Machu Picchu and Galapagos
|Resort:||Machu Picchu and Galapagos|
|Destination:||Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Latin America, Peru|
Combine two of South America’s most iconic destinations in this superb highlights trip. First discover the spectacular ‘Lost City’ of Machu Picchu, before spending six days exploring one of the best wildlife experiences on earth; the Galapagos Islands.
Cusco – Sip pisco sours as the sun goes down in this beautifully preserved colonial city; the old capital city of the Inca civilisation
Machu Picchu – Travel by train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to this awe-inspiring ancient site, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World
Galapagos Islands – Spend one week getting up close to the remarkable wildlife of Darwin’s paradise islands
Day 1 Join trip in Cusco
Arrive in Cusco, the old heart of the Inca Empire and the archaeological capital of the Americas. The Spanish-style city of today, with its attractive pink tiled roofs, arcaded plazas and steep winding alleyways, stands upon tremendous Inca foundation stones. Its links with the Inca Empire are everywhere to be seen, from the stone walls that line the city streets, to the museums filled with artefacts and relics of a long dead people.
For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 6pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Cusco at any time.
If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (CUZ), which is around 15 minutes’ drive from our hotel. Should you miss the welcome meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If you arrive earlier in the day, you might choose to relax and acclimatise to the altitude at the hotel or take a gentle stroll to the Plaza de Armas.
Day 2 Walking tour of the old Inca capital
The old capital of the Inca Empire survives only in its ruins, imbued with an atmosphere of mystery and grandeur. The Spanish colonial city, with its attractive pink tiled roofs, arcaded plazas and steep winding alleyways, stands upon tremendous Inca foundation stones.
The morning is free to rest and get acclimitised to the altitude.
In the afternoon we take a walking tour of this lovely city to see important Inca and Colonial monuments, such as the Plaza de Armas (main square), the cathedral, the Inca site of Qorikancha and the Inca wall of Hatunrumiyoc with its famous twelve-sided stone. The stone, measuring some 1.5 metres across, has the typical bevelled joints which create the patterns of light and shadow on Inca walls.
Day 3 Explore the Sacred Valley, train to Aguas Calientes
Today we enjoy a tour of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. We will visit the market town of Pisac, strategically located at the head of the Urubamba Valley. Pisac once controlled the road connecting the Inca Empire with Paucartambo on its eastern borders and the magnificent Inca ruins that once so dominated this valley still occupy the mountainside above the town, providing a worthy match for any of the temples of Machu Picchu. We will also stop at Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire it was the royal state of Emperor Pachacuti who conquered the region and built the town as a ceremonial centre. We will visit its majestic fortress.
Late this afternoon we transfer to the railway station to catch the train to Aguas Calientes, the gateway to one of the greatest of all archaeological sites. The train slowly meanders down the valley, following the tumultuous waters of the Urubamba River through a series of rock cut tunnels before emerging at the small town of Aguas Calientes, serenely nestling amidst a lush landscape of cloudforests. This evening there is the chance to soak in the nearby natural hot baths.
Day 4 Discover the majestic Machu Picchu, return to Cusco
Early this morning we take a public bus up to the mountain complex of Machu Picchu, the fabled ‘lost city’ of the Incas and probably the most spectacular feat of engineering in ancient America. The existence of this exquisite masterpiece of ancient civilisation remained unknown to the outside world until it was ‘discovered’ by an American archaeologist, Hiram Bingham in 1911. Temples, stairways, palaces and gabled stone dwellings are scattered everywhere, testifying to the energy and ingenuity of the builders. Not without reason is this site probably the most revered tourist attraction in the Americas; its location alone is dramatic in the extreme, teetering on the saddle of a high mountain peak that towers above the valley below. Built in the mid-15th century by Pachacuti, the city was thought to have been a major agricultural centre for the Incan Empire and its inaccessibility seems to have preserved it from the looters of the intervening years, resulting in the remarkably well-preserved ruins that we see today.
In the afternoon, we return to Cusco, by train to Ollantaytambo and the rest of the way by bus.
Day 5 Free day in Cusco; optional Sacsayhuaman visit
Today is a free day with a wide choice of things to do including a tour of the South Valley including Tipon, Pikillacta and Andahuayillas.
Alternatively, you may wish to visit some of the outlying Inca sites including Cusco’s temple-citadel, Sacsayhuaman which broods high above the town, its huge, zigzagging stone walls broken into 66 sharply projecting angles to catch attackers in a withering crossfire. 20,000 conscripted workers toiled for 90 years to finish it. You will also visit Quenqo, an immense rocky construction, similar to a maze, Pucapucara (red fortress) and Tambomachay (bath of the Incas).
There is also the opportunity to visit Maras and Moray. The amphitheatre-like terracing of Moray is a fascinating spectacle. Some believe the Incas used the terraces to determine the optimal conditions for growing crops of each species.
Day 6 Fly to Quito
Today we transfer to Cusco Airport and fly via Lima to Quito. Quito is Ecuador’s mountain capital and the second highest capital city in Latin America (2850m). One of South America’s most beautiful cities, Quito lies in a narrow valley at the foot of the Pichincha Volcano, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and extinct volcanoes.
Day 7 Tour the Andean colonial capital
Today we explore Quito’s Old Town on a walking tour. The fascinating UNESCO Heritage site of the Old Town, with its rich blend of colonial architecture, imposing churches and bustling local markets, make for a stunning introduction to this most enchanting of regions. We will visit some of the main sites, including the Plaza de la Independencia, the cultural heart of the colonial city, and La Compania Church with its magnificent gilded altars, walls and ceilings. At the church of San Francisco we are introduced to Quito’s largest and oldest colonial church, built in 1553.
Day 8 Fly to the Galapagos
Lying on the Equator, 970km west of the Ecuadorean coast, the Galapagos National Park is a unique collection of islands, formed by volcanoes over hundreds of thousands of years and consists of six main islands, 12 smaller islands as well as over 40 small islets, supporting a distinct and unique flora and fauna, including prehistoric creatures found nowhere else on earth. This desolate and fantastic habitat was discovered in 1535 by Fray Tomas de Berlanga. One of the original designations by him was ‘Las Islas Encantadas’, the Enchanted Isles. Charles Darwin visited the islands on the Beagle exactly three hundred years later, in 1835. He observed the total isolation of the giant reptiles and other creatures, and this played a substantial part in his formulation of the theory of evolution.
The Galapagos have never been connected with the continent. Gradually, over many hundreds of thousands of years, animals and plants from over the sea somehow migrated there and as time went by they adapted themselves to Galapagos conditions and came to differ more and more from their continental ancestors. Thus many of them are unique: a quarter of the species of shore fish, half of the plants and almost all the reptiles are found nowhere else. In many cases different forms have evolved on the different islands.
Of the extraordinary animals to be found in the Galapagos many are reptiles, such as the great tortoise, large land iguanas, numerous lizards and three species of non-poisonous snakes. There are also several species of turtle, which come ashore to mate. Up to three quarters of a million seabirds flock to the islands, including a third of the world’s blue-footed boobies, frigatebirds, pelicans, cormorants, albatross and petrels. Only 35cm tall, the Galapagos penguin can be seen swimming among tropical mangroves, whilst offshore it is common to see dolphins, sea lions and fur seals playing in the water. Fearless though not tame, the extraordinary wildlife can be easily approached and the opportunities for photography are superb.
The Galapagos National Park charges a visitor fee, payable on arrival, which funds park maintenance and supervision in the Galapagos, as well as ecological study, conservation and infrastructure development in Ecuador’s other national parks. Entry fees and the funds they generate for the national park system are among measures taken by the Ecuadorian government to protect its natural heritage.
Today we fly to the Galapagos island of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz is the second largest island in the Galapagos and has the largest population, with Puerto Ayora as its main town. It also boasts the most varied of the islands’ vegetation zones: coastal, transition, scalesia, miconia and pampa. We will travel through the highlands, stopping at Los Gemelos (the twins), two volcanic craters. Later, we will visit a ranch where we might see some giant tortoises roaming around. Next we will be transferred to our lodge in the highlands. In the evening, the lodge provides a free transfer to Puerto Ayora which you may wish to take to explore the town or have dinner there.
Day 9 Sail to Isabela Island
This morning we leave Santa Cruz and journey west by boat, crossing the open waters to nearby Isabela Island where we will spend the next two days. The largest of the Galapagos Islands, Isabela is formed from five volcanoes, of which two are still active. An idyllic paradise of white sand beaches and swaying palms, it is home to the second largest caldera on earth and the highest point in the archipelago. As with Santa Cruz we will base ourselves here, in the small town of Puerto Villamil on the southern coast, and take excursions out around the island.
On arrival we intend to visit the Arnaldo Tupiza breeding centre, approximately a 1.5km walk from Puerto Villamil. The walk itself is a nature experience through the wetlands, where you may see heron, flamingos and many other bird species as well as iguanas, lizards, crabs and other creatures. Once in the centre you will learn an impressive amount about the background of the famous Galapagos turtle, and the centre’s aims to restore their numbers and release them back onto the islands.
Day 10 Sierra Negra Volcano walk, afternoon snorkelling
Our second day on Isabela affords us the opportunity to explore the island more fully: we will take a walk up the Sierra Negra Volcano. Measuring an impressive 12km, the volcano dominates the southern half of the island. The walk to the top is 3.5 hours return and the views from the top, presenting us with some spectacular views across the island and towards Santiago Island to the northeast, are well worth the effort. This afternoon we may also have the chance for snorkelling at Concha y Perla
Day 11 Tintoreras Islets trip
This morning we will take a small boat to the nearby Tintoreras Islets. These islets were formed from the lava flows from volcanoes and are fantastic for viewing wildlife. The bay in front of the islands is home to a colony of white tip sharks. As we walk around we may see a vast array of birdlife and an abundance of marine iguanas (only found in the Galapagos) whilst in the water giant turtles, Galapagos penguins and sea lions may be swimming around. In the afternoon we take the boat back to Santa Cruz Island where we will spend the next three nights.
Day 12 Visit the turtle nesting ground at Tortuga Bay
This morning we will take a walk to Tortuga Bay (5km return walk) where we have the opportunity to swim at one of the most spectacular beaches in the Galapagos Islands and an important turtle nesting ground.
In the afternoon, we will visit Charles Darwin Research Station, which has been responsible for conservation projects within the islands since 1959 (the centenary of the publication of Darwin’s book the Origin of the Species). Here, an exhibition centre displays photos of recent volcanic eruptions, charts outlining geological formations and drawings of the evolutionary development of endemic species. A corral houses adult Galapagos tortoises, and a nursery cares for young tortoises until they are about three years old, when their shells have hardened enough to resist attack from feral dogs. The Research Station is also the training centre for naturalist guides who accompany all visitors and members of the international scientific community often come to study at the station.
Day 13 Santa Cruz Bay boat tour
Today we will be taking a full day boat trip to one of the smaller islands of the Galapagos, which will be either Seymour, Bartolome, Santa Fe or Plazas Island depending on the schedule of the yachts departing from Santa Cruz. Depending on the island, we will be seeing sea lions playing in the water just off shore, land iguanas strolling around their land, magnificent red-throated frigate birds, blue footed boobies, swallow-tail gulls or Galapagos penguins. Time permitting we will also have the opportunity for some snorkelling or hiking about the island.
Depending on the boat schedules, we may change around the order of activities during your days in the Galapagos, and any change in daily schedule will be fully briefed to you in country by your Tour Leader.
Day 14 Fly back to the mainland
Leaving the Galapagos behind, we fly to Guayaquil today. On arrival the rest of the day is free to explore at your leisure. The largest city in Ecuador and its principal port, Guayaquil is a bustling, lively city with a number of churches and museums you might like to visit. Alternatively you might like to wander through the old district of Las Penas, an area of cobbled streets, painted houses and cafes, where you can sit and watch the world go by.
Day 15 Trip ends in Guayaquil
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Guayaquil.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Guayaquil at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Guayaquil’s Jose Joaquin de Olmedo International Airport (airport code: GYE), which is approximately a 20 minute drive from our hotel.