Essential South America
South America is often the last continent that people visit, yet it is without doubt the world’s most exciting. Our action-packed 27-day itinerary embraces all the major highlights of Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina.
Steeped in history, culture and awe-inspiring scenery South America is a continent of superlatives. It possesses the largest jungle, the longest river, the widest waterfalls and the longest mountain chain in the world. Our spectacular tour begins in the capital of the Incas, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley, from where we explore the fantastic lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, before heading to the best kept secret in Peru, the astonishing geological marvel Rainbow Mountain that was discovered only in 2015. We then take an exhilarating lake crossing to Bolivia via the world’s highest navigable lake, Titicaca. Almost every day is a highlight as we move south across the Royal Range of the Andes in Bolivia and the incredible Salt Flats of Uyuni, before flying to Argentina’s lively capital, Buenos Aires – birthplace of tango. The tour then heads to the most stupendous waterfalls in the world – Iguassu. We spend two nights at the falls staying in the magnificent Hotel Das Cataratas, right in the heart of the national park before flying to the amazingly exciting city of Rio de Janeiro, lying in the shadow of the mighty statue of Christ the Redeemer. This tour is a feast for all the senses and many of our regular travellers consider it their favourite!
Tour Fitness Level: Active
- Exclusive visit to our tour leader’s family home in Cusco
- Overnight stay at Machu Picchu giving the opportunity to visit the site twice; in the afternoon and the next day as dawn breaks
- Visit Peru’s newly-discovered iconic site of Rainbow Mountain
- Visit to a remote Andean community where life goes on as it has for centuries
- Spectacular drive across the Andes via La Reya Pass to Lake Titicaca
- Visit to an authentic floating reed island on Lake Titicaca
- Soar above La Paz on the city’s extraordinary cable car system, Mi Teleferico
- See a stunning folk show in La Paz, displaying Bolivia’s cultural wealth, including the beautiful base pan pipes
- Cross the largest salt desert in the world by 4WD
- Stay at a unique hotel at Uyuni made entirely of salt
- Two-night stay at the world-famous hotel made entirely of salt
- Kick up your heels with an exclusive tango lesson followed by the best tango show in Buenos Aires
- Watch a thrilling display of horsemanship at a local ranch with a traditional Argentinian BBQ
- Visit the vibrant Buenos Aires neighbourhoods of La Boca and San Telmo on market day
- Tour Rio’s favelas in private open-topped jeeps
- Immerse yourself in a dazzling samba show
- Two-night stay at the exclusive Das Cataratas Hotel overlooking Iguassu Falls
- Experience the thrill of a jet-boat ride into ‘Devil’s Throat’
- See the full splendour of Iguassu Falls with a spectacular helicopter flight
- View the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides
- All flights between Australia and South America (inc domestic from your preferred capital city)
- All flights, transportation and transfers within South America
- All ticketable taxes (may be subject to change)
- All accommodation (twin-share)
- All meals as specified
- Experienced tour leader throughout
- Expert local guides
- All entrance fees in specified sightseeing
- All tips and gratuities
Please note that whilst every effort will be made to adhere to the above pricing, currency fluctuations beyond our control can affect final tour costs. A booking form is to be completed by all passengers, and a non-refundable deposit of AUD $2,000 paid at the time of booking. All escorted tours are based on a minimum group size of 10 people travelling.
19/04/2023 Australia – Santiago – Cusco (D)
Fly from your preferred capital city to Sydney, connecting with our flight to South America. Crossing the International Date Line, we arrive in Cusco on the same day.
Depart Sydney Latam LA 800, 11.35
Arrive Santiago 13.40
Depart Santiago Latam LA 2366, 15.35
Arrive Cusco 18.05
On arrival at Cusco airport, we transfer to our hotel in the Sacred Valley.
Sonesta Posada del Inca
20/04/2023 Sacred Valley (BL)
This morning we drive in the beautiful Sacred Valley of the Incas surrounded by the Andes Mountains. On the way we will go through the beautiful ‘Granary of the Incas’ and we may have a chance to glimpse Andean glaciers in the area.. We then continue onto the town of Chinchero, a town perched at the top of the Sacred Valley with amazing views of the Andes Mountains. Time has stopped in Chinchero, the narrow streets keep the Inca foundations and are crowned by the mud brick and tail roofs of the Spanish era. Chinchero is the capital of the indigenous techniques of weaving and dying textiles, we visit a local cooperative that introduces us to the ancestral weaving traditions. After lunch we visit the salt mines of Maras which have been used for millennia and the Inca agricultural research center of Moray as we watch some of the most spectacular views of the Andes Mountains at golden hour.
21/04/2023 Sacred Valley (BL)
Today we continue to explore the Sacred Valley of the Incas, travelling high into the mountains to visit a remote community. These charming people rarely venture out of their settlement and it is a privilege to meet them. This is very much a Travel Directors’ trademark as it is a unique chance to experience a very genuine, typical and traditional way of life which has not changed for centuries. This visit takes us back in time as we interact and mingle with the original people of this ancient land.
22/04/2023 Sacred Valley – Machu Picchu (BL)
After breakfast we have an early morning transfer to Ollantaytambo which is situated at the foot of spectacular Inca ruins that once protected the entrance to the lower Urubamba Valley. The temple area is at the top of steep terracing, providing excellent defenses. Stone used for these buildings was brought from a quarry high up on the opposite side of the Urubamba River – an incredible feat involving thousands of workers. Ollantaytambo is the only Inca settlement to have successfully resisted attacks from the Spanish.
We then transfer to the train station for the amazing train ride to Machu Picchu.
Depart Ollantaytambo Train 3, 11.15
Arrive Machu Picchu 12.41
The railway line follows the Urubamba River valley with the snow-capped Andes towering above. After checking into our superb hotel in Machu Picchu town, we enjoy lunch at the entrance to the site before making our first visit to the great ruins. Machu Picchu is undoubtedly the best known and most spectacular archaeological site on the continent. It is a complete city, set on the saddle of a high mountain with terraced slopes falling away to the Urubamba River, which rushes through great hairpin bends far below. The ruins themselves are amazing, comprising staircases, terraces, temples, palaces, towers and the famous sundial.
Casa del Sol Machu Picchu Hotel
Machu Picchu Pueblo
23/04/2023 Machu Picchu – Cusco (BLD)
The morning is free to continue exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu without the crowds, before our afternoon train journey to Cusco. There is time, for those who wish, to trek to the famous Sun Gate, the traditional entrance to Machu Picchu. From here the views of the ancient citadel are extraordinary. The train ride back to Cusco is fun-filled with a delightful and hardworking crew. By early evening the wonderful sight of Cusco at night comes into view.
Depart Machu Picchu Train 1, 14.30
Arrive Cusco 18.30
After disembarking from the train we transfer to our hotel.
Palacio del Inka Hotel
24/04/2023 Cusco (BL)
Cusco is the archaeological capital of the Americas and the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city. Massive Inca-built stone walls line most of the city’s central streets to form the foundations of colonial and modern buildings. Many streets are stepped and narrow and inhabited by Quechua-speaking descendants of the Incas. Our exclusive city tour, designed to give our guests ‘the real Cusco’, also takes in Sacsayhuaman, the Temple of the Sun, and San Pedro market. We continue to the artists’ quarter before finishing in the magnificent Plaza de Armas, Cusco’s main square. In the afternoon we have an unforgettable visit to the cathedral, famous for its painting of the last supper which depicts the Peruvian ‘Chicha’ drink instead of wine as well as the Andean delicacy – guinea pig!
25/04/2023 Cusco (BD)
Today is totally at leisure in this wonderful city. You may wish to visit more museums or Inca sights, shop in the charming back streets, or simply relax in one of the many cafes and watch the world go by.
26/04/2023 Cusco – Combapata (BLD)
This morning we transfer to a very special place indeed: the house of our local tour-leader! We meet the family and have a chance to sample their most traditional homemade coca tea which helps with the effects of altitude. Their mother is also well known throughout the region for her delicious empanadas and sweets. We then drive to Combapata, a town tucked away at the foot hills of Rainbow Mounatin, where we immerse ourselves in a charming countryside ambience. On the way we visit Andahuaylillas church, often referred as the ‘Sistine Chapel of the Americas’ due to its profuse mural paintings.
27/04/2023 Combapata – Rainbow Mountain – Puno (Lake Titicaca) (BL)
We leave Combapata early this morning for what will be a momentous day of travel. We start the day with an easy trek that follows the remote Palccoyo trail to the summit of Rainbow Mountain. This geological phenomenon, was discovered only in 2015 when the perennial snow blanket thawed to reveal an astonishing mountain kaleidoscope. Formed by weather, environmental conditions and sedimentary deposits over millions of years, the mountain’s unique minerology created a marbling effect, with layered hues of gold, lavender, red and turquoise that reach towards the sky. After our exhilarating hike we travel across the Andes to La Raya Pass (4,380m) and on to Puno. We stop for lunch en route at the remote and rarely-visited town of Lampa, an irresistible hamlet known as the ‘pink city’, far from the reach of ordinary travellers. As the road weaves its way up to the heights of La Raya, we enjoy breathtaking views before a late afternoon arrival at our hotel on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
Libertador Isla Esteves Hotel
28/04/2023 Puno (BL)
Today we take an early morning boat ride on Lake Titicaca to visit the famous floating reed islands. These strange spongy masses are home to the Los Uros Indians, a unique tribe that pre-dates the Incas. Later we take a ride on one of their extraordinary reed boats before heading to Taquile Island where we meet indigenous people whose isolation allowed them to stick to the old ways. We return to Puno in the late afternoon.
29/04/2023 Puno – La Paz (BL)
After breakfast we travel by road to the border town of Copacabana – Bolivia and continue through to the straits of Tiquina where the Bolivian Navy is based. Here we board a passenger ferry, while our bus crosses the straits on a sturdy vehicle ferry. We then re-board the bus and continue along the breathtaking El Alto plateau until we reach a basin rim. Deep in this natural crater is our first spectacular glimpse of the city of La Paz.
Ritz Apart Hotel
30/04/2023 La Paz (BLD)
The amazing city of La Paz is the administrative capital of Bolivia and, as such, qualifies as the world’s highest capital. Enjoying an incredible location it well deserves its nickname, ‘the city that touches the sky’. Our tour begins in Government Square, from where we visit the Presidential Palace and the Indian handicraft market. Recently a cable car system was installed across the entire city, which alleviates traffic congestion, and our tour today provides glimpses of La Paz from this aerial perspective.We then drive out of the city to the extraordinary Moon Valley. Formed millions of years ago when the area was under water, it is a labyrinth of bizarrely shaped sandstone formations, which give the appearance of a lunar landscape.
01/05/2023 La Paz – Uyuni (BLD)
Depart La Paz Z8 322, 09.00
Arrive Uyuni 09.50
This morning we leave La Paz for our flight to Uyuni on the Altiplano and on arrival we are greeted by some of the most amazing landscapes on earth. Passing by the edge of the Salt Lake we transfer to our hotel which is made entirely of salt. We visit the village of Colchani on the shores of the Uyuni salt flats and a local salt factory where locals pack the salt after adding iodine. Close to here is the cemetery of trains were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid lived their final days. The sunset across the salt flats is truly astonishing.
Luna Salada Hotel
02/05/2023 Uyuni (BLD)
Located close to the border with Chile, the Salar de Uyuni is the largest and highest salt flat in the world. The contrasting colours of the blue sky and the dazzling white salt surface make for an amazing spectacle. Today we drive across the Salt Lake to the Fish Island, enjoying views of the flattest place on earth. Crossing this huge part of the High Andean Plateau creates the sensation of absolute infinity. On reaching Fish Island, we take a walk through this extraordinary formation in the middle of the Salt Lake observing various types of cacti and chinchilla rabbits that inhabit the island.
03/05/2023 Uyuni – La Paz (BD)
After an early breakfast we transfer to the airport for the flight to La Paz.
Depart Uyuni Boliviana de Aviacion OB 307, 10.05
Arrive La Paz 11.05
On arrival in La Paz we transfer to the city using the most spectacular transportation system on the planet: the Mi Teleferico cable car network. Only seven years ago chaotic traffic in La Paz city centre had pushed the infrastructure to the brink of collapse. It was proposed by then President, Evo Morales, to build a cable car network that would be the largest and most ambitious of its kind in the world. In 2014 this astonishing mass transport system commenced operations with three lines that subsequently expanded to ten. The view to the Illimani volcano and the scurrying figures in the city below are simply breathtaking.
Ritz Apart Hotel
04/05/2023 La Paz – Santa Cruz – Buenos Aires (BD)
Depart La Paz Boliviana de Aviacion OB 660, 06.00
Arrive Santa Cruz 07.05
Depart Santa Cruz Boliviana de Aviacion OB 708, 09.25
Arrive Buenos Aires 13.35
On arrival in Buenos Aires we transfer to our hotel.
The Brick Hotel
05/05/2023 Buenos Aires (BD)
Buenos Aires, the fabulous capital of Argentina, is the most European city in South America with many beautiful parks and plazas. ‘Portenos’, as the locals call themselves, are fun-loving people who enjoy their city and music. On our city tour we take in Government House (Casa Rosada, or Pink House), the House of Congress, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Eva Peron’s tomb in the Recoleta Cemetery, and the famous Italian La Boca district. This evening we enjoy a spectacular tango show.
06/05/2023 Buenos Aires (BL)
A fun-filled relaxing day today as we head out of the city on a ‘Fiesta Gaucho’ tour. We drive into the fertile grasslands, the pampas, which surround Buenos Aires, to an estancia or horse ranch. After cocktails and empanadas our hosts provide a typical Argentinian BBQ and a vibrant gaucho folk show.
07/05/2023 Buenos Aires – Iguazu (BD)
Early this morning we transfer to the airport for our flight to Puerto Iguazu.
Depart Buenos Aires Aerolineas AR 1732, 07.40
Arrive Iguazu 09.30
Landing on the spectacular Argentinian side of the falls we take a walk across bridges and walkways that take us to within a few meters of many of the cascades for incredible views. The most famous is the ‘Devil’s Throat’, where the water crashes 100m to the valley below, providing an amazing view.
Das Cataratas Hotel
Parque Nacional Iguassu
08/05/2023 Iguassu Falls (BL)
The Iguassu Falls are considered by many to be the most impressive in the world, surpassing in grandeur both Niagara and Victoria. Some 275 separate cascades surge over a winding 3-km cliff frontage into a gorge 60m deep. The morning is spent exploring the Brazilian side of the falls. We then travel by 4WD vehicles to the Iguassu River where we board a powerful speed boat for a thrilling ride through the rapids to the very base of the falls. This afternoon we visit the superb Iguassu bird park, home to hundreds of exotic species and, weather permitting, take a magnificent helicopter ride over the falls for breathtaking views.
09/05/2023 Iguassu Falls – Rio de Janeiro (BD)
Today we have some free time enjoying the falls on our own from the easy access paths outside the hotel. This afternoon we transfer to the airport for our flight to Rio.
Depart: Iguassu Falls, Latam Brasil JJ3189, 15.15
Arrive Rio de Janeiro 17.15
On arrival we transfer to our hotel.
Rio de Janeiro
10/05/2023 Rio de Janeiro (BD)
Rio de Janeiro sweeps 20 km along a narrow alluvial strip between the mountains and the sea. Brazilians say: ‘God made the world in six days; the seventh he devoted to Rio’. Few people who have been to this magnificent city would argue! Our excursion today follows Rio’s famous beaches and passes Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon to Cosme Velho. Here we board a funicular train for the 20-minute ride to the top of the 800m high Corcovado Mountain. The statue of Christ the Redeemer on top of the peak is Rio’s most famous landmark and one of the modern Wonders of the World, affording an incredible 360-degree view of the city. Afterwards a cable car takes us to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain, uniquely situated at the entrance of Guanabara Bay. The journey to the top is completed in two stages, with beautiful views of the city and its beaches. Tonight we visit one of Rio’s most famous traditional restaurants for dinner and then attend the dazzling samba show.
11/05/2023 Rio de Janeiro (BL)
Today we veer away from the familiar tourist haunts and visit the famous favelas, or slum areas. Open-topped jeeps take us on an exhilarating journey to these lively suburbs built into Rio’s mountainsides. Our guides are residents of the favelas who know the area intimately and ensure our tour is both fascinating and safe. They give a unique insight into a part of this extraordinary city not normally visited by tourists. The view of Rio from high up in the favelas is simply astonishing. After lunch in the Santa Teresa district we ascend the colorful Selaron Steps before we head back to our hotel.
12/05/2023 Rio de Janeiro (BD)
Today is a relaxed one as we explore the oldest and colonial part of Rio. Though recently renovated it still oozes charm. In the afternoon we explore the coastal part of Rio, taking a stroll along Ipanema beach and proceeding back to our hotel via the famous Copacabana beach.
13/05/2023 Rio de Janeiro – Santiago (B)
This afternoon we transfer to the airport for our flight to Santiago and Sydney.
Depart Rio de Janeiro Latam LA 787, 15.10
Arrive Santiago 19.00
14/05/2023 Santiago – Sydney
Depart Santiago Latam LA 801, 00.40
Whilst in-flight we cross the International Date Line.
15/05/2023 Arrive Sydney
Arrive Sydney 09.35
On arrival in Sydney connect with the flight to your chosen Australian capital.
If I am coming from Perth or any other major capital city in Australia, will it be possible to overnight in Sydney before the journey to Peru?
Yes. We find many of our guests choose this option. Just let our consultants know if you want to take up this option and we will make the hotel booking on your behalf. Your domestic flight is included in the tour price.
How long is the flight from Sydney to Santiago?
Flying time is 16 hours.
If I travel alone, do I have to pay the single supplement?
If you wish to have sole use of a hotel room on the tour, you will need to pay the single supplement. If you are travelling alone but willing to share a room, we will endeavour to match you up with another solo traveller of the same gender. We cannot guarantee that a share-match can be provided, and in the event that this cannot be arranged at the time of final payment, you will need to pay the single supplement.
Is personal security a problem in South America?
In most of South America security is not a big problem. However in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires we remind our guests of the need to take sensible precautions. These include not wearing ostentatious jewellery, not showing or counting money in public, and not going to certain areas at night. Basically it’s a case of using common sense, particularly in large cities.
This tour spends some time at altitude. Is this a problem?
Our leaders have been to altitude many times and are very competent in dealing with high elevation. Generally we don’t have too many problems with altitude sickness in South America as we have designed the tour to ascend slowly from the Sacred Valley through to La Paz. In addition, all our leaders carry pulse oximeters, which enable us to monitor everyone’s progress and adjustment to altitude. Additionally, our hotels and buses always carry an extra supply of oxygen in case the need arises.
How much spending money do I need for the entire trip?
Because almost everything is included, we would suggest an amount of USD $1200 per person as being ample for the whole month-long journey. However, if you’re a keen shopper and like to buy lots of gifts and souvenirs, you may require more.
Are credit cards acceptable?
Credit cards are generally acceptable for purchases throughout the tour. ATMs are available in most of South America for cash withdrawals. However we don’t recommend relying solely on these as the main source of funds – we suggest taking some cash in USD.
Do I need vaccinations for this journey?
You must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel and you must carry the printed International Vaccination Certificate with you, and also a digital copy if possible. Tetanus should always be up to date. Other recommended vaccinations are Typhoid, Cholera and Hepatitis A. Please consult your doctor for more information. The Australian Government smarttraveller website and the World Health Organisation website have further information for travel during COVID-19. IMPORTANT: A yellow fever vaccination is mandatory on this tour and the vaccination certificate must accompany each passenger, as, on arrival in Sydney, Australian immigration may ask to see it. In the rare case where a person cannot be given the vaccine, a certificate of waiver must be obtained. Tetanus should always be up to date. As we travel into malarial areas, a powerful insect repellent is essential and anti-malaria tablets are recommended. We suggest that you also seek advice from your doctor.
Is the water safe to drink en route and what is the general standard of hygiene?
We err on the side of caution on all of our tours and advise travellers to drink only bottled water. This is easy to obtain everywhere. The standard of hygiene in South America is surprisingly high along the entire route. We recommend the use of hand sanitiser before each meal and occasionally during the day as we will be handling local money and visiting public places.
What is the climate like at this time of the year?
The climate varies greatly along the route ranging from a low of 6C to a high of 26C. Our pre-departure information booklet will provide detailed weather tables for each region we visit.
If I want to travel to South America ahead of the group, or stay after the group departs, is this possible?
Yes, it is possible with reasonable notice to fly to South America ahead of the group or stay on after the group has departed.
Is it possible to join the tour on another section of the tour, rather than doing the whole trip?
There is no restriction and one can join the tour at any section. Check with our consultants for flight availability and cost variations.
Do I need visas for South America?
An Australian passport holder will need a visa for Brazil only. New Zealand and British passport holders do not require a visa for this journey.
A lot of companies have many expensive optional extras on their tours. Do you?
We don’t believe in a lot of expensive ‘optional tours’. Our itineraries are designed to make the best possible use of time and to include all the must-see sights, plus additional surprises. Therefore practically everything is included in the tour cost.
What is the standard of hotels like on this tour?
We endeavour to use centrally located hotels throughout. The hotels on this trip are of a high standard and generally between 4 and 5 star.
What currency should I take?
The currency for this journey is US dollars. They should be in low denominations, clean and undamaged.
Are internet facilities available en route?
All of the hotels we use have internet facilities. In addition there are many internet cafes located near to the hotels.
Do mobile telephones work?
Telstra and Optus mobiles work throughout the entire journey except in the Amazon. You will need to ensure you have global roaming and a tri-band phone. Contact your service provider for further details.
How much should we tip the guides and porters?
There is no need to tip guides or porters as all tipping and gratuities are included in the tour cost.
Listed below is a selection of books which you may wish to read prior to, or during, your journey.
South America Handbook
Ben Box (Footprint)
Travellers Guide to El Dorado & the Inca Empire
Lost City of the Incas
A History of Latin America
The Conquest of the Incas
The Incas – Garcilaso de la Vegas
Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America
David Hatcher Childres