Home » Pato Andino: Panorama of the Andes
One of our most adventurous trips, this group journey crosses the towering ice peaks of the Andes. It traverses some of South America’s most dramatic mountain wilderness landscapes from Argentina through Chile and Bolivia to Peru. Explore the Atacama Desert, travel across the Uyuni salt flats and on to Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Machu Picchu.
Duration: 20 Days
If you are arriving on an international flight today you will be met at the airport by the tour leader or a local representative and escorted to the group hotel.
Buenos Aires is an elegant and cosmopolitan city famed for the fascinating port district of La Boca with its cobbled streets and brightly painted houses. It was here that the tango was born, and Diego Maradona honed his footballing skills.
The centre of town is home to the historic heartland, government buildings and churches as well as chic shopping districts, which have a nostalgic, Parisian feel. The bohemian district of San Telmo is full of quaint old houses interspersed with antiques shops, tango bars and expensive restaurants. Slightly further out of town is the Recoleta district, even more evocative of belle époque French and Italianate architecture. During the winter months, wealthy female residents parade the streets in their fur coats and improbable, towering hairstyles, and take afternoon tea in the city's ornate cafés.
Your guided city tour takes you to all the major sites of this fascinating city including a visit to the Plaza de Mayo, enclosed on 3 sides by the metropolitan cathedral, the town hall and the Casa Rosada (the presidential palace). The tour continues to bohemian, arty La Boca, which was settled and built by Italian immigrants and has streets lined with brightly painted corrugated iron-clad houses, before visiting the district of Recoleta, home to the famous cemetery where Eva Peron is buried.
A 2 hour flight takes you to Salta, in north-west Argentina. This charming town lies in the foothills of the Andes, and is surrounded by forested mountains. The colonial centre is a treasure trove of baroque architecture, and the palm-lined main plaza is a lovely place to relax. There are plenty of bars and cafés serving the excellent food for which the region is renowned.
On the outskirts of the town is Cerro San Bernardo, a hilltop that can be reached via a long, arduous stairway, or by cable car, and from which there are sweeping views of the city and the mountains beyond. The anthropological museum here has some wonderfully-preserved Inca mummies which were recently discovered at the peak of a remote mountain, over 6,000m high.
From Salta there is a full-day trip to the sleepy town of Cafayate, set among the region's well respected vineyards. The road follows an arid, winding canyon; its rocky walls ranging in colour from ochre, to yellow, to gold, and spectacular blood-red. There are several stops en route where you can walk up narrow desert valleys and marvel at the views.
The town itself is picturesque, squatting below an Andean backdrop, and there is time to explore as well as to visit one or two of the many local wineries, where there are guided tours and opportunities to sample the wines. One of which, Torrontés, which is unique to Argentina.
There is an early start for today's long and spectacular journey up through the Andes and into Chile. Upon leaving Salta the bus passes through dense vegetation, palms and bromeliads, before ascending into a mountainous valley with a kaleidoscope of coloured rock faces. A series of hairpin bends then take you into the clouds, and the foliage peters out and is replaced by an arid landscape of cacti and brush.
Soon the parched salt flats of the Salar Grande reveal themselves as you near the international border, a remote outpost at 4,900m, and from here you descend into Chile, passing multi-coloured lagoons which reflect the perfect conical peaks of volcanoes dusted with snow. As you swoop down into the Atacama desert you see a distant patch of vivid green, the oasis of San Pedro, your base for the coming nights. This is a 10hr journey, including stops.
San Pedro is an adobe town somewhat lost in time, with a laid back atmosphere and an erratic electricity supply. Its dusty streets are lined with bars, cafés and tour operator offices offering various kinds of excursions into the surrounding desert. The excellent museum here has a comprehensive history of the local indigenous population and an interesting display of local archaeological discoveries.
Should you choose to take this morning's optional excursion to El Tatio geysers, be prepared for a very early start. But it's well worth it. You arrive on the pitted, craggy geyser field just before dawn, and as the sun rises and warms the earth, hot steam projects dramatically out of the crater into the freezing morning air, creating a wall of mist through which you can see dark silhouettes and the penetrating sunlight.
On the guided excursion to the Moon Valley you arrive late afternoon to explore shady gorges and dramatic canyons formed over centuries by the erosion of salt mountains. Just before dusk climb to the ridge of a vast golden sand dune to see the landscape lit up in different shades of pinks, reds and oranges cast by the setting sun.
Leaving Chile behind, you embark on an amazing 2.5 day trip through one of South America's most unforgettable wilderness landscapes. Travelling to Bolivia by 4WD vehicle, you cross a remote and lofty frost-bitten plateau. There are no places to eat en route, and so you travel with your own cook. The hardships are worth it; this is visually one of the most extraordinary drives in the world; the cold beauty of the ashen hills and strange rock formations is frequently and suddenly broken by the opalescent colours of the remote Lagunas Verde and Colorada.
Finally you reach the Salar de Uyuni, a dizzying sight. The surface is utterly featureless, smooth, and composed of nothing but pure, dazzling white salt. After rain a thin layer of water covers the surface, turning the salt flat into a huge mirror that reflects an inverted sky. In the centre lies the Isla del Pescado, a small island covered in giant cacti, where you stop to stretch your legs and soak up the view.
At certain times of year flamingos add a vivid splash of pink to the interminable whiteness of the landscape. Eventually you arrive in Uyuni where we jump straight on a plane to arrive in the comfort of La Paz.
(Day 9: Only breakfast and lunch included)
Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner included.
At over 3,500m La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. It's a glittering mosaic of tin, slate and tile roofs, interspersed with a line of skyscrapers that march down the valley. And beyond, keeping an eye on it all, is the colossal bulk of Mount Illimani.This busy city has a population which is 60% indigenous. Women dress in voluminous multi coloured skirts and bowler hats and have centre partings, as decreed by the Spanish monarch 3 centuries ago. Your full days in the city give you plenty of opportunity to explore the colonial centre around Plaza Murillo, to stroll through the steep narrow streets, and around the many open and covered markets; it's the street life here, with its exotic sounds and scents, that make it so fascinating. You are orientated in the compact city centre by a walking tour.
At leisure further to explore. There is an optional excursion to the ruins of Tiwanaku, about which little is known. Travel 2 hours from of La Paz across the bleak, tawny earth of the altiplano, past glimmering lakes and herds of haughty alpacas. These pre-Columbian ruins are considered among the most important on the continent, and the massive gateways and imposing walls are redolent of bygone glory. It is believed that the inhabitants here were more advanced than the Incas in pottery, mathematics, art and astronomy. Explore a new museum on the site which houses more than 100 artefacts and provides a fascinating insight into the history of the ruins.
Alternatively you may choose to venture out of town to Chacaltaya, once the world's highest ski resort, located at 5,000m in the Cordillera Real. It takes around 90 minutes to climb the 7 km of winding, rural roads. There's no longer any snow here, but from a wooden chalet house, set on a steep cliff there are views over 3 countries, the cordillera and Lake Titicaca twinkling in the distance.
From La Paz take a scenic road trip to Lake Titicaca. The deep sapphire-hued lake sits high in the Andes on the Peruvian - Bolivian border, and is focal point for subsistence farmers in the region who fish its icy waters and plant crops along its shores.
Arrive in Copacabana. This pretty little town is a religious sanctuary (it gave Rio's famous beach its name), and its whitewashed buildings and Moorish-style basilica are striking against a clear blue Andean sky. The Basilica is frequented by pilgrims to the miraculous 16th-century Dark Virgin of the Lake, and they bring their rickety cars to the forecourt, bedecked in flowers, to be blessed by her.
If you have the energy in this rarefied air, climb the stations of the cross for views out over the lake and the snow-capped cordillera in the distance. From Copacabana there's an optional boat trip to Isla del Sol. Legend has it that this mystical spot marked the beginning of Inca civilisation. The children of the sun god sprung from the lake's depths to found the mighty empire in Cusco, and a rock at the northern end of the island was their birthplace. Overnight in a hotel with views out over the lake.
In the morning it's time to set off to cross the border into Peru, and on to the port of Puno. In the afternoon set out on the lake aboard a motor boat to the Uros Islands; gliding over these deep blue glacial waters is a highlight. You alight on a floating island, made entirely of tortora reeds - the same material the islanders use to build their canoes - and the ground moves almost imperceptibly beneath your feet. A unique feature of this part of the lake is the traditional settlement of Uros people; nowadays, the inhabitants earn their living mainly through selling handicrafts to tourists and, while this is a unique experience, it has the air of a visit to a living museum.
There may also be time for an optional excursion to Sillustani, where you can wander among the imposing funeral towers; built 500 years ago to bury the dead, the chullpas are set on a hilltop site overlooking alpaca pastures and tranquil Umayo lagoon. Look beyond them and across the lake to the snow covered peaks of the Cordillera Real on the horizon.
A scenic day-long public bus ride takes you from Puno to Cusco. You cross the altiplano, a large, windswept plain, punctuated by occasional market towns, where bowler-hatted indigenous women tend herds of llamas and alpacas. As the mountains close in, the bus climbs to its highest pass at la Raya (4,200m), and from here the scenery changes dramatically as you race down through the fertile fields of corn and potatoes to Cusco. You arrive in the early evening.
The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire; one which reached its peak as England fought the War of the Roses. This is your base for the coming days. Its many impressive, original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, and the bustling squares are dotted with ornate colonial churches. It's a vibrant, lively city, where shoeshine boys and postcard sellers jostle for your attention on cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and clubs.
A guide gives you a fascinating tour of Cusco, which includes a visit to several nearby Inca remains. You visit Q'oricancha, once the principal Inca Sun Temple, with extraordinarily intricate stonework, and then explore the colossal zigzag walls of Sacsayhuamán, brooding on a hillside above Cusco. In 1536 a desperate and defining 3 day battle was fought between the Spaniards and the Incas here: the first conquistadors to see it were awestruck and centuries later it is still an extraordinary and imposing sight.
A full-day adventure visits several of the villages and archaeological sites which pepper the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The Pisac complex, set high above the eponymous village, is composed of steep terraces; their engineering and preservation are unrivalled, and you can clamber among the ancient walls and explore the ruins of temples, residences and storehouses. It takes about an hour and a half to explore the site, after which you stop off in the village below where an arts and crafts market spills across the main square, and stalls laden with tapestries and weavings crafted in the surrounding villages.
Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to Ollantaytambo, the snow-capped Andean cordillera forming a stunning backdrop. The Inca fortress towering above the adobe village is well preserved and there are wonderful views down over the gentle sloping hillsides and into the fertile valley. You spend the night in the Sacred Valley.
A dramatic 2hr train journey from Ollantaytambo delivers you to the ruins of Machu Picchu. As the river Urubamba enters its narrow gorge between thickly-forested granite hills, there is room only for a single rail track, which hugs the right bank and passes through hamlets which are no more than a collection of shacks. The citadel is then reached by minibus up a sinuous road.
In 1911 the American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered the ruins buried beneath tropical cloud forest. It is the city's location which most captures the imagination, on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon. Following a guided tour of the ruins you spend the night at the spa village of Machu Picchu, a couple of kilometres upstream.
You have the optional opportunity to revisit the ruins, rail schedules permitting. Over the 2 days there is time to explore some of the many trails within the site; follow the steep path up Huayna Picchu the conical peak which juts out behind the ruins (this must be pre-booked) for wonderful views over the site, or hike to the vertiginous Inca Bridge, carved into a cliff edge. Your tour leader will be on hand to talk through the various walks.
You may prefer to relax and wander the narrow vehicle-free streets of Machu Picchu village, lined with bars and cafés. You return to Cusco on the afternoon train, arriving in the early evening.
Fly back down to sea level (2 hrs), completing the journey across this extraordinary continent, arriving in Lima, on the Pacific coast. Lima, the City of Kings, was once the capital of Spanish America, and the vestiges of its glorious past can still be seen in the faded grandeur of the colonial churches and traditional wooden balconies in the city centre. The explosive growth of the last 50 years, so typical of capital cities in the developing world, has transformed Lima into a bustling and chaotic low-rise city of over 6 million people.
Away from the busy centre, there are some superb traditional restaurants as well as archaeological museums filled to the rafters with pre-Columbian treasures. In crowded streets, throngs of traffic race out towards Miraflores, on the coast, a modern middle-class suburb where your hotel is located. There will be a walking tour of the colonial centre with your tour leader.
Depending on the time of your flight, there may be time to visit some of the city's excellent museums. Depart for international flight or extension.
|29 Oct 2019 - 17 Nov 2019||$7023 AUD pp||Contact us|
|Buenos Aires||Kenton Palace|
|Salta||Salta Design Suites|
|Atacama||Hotel Iorana Tolache|
|La Paz||Hotel Rosario|
|Copacabana||Rosario del Lago|
|Sacred Valley||Tunupa Lodge|
|Machu Picchu||Waman Hotel|
|Lima||Hotel El Tambo I|
This tour operates with a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 20 passengers. The minimum age is 12 years. Hotels are subject to change due to availability.