South America Highlights
Lima to Rio de Janeiro
This whistle-stop tour across South America stops at the most popular and famous highlights in the region in an action-packed month-long adventure. From the Amazon Jungle to Iguazú Falls, this group tour gives you a delicious taste of the continent's most awe-inspiring landscapes. And with some of the most vibrant Latin American cities on the itinerary, it is a jam-packed itinerary that will leave you with many a lasting memory.
This tour includes the Inca Trail Trek
- Two nights in the Amazon Jungle in Peru
- Guided tour of Sacred Valley of the Incas
- Permits for the guided Inca Trail Trek
- Guided tour of Machu Picchu
- Full day excursion on Lake Titicaca
- Drive on the Salar de Uyuní salt flats
- Entry to Laguna Colorada National Park
- Guided tour of the Valley of the Moon
- Argentinian Winery
- Entry to Iguazú Falls in Brazil
- Entry to Iguazú Falls in Argentina
24 night(s) in hotels, 2 night(s) in a jungle lodge, 3 night(s) in campsites on the Inca Trek, 2 night(s) in basic, multi-share hostels with limited facilities
Travel by 7 flight(s), Private Vehicle, Train, Public Bus, Boat, 4WD
25 breakfast, 7 lunch, 7 dinner
Staff & Experts
Tucan Travel tour leader
What's Not Included
- Spending money – budget for meals, snacks, drinks, limited souvenirs, laundry, tips and any extras
- International flights to/from the start/end of your tour and departure taxes
- Tips on included excursions, visas, travel insurance, personal items and single rooms.
- Optional excursions - Please see the optional excursions on the Tour Notes for a comprehensive list of optional activities and excursions available on this tour.
- Airport transfers and pre and post tour accommodation
Group Size: Maximum 16. Average 8-12
Tour Suitability: This tour is recommended for people aged 18-65. For more information on what to expect, click here.
Day 1 to 1 - Arrive Lima
The first day of your tour is simply an arrival day with no pre-organised activities. In order to allow time to relax and see some of the sights you may wish to add pre-tour accommodation.
Lima was founded by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535 after he eradicated the Incas and made the city his capital. Lima has many fine colonial buildings and some of the best museums in South America including the Gold Museum, Museum of the Inquisition and the Catacombs below the San Francisco Church. Peru's capital has much to offer and many of the sights, including the city's two main squares the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, boast some fantastic sightseeing opportunities. The Plaza de Armas houses the Cathedral, Municipal Palace and Presidential Palace where the changing of the guard can be seen every day at 12 noon. There are also many markets in Lima, possibly the best being in the central district.
Day 2 to 3 - Amazon Jungle
Today we head to the airport for your flight to the city of Puerto Maldonado located on the confluence of the Madre de Dios and Tambopata rivers. The city is the starting point for our visit to the Amazon rainforest.
In Puerto Maldonado you can pick up any last minute drinks or snacks in the busy markets and shops. The first leg of our journey is by bus followed by canoe, a 35 kilometre journey along the river (approx two hours total). The canoes are very safe.
Arriving at the lodge located on the river’s edge, you will be allocated a bungalow all of which are built from local indigenous materials. Each room is sealed by meshed netting to keep out mosquitoes and other insects. All rooms have basic private bathroom facilities. Due to the remoteness of the lodge there is no hot water but drinking water is available every meal time. There is also limited electricity however it is available every day for four hours from 6pm – 10pm in all the rooms. Other facilities include a welcoming reception area, dining room and bar facilities. All excursions are led by English speaking local guides providing plenty of opportunity to enjoy marvelous jungle landscapes and rich diversity of flora and fauna.
After lunch we will set off on a trek through the rainforest along wooden walk ways. On the way our guide will stop to show you various species of bird and explain the medicinal plants and delicate ecological systems of the Amazon Jungle. The scenery is extremely varied incorporating dense jungle as well as marsh areas. You will see incredibly big trees, several metres in diameter and around 450 years old. We walk to Cochita Caiman (Caiman Pond) spotting wildlife along the way. We then return to the lodge for dinner.
After an early breakfast we hike deeper in to the jungle, enjoying the surroundings and exploring the delights and hidden wonders of the Amazon Rainforest. We may also catch a glimpse of the rare giant otter. Afterwards we will enjoy the view of the lake from our viewing point/observation platform, where you can experience the canopy wildlife such as parrots, guacamayos, camungos, shanshos, herons, turtles and caiman. We will return to the lodge for a well deserved lunch.
After lunch, we take a short boat trip across the Madre de Dios River to Monkey Island. On the way over you may spot caiman from the boat. Once on the island it is possible to see a great variety of monkeys such as the ‘maquisapa’, black and white ‘Martins’, ‘Leoncito de la Selva’ (Little Lions), ‘Frailes’ (Friars), ‘Achuñis’, ‘Ronsocos’ as well as an array of birdlife. In the evenings it is often possible to enjoy the wonderful sunset, one of the most impressive sights of the forest (weather permitting).
Please note: On all of our tours that have overnight excursions, we recommend bringing a small bag to carry only necessary overnight belongings
Day 4 to 4 - Cuzco
On the final day we awake to the sounds of the jungle before departing this jungle haven and returning to Puerto Maldonado for our flight on to Cuzco, where you have the rest of the day free to explore this fascinating ancient capital.
Day 5 to 5 - Sacred Valley of the Incas
A full day is spent visiting the Sacred Valley of the Incas. At an altitude of 3800m we take slow walks that take up to an hour, around each of the ruins in order to manage any effects the high altitude may have. Firstly we visit the Pisac ruins, perched on a hilltop with incredible views of the surrounding mountains. We then go down to the famous traditional market of the same name, which is full of colour and atmosphere. A great place for souvenirs! After lunch, we continue along the valley to the temple/fortress of Ollantaytambo with its enormous Inca terracing constructed on the side of a steep mountain.
If you are doing the Inca Trek to Machu Picchu, tonight you will stay in Ollantaytambo. If you are doing the Lares Trek or have opted to take the train to Machu Picchu, this afternoon, you will return to Cuzco where you will spend the night.
Day 6 to 8 - Inca Trail Trek & Machu Picchu
The Inca were a highly organised civilisation and created many Inca paths throughout the Andes in a network they called Qhapaq Ñan. The most famous of all the paths is known simply as Camino Inca or The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the royal route to the remnants of the breathtaking mountaintop city of Machu Picchu. Spread over four days, the spectacular 44-kilometre Inca Trail Trek crosses three stunning high passes and encounters many ancient archaeological sites, culminating at the citadel of Machu Picchu. There are few treks in the world that combine natural beauty, history and mystery with such an awe-inspiring final destination.
The Inca Trail Trek can be demanding but can be completed by anyone who leads a reasonably active life - you certainly don’t need to be an athlete. Everyone is able to walk at their own pace and there is no rush to finish. The trekking group is led by an expert local guide and supported by a team of porters and cooks, leaving you with only a small day pack to carry. If you are in any doubt or if you have any condition that may affect your ability to trek, we advise that you consult your doctor. Before embarking on the Inca Trail Trek we will have a briefing to prepare for the next few days and an early departure the following morning.
Day 1 The trek begins after a short bus journey and the first day is a relatively easy 4½ hour 13 kilometre walk
Day 2 Today will be your biggest challenge as you reach the highest pass at Warmiwañusca (4,200 metres) which translates to “Dead Woman's Pass”! You will cover approximately nine kilometres in about 5-7 hours and after the high pass it's all down hill as the trail winds its way along old Inca stairs to our campsite.
Day 3 On Day three we pass the ruins of Runkurakay, Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca, walking approximately 15 kilometres in seven hours.
Due to a limited number of people being allowed on the trail a day, permits are limited and can sell out far in advance. If you wish to book the Inca Trail, please provide your Reservations Agent with your passport details by email as soon as possible so that we can secure your permit. Without your passport details, we are unable to arrange your Inca Trail Trek. Please click here for more information. For information on the Lares Trek including what meals are included click here. If you are not participating in either trek then you will visit Machu Picchu by train and have plenty of free time to enjoy the activities available in and around Cuzco. Meals are not provided during the time spent in Cuzco.
While the cost of the Inca Trail Trek is included in the price of your tour, tipping is not. The porters, cooks and guides work incredibly hard on the Inca Trail Trek route, carrying food needed for the four days, cooking equipment, tents and your personal items. While it is an optional payment, we recommend a tip of 100 Soles per person to be split between your Inca Trail Trek guides, porters and chefs at the end of the route.
Please note: Meals are included for those doing the Inca Trail Trek. If you are choosing not to do the Inca Trail Trek, then meals are at your own expense.
Day 9 to 9 - Machu Picchu
On the last morning of the Inca Trail Trek, after an overnight stop at Wiñay-Wayna, you will rise early for the final walk to Machu Picchu and greet daybreak over the famous “Sun Gate”. There will then be time to explore on your own or simply take in the magnificence of the place after your guided tour.
The Lost City of Machu Picchu was originally completely self-contained, surrounded by agricultural terraces sufficient to feed the population, and watered by natural springs. Located high above the fast flowing Urubamba River, the cloud shrouded ruins have palaces, baths, temples, storage rooms and some 150 houses, all in a remarkable state of preservation that will simply take your breath away.
The ruins were only discovered by the outside world in 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham found them while looking for another “lost city” called Vilcabamba. Due to their isolation many of the buildings are still quite intact and you can't help but admire Huayna Picchu (“Young Mountain”), which towers above the ruins. After spending most of the day at Machu Picchu you have the chance to meander through the markets before enjoying a scenic train ride back to the Sacred Valley where our transfer to Cuzco will be waiting.
Day 10 to 10 - Cuzco
After four days of trekking through the Andes you'll probably want some rest time and that's exactly what today is all about. The day is free for you to relax and unwind, or explore more of Cuzco at your own pace.
The oldest continuously inhabited city in South America, Cuzco was the hub of the Incan Empire and features a population of around 300,000, most of who are indigenous. This marvellous colonial city is situated 3,310 metres above sea level and has numerous churches, some of which were built using recycled Inca masonry, as were many other buildings in Cuzco. The main square is called the Plaza de Armas, which has the beautiful cathedral on one side, which took a century to build, and the Church of La Compañia de Jesus on the other. The colonial arcades, which occupy the remainder of the plaza, are full of restaurants and shops. If you're in the mood for a cultural experience, take a peek inside the 14th-century Inca palace which was later converted into the city's Museo de Arte Religioso (Museum of Religious Art). Well worth exploring during your time here is the ancient archaeological site of Sacsayhuaman, which has the largest and most impressive Inca stonework of all.
If that all sounds a bit much, the city boasts some great markets, the most well-known being San Pedro where all kinds of textiles and artisan merchandise are sold, and you can enjoy a fresh fruit juice made by one of the welcoming locals. Or you can simply enjoy wandering the cobbled streets, enjoy a cup of coca tea in a local café and soak up the friendly atmosphere.
Day 11 to 12 - Puno & Lake Titicaca
Leaving Cuzco, we'll drive along roads abundant with herds of llamas, alpacas and vicuñas before reaching the Altiplano (high plain) where our journey takes us past hot mineral pools, snow capped mountains and through villages where the locals sell food, fur hats and alpaca sweaters. At the highest point, the La Raya pass at 4,321 metres, you can see the research station for high altitude animals.
The beautiful scenery is continual all the way to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which at 3,855 metres above sea level, is the highest navigable lake in the world. We'll arrive in time so you can visit the colourful local market.
The next morning we depart Puno for our full day excursion on Lake Titicaca. We visit the floating Uros islands in the Bay of Puno, which are constructed by the islanders using reeds that grow in the shallow waters of the bay. You will get to meet the families who live on these islands, learning about their way of life and visiting their homes. You will also have the option to ride in a traditional reed boat before continuing our journey to the island of Taquile, a small island 45km offshore from Puno. It is well known for its tradition of intricate textiles and clothing knitted by the male locals. These textiles are regarded among the highest-quality handicrafts in Peru, and you will learn about this important tradition by meeting and interacting with the islanders. You will then have the option to have a lunch made of local produce before returning to Puno.
Day 13 to 14 - La Paz
Built in a steep valley that protects the city from the harsh elements of the Altiplano, just about every building in La Paz is built on some sort of hill, so sightseeing will literally take your breath away! You will have two days to explore La Paz and it's bustling atmosphere. Our hotel is very centrally located and is just around the corner from the city's colourful indigenous street markets including the fascinating and suitably named "Witches Market'' where local women in traditional 'Cholita' dress sell such items as dead cats and llamas foetuses said to ward off evil spirits. The main square, Plaza Murillo, is also within walking distance. The square still retains its colonial buildings including the Presidential Palace. La Paz is possibly the best place to experience a traditional peña show of Andean music and dance to local bands playing time-honoured instruments such as zampoñas (pipes) and charangos (the ukulele).
Please note: On arrival in Bolivia you will be required to pay an entry fee of US$10.
Day 15 to 15 - Uyuni
We fly from La Paz to Uyuni, in the South West corner of Bolivia. If it is a clear day, you will be able to see the huge expanse of the Altiplano as you fly over the landlocked country, perhaps seeing the Andes slowly flattening out to become the Amazonian basin, which spreads to the far East of the country, to the border with Brazil.
Please note: During the winter months of May-August temperatures of the Altiplano can be extremely cold, so please be prepared and pack warm clothes
Day 16 to 16 - Uyuni (Salt Flats)
The next morning we embark on an exhilarating three day 4WD tour to explore the Salar de Uyuni and the striking landscapes that surround it. First on the agenda is a visit to the Train Cemetery, where you can see the remains of 19th and early 20th century steam locomotives - a good place for artistic photographs. We will then come to Colchani, the main plant for the iodisation of salt and the best place to observe the methods of salt extraction from the salar. Here ovens are used to dry the salt, which is then formed into cakes. From here we drive onto the Salt Flats themselves. Claimed to be the largest salt flat in the world, the brilliant white vast Salar de Uyuní, which covers some 10,500 square kilometres and is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt, looks like something from a surrealist painting and its seemingly infinite horizons will amaze you. You will then visit either Fish Island or Incahuasi Island (seasonal dependent). Located in the centre of the Salar, 100 kilometres from Uyuní, this hilly outpost is covered in giant cacti amid a flat, white sea of hexagonal salt tiles.The otherworldly views from the islands will take your breath away, with the brilliant blue sky (weather permitting of course) contrasting with the pure white of the salt flats.
Please Note: Occasionally in the rainy season the salt flats become overly flooded and we may have to alter the itinerary if the salt flats are not safe to traverse. Your tour leader will advise as early as possible if this is likely to happen on your tour.
Day 17 to 17 - Laguna Colorada
We continue south on our epic 4WD expedition, into some of the most remote areas of the Bolivian Altiplano. You will see a variety of dramatic landscapes including smoking volcanoes, barren deserts and gravity-defying rock formations carved by the wind. In this incredibly empty landscape you'll most likely feel the furthest from civilisation you've ever been. You will visit a number of lagoons including Cañapa, Chairkota and Laguna Honda. You will also get to see the Laguna Colorada, which offers some truly breathtaking scenery, with several varieties of flamingos gathering in the shallow waters of the beautiful crimson lagoon. Before arriving at Laguna Colorada you will pass Arbol de Piedra, the famous Stone Tree.
Day 18 to 19 - San Pedro de Atacama
We visit the volcanic zone ‘Sol de Mañana' (Morning Sun) at 4,850 metres above sea level. Here you'll discover a geyser basin with bubbling mud pots, hellish fumaroles and a thick aroma of sulphur fumes. Inside a small crater we will observe mud bubbling away and we will also stop at hot springs where you can bathe. We will pass the Desert of Salvador Dali before crossing a 5,000 metre pass. We then come to the beautiful Laguna Verde, which is shadowed by the cone of the Licancabur Volcano. Next to Laguna Verde is Laguna Blanca, known as the White Lake. Continuing on we will cross into Chile. On the way we get the chance to see both the Bolivian and Chilean sides of the 5960m Licancabur Volcano. We then come to San Pedro de Atacama in the world's driest desert. The area is famous for the salt-covered lunar landscapes, geysers, salt flats and hot springs of the Valley of the Moon, which we will explore by van. There is an excellent archaeological museum at San Pedro de Atacama, housing a good selection of ancient artefacts.
San Pedro de Atacama is a picturesque small town that looks like it has come straight from the scene of a Western with its single-storey buildings, white-washed walls and dusty roads. Due to its remote location and dry climate, the Atacama desert offers some of the clearest skies in the world and as such is used by international space agencies to monitor the skies. If you are lucky enough to have clear nights during your stay in San Pedro de Atacama, the starscape will most likely be the best you'll ever see.
Day 20 to 22 - Santiago
We head to the sprawling metropolis of Santiago. You will have three days to explore this cosmopolitan city at your own pace.
Santiago is a very clean, modern city with many fountains and parks, but also has its own turbulent history. It is well-known for its fresh markets such as the famous La Vega Central Market, and the Mercado Central, one of the best seafood markets in the world. You can see the changing of the guard most days outside the impressive Palacio de La Moneda, the seat of the President of Chile. In the 1970s, the palace was bombarded during the military coup d'état, ushering in a dark period in Chile’s national history.
Other interesting places to visit are the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, an impressive fine art gallery housed in a colossal neo-classical building, and the Cementerio General, a huge cemetery with large mausoleums including that of the former president Salvador Allende Gossens. Also worth a visit is the Plaza de Armas, the centrepiece of the city, which is bordered on one side by the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, completed in the 19th century.
For the best views of the city, take a funicular railway or hike to the top of San Cristobal, where the Statue of the Virgin overlooks the capital and the distant Andes. Here you can taste some of Chile's best wines and find some beautifully situated swimming pools.
You may wish to take an optional excursion to the Chilean coast, about two hours’ drive from Santiago. You can wander around the creative port city of Valparaiso, which has a lively tradition of imaginative street art and painted murals, or you can relax in the upmarket beach resort of Viña del Mar, trying exquisite seafood in stylish restaurants that look out onto the Pacific Ocean.
Day 23 to 25 - Mendoza
We enjoy a scenic drive into Mendoza, the epicentre of Argentina's wine country.
Mendoza is where General José de San Martín organised the army with which he liberated Chile and Peru from Spanish rule in 1818. Unfortunately, few historic buildings remain after an earthquake devastated the city in 1861. However, the city was rebuilt on a grid system, resulting in the broad tree-lined streets and beautiful green plazas for which the city is famous. There are great views from the top of “Cerro de la Gloria” at Parque San Martín, where you can also visit the local zoo. Situated on the foothills of the Andes, the city is a great base for some optional outdoor activities, such as white-water rafting and rappelling. But of course no trip to Mendoza would be complete without touring the surrounding vineyards. You can hire bikes and cycle the ‘Ruta de los Vinos' (wine route), visiting both ancient cellars and working wineries – tasting some of the world's best Malbecs en route.
Please note: Due to Winter weather conditions the route from Santiago to Mendoza may be replaced with an included flight instead
Day 26 to 28 - Buenos Aires
We fly to the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, known as the "Paris of South America" due to its lovely green parks, plazas and wide boulevards. Explore the quirky neighbourhoods and artistic markets of the city, where European and Latin American influences have mixed together to create a city like no other. Stroll down Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world, spotting the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, which was built to commemorate the fourth centenary of the city, and the impressive Teatro Colón, one of the world's best opera houses. You can also visit the famous Casa Rosada, Argentina’s presidential palace, from where Juan and Eva Perón famously addressed the crowds gathered on Plaza de Mayo in 1945.
Argentina’s capital city is a great destination for culture lovers, with the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes boasting an impressive collection including original works by Monet, Renoir and Cézanne. You can also learn about the national heroine ‘Evita’ at the Museo Eva Perón.
Buenos Aires has a variety of craft markets, and if you stroll through them at the weekends you may come across live bands, barbecues, make-shift bars and practising tango dancers for a truly atmospheric Latin-American experience. San Telmo is the best market for antiques, while the market at Recoleta has great hand-made craft items. The nearby Recoleta Cemetery is also worth a visit – it has beautiful marble tombs and Eva Peron’s family tomb can be found here. No visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without a stroll around the upmarket boutiques and cafés of the Palermo district, and the contrasting bohemian barrio of La Boca, where poor inhabitants of the area used left-over paint from the nearby shipyards to paint their humble houses made of scrap metal in bright, block colours.
The city is also world-renowned for its incredible nightlife, with many nightclubs, bars, restaurants and cinemas open all night. For a great evening, you could see an authentic tango show in the city where the dance originated, and you can’t leave Buenos Aires without trying some of the best steaks in the world!
Day 29 to 30 - Foz do Iguaçu
We fly over fertile farmlands to the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguaçu, our base for visiting the famous Iguazú Falls - the most magnificent waterfalls in the world. Unlike most other waterfalls that have just one or two cataracts, at Iguazú Falls there are 275 cataracts in a magnificent 3 kilometre long U shape that we will visit from both the Brazil and Argentinean sides.
Visiting the Argentine side of the falls you can board a speed boat which will take you under the falls soaking you from head to toe, an optional adventure you'll never forget! On the Argentine side you'll also find the famous "Devil's Throat" where fourteen falls drop with such force that there is always a massive cloud of spray overhead.
Visiting the Brazilian side of the falls will give you a completely different perspective from the Argentine side. On the Brazilian side you can see the falls by walking through the rainforest and along catwalks above and below the rushing water. You can also visit the world's largest hydroelectric dam at Itaipu (optional) where you can learn more about the ecological issues faced during the dam's construction. There is also a very interesting bird park nearby, perfect for that must-have photo with a toucan!
Day 31 to 31 - Rio de Janeiro
Fantastic Rio de Janeiro has many things to see and do. A highlight for many would be to experience the majestic gaze of Christ the Redeemer at the top of Corcovado, the breath-taking panoramic views from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, and the vibrant coloured tiles of the Selarón staircase. You can walk from the top of the staircase up to the quiet hill-top neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, with many quaint cafés and shops lining the cobblestone streets. In the city centre, you can stroll around Rio's old colonial buildings and wander around the skyscrapers of the financial district. Alternatively, you may like to visit the Botanical Gardens, one of the world-famous beaches of Copacabana or Ipanema, or the beautiful Rodrigues de Freitas Lagoon. If you are in Rio de Janeiro around February/March, get ready for the world's biggest party, the Rio Carnival.
Day 32 to 32 - Depart Rio de Janeiro
Your adventure of a lifetime comes to an end today. If you have a late flight or have lengthened your stay by adding post tour accommodation you will have more time to explore the sights.
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