South America is filled with legendary culture and landscape edging the mystical, with no greater stories than those of the Inca in the Andes and the enchanting islands in the Galapagos Archipelago. Gigantic stones continue to adorn the summits of surreal mountaintops. Sea iguanas dive into crystal clear waters, and sea lions bask on powdery-white beaches. Discover the thrilling peaks of Peru; bask in the colonial charm of Quito and enjoy breathtaking scenery and abundant wildlife on Ecuadorian...
Lima – Colonial Squares to Seaside Cliffs
Lima is a city of intrigue and historical splendor, contemporary lifestyle and capital charm. Your flight lands at Jorge Chavez International Airport, where your private transfer greets you upon arrival. The city extends from the shores of the Pacific to the rising hills around the Rimac district. The aroma of freshly squeezed lime emanates from the central market. The alluring aroma drifts out of cevicherias, seafood restaurants, offering bowls of fresh seafood, brimming with crab and sea bass. Street vendors grill choclo, large kernel corn, and spread a spiced sauce called aji over the edges.
You check into the comforts of your luxurious hotel overlooking the charming waves splashing against the seaside cliffs of the Miraflores neighborhood. Your guide meets you in the lobby, eager to introduce you to the variety of districts in the city, each containing a distinctive connection to the city’s rich culture, whether from the Andes in the south, the desert to the east, or the nearby coastal plains. Walk along the Malecon, seaside boardwalk, to enjoy the stunning view of the cobalt waters. A statue of young lovers known as “El Beso,” decorates Love Park. A fragrant sea fills the air as parasailers circle the sky over Antonio Raimondo Park.
Lima – At the Heart of Lima
In the morning, the scent of the sea returns to the air, combined with the rich aromatics of freshly brewed coffee emanating from a popular Café, nestled between the cliffs of Costa Verde. After breakfast, your guide meets you at the hotel eager to lead you through the authentic personality that makes Lima exciting and unique. Plaza de Armas maintains a deep connection to the Spanish colonialism that once decorated the entire city. The square was established in the 17th century upon the Spanish arrival and rebuilt in the mid-19th century. The bronze fountain at the heart of the plaza was erected in 1651 and remains the oldest piece of architecture in all of Lima. The Archbishop’s Palace frames the historic quarter.
The pedestrian street of Jiron de la Union fills with the aroma of roasting corn, chili flakes, and lime. Antique structures and newer buildings feature popular modern restaurants and contemporary boutique shops. The ornate baroque, colonial façade of La Merced Church draws locals and visitors from around the world. The Spanish erected the edifice in the 18th century, and it stands beside one of the oldest colonial mansions in South America, Casa de Aliaga. The stunning wooden balcony protrudes outwards from the structure and overlooks the street. The internal courtyard continues to display the stunning woodwork wrapping around blossoming flowers that border a trickling central fountain.
Cuzco – Allure of the Andean City
In the morning, the parasails return to the sky along the cliffs of Miraflores. The waves roll against the gold-sand beaches below. After breakfast, your private transfer escorts you from the hotel to the airport for your flight to Cusco. The coastal plains recede, replaced by the rolling ridges and textured peaks of the Andes Mountains, the longest mountain range in the world reaching 4,500 miles. Terraces finesse the steep slopes outside of Cuzco, and Inca structures continue to inspire locals and visitors through their power, drama, and unique style. Your flight lands at Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport and escorts you into the heart of the city situated at more than 11,150 feet above sea level. The crisp air is thin and cool against your skin.
The cobblestone streets, indicative of the Spanish colonial style, run along the valley floor and into the surrounding slopes. You take some time to settle into the luxury of your hotel in view of the soaring spires of the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. Andean women dressed in traditional colorful textiles lead a llama down the narrow alleys. Artists paint the distinctive stone stairways bordering the streets. White colonial homes shimmer in the pockets of sunlight. Your guide leads you onto the hillside overlooking the city to reach the walls of Sacsayhuaman Fortress. You touch the stone to find its texture smooth and cold on your skin. A structure has occupied the area since the 10th century atop the ridge reaching an altitude of nearly 12,145 feet.
Cuzco – History of the Sacred
In the morning, the rich scent of coffee emanates from the charming cafes of the contemporary neighborhood of San Blas. Your guide meets you at the hotel and escorts you into the stunning verdant hills of the Sacred Valley. The Urubamba River rushes against the valley floor, curving amidst the rainforest canopy and blossoming orchid petals. You reach the town of Ollantaytambo. The preserved Inca city was the last stronghold against the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century. The air is warmer in the lower altitude of the valley at less than 9,200 feet above sea level. The town along the valley floor has an orthogonal design between the banks of the Patacancha River and the soaring Andean slopes.
Remnants of the Inca civilization line the streets through typical doorways with a single stone lintel. The receding doorway helps keep the interior cool in the summer heat and warm in the winter cold. The true marvel of the town emanates from Temple Hill, upon which stands the ceremonial center of the former fortress. The remains of the Sun Temple stand apart from the terraces and stone fountain on a featured wall referred to as the Six Monoliths, due to its massive size. You can’t help but marvel at the unique architecture and the fabulous image of the agricultural terraces divided by a stairway to the top of the slope, 50 feet above the valley floor.
Machu Picchu – In the Light of the Andean Sun
In the morning, the central market in Cuzco brims with excitement. Local vendors showcase staples of Andean cuisine through several forms of potatoes, corn, and quinoa. The aroma of chicken soup emanates from the food court edging the market, along with sporadic popcorn vendors. After breakfast, you have a private transfer to the train station to enjoy the scenic ride to Aguas Calientes. The glass-roof train car provides opulent views to the surrounding landscape as you traverse the Sacred Valley. The rainforest trees dangle lush branches overhead.
The slopes ascend from the edges of the Urubamba River into snowcapped peaks. Menelaus blue butterflies flutter along the canopy near the growing white petals of fascinating orchids. The train pulls into the station at Aguas Calientes. The neighboring river splashes with whitewater against the rocky path. You make your way to the top of the hillside to the entrance of Machu Picchu, the historic city in the clouds that was almost forgotten with time. The 15th-century city stands on a plateau at nearly 8,000 feet above sea level.
When you reach the plateau, it feels like you have accomplished a goal, witnessing one of the manmade wonders of the world and the most iconic image of Peru. The atmosphere is quiet of birds or rivers and instead, contains a serene ambiance amongst the mountainous skyline. Terraces lead up the steep slopes to where temples and houses look down to the winding rivers. Your guide leads you to the Intihuatana, a carved rock pillar that resembles a hitching post. Astronomers used the angles along the pillar to help predict solstices and control the crops and water during the lengthening summer days.
Cuzco – Morning on the Mountain
You can hear the river continuing its rush across the valley floor at dawn. The rich aroma of hot chocolate drifts through the dining room before breakfast. You make your way back onto the plateau to continue your exploration of Machu Picchu and enjoy its majestic atmosphere. The sunlight barely peeks over the surrounding mountains to the east. The cool air nips at your cheeks as you wander along the lush grounds and cobbled walkways of the plateau. You make your way up the stairs to the neighboring mountain of Huayna Picchu to enjoy an aerial view of the stone city rising above the scattered clouds.
The first 400 people are allowed to climb the mountain, which resembles a rhino horn rising against the backdrop of Machu Picchu. A chain edges the stairway to help guide visitors up the steep steps. The mountaintop stands more than 1,600 feet above the plateau, providing exceptional views to the white waters of the Urubamba River coiling around mountain base. You have a pristine look at the magnitude of the temples and homes, along with how the sunlight glints against the large stones. After descending the mountain, you return to Cuzco with the remainder of the day at your leisure to enjoy the charms of the city.
Quito – Colonial Enchantment
In the morning, the bells of the cathedral in Plaza de Armas chime. The sunlight spreads across the narrow cobblestone streets, and the artists return their easels to positions in which to best capture the marvelous lifestyle of the city blending Andean traditions, Spanish embellishments, and contemporary luxury. After breakfast, your private transfer meets you at the hotel and escorts you to the airport for your flight north to Quito, Ecuador. The captivating ambiance of South America’s oldest continuously inhabited city fades behind the Andean peaks. Quito is a city hemmed into the mountains, surrounded by lush greenery, and accented with remarkable colonial architecture. Market stands promote the colorful Ecuadorian Sierra culture and shamanistic healers set-up stalls beside third and fourth generation haberdashers.
Your private transfer meets you at Mariscal Sucre International Airport and leads you to a hotel within the charming streets of Old Town. Your private guide meets you in the lobby for an introductory walking tour of the colonial monuments with UNESCO World Heritage status. Restored 17th-century facades lead to picturesque open plazas magnified with gorgeous church edifices filled with marvelous artwork. The Basilica del Voto Nacional is the largest neo-gothic cathedral in the Americas. Mystic gargoyles adorn the façade in the form of local mystical creatures, such as monkeys, penguins, tortoises, and condors. Your guide points out a hidden puma growling against the day’s fading light.
Quito – Finding Pleasure in the Past
Every Monday, morning locals flock to the Plaza de la Independencia. At 11 AM, the president greets the city, standing on the intricate wrought-iron balcony of the Presidential residence, waving to those below. At the changing of the guard, musicians of the parliament dress in brightly colored uniforms to perform the Ecuadorian anthem. Horsemen trot through the crowd; flag bearers hold the colors of the Ecuadorian flag tall. Locals of the city enjoy the spectacle as much as visitors, showing pride in the flag, their anthem, and their countrymen.
You make your way to the Plaza de San Francisco to stroll along the 16th-century cobblestones. The church and monastery was erected between the 1530s and early 1600s. The chapel to the right of the main altar retains its original tile work. Baroque style adorns the altar beneath the stunning Moorish embellishments along the roof. The interior contains a spiced hint of frankincense, differing from the crisp air of the cobblestone streets that contain hints of blossoming flowers and barbecue.
Baltra Island – On the Edge of Natural Wonder
In the morning, the refreshing aroma of coffee emanates from the hidden rooftop cafes that provide immaculate views of the cityscape spreading across the hills. The hill referred to as El Panecillo, small bread, reaches a height of more than 650 feet above the surrounding city streets, adorned with a stunning monument to the Virgin Mary. The fabulous hillside provides visitors a 360-degree view of the Quito valley, allowing you a panorama of the impressive urbanity reaching farther than the horizon. After breakfast, you venture to the airport for your flight to Baltra Island, your gateway to the Galapagos. Grasslands spread across the island landscape, providing perfect nesting grounds for finches and noddy terns.
Large brown pelicans swoop across the crystal clear indigo waters in search of fish. You board a luxurious, small cruise ship and depart for a multi-day journey along the fascinating islands, taking you first to San Cristobal and the Galapaguera Reserve to find the giant turtles. Sea lions bask in the light at Cerro Brujo and blue-footed boobies linger on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Marine iguanas lounge on the rocks to soak up the sun and the figure of the sleeping lion was once cast by a history of hot lava spreading across the landscape. Your guide leads you to view the giant tortoises, which can grow to nearly five feet long and weigh approximately 330 pounds. The unique vision of the stunning reptiles highlights their social nature and enchanting magnitude.
Santa Fe – Elegant Shores and Unforgettable Waters
You reach the turquoise lagoon of Santa Fe in the morning and step onto the soft-sand beach of the less than 10 square miles of the island at the center of the archipelago. Volcanic rocks continue to peek out of the brush, palo santo trees, and prickly pear cactus. Sea lions lounge in the sunlight, resting on the sand and lying on one another. They can grow to nearly 100 inches in length and weigh 550 pounds. Their playful nature and entertaining bark often remind people of puppies, especially when the sea lion flips through the water.
A green sea turtle points its head out of the water near the reef and a Galapagos hawk circles the sky over the coastal cliff. The Barrington Land Iguana has a yellow and orange tint, enabling it to blend into the sand or island brush. You find one hiding amongst the volcanic rocks near the trail before it skitters away beneath the trees. You re-board the ship and continue to South Plaza, an island less than 500 feet wide, upon which a colony of more than 1,000 sea lions enjoys the expanse of smooth coastal rocks.
Punta Suarez – In the Company of Sea Lions
In the morning, you can look over the ship to find the shimmering indigo waters of the Pacific Ocean. The coral reefs keep the water calm, and the distance to the equator keeps the water warm and inviting. You reach the shores of Espanola and step onto the beaches to find marine iguana basking in the soft light. Hood Mockingbirds perch on small branches and feed on eggs or berries. The aroma of the sea is never far away, bringing a sweet and briny fragrance to the air.
You take to the waters at Gardner Bay to snorkel amongst the reef. The water has shifted from the turquoise hues of the previous day to crystal-clear indigo. You don your fins and snorkel and glide along the warm surface water. A group of curious stingrays swirls around you. The wings ripple in the water as if flying. They can reach 14 inches in length and often burrow into the seafloor, lying in wait. The sea lions on Gardner Bay are not shy.
They oscillate between lounging on the powdery white sand and jumping back into the indigo water to cool down. One of the more courageous sea lions splashes into the lulling waves and examines your fins as you snorkel. Your guide points into the deeper water where a Galapagos shark swims amidst the edges of the reef. The intimidating, yet fascinating shark can grow to nearly 10 feet long and scours the water for eels, sea bass, and triggerfish. You return to shore to find the sea lions waiting for you on the soft sand.
San Cristobal – Between You and the Receding Sea
In the morning, you look out onto the waters lapping against the shoreline of San Cristobal to find the unforgettable image of an iguana swimming in the clear turquoise water in search of fish. The gentle wake allows the iguana to dive up to 40 feet to feed, dropping its body temperatures as much as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, contrasting the heat of the algae covered rocks along the shore. They have evolved to effortlessly move through the water, and also have a special gland that rids their skin of excess salt.
You disembark the cruise shop and step onto the shores of San Cristobal. The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno is much different than the secluded but luxurious ambiance of your cruise around the islands. Cobblestones line the main street. Giant tortoises breed at the nearby sanctuary and bottlenose dolphins leap across the waters along the horizon. When you are ready, your private transfer meets you in town and escorts you to the San Cristobal Airport for your flight home.
- Embrace the unique biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands on a multi-day cruise showcasing the wide variety of life on land and sea
- Snorkel with curious wild sea lions off the coast of Gardner Bay in the Galapagos archipelago
- Traverse the Andean hills and Sacred Valley to find the breathtaking stone city of Machu Picchu
- Witness the preserved lifestyle and antique architecture of the once Incan village and stronghold of Ollantaytambo
- Indulge in the mixture of heritage and contemporary lifestyle in Peru’s capital of Lima
- Wander along the high-altitude cobblestone streets of Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, to see the massive stones of the Sacsayhuaman Fortress
- Stroll along the cobblestone streets and Old World colonial charm of Quito’s Old Town
- Explore the historic baroque aesthetic of Quito’s Monastery and Church of San Francisco
Your 12-day tour of South America highlights the distinctive qualities of Andean heritage and Incan persistence, Spanish colonialism, and eclectic scenery. The adventure begins with your arrival in Lima. Your private transfer meets you at the airport and escorts you to a luxurious hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Miraflores. Enjoy an introductory tour of the city to learn about Peruvian culture and the melting pot of traditions inside the contemporary neighborhoods of Lima. The following day, your guide escorts you through the remarkable remnants of the colonial squares and fabulous spirit of the past and present in the neighborhoods of San Isidro and the Central Market.
Next, you have a brief flight into the Andes to reach the former Incan capital, Cuzco. Your private transfer leads you into the heart of the city for a fabulous tour around the undulating cobblestone streets and preserved antique architecture, culminating at Sacsayhuaman Fortress. Afterward, you venture into the Sacred Valley with your guide to visit the vibrant towns of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. The latter contains the remains of a magnificent fortress where the Inca held their final stand against the Spanish. Travel across the Sacred Valley with a scenic train ride to Aguas Calientes, the town located at the base of Machu Picchu. Continue onto the plateau for an exciting historical tour of the once lost Incan city.
In the morning, you return to Machu Picchu to continue wandering amongst the ruins. Climb Huayna Picchu or visit the hidden temples before returning to Cuzco with the remainder of the day at your leisure. Your private transfer escorts you to the airport for your flight north to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. After settling into the comforts of your luxurious hotel in Old Town, you have a brief walking tour to explore the colonial architecture and Basilica del Voto Nacional. Your guide leads you on an in-depth tour of the city, taking in the historic facades and plazas, along with the artwork on display in the Museo Guayasamin. Then, you fly to Baltra Island to begin your cruise of the Galapagos Archipelago. Visit the La Galapaguera Turtle Reserve for your first view of the exceptional wildlife around the islands.
Traverse the bay of Santa Fe to find sea lions and iguanas. Sail to South Plaza to witness the large sea lion colony and avifauna along the cliffs. Next, venture to Espanola and Gardener Bay, at which you can snorkel to view stingrays and Galapagos sharks. At Punta Suarez, you search the sky for hawks and the shores for marine iguanas and lava lizards before witnessing the blowhole erupt with water. On the final day, you return to San Cristobal, where your private transfer escorts you to the airport for your flight home.
$8,995 per person (excluding international flights)
Your Zicasso trip is fully customizable, and this sample itinerary is a starting place for your travel plans. Actual costs are dynamic, and your selection of accommodations and activities, your season of travel, and other such variables will bring this budget guideline up or down. Throughout your planning experience with your Zicasso specialist, your itinerary is designed around your budget. You can book your trip when you are satisfied with every detail. Planning your trip with a Zicasso travel specialist is a free service.
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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