Fly to Lima.
Amazon Rainforest. Early start for the flight to Puerto Maldonado, a small jungle town, then by river (3-4 hours, depending on the river) to the jungle lodge in the Tambopata Reserve. On the way we may see caimans (alligators), river turtles and a wide variety of birdlife.
Amazon Rainforest. After an early breakfast you and your nature guide will board the motorised canoe once again for the short journey to the trailhead to begin a morning's exploration, by foot and paddle canoe, of the lake system of Condenado, rich in bird and aquatic life. A family of giant otters live in the vicinity of the lake and are occasionally observed. Birds abound especially tiger-herons, great egrets, wattled jacanas, hoatzin, the noisy donacobius and many others. Toucans, parrots and macaws are perhaps the most spectacular bird sightings. The afternoon is for exploring the forest close to the lodge (with or without your guide), relaxing and bathing in the Gallucunca, a cool clear stream beside the lodge. After dark you can go searching for caiman and other nocturnal animals by motorized canoe along the Tambopata River. If it is a clear night, the night sky can be spectacular.
Amazon Rainforest. We take a short boat ride down river to the trailhead. Here we embark on a tiring longer trail (15km round trip) which leads to a spectacular hidden lake, requiring the crossing of streams and swampy ground, past the giant lupuna trees (kings of the jungle) which abound in this part of the forest. On the walk you are introduced to more aspects of the forest and its animals. At the lake itself it is possible to spot the elusive black caiman and giant otters. For those who would prefer, it is possible to organise a shorter walk and afternoon visit to a local farm.
To Cuzco. A dawn start is required for the boat trip back to Puerto Maldonado, giving memorable views of the sunrise over the river. Lookout for the early morning wildlife, which is particularly active at this time. Howler monkeys are frequently heard, as they stake out their territories. Fly to Cuzco. There is usually time for an afternoon tour of the city. At 3300m Cuzco is an extremely high city and you may find yourself short of breath on arrival.
Free day in Cuzco. The Inca Capital which - though small enough to be easily manageable - is among the most attractive cities in South America, with many interesting buildings, museums and sites. To help acclimatise, take an optional walking tour of the Inca capital and the nearby ruins of Sacsayhuaman and Qenco, which overlook the city. Alternatively there is the opportunity for an optional full day tour of the Sacred Valley including the fortresses of Pisac and Ollantaytambo. For the more adventurous you can also choose to go on an optional day of rafting in the Valley on Grade II-III rapids (river conditions depend on the season).
Today is the start of the Inca Trail trek. Transfer by bus to trailhead at Piscacucho, on the Vilcanota River. Hike along the Vilcanota River beneath the impressive snow-capped Nevado Veronica through cactus gardens and fields of corn to the enormous Inca ruins of Llactapata, then continue up a side valley to camp in the hamlet of Huayllabamba. Inca Trail. This is the longest and most strenuous day. A long climb takes us first through an area of cloud forest to the meadows of Llulluchapampa, and then over the Warmihua?usca (Dead Woman) pass, at 4234m the highest point on the trek. After quite a long, steep descent we camp in the scenic valley of the Pacamayo river (3600m). Inca Trail. Another easier climb, past the ruins of Runquracay, takes us over the Runquracay Pass (3930m). From now on the Inca Trail becomes a clearly defined path made of flat boulders. We pass the ruins of Sayajmarca and suddenly enter rainforest; the Trail passes at one point through an Inca tunnel. We camp in a spectacular setting on the ridge above the Inca site of Phuyupatamarca (4000m) to benefit from the views of sunset and sunrise.
Day 8 - 10
Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. From the ridge we embark on the infamous Inca steps: a two kilometre stone staircase taking us rapidly downhill amid a panorama of overwhelming immensity, with the peaks of the Vilcabamba range above, and the river thousands of metres below. After visiting the attractive ruins of Wiñay Wayña, we have an undulating walk through cloud forest high above the river to Inti Punku, the Inca Gate of the Sun. From here we get our sudden first full sight of Machu Picchu itself, with Huayna Picchu rising behind. Passing around the ruins, we descend to the river and Puente Ruinas for a well-earned rest, and possibility of a shower.
Machu Picchu at dawn. We return early for a tour of the ruins at their quietest and most evocative (before the day trippers arrive from Cuzco). After free time to explore individually, we then board the train in the afternoon (though its timings are somewhat erratic and the journey will probably be partly in the dark). The ride follows the rapids of the Urubamba River, enters the sacred valley, and then climbs onto the altiplano to Cuzco.
Cross the altiplano. Today we take a bus ride across the altiplano, the high plains separating the Andes from the jungles. Although it is quite a long drive (10 hours including stops), it is interesting and often spectacular. There are scheduled stops along the route to visit some of the most interesting sites which helps break up the day and we get a feeling for the immensity of the Andean landscapes. We arrive in the evening at Puno, a high, chilly town on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca. We explore Lake Titicaca, visiting the descendants of the Uros Indians, who live on islands of floating reeds and produce some fine textiles. Though the altitude here (3850m) is tiring, the air is very clear and the lakeside views can be magnificent, with the snow-capped peaks of the Andes towering in the background. We spend the night on Amantani Island where we experience a native homestay.
To Lima. On to Chifron Bay, and cultural insights on the peninsula before flying back to Lima (from nearby Juliaca airport). Depending on the flight taken, we may have some time free for shopping and sightseeing, including an optional visit to the Gold Museum. Flights times do vary and some groups will not arrive into Lima until late afternoon or early evening.
End Lima. The group flight departs in the evening and arrives in London the next day. Those on Land-only arrangements will leave us after breakfast.