42 Day Initi Express - Quito to La Paz
Passing over the equator we visit the great market town of Otavalo, then it’s jungle, mountains, desert and back into the Andes again. We follow the longest range of mountains in the world and the old Inca Empire all on one trip. You’ll get the opportunity to visit lively markets, deserted beaches, a deep canyon, and isolated ruins not to mention the world’s two highest capital cities. Six weeks of shear pleasure, fun and excitement; you can’t miss it!
Day 1: Quito (Ecuador)
Your tour leader will usually hold a group meeting at approx. 6.00pm on Day 1 (check the notice board in the hotel reception for the exact time and location). Your tour leader will give a briefing about the tour, outline the plan for the next few days, answer any questions and collect your ‘Local Fund’ payment in full in US$ cash. Then there will usually be the option for everyone to go out for dinner and drinks to start to get to know one another. At 2,850 metres above sea level, Quito is the second highest capital city in the world, after La Paz. It was founded in 1534 by the Spanish and was originally an Inca stronghold. It is situated in a hollow at the base of the live Volcano Pichincha and the whole length of the city can be seen from atop Panecillo Hill where the enormous Statue of the Virgin of Quito stands. The city has two main sections – the old and the new. The new is the main commercial area with lots of good restaurants and bars, whereas the old city is the colonial area with steep calles (cobblestone streets), busy plazas and Indian markets. If you want to have time to explore Quito properly you may want to arrive a day or two early.
Days 2-3: Otavalo
After Quito, we visit the famous Otavalo market north of the city. It’s a wonderful place to shop for all kinds of handicrafts and to take really good photographs. The Otavalo Indians, who come from their villages to sell livestock, produce and textiles, are distinct in appearance – the men wear calf length white trousers and sandals and have their long hair braided, while the women wear white frilly blouses, black skirts and have gold coloured jewellery twirled around their necks.
Days 4-6: Misahualli
Leaving Otvavalo we make our way south-east across the mountains towards the little community of Misahualli in the heart of the Amazon Basin. There is an option to take motorised dugout canoes downriver and enter the Amazon jungle on foot. The excursion is led by our local guide who will give details about the plants, creatures and people of the region. We stay overnight in rustic huts made of bamboo and leaves.
Days 7-11: Baños - Cuenca
Travelling back into the Andes, along the edge of the rainforest, we reach Baños; a health resort renowned for its hot thermal springs. Besides soaking in the hot pools, there are opportunities for walks or horse riding in the hills, or you can climb Mt. Tungurahua, a volcano in the nearby Sangay National Park. After a few days in Baños we travel onto Ingapirca, Ecuador’s most important Inca ruins. We’ll visit for an hour or so (which, if these are the first ruins you see, will seem like a very short time – don’t worry there’ll be lots more to see on the trip!). We then continue onto the old colonial market city of Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city, founded in 1557. Cuenca is where the Panama hat originated and you’ll have the opportunity to visit one of the factories. It is also the place to buy cheap, high quality gold and silver.
Days 12-16: Punta Sal (Peru) - Huanchaco
As we pass into Peru we travel through villages where fishermen work with their small hand nets, and we camp at the beautiful beach of Punta Sal for three nights. We have two full days of sun, surf and relaxation - possibly a good time for a few chickens on a spit, if we can find some firewood! We pass the oil derricks in the Sechura Desert and the attractive oasis town of Piura on our way to the small coastal town of Huanchaco. Huanchaco is renowned for great beachside seafood restaurants and the reed boats that the fishermen use to ride the huge surf, reputedly, the longest in the world. Huanchaco is also our base for those who want to check out Chan Chán, the largest mud-city in the world built by Chimú Kings and covering 26 square kilometres. The famous Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are also nearby.
Days 17-19: Huaraz
Heading inland we reach the high Cordillera Blanca Mountains and the small town of Huaraz. Located close to Peru’s highest peak, Huascarán (6,768 metres) the town is renowned for its trekking, climbing and spectacular scenery. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of this place before making our way to Lima, stopping over at the ruins of Sechín and Paramonga en route.
Days 20-22: Lima
Lima was founded by the Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro in 1535, after he eradicated the Incas and made the city his capital. Lima has many fine colonial buildings and some of the best museums in South America including the Gold Museum, Museum of the Inquisition and the
Catacombs below the San Francisco Church. Peru’s capital has heaps to offer and many of the sights, including the city’s two main squares the Plaza de Armas and Plaza San Martin, are within easy walking distance
Days 23-24: Paracas - Nazca
After a few days in Lima, a short drive along the Pacific coast brings us to Paracas where we camp in the grounds of a hotel (with swimming pool) – a good time for a Pisco Sour party! Early the following morning there is the option to go by speedboat to explore the Ballestas Islands, passing the unusual ‘Candelabra’, a giant design carved into a desert hill, along the way. On and around these celebrated islands you’ll see thousands of sea lions plus many varieties of aquatic birds. Continuing on, we stopover at Huacachina, a desert oasis surrounded by massive sand-dunes. Here you have the chance to take an awesome ride in dune-buggies or, for the even more courageous, sand boarding down the dunes is an unreal way to spend an hour or two. Travelling further inland, we reach Nazca, famous for the strange parallel lines and geometrical figures etched into the desert floor. Here you can take a flight in a light aircraft to see the ‘monkey’, ‘hummingbird’, ‘condor’, ‘spider’ and even what appears to be a spaceman. There are many more designs to be seen on this 30 minute flight but to this day, no-one knows why they are there! After a short drive we’ll stop at the bizarre Chauchilla Cemetery where you’ll see ancient mummies that still have skin and hair intact after thousands of years.
Days 25-27: Puerto Inca – Arequipa
Heading back along the coast our journey takes us to Puerto Inca, the Inca's original port, which was only rediscovered in the 1950’s. Tonight we camp by the beach just down from the actual ruins. Travelling back into the foothills of the Andes we reach the city of Arequipa, located 2,380 metres above sea level and dominated by the conical snow-capped El Misti Volcano. Here the attractions include the Plaza de Armas, one of South America’s most charming main squares and the Santa Catalina Convent, which is like a walled colonial town dating back more than 400 years. Shrouded with mystery, the convent’s 450 nuns lived in complete seclusion until 1970.
Days 28-31: Chivay – Cuzco
Ascending up to Colca Canyon through breathtaking scenery, we pass several ghost towns which were destroyed by earthquakes. The Colca Canyon is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, making it the world’s deepest. From the lookout point at Cruz del Condor you can see the river flowing 1,200 metres below and you’ll have a very good chance of seeing condors as they soar out of the canyon on the hot thermal currents. Our base for visiting the canyon is the town of Chivay where we’ll also have time to soak in the nearby hot thermal pools. As we depart Chivay you will see incredible pre- Columbian terracing along the sides of the mountains which is still yielding crops to this dayIt gradually becomes greener as we get closer to the former Inca capital of Cuzco, which means ‘navel of the earth’ in the Inca language of Quechua. This enchanting city has a mostly indigenous population of around 275,000 and is centred around the Plaza de Armas, which is dominated by the Cathedral and La Compañia de Jesus Church. Nowadays Cuzco is also legendary for its party atmosphere and brilliant nightlife and is jam-packed with arcades housing many fine restaurants, bars and shops. For people wanting the challenge of the 4 day Inca Trail trek there will be a briefing in which your local guide will chat about the arrangements for the next few days. We have a full day trip through the Sacred Valley of the Incas and if you’ve purchased your Cuzco visitor’s ticket previously then you’ll be able to visit the Pisac ruins perched on a hill high in the mountains and the famous Indian market of the same name, in the valley below (that’s free). This is a great place to buy textiles, pottery and jewellery, not to mention the delicious empanadas (pasties) at the famous bakery. After spending time at both, we move down the valley to the temple fortress of Ollantaytambo, with its enormous terraces climbing up the hillside (you’ll need your visitor’s ticket again). If you are trekking the Inca Trail you will spend the night here at one of the little hostels in preparation for the next four days.
Days 32-35: Inca Trail or free time in Cuzco
If you are not hiking the Inca Trail, you will return to Cuzco where there are many other options available including an overnight trip by train to Machu Picchu, white water rafting, horse riding, mountain biking, canoeing, jungle excursions, shopping (make sure you bargain!) and sightseeing etc. If you have chosen to hike the Inca Trail you will cross spectacular passes and visit more Inca ruins en-route to the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu. A local guide will lead this expedition and there will be cooks and porters to carry the main equipment, leaving you with just a small daypack. The trek begins after a short bus journey and the first day is a relatively easy 4½ hour 10km walk which will get you limbered up for the highest pass at Warmiwañusca (4,200m) which you will reach before lunchtime on Day 2 (and which translates to “Dead Woman’s Pass”!). During Day 2 you will cover approximately 12km in about 7 hours and after the high pass it’s all down hill as the trail winds its way along old Inca stairs to our campsite. On Day 3 we pass the ruins of Sayacmarca and Phuyupatamarca, walking approximately 15km in 7 hours. The last morning, after an overnight stop at Wiñay-Wayna, you will rise early for the final walk to Machu Picchu and greet daybreak over the famous “Sun Gate”. There will then be time to explore on your own or simply take in the magnificence of the place before your guided tour. The ruins were only discovered by the outside world in 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham found them while looking for another “lost city” called Vilcabamba. Due to their isolation many of the buildings are still quite intact and you can’t help but admire Huayna Picchu (“Young Mountain”), which towers above the ruins. It is a hard climb to the top of the mountain (it takes about 50 minutes) but you are rewarded with spectacular views over the whole site. After spending most of the day at Machu Picchu you have the chance to soak your tired muscles in the hot springs at Aguas Calientes or meander through the markets before returning to Cuzco by train.
Days 36-37: Cuzco
Making the most of your last free time in Cuzco you can explore its amazing churches, colonial buildings and picturesque streets, most of which have Inca walls, arches and doorways. Leaving Cuzco, we drive along roads bordered by herds of llamas, alpacas and vicuñas before reaching the Altiplano (high plain). Our journey takes us past hot mineral pools, snow-capped mountains, through villages where the Indians sell food, fur hats and alpaca sweaters. And over the La Raya Pass at 4,321 metres. Our final destination for today is near the Sillustani ruins where we will free-camp for the night. Here you will have the option to visit these ancient burial towers and the fascinating little museum.
Days 38-40: Puno
The following morning we have a short drive down into Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca, which at 3,855 metres, is the highest navigable lake in the world. From here you have the chance to take an excursion to the islands of Amantaní and Taquile. On Amantaní we arrange homestay accommodation with the native Aymara/Quechua Indian families and you will have the chance to eat with the family, perhaps enjoy a party and dancing and maybe play soccer with the local children! The next morning you’ll visit Taquile Island where the people live in simple adobe huts and the men knit colourful hats. You will also visit the floating reed islands in the Bay of Puno, to see the Uros Indians’ way of life andride in a traditional reed boat. Continuing back to Puno, you’ll arrive in time to visit the colourful markets.
Days 41-42: La Paz (Bolivia)
We drive around Lake Titicaca to the border town of Desaguadero where we can change money before crossing into Bolivia. Driving on dirt roads we pass adobe villages before reaching a highway which winds its way down the canyon into La Paz, the highest capital city in the world at 3,636 metres and where the tour ends. We arrive in La Paz around mid afternoon on day 41 so if you are departing on day 42 you will not have much time to explore the city. You may therefore wish to allow a few extra days in La Paz at the end of your trip. La Paz is built in the basin of a spectacular valley with the snow-capped Mount Illimani in the background. The city has colourful Indian street markets including the ‘witches market’ where women in flared skirts sell, amongst other things, dead cats and llama foetuses which are placed under new buildings to keep evil spirits away. The main square, Plaza Murillo, is where many years ago a president of the republic was lynched from a lamppost. La Paz is one of the best places to see a traditional peña show of Andean music and dance where local musicians play their time-honoured instruments such as zampoñas (pipes) and charangos (ukulele). If you are staying on in La Paz, there are heaps of optional excursions available. Check out the Moon Valley with its strange rock formations shaped by the weather or take in the incredible views from Mount Chacaltaya and the world's highest ski resort at 5,221metres. Another fantastic excursion is to Coroico, the gateway to the Bolivian jungle region and a great place to see sub-tropical vegetation and plants. En-route you will cross a 5,000 metre high pass before descending to 1,300 metres on narrow mountain roads bordered by sheer drops. The excursion to Coroico can also be done by mountain bike, as it is downhill nearly all the way and very exhilarating, but not for the fainthearted!
50% camping, 50% hotels/hostels * All transport on a fully equipped expedition truck * Fuel, road taxes, tolls and ferries * Services of your driver and tour leader * All camping & cooking equipment (BYO sleeping bag and roll mat) * Specialist vehicle liability insurance * Three daily meals while camping and lunches on travel days on the truck * Campsite fees & cooking gas * Hotels & hostels when staying in towns & cities *National park fees when visited in the truck.
All year round. Please enquire for available dates.
£850 GBP per person (Local Fund of $350 USD) - BOOK NOW
Please note that this tour is also available in reverse - £850 GBP per person plus local fund of $350 USD