This extensive trip offers an overview of the most amazing and fascinating highlights of the South American continent, combining adventure travel in Ecuador with the highlights you’ll experience on tours in Peru and Bolivia and ending on a high with the best sights you can see in Brazil.
The lush Amazon jungles of Ecuador, the majestic kingdoms of the Incas in Peru, the remote Altiplano and Salt Flats of Bolivia, the great outdoors in Patagonia and the largest party in the world at Rios Carnival or the New Years Eve celebrations these are just some of the things you will experience during this incredible journey.
Our Kingdoms and Carnivals trip is a true Expedition by nature of its long duration and some of the remote places we visit. You must expect a degree of hardship digging your truck out of mud and sand, some long drives on rough and dusty dirt roads, camping and cooking in extremes of climate, from freezing in the Andes, to the heat of the Atacama Desert and thundering tropical downpours. BUT ITS ALL WORTH IT! You will discover South America in a way most travellers only dream of, meet people you would never otherwise encounter and gain a unique insight into Latin American culture. This tour can be joined in either Quito, Lima or Rio.
All our Kingdoms and Carnivals tours coincide with either Carnival or the spectacular New Years Eve event in Rio at the end or beginning of each trip. For those beginning in Rio de Janeiro the daily itinerary should be followed in reverse. Should you wish to arrive a few days before the tour starts, we can help you arrange accommodation in Quito, Lima or Rio. For trips departing from Rio we can organise pre-tour accommodation for you during Carnival and New Years Eve.
Our journey starts just 25kms south of the Equator in the relaxed capital city of Quito. The city is also a popular starting point for adventure travel. Ecuador's small market town of Otavalo is just a few hours drive away and is famous for its colourful crafts, where we have a free day and spend our first night of the trip. Next we head to the banks of the Rio Napo and our gateway into the steamy Amazon jungle. Accompanied by experienced guides we explore this unique environment. We spend two nights in the jungle in which time we also hike into the exuberant vegetation to view the exotic wildlife and our guide will show us examples of medicinal and hallucinatory plants. There is also the chance to try our hand at white water rafting! Our next destination is Banos, a spa town where Ecuadorians go to relax in the thermal baths and hike the various mountain trails.
After days filled with outdoor activities and adventure travel, Ecuador is bid goodbye as we continue south to the border with Peru. En route, you will notice an amazing transition, from the good farming country of the tropical highland to the dry barren desert. Travelling along the Pacific Ocean coast we visit small coastal villages and camp on deserted sandy beaches. Further south we visit the imperial citadel of Chan Chan. Built by the pre-Inca Chimu kings, its the largest mud brick city in the world. Those on our 12 week tour join us here.
Many tours in Peru go through the capital Lima, and our Kingdoms and Carnivals tour is no exception. Lima is a busy place, however, watching life go by on one of the many Plazas or visiting one of the Museums can be a relaxing and rewarding experience. Not far south is the marine reserve of Ballestas, a boat trip takes us close up to the Islands which are bursting with marine wildlife. Quite a contrast are the Nazca Lines. These huge figures and shapes, carved into the stony desert are best viewed from the air and are a great mystery to archaeologists. From here we start our ascent of the Andes.
Our next two days are spent in the magnificent colonial city of Arequipa. From here you have the option to visit Colca Canyon accompanied by a local guide. Twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, Colca Canyon is an awesome place. Here too, condors can be seen circling lazily on the thermals rising from the canyon floor. Ahead lie some of the most arduous and punishing roads on the trip, however, after traversing some mountainous passes of nearly 5000 metres we are soon rewarded by our arrival in Cuzco.
This outdoors capital of Peru is our base for the next 6 days, allowing enough time to explore this ancient city, the surrounding sacred valley and give the energetic amongst us enough time to hike the Inca Trail. The 2 or 4 day hike along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu is a once in a lifetime experience and anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can master it. The Inca Trail is highly recommended and a definite highlight of the Peru leg of our tour and for some, the entire South America tour.
Bordering Peru and Bolivia is Lake Titicaca. The world's highest navigable lake at 3800m it is also home to the Uros Indians who have made their homes on floating reed islands. Spending the night with one of the local families provides an opportunity to experience their lifestyle and hospitality. La Paz, the highest capital city in the world, is our next destination, which is a great place to visit a 'pena' club dedicated to live Andean folk music and to visit some of the extraordinary street markets. A long and dusty drive across the Altiplano takes us to Potosi where vast amounts of silver were extracted from mines and shipped to Spain in years gone by. The adventurous will appreciate the option to go down one of these mines where mining techniques have remained unchanged for centuries. A tour of the National Money House, also provides a good look into Potosi's and Bolivia's past.
Week 7 & 8
Leaving the bleak Altiplano we reach the shimmering white Uyuni Salt Lake. It is possible to venture out into the salt lake on a 1 day excursion and the vastness of the salt flats is an unforgettable experience. Following in the steps of Butch Cassidy & Sundance Kid we reach Tupiza, in Argentina. The colourful Humahuaca Canyon leads us to the attractive city of Salta. Founded over 400 years ago Salta is a good place for live folk music venues and is also a great area for horse riding, mountain biking, mountain trekking and river rafting. We have a few free days in Salta for the last stretch of our Bolivia travel leg before crossing the mighty Andes again towards the Atacama Desert in Chile!
The oasis town of San Pedro de Atacama is our next destination. Surrounded by the Valley of the Moon, salt lakes, volcanoes, as well as stone age dwellings, its a good place to spend a few days exploring. Continuing south we rejoin the Pacific Ocean and the Pan American Highway. We camp near to La Serena beach for a few days before our drive to Chiles capital, Santiago, which is a very modern, well-run city and quite a change to what we have been used to.
Ahead of us lie the southern areas with deep blue lakes and snow-capped mountains. Pucon, in the heart of the Lake District, is our base camp for the next few days from where it is possible to organise white water rafting, skiing, horse riding and hikes up nearby Villarrica Volcano. We ascend the Andes via some spectacular mountain passes before entering Argentina and arriving in Bariloche.
This is a very popular holiday destination for Argentines and the top ski resort on the continent with great hiking trails and nightlife.
Heading into the deep south on a good dirt road we enter the vast wilderness of Patagonia. Spectacular National Parks make this region a paradise for hiking enthusiasts and outdoor lovers. Los Glaciares NP has the largest glacier in the world and here we have the option to take a boat ride close up to Moreno Glacier almost 200ft high. Torres del Paine NP is another area of outstanding beauty where huge granite cliffs dominate the landscape and hiking is a great way to explore the area.
We continue south to Ushuaia on the wild and hauntingly beautiful island of Tierra del Fuego the most southerly point on earth you are ever likely to travel to. Next we cross to the Atlantic coast of Patagonia and visit one of the marine sanctuaries. Penguins, Sea Lions, Sea Elephants, Birds and sometimes Whales can be seen. Following the excellent paved roads north along the coast we pass through some quite affluent towns. One, Puerto Madryn, was the landing place over a century ago for the first group of Welsh settlers that subsequently colonised and now farm the surrounding area.
A days drive north is the smart cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires where you could be forgiven for thinking you were back in Europe. There is plenty to do, museums, horse racing, football matches, shopping, tango dancing and restaurants that serve some of the best steaks in the world.
Uruguay is our next destination and the quaint town of Colonia. With its lovely beach and calm and quiet atmosphere, it is a complete contrast to the previous days in Buenos Aires. We then travel northwards and cross back into Argentina and visit the Jesuit Missions of San Ignacio before continuing onto Iguazu Falls which forms the natural border between Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Travel here is awe inspiring, as we spend the next three days in the town while admiring the falls that are higher than Niagara and wider than Victoria Falls. Here you can undertake a number of optional activities such as boat trips, helicopter flights and mountain bike riding.
Next we head into Brazil and travel to Bonito, also a popular place with Brazil travellers and holidaymakers and where we can swim and snorkel in crystal clear rivers and lakes as well as hike into the lush forests. We then journey to the Pantanal region where we can organise treks out into the vast wetlands, home to hundreds of species of birds and fish, including Piranha, as well as an abundance of reptiles such as alligators and other animals.
Our final destination before Rio de Janeiro is the coastal village of Parati. This unspoilt and picturesque town has remained fundamentally unaltered for three centuries. Cars have been banned from its cobbled streets that run down to the seashore; instead mountain bikes are used and are a good way to get around. Another great way to explore the secluded islands of this pristine coastline is taking a sailing trip in one of the traditional schooners. Our final drive takes us to the hedonistic playground of Rio de Janeiro, where folk are raring to party out of their minds and live purely for the moment. The Carnival and New Years Eve celebrations are always chaotic, crowded and fun!