Embark on an unforgettable journey through the Andes on this 12-day South American intinerary. Starting in Chile, you'll tour the bustling capital of Santiago and explore the arid Atacama Desert before flying north up the coast to Peru. After sampling the culture and cuisine of Lima, discover the rich Incan history of Cusco and set out to explore the iconic archaeological sites of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley.

Highlights

  • Tour the cosmopolitan capital of Santiago de Chile
  • Stargaze under crystal clear skies in the Atacama Desert
  • Sample Lima's world-renowned cuisine
  • Discover the remarkable Incan & colonial history of Cusco
  • Marvel at the ancient wonders of the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Welcome to Santiago de Chile! Santiago
Day 2 Santiago de Chile Half-Day City Tour Santiago
Day 3 Free Day in Santiago - Optional Day Trip to Valparaíso & Viña del Mar Santiago
Day 4 Fly to San Pedro de Atacama - Desert Astronomy Tour San Pedro de Atacama
Day 5 Moon & Death Valley Excursion San Pedro de Atacama
Day 6 Free Day in San Pedro de Atacama - Optional Tatio Geysers Excursion San Pedro de Atacama
Day 7 Fly to Lima Lima
Day 8 Lima Half-Day City Tour Lima
Day 9 Fly to Cusco, City Tour & Archaeological Sites Cusco
Day 10 Transfer to the Sacred Valley: Pisac, Urubamba & Ollantaytambo Sacred Valley
Day 11 Explore the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu, Transfer to Cusco Cusco
Day 12 Transfer to Lima & Departure from Peru  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Welcome to Santiago de Chile!

The Andes Mountains overlooking Santiago de Chile

Welcome to Chile! Upon arrival at Santiago International Airport, a driver will meet you and transfer you to your hotel. You'll have the rest of the day to explore the city at your leisure. Nestled in the foothills of the Andes, Chile's capital of Santiago is a modern and bustling metropolis with pockets of historic ambiance scattered throughout its historic center. Stroll the cobblestones of Barrio Bellavista, visit the 16th century Plaza de Armas, or hike to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for magnificent views.

For dinner be sure to get out of the hotel and enjoy a culinary adventure in the city. In recent years Santiago has emerged as a global foodie destination. Chilean chefs are reinventing traditional dishes like empanadas, cazuelas (stews), and seafood with ingredients harvested from the northern deserts and southern Patagonian regions. You can find great restaurants and wine bars not only in the Bellavista neighborhood but also in the revitalized historic barrios of Yungay and Italia.

Day 2: Santiago de Chile Half-Day City tour

Browse Santiago's antique and handicraft shops

Today is devoted to discovering Santiago on foot, with a half-day guided tour of the city's iconic sights. Along the way, you'll explore characterful old neighborhoods like Republica and Concha y Toro, learn about the city's origins and modern growth at the La Moneda Government Palace, and tour the grand Plaza de Armas, located in Santiago's historic center. Discover the incredible history within the four corners of this expansive stone plaza, founded back in 1541. Nearby sits the impressive Catedral Metropolitana, a neoclassical church circa 1748, with towering twin bell towers dominating the north side of the plaza.

Later on, continue to the eastern parts of the city to admire the modern buildings that have shaped a new and modern Santiago.

Day 3: Free Day in Santiago - Optional Day Trip to Valparaíso & Viña del Mar

Visit the Pacific resort town of Viña del Mar

Spend today at your leisure, exploring more of Santiago at your own pace or getting out of the city with an optional excursion to Chile's Pacific Coast and the seaside towns of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar. Starting in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Valparaíso, explore this colorful metropolis known as the artistic and bohemian soul of the country. Filled with street art, music, and poetry, Valparaíso is a throwback to the turn of the 20th century, when electric trollies coasted along the waterfront and lurching funicular elevators carried passengers to the highest points in the city. No matter where you go, you can always find sweeping views looking out over the colorful houses to the Pacific Coast and the blanket of blue water running out to the horizon. 

After lunch, you'll continue to Viña del Mar, an upscale coastal resort city teeming with shopping complexes, commercial high-rises, boutiques, and well-manicured gardens. Its beaches and boulevards, surrounded by palm trees and beautiful parks, have earned it the name of 'Ciudad Jardin" (Garden City) and it remains a popular weekend and holiday destination for the people of Santiago.

As your day at the seaside draws to a close, you'll be transferred back to your hotel in Santiago for the evening.

Day 4: Fly to San Pedro de Atacama - Desert Astronomy Tour

Fly north to the Atacama Desert

A desert adventure awaits you today, as you transfer to the Santiago de Chile airport to catch a flight bound for Calama in the far north of the country. Upon arrival in Calama, you'll be transferred to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama. Located in the Antofagasta region of the high Chile arid plateau, this small town sits at the edge of the driest desert in the world. Its little adobe houses and cozy restaurants serve as a comfortable base to explore one of Chile’s most spectacular and dramatic landscapes.

As evening falls, you'll head out into the desert to stargaze under some of the clearest night skies in the world. The combination of the high altitude, arid dryness, and lack of superficial light transform the Atacama into the perfect platform to observe stars, constellations, planets, and galaxies. After a quick presentation on astronomy, this excursion takes you outside to the open Altiplano, where the stars are more vivid than anything you've likely experienced before. Enjoy a hot drink under the heavens while viewing the constellations through high-powered telescopes and binoculars. 

After a memorable 90 minutes under the stars, a transfer takes you back to your hotel in San Pedro de Atacama.

Day 5: Moon & Death Valley Excursion

Discover the arid beauty of Moon Valley

Today you'll explore the Atacama's otherworldly landscapes with a guided excursion into the nearby Moon and Death Valleys. Venture into the Cordillera de la Sal (Salt Mountain Range) to reach the Valle de la Muerte (Valley of Death), a mountainous and sandy landscape of striking beauty, scattered with natural salt formations that resemble sculptures and works of art. Continue to the Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) to admire its sand dunes and distinctive rock formations that have been shaped by thousands of years of wind and salt erosion, creating a remarkable lunar setting. End the tour with a colorful sunset from La Gran Duna (the Great Dune) before returning to San Pedro for the evening.

Day 6: Free Day in San Pedro de Atacama - Optional Tatio Geysers Excursion

Sunrise over the Tatio Geysers

Spend today discovering San Pedro de Atacama at your own pace, or join an optional excursion to the magnificent Tatio Geysers. This tour has an early start, as you depart the hotel at 4 am for the 1.5-hour trip to one of the most important geothermal fields in the world. Getting a jump on the day will pay dividends as you're rewarded with the unforgettable sight of a sunrise over the Atacama Desert.

At an altitude of 4,320 meters (14,173 feet), the Tatio Geysers are the highest in the world, and the contrast between the cold outside temperatures and the boiling water of the geothermal field beneath the earth's surface causes the pillars of steam here to rise as high as 10 meters (30 feet).  Along the scenic return drive, you can enjoy beautiful landscapes as well as native plants and wildlife, such as Andean feather grass, the tolares (shrublands), and vicuñas.

Day 7: Fly to Lima

Lima's scenic coastline

This morning you'll bid the desert farewell as you transfer to the Calama airport and catch your flight to Santiago de Chile. Here the next leg of your adventure begins as you board a connecting flight to the Peruvian capital of Lima. Peru's largest city and central metropolitan hub, Lima is home to a third of the country's population. Located at the site of a pre-Columbian indigenous Ychsma settlement, which was conquered by the Inca empire in the 15th century and later by the Spanish conquistadores, Lima has a fascinating history and a diverse mix of cultures. Amerindian, European, Afro-Peruvian, and Asian—especially Chinese and Japanese—influences make Lima a dynamic and exciting city to explore. 

Lima's breezy location on the Pacific Ocean and mild desert climate make it the perfect city to discover on foot. Get settled into your accommodations, then head downtown to mingle with locals, stretch your legs, and grab a bite to eat in one of the city's many award-winning restaurants. 

Day 8: Lima Half-Day City Tour

Plaza Mayor, Lima
Lima's central Plaza Mayor

Spend today discovering the cultural and historic center of Lima with a guided half-day tour. Start with a scenic look at the colonial downtown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with fascinating Spanish architecture which emanates from the main square of Plaza Mayor. Here you can see the grandiose 16th-century Cathedral Basilica of Lima that took 80 years to complete, as well as the Government Palace and the 16th-century Archbishop's Palace. Then stroll over to the lemon-yellow Basilica and Convent of San Francisco to see its beautiful cloisters and renowned catacombs. 

The tour continues through Lima to end with brilliant views over the Pacific Ocean from the clifftops of the lively beachside district of Miraflores.

The rest of the day is yours to enjoy as you wish, perhaps sampling one of the restaurants that make Lima renowned as one of Latin America's foremost culinary destinations.

Day 9: Fly to Cusco, City Tour & Archaeological Sites

Cusco's beautiful historic center, framed by the Andes

After breakfast at your hotel this morning, you will be transferred to the airport to catch your flight to Cusco. Upon arrival, a driver will transfer you to your hotel. In the afternoon, you will be picked up from your hotel to begin a tour of this stunningly beautiful colonial city, once the capital of the Inca Empire and with many of its modern structures built on the bases of Inca palaces. 

Begin with a visit to the pretty Plaza de Armas, flanked by the majestic Cathedral, which is full of beautiful paintings and sculptures. The church houses some of the finest paintings of the Escuela Cusqueña, an artistic tradition that harmoniously combines European devotional art with indigenous colors and iconography. Take a look at The Last Supper by Quechua artist Marcos Zapata, which depicts Jesus and his disciples around an Andean feast complete with a juicy cuy (guinea pig) and glasses of chicha, a fermented maize beverage. You will also get to see one of the most impressive examples of Inca stonework surviving anywhere in South America, the Qoricancha Complex. This site, also known as the Temple of the Sun, was a major Inca temple of worship.

Your tour then heads up into the hills above Cusco to the archaeological center of Sacsayhuaman. This impressive site was used to worship the sun, moon, and Earth as well as being a military fortress and astrological center. The monolithic fortress was built from giant blocks of stone, the origins and assembly of which remain a mystery.

Continue to visit three other major Inca archaeological sites, first nearby Q'enco, and then one-time supply center and checkpoint Puca Pucara. The last stop is Tambomachay, another site swathed in mystery with purposes that could have ranged from a place to worship a water cult to an estate and imperial baths for the Inca elite. The views of the hills and valleys surrounding Cusco along the journey are astounding. 

You then have a free evening to spend as you wish. Cusco is a great place to try Peruvian Andean cuisine— see here for some of the best places to eat in Cusco.

Day 10: Transfer to the Sacred Valley: Pisac, Urubamba & Ollantaytambo

Browse colorful textiles in Pisac's market

Today you will journey into the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Your day begins with a visit to the beautiful town of Pisac, where you will be able to browse its handicraft market and stroll its photogenic narrow streets. The town is crowned by Pisac Citadel, impressively formed in the shape of an Andean condor. You then travel on through the Sacred Valley to Urubamba, where you can enjoy a nice lunch buffet.

Next up is a visit to Ollantaytambo—a still-inhabited Inca city where the street plan, irrigation channels, and foundations are largely preserved as they were in the Inca period. You can explore the archaeological site of Ollantaytambo, with its large groups of Inca forts, plazas, and canals, as well as the Real Casa del Sol, a megalithic temple of great mystical value.

After your look around Ollantaytambo, you will be transferred to your hotel in the Sacred Valley. Get an early night: tomorrow you will be seeing South America's most impressive Inca archaeological site, Machu Picchu.

Day 11: Explore the Sacred Valley & Machu Picchu, Transfer to Cusco

Machu Picchu has a stunning mountain setting
Machu Picchu has a stunning mountain setting

This morning, you will be transferred to the train station to embark on one of the continent's most memorable excursions to the sacred city of Machu Picchu. This spectacularly located mountain citadel is recognized as one of the wonders of the world and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The train ride will take you through the beautiful Sacred Valley to the town of Aguas Calientes. From here, you travel by bus up to the entrance of Machu Picchu to begin your 2-hour guided tour. During this trip of a lifetime you will see Inca temples, squares, terraces, houses, barns, and other constructions, set against the lush green backdrop of the Andes, an area noted for its extreme biodiversity.

The beauty of Machu Picchu is enhanced by the extraordinary scenery in which it is located, and around the citadel, 125 square miles (325 square km) of verdant mountainside has been protected as a national reserve, including a constellation of other archaeological monuments.
 
After seeing Machu Picchu you will return to Aguas Calientes, where you will have lunch before returning by train to Cusco. Upon your arrival, you will be transferred to your hotel.

Day 12: Transfer to Lima & Departure from Peru

Cusco by night
Cusco by night

This morning, after breakfast at the hotel, it is time for you to be transferred to Cusco airport to catch your return flight to Lima and then your onward connection home. As they say in Peru, hasta la proxima vez (until the next time!)

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