An Expertly Guided Small-Group Exploration of Peru’s Natural & Archaeological Treasures
Day 1: Lima, Peru
Our adventure begins on arrival in Peru's capital of Lima, where you are met at the airport and escorted to our evening's accommodations. Dinner this evening is on your own.
Day 2: Cusco
Fly to Cusco this morning and enjoy lunch on arrival and an afternoon city tour with our Expedition Leader. Nestled in a high valley in the Andes, Cusco was the capital of the Inca Empire until Spanish conquistadors destroyed the civilization during their 16th-century colonial quest. We stroll the narrow cobbled streets, steeped in history and intrigue, stopping to admire the remnants of the Inca Wall, the Plaza de Armas, and scores of ornately gilded colonial churches. At the ruins of Sacsayhuaman outside town, a mosaic of enormous granite stonework offers the most vivid example of Inca walls in the Cusco area. Due to the exceptionally advanced building techniques of the Incas, the walls have survived earthquakes that devastated the city of Cusco in the valley just below.
Day 3: The Sacred Valley of the Incas
Today we imagine what it was like to live as the Incas did. Walking among centuries-old ruins in the Sacred Valley, we marvel at the massive granite stones so perfectly joined together that even a pocketknife blade cannot fit between them. This full-day guided excursion takes us along the rushing Urubamba River past tawny hillsides dotted with traditional villages and backdropped by the knife-edged peaks of the Andes. We stop to see the magnificent Inca ruins at Pisac, where we may have time to visit the colorful Quechua Indian market in town. At Awana Kancha, a cultural exhibition center, we'll witness traditional textile weaving and meet llamas, alpacas and guanacos, the iconic animals of the Andes whose wool is used in a multitude of garments and blankets. After lunch in Urubamba, we explore Ollantaytambo, a small town surrounded by steep terraced mountainsides. Ollantaytambo rests on traditional Inca foundations and is one of the best surviving examples of Inca city planning.
Day 4: Maras, Moray & Chinchero / Sacred Valley
Today we visit the salt mines of Maras, 3,000 small pools mined by the Incas centuries ago and still worked by locals today. We also visit Moray, an Inca site more than 500 years old where giant natural sinkholes have been converted into terraced farming areas. Some archaeologists believe these served as an agricultural experiment where Inca cultivators took advantage of microclimates provided by different elevations. Our exploration of the region is complete with a stop at Chinchero, a small Andean Indian village located high on the windswept plains of Anta. From here there are beautiful views overlooking the Sacred Valley with the Cordillera Vilcabamba and the snowcapped
peak of Salcantay dominating the western horizon. In Inca legend, Chinchero is the mythical birthplace of the rainbow.
Day 5: Machu Picchu
After an early breakfast, return to Ollantaytambo to embark on the famous train to Machu Picchu. The 1½-hour journey winds through verdant mountains, snaking through an ever-narrowing gorge to finally reach the village of Aguas Calientes, where a bus awaits to take us on the final stretch to the ancient "Lost City of the Incas." The magnificent ruins are soon in view as Machu Picchu rises above the jungle-cloaked forest like a vision in the sky. Although Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the best-known archaeological site on the continent, it has managed to retain an air of mystery. Our Expedition Leader interprets it all as we explore the vast labyrinth of ruins, full of complex passageways, steep staircases
and hidden niches. We begin to picture life here in the 15th century,
when 1,200 people lived within this maze of granite walls and temples.
Tonight we stay at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, an Andean-style luxury retreat on the river with 300 species of orchids on the grounds. Beautifully nestled into a forested hillside in the town of Aguas Calientes, this stunning property was named one of Travel + Leisure
's top 100 hotels. Constructed from eucalyptus wood and stone, each of the 40 colonial-style private casitas is furnished with traditional handicrafts, tile floors
and cedar furniture. Enjoy the many gardens and terraces, as well as the hotel's main house, which offers a spacious lounge, cozy fireplace and books on the area and its history.
Day 6: Machu Picchu / Cusco
After breakfast, we return to the ruins at Machu Picchu to explore further with our Expedition Leader. Or, you may prefer to spend time in Aguas Calientes, soaking in the hot springs for which the town is named, or enjoying a walk on one of the many well-maintained trails surrounding our hotel. For those who wish, hike to the top of Wayna Picchu, the imposing mountain that provides the famous backdrop for the ruins in classic photos. The Incas built the original trail to the top, where they built temples and farming terraces. Local myth holds that the summit of Wayna Picchu was the residence for the high priest of the ancient city. This challenging hike takes 2-3 hours and climbs approximately 1,200 feet from the base at
Machu Picchu, ascending a steep face using stairs and cables for support. This hike is not recommended for guests with physical limitations. Should entrances for Wayna Picchu be sold out, an equally challenging hike to the top of Machu Picchu Mountain will be available.
This afternoon, we catch the return train to Ollantaytambo and transfer by road the remainder of the way to Cusco. Upon arrival, check in once more to our hotel before heading out for dinner, perhaps in the San Blas art district of the city.
Day 7: Cusco / Lima / Iquitos / Nauta—Embark
This morning we fly to Lima and then connect on to Iquitos. Crossing the spine of the Andes, we arrive at this remote urban outpost that was once a booming rubber town. Today Iquitos is isolated in a vast tract of jungle and can only be reached by air or water. We then transfer in a comfortable private vehicle over paved roads to Nauta, about 60 miles away. Passing scenes of daily life in the jungle, we reach this small riverside town on the banks of the Marañon River that is literally the "end of the road," and where we will embark the Delfin II
Once we've settled into our oversized suites, the ship is soon gliding into the broad expanse of one of the Amazon's two largest tributaries, turbid with silt and the color of milk chocolate. During the days ahead we'll sail up the Ucayali River, as well as various smaller side rivers and creeks. On the top observation deck, our guides conduct a brief orientation using videos and maps, outlining details of our journey including the places we will visit, the wildlife we're likely to see, as well as a summary of the history and geography of the Amazon Basin. As dusk falls, enjoy a gourmet dinner with the river in view outside the picture windows. The ship's chef is schooled in the creative preparation of Peruvian cuisine accented with an international touch, and each meal is a memorable new discovery. Finally, under the cloak of an Amazonian night sky filled with hundreds of stars or perhaps a bright moon, the ship's multitalented staff welcomes you on board with a little live music.
Day 8: Pacaya Samiria National Reserve—Belluda Caño Creek & Dorado River
As day breaks, we awaken in the heart of the vast Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a flooded forest covering 5 million acres—nearly 10,000 square miles—at the headwaters of the Amazon. As the sun rises over the rain forest canopy near the genesis of the world's greatest water artery, we head out early in our skiffs for Belluda Caño Creek. This is a small and spectacular tributary within the Pacaya Samiria Reserve and a prime location to seek out pink and gray river dolphins. These river-adapted dolphins are highly social, friendly cetaceans—and especially intelligent with a brain capacity 40 percent larger than humans. Plying the water in our skiffs, this is an opportunity for particularly close encounters with the increasingly rare Amazon River dolphin. As we travel, watch for active birdlife soaring across the Amazon sky.
This afternoon we explore the Dorado River by skiff. As we cruise at a lazy pace, search for the Amazon's transitional forest specialties such as snail kites, brilliant parrots, endangered scarlet macaws, olive-spotted hummingbirds, Amazonian parrotlets and wood creepers, among others. Later, as night falls, our environs are transformed. An orchestra of sounds evolves as nocturnal creatures awaken, with crickets and night birds providing a percussive song. In the darkness, our guides use spotlights to search for wildlife: frogs, opossums, nighthawks and caimans are frequently spotted along the narrow river's banks. The biodiversity, masked by the cloak of the night sky, is amazing. Back aboard ship we return to a more refined world, in time to enjoy a cocktail beneath the stars on the upper deck before dinner is served.
Day 9: Clavero Lagoon / Yarapa River / Puerto Miguel
On a morning excursion to Clavero Lagoon, we hope to observe several species of egrets, herons, hawks and long-legged neo-tropical cormorants fishing for breakfast. Traveling by skiff, we also explore other linked blackwater lagoons that are part of this huge water system where wattled jacanas compete for food with spiders, and grasshoppers and butterflies thrive along the grassy edges of freshwater swamps and marshes. In the lush forest, we watch for large blue and yellow macaws taking flight over head and two-toed sloths lurking in the trees. At every turn, our guides reveal the secrets of the rain forest.
This afternoon, we cruise upstream to reach the Yarapa River, a pristine tributary to the Amazon, where we can explore the jungle-laden tributary in kayaks. Turning into the Yarapa's remote reaches, watch for troops of curious squirrel monkey and colorful birds such as the plum-throated cotinga. We'll also look for gray and pink dolphins swimming alongside our boat. Local lore teaches that dolphins turn into humans to steal handsome men or pretty women from their villages during celebrations.
Later in the day, we make a short skiff ride to Puerto Miguel, a riverside village where we'll meet residents whose indigenous culture has been a part of this region for centuries. We may visit a typical schoolhouse where the children are always very happy to have visitors, then stop by the local women's arts and crafts market to admire and purchase handicrafts. These sales help support the community and empower women artisans, and indirectly help preserve local fauna, since income generated decreases the need for illegal hunting.
Day 10: Nauta—Disembark / Iquitos / Lima / Depart
It's time to disembark as we return to the port of Nauta, where our ground crew awaits to drive us back to Iquitos. En route to the airport, we visit the Rescue & Rehabilitation Center for River Mammals. Here, biologists and volunteers care primarily for endangered Amazon manatees that conservation authorities have seized from fishermen and locals who have captured them illegally. Scientists discuss efforts to help these vulnerable mammals, including how they are prepared for re-introduction into their natural habitat. We'll have the chance to see baby manatees and interact with charming, docile adults, maybe even helping feed them. Other animals are also cared for at the center, often rescued from capture with the intention of being held as pets.
Our Amazon adventure comes to a close as we check in for our return flight to Lima, where we connect with late-night flights home. Day rooms are provided at the Wyndham Costa del Sol at the Lima airport.
Please Note: This itinerary is meant as a guideline and can change due to weather conditions, internal flight schedules and river water levels. On some occasions these conditions may require us to deviate from our intended itinerary, in which case we will provide the best available alternative. And we'll make a great adventure of it!
Physical Rating: Moderate