind.

Continue back down to the coastal plain and the oasis heralding your return to Lima and your last night dinner, where you can congratulate yourself on your now finely-honed driving skills!

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Day 16

Transfer to airport in Lima for international flight.

Depending on your flight schedule you may have a free morning in the capital. It’s your opportunity to check out the highlights of this vast, historically significant city, formerly known as the City of Kings and important centre of the Spanish Empire and its plundered riches.

We recommend you explore the colonial centre, which is focused on the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin. The Torre Eagle Palace, the cathedral and the San Francisco Monastery and catacombs are but three of the top colonial monuments.  Visit the Larco or Archaeology Museum, explore local markets or take a stroll along the Pacific coast cliff-tops.

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.


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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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    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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    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba (Argentina) to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

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