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Sao Paulo - Santiago
You fly out of London Heathrow in the evening, arriving in Sao Paulo early the next morning. Your connecting flight lands in Santiago in the afternoon, and you’ll be chauffeured to your hotel; a 90 minute drive away from the airport. You’ll be staying in the famed Rosario Valley on a wine estate; so you’re welcomed with a presentation by a specialist guide who will introduce you to the valley’s highlights. You’ll be able to explore the valley on horseback, by bicycle or on foot, but for foodies the trips around the estate’s cheese making facility and a wine tour that includes tastings is a must.
Stay: Two nights in a standard room in La Casona at Matetic Vineyard.
In the morning you’ll fly from Santiago to Calama, from where you’ll be driven to the oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama. This is the perfect spot to discover the rugged terrain of Atacama – and photograph the views of Licancabur Volcano. Your camera will be busy in the desert too; the landscapes are spectacular, with shimmering salt flats, volcanoes and spouting geysers. Then there’s Moon Valley – an unworldly landscape you can experience on horseback, by hiking or mountain biking.
Stay: Three nights in a double room at Tierra Atacama.
Salar de Uyuni
Time for a unique experience. At the border of Bolivia and Chile – just 25 minutes away – you’ll embark on an adventure that takes you deep into the Salar de Uyuni. You’ll travel in a classic silver Streamliner Campervan, chauffeured by an expert guide. You begin with a trip to the shores of Laguna Verde – its surface like a giant emerald – before venturing on to the astounding Sol de Manana and the Chalviri Salt Pan, its wind-carved salt columns standing like an army of snowmen. Then you arrive at Laguna Colorada, characterised by its strange red water speckled by flocks of pink flamingos. After a picnic you’ll motor on towards Colchani, visit the Tunupa Volcano, plus the pre-Inca tombs and remote villages of Couqueza and Jirira which has a hotel built entirely of salt. The next day immerses you in the Salar. Colchani is first, followed by the Salt Hills and Ojos de Agua. You’ll lunch on the Salt Lake before setting off for Inkawasi Island in the centre of the Uyuni Salt Pan. In the evening you dine in a local salt hotel. Stay: Two nights in an Airstream Camper with double bed.
After the glittering white of the salt flats you fly over to colourful La Paz. You’ll be staying within a few steps of San Francisco Square and a city tour will show you the Witch Doctor’s Market – known for its medicines, handicrafts and woven textiles – as well as the Gold Museum, Murillo Square and the replica Tiahuanaco Temple. The modern part of the city showcases the skill of contemporary architects, whilst your visit to the Valley of the Moon will reveal natural geological wonders including gigantic columns of stone and lunar-like landscapes.
Stay: Two nights in a suite at La Casona Hotel.
Today you’ll be taken to Huatajata on the shores of Lake Titicaca – a trip that passes along the Royal Range of the Andes. Here you’ll learn about the cultural heritage of the Aymaras and the Incas and visit the Andean Roots Eco Village. You’ll meet the locals who helped build Thor Heyerdhal’s RA II Atlantic-crossing raft and see the mud igloos of the Uru Chipaya people. A hydrofoil will zip you across the lake to Moon Island, home to Inak Uyu – the Sun Virgins’ Temple – before taking you on to Sun Island itself where you’ll wander around Pilcocaina Sun Temple. A short trek will then take you to your hotel. Stay: One night in a double room at Posada del Inca.
After breakfast you’ll tour the fabled Inca Staircase and taste the waters of the Sacred Fountain, ensuring you eternal youth and happiness! After lunch in an archaeological restaurant, the hydrofoil pops you over to Copacabana for a browse around the town’s cathedral, before driving on to Puno – stopping at Pomata and Juli to see their churches en route. You’ll be staying in a luxury hotel on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, just five minutes from lively downtown Puno. The area offers excursions to the Inca funeral towers at Sillustani and lake excursions to the Uros floating reed islands and Isla del Sol – birthplace of the first Inca. Stay: One night in a superior lake view room at Liberator Lake Titicaca Hotel.
Railway enthusiasts are in for a treat today. You’ll rumble across the Altiplano northwards to Cusco on an epic, nine hour train journey. You’ll pass through enthralling countryside, the ravines of the meandering Huatanay River, Andean mountain-scapes, the Central Valley and rolling plains. In Cusco you’ll be staying in a boutique hotel created from a grand residence dating back to the 16th century and standing on the grounds of a former Inca palace. You’ll enjoy a private tour of Cusco and the surrounding ruins, including the Inca Temple of the Sun, the city’s quaint cobbled streets and the Andean Baroque buildings of the colonial period. Outside the city you can walk alongside the massive walls of the Sacsayhuaman Fortress. Stay: Two nights in a patio suite at Inkaterra La Casona.
Machu Picchu is acknowledged as one of the wonders of the world, but is there a more wonderful way to journey there than aboard a Vistadome train? It sweeps you along the Urubamba Valley in some style to the town of Aguas Calientes. From there the marvellous Machu Picchu is a short drive away, so you’re ideally placed to explore the tiered terraces, monumental temples and palaces, mighty staircases and fountains. You can even leave the train early and walk through the awesome Winay Wayne ruins to enter Machu Picchu in the time-honoured way; through Intipunku – the Gateway to the Sun. Stay: One night in a superior room at Inkaterra Machu Picchu.
Take the morning to revisit Machu Picchu – once can never be enough – before catching the Vistadome train back to Cusco. Stay: One night in a standard room at Inkaterra La Casona.
Cusco - Lima - London
You fly out of Cusco in the afternoon. At Lima you’ll board your overnight flight to London, arriving at Gatwick the following afternoon.
It was a complicated and very individual trip, and several changes were made by me during the planning. None of this seemed to worry Ayesha and everything went according to plan.- AM, India