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PERU | Sunday, 26 September 2010 | Views [578]

Day 2 Ballestas Islands We drive south from Lima along the Pan American Highway until mid-morning. Then, we take a boat to the Ballestas islands, a national park that contains one of the highest concentrations of marine birds in the world. There are sea lions, numerous species of birds and the Paracas Candelabra, a curious pre-Inca design on the hillside, only recognisable from the sea. We drive on to Ica, Peru's inegrowing region.

Day 3 At the oasis just outside Ica there are high sand dunes. We arrive at Nazca in the afternoon with time to visit the famous Nazca Lines. These are one of the world's great archaeological mysteries, consisting of enormous drawings and patterns etched in the desert sand. We will climb the viewing platforms near the lines for an overview of some of the drawings. There will also be time for optional visits to the nearby Antonini archaeological museum, the Chauchilla pre-Inca cemetery, or the Nazca Aqueduct, which gives an insight into the Nazca civilisation’s ingenious subterranean irrigation system.

Day 4 Drive into the Andes We turn inland from the coastal desert, climbing high into the Andes on today’s long but spectacular drive. Vicuñas can be seen along this road, as this area is Peru’s largest vicuña reserve. Flamingos are usually sited at high Andean lakes near the road. This new route is possible due to the recent upgrade of the Abancay/Chalhuanca road.

Day 5 Drive to Cuzco On the way to Cuzco we visit the unique Inca Saywiti stone and Tarawasi ruins. Glaciated summits of the Vilcabam a Mountain range and the descent into the Apurimac river valley demonstrate the dramatic contrasts of the Andes Mountains.

Day 6 Cuzco Free day in Cuzco to get to grips with one of South America’s most beautiful cities. In the centre there is the Plaza de Armas, and the Koricancha Sun Temple located in the Santo Domingo Church and monastery. Outside the town are more Inca ruins, notably the fortress of Sacsayhuaman where the Inca armies made their last stand against the Conquistadores.

Day 7 Machu Picchu For most people the highlight of the trip is the visit by train to the greatest ruin in the world, the lost city of Machu Picchu. This is one of the architectural and engineering marvels of the ancient world, in a mountain setting of staggering immensity. The Spaniards never found it; the Incas left no records about it, so Machu Picchu remains a great enigma, a city lost for centuries in the jungle.

Day 8 Aguas Calientes A free morning to enjoy the hot springs and buzz of this little town in the jungle below the ruins - or for those who want to explore more of Machu Picchu, there is the option to return for sunrise; much the most peaceful time of day to appreciate the site. In the afternoon we board the train back to Cuzco.

Day 9 Cuzco A final chance to enjoy the sights and shopping of this beautiful city

Day 10 Lake Titicaca We take a 7-hour bus ride across the altiplano, the high plains separating the Andes from the jungle. Although it is quite a long drive, it is interesting and often spectacular. There are scheduled stops at interesting sites along the route to help break up the day and all along the route we get a feeling for the immensity of the Andean landscapes. We arrive in the afternoon at the shore of Lake Titicaca and board a boat for our trip to Amantani Island. Hiking around the island offers great views across the lake, whilst the night spent with a local family offers fantastic cultural insight into lives very different to our own.

Day 11 Lake Titicaca We explore the island in the morning before boarding our boat for the approximately three hour journey to Puno on the lakeshore. On the way, we visit the ancestors of the Uros Indians, who live on islands of floating reeds.

Day 12 To the Colca Canyon Today we head off across the altiplano again. This time we cross to the south west, heading back towards the coast to the high Colca Canyon. En route we have opportunities to see vicuñas and possibly flamingos before descending into what is considered to be second deepest canyon in the Americas (the deepest, the Cotahuasi Canyon, is also in Peru). There is time in the evening for a visit to Hot Springs a warming pleasure after the chill of Lake Titicaca.

Day 13 To Arequipa An early start to view condors soaring on the morning drafts rising out of the canyon. Extensive terraces, stunning colonial churches, and burial tombs are viewed before we ascend out of the canyon on our way to Arequipa the White City surrounded by 6000m volcanoes, including near-perfect cone of El Misti.

Day 14 Arequipa and Lima In the morning we visit the huge and serene convent of Santa Catalina. Built in 1580 and only opened to the outside world in the 1970s, it offers a rare insight into the lives led by the nuns and has changed little through the centuries. There are still around 20 nuns living in the northern corner of the complex. In the afternoon we fly to Lima where will transfer to our hotel in Miraflores.

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