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Delve into South America
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Fly from Lima to Puerto Maldonado. Leave most of your luggage in a safe storage and take a motorized canoe up river to our jungle lodge in the Madre de Dios area. Head into the jungle with our local, multilingual guides and encounter magnificent fauna and flora in their natural habitat. We may spot everything from macaws and monkeys to peccary, jabirus, otters and thousands of butterflies. The guides can also teach us about the medicinal properties and practical uses of the plants. After exploring the wilds, it's time to jump back in the canoe and return to Puerto Maldonado. The lodge is eco-friendly and combines low-impact architecture with traditional native style. Rooms are simple, but comfortable with flush toilets (en suite), showers (cold water only), mosquito nets and kerosene lamps for light.
Cuzco is the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city and was the home of the Incas for two centuries before the Spanish built their first capital here. Today the city hosts a fascinating combination of both cultures. Inca-built walls line the central streets and many of the elegant colonial buildings are built on or around Inca foundations. Take time to acclimatise to the city's 3,450 m (11,150 ft) altitude and explore the Baroque churches and ancient temples that dot the city. Your leader will take you on a walking tour including a visit to the local San Pedro market and the Coca Musuem, where you can learn more about this infamous plant which has been an essential part of life in the Andes for centuries. The cathedral, brimming with art and built on top of an Inca palace, dominates the Plaza de Armas.
Visit a local community on route to Ollantaytambo. The town of Ollantaytambo has been built over an ancient Inca town, which is a magnificent example of Inca urban planning. This is one of the few places where the Incas defeated the Spanish. Ollantaytambo's archaeological site is located to the east of the Plaza de Armas. The upper terraces of this site offer great photo opportunities of the squared grid town below. While in town, why not have a meal at Hearts Cafe, part of a project supported by the Intrepid Foundation.
Today we travel by train along the Urubamba river to Aguas Calientes. Sitting at the base of Machu Picchu in a picturesque valley, Aguas Calientes takes its name from the numerous hot springs that are dotted throughout the area. Encircled by cliffs, cloud forest and rivers, the town, also known as Machu Micchu Pueblo, has one important unique selling point; it gives you early access to Machu Picchu.
Take a very early bus along the winding road to Machu Picchu where we are joined by our guide. Looking at Machu Picchu for the first time, as it sits against a backdrop of forested mountains, is a truly breathtaking experience. While it's thought Machu Picchu was built around 1440 as a country retreat for Incan nobility, there is evidence this had been a sacred Incan site for much longer. Another school of thought is that this was an astronomical observatory. Enjoy a guided visit with plenty of free time afterwards. After taking advantage of the seemingly endless photo opportunities, it's time to get back on the local bus to Cuzco, for a well deserved shower and a pisco sour. The rest of today and tomorrow are free for you to continue exploring Cuzco using your included "half boleto turistico" pass.
Travel by local bus through the dramatic scenery of the high altiplano to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. There will be a couple of stops along the way to pick up and drop off passengers. Located on the shores of Lake Titicaca, Puno is a melting pot of Aymara and Quechuan Indian culture and traditional Andean customs are still strongly represented here. The town is known as the folklore capital of Peru and is famous for its traditional dances. Many festivals are celebrated here, so if you're lucky your visit might coincide with one of the colourful evening parades. Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world, sitting at 3,820 m above sea level. From the shoreline, the water stretches out almost as far as the eye can see, its expanses just waiting to be explored.
Travel by minivan to Desaguadero, where we cross the border into Bolivia. The first stop is the Peruvian migration office, where you'll be asked to leave the bus and proceed through Peruvian migration. Then walk via a bridge to the Bolivian side, submit your passport at the Bolivian migration office and reboard the bus, which will continue to La Paz. On route to La Paz we have a guided tour of Tiwanaku archaeological site, where the Incas learned about building systems and agricultural practices. At around 3,600 m, La Paz feels like the top of the world. Although Sucre is the official capital of Bolivia, La Paz is the centre of commerce, finance and industry. Despite the abundance of colonial architecture, La Paz's indigenous roots run deep.
Today is free for you to make your own way to La Paz Airport and fly to Santiago de Chile. This international flight between La Paz and Santiago de Chile is not included in the price of this trip. An airport arrival transfer is included in Santiago. Although Santiago covers a large area, the city centre is quite compact and easy to get around. The city's centre is roughly triangular in shape with the Plaza de Armas, the main plaza and home to the Cathedral, sitting in the centre. Panning out from here are wall-to-wall shops, restaurants and parks. For a more serene look at Chilean life, head out to Barrio Bella Vista, Santiago's 'Paris Quarter'.
Travel across the Andes by local bus. On a clear day you may be able to spot Mt. Aconcagua, the highest mountain in America, at 6,962 meters above sea level. The time spent at the border crossing can vary from 1 to 3 hours depending on local traffic. Once in Mendoza, spend the afternoon taking a gentle stroll around the tree-lined streets. Choose a cafe along Sarmiento pedestrian street and watch life pass by as you sip coffee. On our free day here you will take an included winery tour. Mendoza is Argentina's most important grape growing region, producing 70% of the country's wine. Its exceptional climate produces excellent grapes, the region's signature variety is the Malbec. At night head out to Aristides Villanueva Street which has lately become the starting point for Mendoza's night life.
Buenos Aires Estancia Stay
Today we fly from Mendoza to Buenos Aires. Upon arrival we transfer to a minivan for a 2-hour drive to our Estancia stay in the outskirts of Buenos Aires. During your time on the Estancia you can do as much or as little as you desire. Activities may also vary depending on the day. You could work with the cattle (including branding and vaccinating), participate in a cattle auction, visit the local town, visit a cheese factory, or play volleyball or soccer. Alternatively you could laze by the pool and read or have a barbecue. All meals at the Estancia are included.
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