Quito – Galápagos – Lima – Sacred Valley – Machu Picchu – Cusco
February 11–26, 2021 (16 days)
- Explore the breathtaking city of Quito, situated high up in the snow-capped Andean mountains at the foot of the Pichincha Volcano, and the vibrant market of Otavalo for a taste of Ecuadorean culture and Spanish colonial history and architecture.
- Discover the natural wonders and amazing biodiversity of the Galápagos on a unique 4-night private cruise through the southern and eastern islands of the archipelago, home to some of the best snorkelling spots and most diverse and impressive marine wildlife around. Get up close and personal with sea lions, tortoises, prancing blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas and a host of unusual species both on land and sea.
- Visit the World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu – the most amazing urban creation of the Inca Empire at its height, as well as the historic Inca capital of Cusco.
- A small group tour of 16 people makes it an intimate and personalized experience, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in the discovery of these diverse countries.
Depart for Ecuador.
After arrival in Quito, embark on a half-day tour of the historic centre. Visit the Basílica del Voto Nacional, one of the most important works of Ecuadorian neo-gothic architecture.
Rather than gargoyles, turtles and iguanas protrude from the church’s side. Explore the vibrant Plaza Grande (“Independence Square”), surrounded by Quito’s Cathedral, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Palace and the Archbishop’s Palace. You will also visit the intricately detailed Church of la Compañía de Jesús and the Church of San Francisco, the city’s largest colonial structure. Head to El Panecillo for a view over the city and the Avenue of Volcanoes – two parallel cordilleras containing eight of the country’s ten highest peaks.
Lunch followed by check-in at the hotel. Time at leisure until dinner at a local restaurant. (L, D)
Independence Square, Quito © Alfonso Tandazo
Visit the Guayasamín Museum, dedicated to the sculptor and painter Oswaldo Guayasamín in the artist's former hillside home. Lunch at a local restaurant.
This afternoon, visit Pacari, one of the most awarded chocolate companies in the world. The organic cacao produced in the provinces of Esmeraldas, Los Rios and Manabi is blended with Andean flavours such as lemon verbena, gooseberry and Andean blueberry. Continue to the Mitad del Mundo ("Middle of the World"), where you can straddle both sides of the Equator.
Dinner at leisure to try the local fare. (B, L)
Mitad del Mundo
Drive to the highlands and stop at Cayambe for a sample of their traditional Bizcochos, delectable local pastries baked in a wood-fired clay oven and covered with local cheese or dulce de leche. Continue to Otavalo and visit the largest handicraft market in South America, famous for its amazing local art, tapestries and textiles. The market dates back to pre-Inca times when jungle products were transported from the eastern lowlands and traded for highland goods. Villagers from the surrounding countryside come here every week to sell handmade goods as well as livestock, fruits and vegetables.
Wander the stalls to meet local artists, find one-of-a-kind souvenirs and try your hand at haggling – it is expected for every purchase. One of the most obvious signs of the Otavaleños’ cultural integrity is their traditional dress, worn throughout their daily life.
Stop at the small highlands weaving community of Peguche to visit a home workshop. Around the corner lives a family of musicians who will show you how perfectly tuned Andean flutes are crafted in minutes. Return to Quito for dinner. (B,L,D)
Transfer to the airport for your flight to San Cristóbal Island, the easternmost island in the Galápagos. Embark on the
Seaman Journey, your home for the next 4 nights, in time for lunch.
This afternoon, visit San Cristóbal Island Interpretation Centre which provides excellent information about the settlement history of the archipelago, its climate, the arrival of different species, the volcanic origins of the islands as well as their human history. Dinner and overnight on board the Seaman Journey. (B,L,D)
Seaman Journey, Galapagos
Brought back from the brink of extinction, see the famous Galápagos tortoise up close at the Tortoise Breeding Centre.
Lunch on board.
Afternoon wet landing at Cerro Brujo, a fascinating lava hill on San Cristóbal Island. Enjoy exceptional views of Kicker Rock as well as the southern part of San Cristóbal and the coast. Look for blue-footed boobies, seagulls, black-necked stilts, ruddy turnstones, whimbrels, white-cheeked pintails and pelicans.
The protected bay and its turquoise water is also popular among young sea turtles and rays, which makes swimming and snorkelling here particularly exciting. (B,L,D)
Blue-footed booby, Galapagos
Española is the southernmost, oldest and one of the most bio-diverse islands of the archipelago, home to several endemic wildlife species. Sail into Gardner Bay, an excellent swimming and snorkelling site. Its magnificent white sandy beach is frequented by a transient colony of friendly sea lions. Enjoy fantastic snorkelling in the turquoise water of the bay; spot large schools of surprisingly big tropical fish, including yellow-tailed surgeonfish, king angelfish, bump-head parrotfish, the occasional manta ray as well as whitetip reef sharks napping on the bottom. Also, get the chance to swim with the sea lions!
In the afternoon, head to Punta Suarez, famous for its magnificent blowhole, spurting water some 25 metres high into the air. This area is great for spotting blue-footed boobies, Nazca boobies, waved albatrosses, Española mockingbirds, oystercatchers and the impressive Galápagos hawk. Punta Suarez is also home to sally lightfoot crabs, brightly coloured marine iguanas, lava lizards and sea lions. Hike to the top of the cliff for spectacular photo opportunities. (B,L,D)
Punta Suarez, Espanola © Serena Tang
Today visit Floreana Island, considered to be one of the most exotic in the archipelago. Cormorant Point is the first point of call and offers probably the best flamingo lagoon in the Galápagos. Various species of shorebirds can also be observed, such as common stilts, white-checked pintail ducks and other migratory birds. The "Green Sand Beach" contains olivine crystal, while the "Flour Sand Beach" is made up of coral.
Continue to the Champion Islet – a great place to snorkel with sea lions, schools of stingrays and tropical fish. Occasionally, dolphins are sighted as boats approach the shore.
In the afternoon, head to Post Office Bay, established in the 18th century by British whalers to send letters to and from England. After a wet landing, walk just off the beach, pop your mail in the barrel and see if it reaches its destination.
Snorkellers can take a dip on the main beach among the playful sea lions and green sea turtles. Next, visit the Baroness’ Lookout Point, where the controversial “Baroness” Eloisa de Wagner – one of the first human inhabitants in the Galápagos Islands in the mid-30s – would spend several hours daily observing whales and dolphins. (B,L,D)
This morning learn about the geology, climate, natural history, protection and conservation of the Galápagos at the Charles Darwin Research Station and visit the facility’s tortoise breeding centre. Head to the Santa Cruz Highlands and see the Twins Craters surrounded by scalesia forest.
Transfer to Seymour Airport on Baltra Island for your return flight to the mainland. Connect on to your flight to Lima, Peru.
Evening arrival in Lima. (B, D)
Giant tortoise, Galapagos
Embark on a city tour of the Peruvian capital including the Larco Museum, founded by pre-Columbian collector Rafael Larco Hoyle in 1926 in an 18th-century mansion.
Afternoon flight to Cusco. Transfer to your hotel in the Sacred Valley. (B,L,D)
Sacred Valley, Peru © Serena Tang
This morning head to Chinchero, a beautiful Andean town of weavers and home to a cultural centre that helps keep the textile traditions of Peru alive. Then descend to the small town of Maras, a typical Andean village with a number of historical buildings and colonial churches. Continue to the archaeological complex of Moray, a magnificent series of terraces believed to be used by the Incas to research growing conditions for different types of crops.
Following lunch, visit the spectacular salt mines of Maras, a fascinating system of platforms used since the Inca times to extract salt from a natural mountain spring. (B,L,D)
Maras salt mines
This morning head to Pisac, built over an Inca settlement beneath the great terraces of the Inca ruins known as the Citadel. Visit Pisac’s vibrant and colourful market.
After lunch, drive to Ollantaytambo. At this beautiful and strategic spot, the Inca Pachacutec built a fortress on the steep cliffs above the terraces. Then transfer to the station and board the Vistadome panoramic train. Travel to the thermal town of Aguas Calientes, enclosed by tall granite cliffs, a towering cloud forest and two rushing rivers. (B,L,D)
Women weaving, Sacred Valley © Leo Tamburri
Today visit the amazing citadel of Machu Picchu, the best-preserved relic of Inca civilization, often referred to as “The Lost City of the Incas”. Few places are more magical or mysterious than Machu Picchu. Perched on a mountain ridge 2,430 metres above sea level, the citadel was built at the height of the Inca Empire in the 1400s. When Spanish conquerors invaded Peru in the 1530s, the city was abandoned and seemingly forgotten – until 1911, when explorer Hiram Bingham laid eyes on the mist-shrouded ruins.
After lunch, take the Vistadome train back to Ollantaytambo and transfer to Cusco. Dinner at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)
Machu Picchu © David Stanley
Explore Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire from the 13th until the 16th-century Spanish conquest. Visit the Coricancha (Golden Temple of the Sun), the Plaza de Armas and its cathedral.
Afternoon tour of the Inca ruins surrounding Cusco, including Qenqo, the ceremonial bath of Tambomachay and Sacsayhuamán, a marvel of engineering with some of the biggest blocks ever found in Incan construction fitted together so tightly, mortar was not even necessary. Farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B, D)
Sacsayhuaman © Leander Canaris
Day at leisure to further explore the beautiful city of Cusco until the transfer to the airport for your flight(s) back to Canada. (B)
Plaza de Armas, Cusco