You will start this 16-day adventure in Ecuador's stunning Andean capital Quito, and get to visit the centre of the world. Next you'll fly to the wildlife-rich Galapagos, possibly the planet's best-preserved national park, travelling around the islands by yacht. You complete your South American journey in Peru, first in historic Lima and then by experiencing the beauty and history of the Sacred Valley as well as Machu Picchu citadel, one of the new seven wonders of the world.

Highlights

  • Enjoy the colonial splendor of Quito's historic center
  • Travel in luxury on a state-of-the-art yacht around the Galapagos Islands
  • Discover the beauty and culture of Cusco and the Sacred Valley
  • Explore the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Transfer to Quito Old Town Quito
Day 2 Quito City Tour & the Middle of the World Quito
Day 3 Flight to Galapagos & Begin your Luxury Sea Voyage  
Day 4 San Cristobal Island: Wildlife Watching & Snorkeling  
Day 5 Osborn and Gardner Islets & Suarez Point: Snorkeling & Wildlife Hike  
Day 6 Santa Fe & Santa Cruz Islands: Wildlife Hikes  
Day 7 Santa Cruz Island & Returning to Quito Quito
Day 8 Flight from Quito to Lima & Transfer to your Hotel in Miraflores Lima
Day 9 Tour of the Must Sees in Lima Lima
Day 10 Flight to Cusco & Transfer to the Sacred Valley: Awanacancha Museum & Hacienda Huayoccari on route Sacred Valley
Day 11 Ollantaytambo, Pachamanca, Moray Terraces & Maras Salt Mines Sacred Valley
Day 12 Machu Picchu Exploration: Sacred Valley - Machu Picchu - Sacred Valley Sacred Valley
Day 13 Transfer to Cusco & Free Afternoon Cusco
Day 14 Cusco Culinary Experience in La Princesita Cusco
Day 15 Free day in Cusco Cusco
Day 16 Departure Day from Cusco: Flight to Lima & Back Home  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Transfer to Quito Old Town

The mountainous cityscape of Quito © Ministerio de Turismo de Ecuador
The mountainous cityscape of Quito © Ministerio de Turismo de Ecuador

Welcome to Quito! After picking up your luggage, transfer to your hotel in the historic city centre, Quito Old Town. Relax for the rest of the day and night, adjust to the higher altitude (9350 feet/2850 m), and prepare for your first planned activity tomorrow. 

Depending on your arriving time, Quito's historic sights beg for your attention if you fancy exploring itinerary-free today. Quito Old Town, the colonial center of the city, became the world's first UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. Stroll the cobblestone streets, eat at one of the atmospheric cafes and restaurants and visit the lively bar and restaurant neighborhood of La Mariscal in the evening.   

Day 2: Quito City Tour & the Middle of the World

Quito is full of beautiful churches
Quito is full of beautiful churches

Your day starts  with a tour of the historic center of Quito Old Town. Located high on the slopes of the Pichincha volcano and nestled in a green Andean valley, this is one of the oldest cities in South America and has preserved numerous buildings, monuments and artistic treasures from the Spanish colonial period.

You begin the tour with a stroll through the narrow streets of the historical city center,  visiting some of America's oldest and prettiest churches such as El Sagrario on Plaza Grande and nearby La Compañia de Jesús, as well as the famously beautiful plazas (squares) of Santo Domingo, La Merced and San Francisco. You will also climb the El Panecillo hill, topped by a 147 foot (45 metre) statue of the winged virgin, besides offering a fascinating view of Quito.

After that you will visit to Middle of the World City (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo): a tract of land 16 miles (26 km) north of central Quito. You’ll see the Monument to the Equator, which highlights the exact location of the Equator and also contains Ecuador's indigenous Ethnography Museum.

After lunch, return to Quito for more colonial sightseeing in the afternoon.

Day 3: Flight to Galapagos & Begin your Luxury Sea Voyage

Galapagos beaches are full of fantastic wildlife
Galapagos beaches are full of fantastic wildlife

Transfer to Quito Airport to take your flight to Baltra Island Airport on the Galapagos. For the next four nights, your home will be aboard the Endemic, a luxury, purpose-built Galapagos cruise catamaran, as you tour probably the most wildlife-rich archipelagos on the planet. Whenever you explore on shore, this will be in groups of no more than 16 people, giving your adventure added exclusivity and, of course, enhancing your enjoyment of the wildlife.

In the afternoon, you are dropped off near Dragon Hill in the north-west of Santa Cruz island. Here you will have the opportunity for a short trek inland to view the exotic land iguana that calls the hill home. Being among these magnificent reptiles, that just a few decades ago were on the brink of extinction, is a magical experience. Along the 2mi (3km) trail you will see a lagoon full of flamingos as well as other endemic birds. Amazing views of the island await on the hilltop. Try a spot of offshore snorkeling before returning to the yacht.

Day 4: San Cristobal Island: Wildlife Watching & Snorkeling

Sea lion basking on the Galapagos Islands

The first sight you will visit today is Kicker Rock (also known as Leon Dormido or Sleeping Lion), the impressive towering remains of a volcanic cone offshore from San Cristobal Island. This is a nesting place for many sea birds, whilst you can also glimpse curious sea lions. Reef sharks can commonly be seen too and, if you decide to snorkel here, the cornucopia of marine life you might sight includes turtles, rays and hammerheads.

The next attraction to see is Witch Hill, a tuff cone hill, the name of which comes from the Spanish name of the bird known in English as Vermilion Flycatcher. The primary attraction of this site is the coral sand beach: an excellent place to swim and snorkel. The hill was one of the first sites visited by Charles Darwin on his Galapagos sojourn. Both coastal and migratory birds, including pelicans, blue-footed boobies and swallow-tailed gulls, nest up here. Sea lions and marine iguanas are also common. During dry spells, the lagoon dries out, and deposits of salt remain on the bottom.

A panga (dinghy) ride now takes you into amazing rock formations along this island's shore, where a white sand beach and crystal clear waters present a fantastic opportunity for snorkeling.

In the afternoon, you'll visit Lobos Island, where a small population of blue-footed boobies, frigates and marine iguanas can be observed. Here, in the calm bay, you will also have the chance to snorkel with sea lions. 

Day 5: Osborn and Gardner Islets & Suarez Point: Snorkeling & Wildlife Hike

Marine iguana on the Galapagos

You will spend the first part of today around Gardner Bay on Española Island. The pristine white sandy beach  here is one of the longest in the Galapagos. The bay is home to colonies of sea lions and mockingbirds, and is one of the world’s most important breeding sites for the waved albatross. A short panga ride will take you to the Osborn and Gardner Islets, which are superb locations for snorkeling with young sea lions and a great variety of tropical fish and corals.

In the afternoon you will head to Suarez Point, an area with an outstanding variety of wildlife. You will take a 2mi (3km) walking trail past nesting sites of Nazca and blue-footed boobies, whilst Galapagos doves, mockingbirds and finches can be seen foraging nearby. You also pass a blowhole which can spray water up to 80 feet (25m) into the air; a spectacular feat of nature. Watch waved albatrosses launching themselves out across the ocean from the top of the breathtaking cliffs. 

Day 6: Santa Fe & Santa Cruz Islands: Wildlife Hikes

Blue-footed booby

The first stop for you today will be Santa Fe Island, formed as a result of a volcanic uplift millions of years ago and inhabited by the endemic yellow-green Santa Fe iguana, Galapagos snake and rice rat. You can opt to hike one or both of the main island trails: one leads to a beach through a forest of prickly pear trees; another climbs into the highlands and culminates in a stunning cliff top viewpoint where Galapagos hawks can be sighted. It is also possible to snorkel along the shoreline with the highly entertaining sea lions.

Your day continues with a voyage to one of two small islets off Santa Cruz Island known as North Plaza Island and South Plaza Island. The latter in particular houses a rich diversity of wildlife and, arriving and ascending its slopes, you might spy sea lions, swallow-tailed gulls, Nazca boobies, red-billed tropic birds, frigates or the rare lava gull. The ground here is carpeted in sesuvium, transforming from bright red in dry season to vibrant green in wet season, whilst land iguanas crowd around towering prickly pear cacti.

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Day 7: Santa Cruz Island & Returning to Quito

Encounter with a giant tortoise 

For your last day in the Galapagos, you'll go to the Charles Darwin Research Center, on Santa Cruz Island. This center is instrumental in carrying out important scientific research into the preservation of the archipelago’s ecosystems, initiating a significant breeding programme in 1970 for giant Galapagos tortoises. As well as accessing a wealth of information about the flora and fauna found across the archipelago, you will have the chance to see tortoises at all stages of their development in the Tortoise Breeding Center. Having been reared in captivity, the tortoises are very accustomed to humans, so don’t miss out on getting a photo with one of these remarkable animals.

Later, you will transfer to the airport to take your flight to Quito before taking another transfer to your hotel in Quito Old Town.

Day 8: Flight from Quito to Lima & Transfer to your Hotel in Miraflores

Miraflores
A birds-eye view of Miraflores

Today, you will be picked up from your hotel in Quito to transfer to the airport and board your flight to Lima, Peru.
After collecting your luggage at Lima's Airport, transfer to your hotel in the Miraflores neighborhood of the Peruvian capital. Here, give the planned itinerary a break, taking time to relax or wander around at your own pace for the remainder of the day.

For exploring close to your accommodation and getting acquainted with Lima, Miraflores is ideal. It is one of Lima's most popular neighborhoods, thanks to its dramatic clifftop location, breezy green spaces, open-air malls, and stylish restaurants and bars.

For a walk, wander along the Malecón (clifftop walkway) which leads through a swath of clifftop greenery to Parque del Amor (Love Park), famous for its colorful mosaic benches and El Beso (The Kiss), a huge statue of a romantically intertwined couple. Or get an insight into Peru's formidable handicrafts with a browse at Mercado Indio.

The thing Miraflores (and Lima generally) is perhaps most famous for is its outstanding culinary scene, and you should make the most of your free evening eating at one of Lima's restaurants. See here for some of the best places to eat in Lima.

Day 9: Tour of the Must Sees in Lima

Lima Plaza
Lima Plaza

This morning, you are collected from your hotel to depart on a tour that will transport you back in time through the Colonial and Pre-Hispanic stages of Peruvian History.

Your first port of call is the Larco Museum. The collection exhibited at this treasure trove of pre-Columbian art, housed in a beautifully restored viceregal mansion built over a 7th-century pre-Columbian pyramid, is extraordinary. It features the finest gold, silver, and ceramics found in ancient Peru, and the array of artifacts serve as the perfect introduction to Peru's many millennia of history.

Next up is a trip into Lima’s City Center to see examples of the capital's imposing architecture. You will get to see the mesmeric 16th-century Santo Domingo Convent, containing the relics of several saints, and have a look at Lima’s main square, the Plaza de Armas.

Returning to your hotel for lunch, you then have the rest of today free for exploring under your own steam. You could linger in Miraflores, perhaps exploring the historic site of Huaca Pucllana or finding a place to try Lima's culinary delicacy ceviche. For something different, check out the equally swanky neighborhood of Barranco which adjoins Miraflores and has many more fantastic places to eat.

Day 10: Flight to Cusco & Transfer to the Sacred Valley: Awanacancha Museum & Hacienda Huayoccari on route

Hacienda Huayocarri
Hacienda Huayocarri

After breakfast this morning, transfer to the airport to take the 1-hour flight to the city of Cusco at the heart of Peru's Andes. If possible, try to get a seat on the left side of the aircraft for some unforgettable views over these huge jagged peaks often exceeding 19685 feet (6000m).

Upon landing at Cusco airport, your private transportation will transfer you towards the Sacred Valley of the Incas. With a lower elevation than Cusco (approximately 9,415 ft or 2870m) and a peaceful atmosphere, the Sacred Valley provides the perfect place to acclimatise and enjoy your first days in the region.

On route, you will stop at Awanacancha Museum to see and interact with all the different camelids of the Peruvian Andes, such as alpacas and llamas (you may also spy some grazing wild on the hillsides along the way there). Your lunch today will be at the beautiful 19th-century manor house of Hacienda Huayoccari, after which you continue the drive to your Sacred Valley hotel.

Day 11: Ollantaytambo, Pachamanca, Moray Terraces & Maras Salt Mines

Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo

This morning, after breakfast, prepare for a day of ancient history and tradition. You will first journey to the Ollantaytambo archaeological site, a massive Inca complex that protected this area from incursions from the Amazon Basin. You then have opportunity to wander picturesque Ollantaytambo town's cobblestone streets and have a look around this historic Sacred Valley community. 

Lunch will be a delicious traditional culinary experience, typical of the Andes and known as Pachamanca, which in Quechua means Earth Pot. This is a traditional cooking technique where the food is prepared underground using preheated stones. The main ingredients are Andean tubers such as potato, sweet potato, olluco, oca and mashua, as well as beef or lamb.

In the afternoon, you will visit Moray, one of the most unusual Inca sites, consisting of striking circular terraces built upon a natural depression. The most recent consensus is that these ruins were once an agricultural experimental station used to adapt crops to different temperatures. You will also be able to tour nearby Maras, an impressive system of myriad stone pools constructed by the Inca to extract and harvest salt.

You then return to your charming hotel in the Sacred Valley, where you will spend tonight.

Day 12: Machu Picchu Exploration: Sacred Valley - Machu Picchu - Sacred Valley

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Be sure to bring your passport with you today as you visit perhaps South America's most popular and sought-after attraction, Machu Picchu. After breakfast, you'll first go to the Ollantaytambo train station to board the train to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Town). The train journey is a spectacular alongside the meandering Urubamba River. Upon arriving, you will take a 20-minutes bus up the steep zigzagging road to Machu Picchu citadel, the lost city of the Incas, balancing on a magical mountain ridge.

You will now have a 3-hour guided excursion to gain a better understanding of Machu Picchu and the Incas culture. Afterwards, return to Aguas Calientes for lunch before boarding your return train back to Ollantaytambo. You will then be transferred back to your Sacred Valley hotel.

Day 13: Transfer to Cusco & Free Afternoon

Sacsayhuaman Fortress
Sacsayhuaman Fortress

This morning, you will travel back to Ollantaytambo to transfer to Cusco where you will be transported to your hotel.

The afternoon will be free for you to relax and maximise your time in this great city, capital of the Inca Empire for many centuries and pulsating with history and culture. Almost as great as Cusco's cultural clout is its culinary reputation, and the many great places to eat and drink should rightly occupy some of your time this afternoon.

Day 14: Cusco Culinary Experience in La Princesita

San Pedro Market
San Pedro Market

Today it is time to learn more about the cuisine of Cusco and the Andes in a pleasant four-hour gastronomic adventure. First, you will head to Cusco’s iconic San Pedro Market, the perfect place to have a brief guided introduction to the variety of local products. Here, you and your group (with your guide's help!) will also purchase some ingredients for the meal you will help make. You will then head to La Princesita manor house, the venue for your culinary experience. Here, we will have a look at their small gastronomy museum and garden that they use to grow some spices, and learn the art to preparing some of the classic dishes typical of this part of Peru. 

The rest of the day is your own, perhaps to spend continuing your exploration of Cusco's most interesting districts: the blocks around the beautiful Plaza de Armas (main square) or up in San Blas, a pretty artisan quarter lined with art galleries, jewelers, workshops and antique stores.

Day 15: Free day in Cusco

Cusco city
Cusco city scene

Cusco is one of the most interesting cities in Peru and in South America, superlative in everything from its history to its gastronomy. Today you'll have the entire day to explore the streets, plazas and markets of this UNESCO World Heritage City at our own pace, with the advantage that after two days here, you will be better acquainted with the city's layout. 

Begin wherever you left off yesterday afternoon or the day before, and start early, when the cobbled streets up from the centre towards San Blas are still peaceful, and perfect for photography. After breakfast in a cafe up here, the area around the Plaza de Armas, one-time hub of the entire Inca Empire, deserves a deal of your time. See the splendor of the cathedral and its colonial art, look at the displays of Incan artifacts in Museo Inka, and visit Templo y Convento de La Merced, a gorgeous church and monastery with cloisters, half a block southwest of the plaza. Save some time for a walk through the Museo de la Coca, with an informative overview of the significance of coca leaves in Peruvian and South American culture.

Be sure to reserve some time for shopping, too. The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco is one of the city's best places for buying authentic souvenirs and weavings. In the afternoon, you could squeeze in a visit to the Inca ruin of Sacsayhuamán, only one mile from the Plaza de Armas. Consider rounding off the day with a pisco sour, Peru's most famous cocktail, at the Museo del Pisco, a museum and bar dedicated to the national spirit. The venue also serves tasty food such as tapas, burgers and even beef sautéed in pisco.

Day 16: Departure Day from Cusco: Flight to Lima & Back Home

Cusco city
Cusco city

It is time to say adios to the Sacred Valley today as, after a last walk around Cusco's shops and markets this morning, you head to Cusco's airport to board your flight to Lima followed by your international connecting flights to your next destination.