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Day by Day Itinerary

Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

Sweeping across southern Peru and western Bolivia, the Andean plateau is a landscape of stunning vistas, a place where ancient societies thrived in the shadow of volcanoes and on the shore of the world’s highest navigable lake. From colonial-era cobblestone streets to plunging canyons where condors fly, you’ll experience the history and beauty of southernmost Peru, then uncover centuries of culture in Bolivia, as you stroll traditional markets and explore pre-Incan ruins at Tiwanaku. Witnessing weavers at work, visiting islanders on Lake Titicaca, and meeting Peruvian farmers along the way, you’ll discover the spirit of the region up close on this inspiring adventure.

Lima La Paz Expand All
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    Depart this evening on an overnight flight to Peru.

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    We arrive at the airport in Lima early in the morning and transfer to our hotel. After lunch on your own, we meet our expert resident Trip Leader, who will guide our discoveries throughout the trip. We will also be introduced to our fellow travelers—including those arriving from our Amazon Rain Forest of Peru pre-trip extension. In the afternoon, we explore Lima together. Founded by the conquistadors in 1535, Lima became Spain’s largest and wealthiest city in the New World. The city has a proud history, including the founding of one of the first universities in South America, the Universidad de San Marcos, in the middle of the 16th century. Today, Lima’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We begin with a guided visit to Lima’s Larco Museum, which specializes in treasures from ancient Peru. The Larco is home to one of the world’s most outstanding collections of pre-Columbian gold and silver, as well as a fascinating collection of erotic archaeological artifacts. Then, we explore Lima’s Colonial streets and architecture, evidence of the city’s Spanish heritage, including the iconic San Francisco Church. The historic heart of Lima will transport you to another era. This evening, our small group gets better acquainted as we enjoy a Welcome Dinner together.

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    After breakfast, we transfer to the airport for our flight to Arequipa. When we arrive, we'll have lunch in the elegant Yanahuara neighborhood, where we’ll savor examples of traditional dishes from the region. After lunch, we'll check into our hotel. Then our Trip Leader leads an informative orientation walk to familiarize us with our setting.

    Arequipa is a thriving metropolis where ancient and modern touches coalesce. Under El Misti Volcano’s watchful eye, Peru’s second-largest city is also the center of legal affairs. Much of Arequipa is built using the pale volcanic stones sillar and ashlar, which gives Arequipa the nickname “the White City.” Dinner is on your own this evening. The food of Arequipa is considered by many to be the best in Peru. Perhaps you’ll try chicharron, deep fried pork, or rocoto relleno, stuffed chili peppers.

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    This morning, we enjoy a walking tour of Arequipa’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We begin at one of the world’s most unique religious sites, the 15th-century Santa Catalina Monastery. We’ll explore some of the countless halls and interior lanes of this 65,000-square-foot city within the city. Where vivid paint brightens walls made of sillar and ashlar, the local volcanic stone. Spanish-Moorish architectural details like flowing fountains, orange trees, and arched colonnades make this a setting as romantic as it is meditative. Then we’ll visit the Sanctuary Museum to learn about some Inca mummies that were discovered frozen high in the Andes in 1995. The best known is Juanita, nicknamed the Ice Maid of Ampato, believed to have been a teenager sacrificed by Inca priests. Her discovery electrified the scientific community and caught the attention of the world. In this tucked-away museum, her mummy is maintained in a state-of-the-art freezing chamber and scientific teams work on analyzing her DNA. Please note: Juanita is removed from public display between January and April for preservation and study, but other mummies from the site, and artifacts found with them such as cloth and footwear, can still be viewed here during those months. We'll stroll through the bustling San Camillo Market, a hub of local life in Arequipa, and on to the city's main square, the Plaza de Armas. We'll see the La Compañía Church, whose elaborate stone carvings are fine examples of the architecural style known as La Escuela Arequipeña (Arequipa School)—a blend of indigenous Peruvian influences with Spanish and European models. After our tour, we'll have lunch at a local restaurant, then return to our hotel. The rest of your afternoon is free, and dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Following breakfast at our hotel, we transfer overland to Colca Canyon, ascending to a height of 16,000 feet above sea level. We pause en route for lunch in a local restaurant in Chivay before continuing.

    Once we’ve settled into our hotel, your afternoon is at leisure. Colca Canyon is an area with geothermally heated waters, and you can enjoy a relaxing soak in the local hot springs. We gather for dinner at our hotel this evening.

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    This morning, we turn our attention to Colca Canyon. Dropping 13,600 feet from its rims to the banks of the Colca River, it’s more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, but more gradual in its descent. For the indigenous people who have called the Colca Valley home for thousands of years, the dramatic terrain was (and is) no obstacle: They created their own terrace-based agricultural system for growing potatoes and corn, tended thriving alpaca herds, and built up a network of adobe villages all along the drop-offs, using snowmelt from volcanoes as their water source.

    One hundred eighty feet above the lip of the canyon, Cruz del Condor offers a bird’s-eye view of the world’s largest flying bird: the Andean Condor. We’ll visit this lookout, where we’ll watch for this majestic breed of vulture with its distinguished silver collar and ten-foot wing span. One of its most memorable features is the seeming ease with which it flies—once it achieves flight, it rarely ever flaps its wings; instead, it glides on the air currents for hours. Though Cruz del Condor is best known for its condor sightings, its view of the canyon alone is unforgettable, with a volcano-laced vista stretching for hundreds of miles before us, and plunging to a depth equivalent to the height of the Rocky Mountains. We'll take a hike of approximately 90 minutes between Cruz del Condor and Cruz del Cura on the border of Colca Canyon, with natural viewpoints and more chances to see condors. After we enjoy lunch together in a local restaurant, we visit a Peruvian clothing workshop where traditional attire from the Colca Valley is made. You’ll see how the familiar colorful textiles are created by artisans practicing centuries-old skills. The balance of the afternoon is free for discoveries on your own. This evening, enjoy dinner with your fellow travelers at the hotel.

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    After breakfast this morning, we travel overland to Puno, pausing en route at farms where we may meet a trio of Peru’s most beloved animals. Vicuña may only be shorn every three years but, as a result, yield the softest fibers—so prized that Incas declared only royalty could wear garments of this material. Unlike the vicuña, llamas were bred for the common man: strong enough to carry a load equal to 30% of their weight for miles and smart enough to be easily trained, they were perfect pack animals (and acceptable, if less ideal, as meat). Alpacas were bred specifically for their soft hair, which comes in 52 shades, yielding fiber valued around the world.  Though they are cousins to camels, their long, thick-growing hair makes them look more like sheepdogs by the time they are ready to shear.

    We arrive this afternoon in Puno, established in the 17th century on the slender strip of land between the Andes and Lake Titicaca. For some Andeans, Puno is their only point of contact with the rest of Peru, as they prefer to maintain their distinct cultures. Puno makes a point of including the traditional arts of these peoples in the vibrant local music and dance programming, which has earned the city the name Capital Folklorica del Peru. We’ll get a taste of the city’s flavor during an afternoon at leisure here. We’ll enjoy dinner together at our hotel this evening.

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    This morning, we head down to the Port of Puno to board a small boat for our excursion on Lake Titicaca to the Uros Islands. We cruise past fields of the tortora reeds from which the islands are built. The Uros Islands are a collection of 40 man-made islands, fashioned by the Uru people from harvested tortora reeds interwoven with the reeds growing up from the bottom of the lake, and further anchored with ropes attached to stakes at lake bottom. Each island floor is only six to eight feet thick, so that every step “squishes” a bit. The local people must constantly maintain not only the underlayer and anchor, but replenish the flattened top layer, which means that they are constantly working on preserving their homes. As you’ll see when we go ashore and meet them, tortora plays a role not only in the island-building, but in other construction, with many homes and buildings built of the reed, and even the diet, where its root is considered medicinal.

    After this fascinating look into a truly unique way of life, we return to Puno and visit the Coca Museum. The displays here pay tribute to the role of the coca leaf in the region’s culture and celebrate the traditional costumes of local people. The coca exhibit explains the role of the bitter leaf in Coca-Cola and the fact that coca leaves have more protein, calcium, iron, and Vitamin A than potatoes, corn, or any grain. In the adjoining costume room, we learn about the background of these vivid, highly decorated outfits, and may even try some of them on. We then enjoy lunch in a local restaurant, followed by a walking tour of Puno and some free for exploring on your own. This evening, we enjoy dinner at our hotel.

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    This morning, we ride from Puno to Copamaya and walk into a local village that is known for its  textiles and agriculture. The villagers will show us some traditional dancing and demonstrate their weaving techniques. We'll have the opportunity to speak with them about their crops, their  culture, and what daily life is like here. We'll also enjoy a meal of typical regional fare during a community lunch. This afternoon, we cross the border into Bolivia, en route to Copacabana. We arrive in time to settle into our hotel comfortably, and then enjoy dinner together there this evening. The largest Bolivian settlement on Lake Titicaca, Copacabana was considered special to the local peoples, including the Aymara, centuries before the Spanish arrived on scene, but they immediately fell under its atmospheric spell as well. The town’s name is said to reflect both the Aymara phrase for “view of the lake” and an even older indigenous word for fertility. Considered by Bolivian legend to be the place the universe began, it is also place where the Bolivian and Spanish faiths come together in the Basilica of the Blessed Virgin, an icon accepted equally by Catholics and descendants of the Incas and Aymaras as sacred.

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    We board a boat this morning to see where it all began according to Bolivian lore. In their telling, Isla del Sol, the Island of the Sun, is where the creator of the universe rose up from the waters and threw the sun into the sky. We explore Isla del Sol’s beauty by boat and on foot, going ashore on the southern part of the island to hike its dramatic contours, viewing the ruins of an Incan Palace later used by Spanish priests as a retreat, and stopping at the Fountain of the Incas, which the local people still depend on, and which the first Spanish convinced themselves was the mythic Fountain of Youth.

    After lunch on the island, we return to Copacabana, which we explore on a guided walking tour. With whitewashed buildings and stone plazas, Copacabana reflects the Bolivian-Spanish tradition. Its gem is the gleaming Basilica of the Virgin of Copacabana, a 16th-century Spanish colonial church that houses the dark gold-laminated wooden sculpture of the Virgin. Dressed in a blend of Inca robes and European-style finery, the Virgin is a subject of adoration with her own festival, during which an exact likeness is paraded through the streets because superstition dictates that if the real thing ever left the church, disaster would befall the entire nation. Discover the flavors of local cuisine of your choosing during dinner on your own this evening.

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    After breakfast this morning, we bid farewell to Copacabana, and travel overland to La Paz, Bolivia’s administrative capital. We make stops along the way to experience the beauty of the landscape. When we arrive in La Paz, we'll have a light lunch, visit the Killi Killi viewpoint for an excellent view of the city, and then check in to our hotel. At 12,000 feet, La Paz is the city at the highest elevation in Bolivia and its second-largest. Ringed by mountains and perched on the rim of the Altiplano, La Paz is home to centuries-old brick buildings, Spanish colonial cathedrals, and modern skyscrapers alike. We enjoy dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

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    After breakfast, we’ll drive to the site of Bolivia’s most important archaeological site: Tiwanaku, a ceremonial location on the southern shore of Lake Titicaca used by a pre-Inca civilization reaching back to 600 BC. The people of this ancient city were excellent artisans and left behind a series of mysterious monoliths, as well as a pyramid, temple, and aqueducts. This was a well-planned city, seat of one of the Americas' most powerful and organized civilizations, and today it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We'll explore the site's monumental ruins, then pause for an included lunch. In the afternoon, we continue our discoveries at the Pumapunku temple complex, the massive stone slabs of which provide a vantage point for looking out over the surrounding plains. We’ll also stop at the site’s Lytic Museum—which houses several large stone objects, including a monolith representing Pachamama, or Mother Earth. Later this afternoon, we return to La Paz. Dinner is on your own this evening.

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    Today, we’ll begin our walking explorations of downtown La Paz on a guided tour, starting out with the neighborhood of El Prado Avenue and Murillo Plaza, home to the President of Bolivia. We’ll learn more about the city’s current status as the nation’s de facto (but unofficial) capital, and get an introduction to its history as we stroll its streets. And we’ll also take in some of the city’s striking settings as we walk, catching glimpses of the surrounding Andes Mountains, including the three snowcapped peaks of towering Illimani, the name of which comes from the indigenous Aymara people who lived here before the Incas, and whose descendants still dwell in Bolivia. We’ll see some of the local mercados (markets), which are wonderful places to meet the people of La Paz—from well-dressed professionals to itinerant street vendors and Andean women in their traditional garments of brightly colored multi-layered skirts and bowler hats. In particular, we’ll visit the Witches’ Market, where indigenous people sell plants, potions, and talismans used in ancient Aymara curandero (healing) rituals, and yatiri (witch doctors) offer their fortune-telling services. And we’ll cap our walking discoveries with a stroll along Los Andes Street, where traditional goods are on display, including a visit to a factory where dance costumes are made. After lunch at a local restaurant, the afternoon is at leisure. On your own, you might visit the Gold Museum, which is known for its stunning collection of pre-Columbian gold, silver, and copper, and ceremonial objects of the Tiwanaku people. We gather for a Farewell Dinner at our hotel this evening.

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    • Meals included:

    Very early this morning, transfer to the airport for your flight home. If you are taking the post-trip extension to Bolivia: Sucre, Potosi & the Uyuni Salt Flats, you will fly to Sucre a bit later in the morning.

Extensions

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

Pacing

  • 6 locations in 13 days with one 1-night stay; early mornings
  • International flights to Peru arrive late in the evening or very early in the morning, and internal flights are scheduled early
  • International flights from Bolivia depart early in the morning

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers who have difficulty at high altitudes or who use wheelchairs, walkers, or other mobility aids
  • You must be able to walk 3 miles unassisted and participate in 6-8 hours of physical activities each day, including hikes that are made more difficult by high elevation

Altitude

  • 9 full days at elevations of up to 13,000 feet, and some mountain passes of up to 16,000 feet

Climate

  • Lima is warmest between December and March, with daily highs of 80°F
  • Day and evening temperatures in the Andes range between 35-70°F

Terrain

  • Travel over city streets, rugged paths, and unpaved roads;  walk over rough, steep, and sometimes slippery trails without handrails

Transportation

  • Travel by 24-passenger minibus and small excursion boat
  • Drives of 2-6 hours; one internal flight of about 1.5 hours; boat excursion of 1.5-2 hours

Accommodations & Facilities

  • Hotel rooms are smaller than U.S. and offer simple amenities
  • All accommodations feature private baths

 

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary:

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Bolivia: Visa required.
  • Peru: No visa required.

Travelers who are booked on this adventure will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your adventure, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Trip Leaders and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • San Agustin Exclusive Hotel

    Lima, Peru

    The recently remodeled San Agustin Exclusive is located in the Miraflores district—five minutes from the Huaca Pucllana archaeological site and the seaside Larcomar shopping complex. Each of the 106 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, wireless Internet access, a safe, and a private bath with hair dryer. Hotel facilities include a restaurant and a  bar.

  • Hotel San Agustin Posada del Monasterio

    Arequipa, Peru

    Offering a combination of Old World charm and modern comfort, the Hotel San Agustin is located two blocks away from Arequipa's central Plaza De Armas. The 47 rooms each include a safe, refrigerator, wireless Internet access, cable TV, and a private bath with a hair dryer. Hotel facilities include a restaurant, a bar, and a rooftop terrace with a view of the Santa Catalina Convent.

  • Eco Inn Valle Colca

    Colca Canyon, Peru

    The Eco Inn Valle Colca is located on the rim of Colca Canyon (Valle del Colca in Spanish) with fine views of the Andean landscape from the premises. Each of the 21 rooms features a direct-dial phone and a private bath, with hair dryers available on request. The hotel has an on-site restaurant, and offers free wireless Internet access in the lobby and restaurant areas.

  • José Antonio Puno Hotel

    Puno, Peru

    This hotel is located on the shore of Lake Titicaca , with views of the lake. Each of the 106 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, alarm clock, mini bar, wireless Internet access, and a private bath with hair dryer. An on-site restaurant serves local and international cuisine, and the hotel bar looks out over the lake.

  • Hotel Rosario del Lago

    Copacabana, Bolivia

    The cozy, red-roofed Hotel Rosario del Lago sits perched overlooking Lake Titicaca, offering not only splendid views but easy walking access to the lake itself. The 25 rooms each offer a private bathroom, hair dryer, cable TV, and telephone, and the hotel’s comforts also include a restaurant, terrace grill, and common-area fireplace.

  • Radisson Plaza Hotel La Paz

    La Paz, Bolivia

    The Radisson Plaza Hotel is centrally located in La Paz near the Plaza Murillo, museums, shops, and restaurants. Each of the 200 rooms features cable TV, telephone, Internet access, minibar, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath. Hotel facilities include a health club with a heated indoor swimming pool, a bar, and two on-site restaurants.

Extensions

  • José Antonio Lima Hotel

    Lima, Peru

    In Lima, we stay at the 84-room José Antonio Lima Hotel, located in the heart of the vibrant Miraflores District. Walk from your hotel to nearby shops, restaurants, and cultural sites, as well as the Pacific Ocean only three blocks away. Your air-conditioned room offers cable TV, minibar, telephone, and private bath with shower, and the hotel restaurant features Peruvian fare.

    Please Note: Select departures feature similar accommodations.

  • Explorama Lodge

    The Amazon, Peru

    Shrouded by lush rain forest vegetation, the Explorama Lodge complements its remote natural setting with 50 rooms in palm-thatched bungalows connected by torch-lit paths. Covered walkways connect the bar, dining room, sun porch, and hammock houses. All rooms have private baths, but there is no hot water or electricity; kerosene lamps provide lighting.

    Please note: Accommodations in the Amazon are rustic. At Explorama Lodge, rooms have private baths, but no hot water or electricity (room lighting is provided by kerosene lamps). There is electricity in the dining area that can be used to charge batteries.

  • Hotel Parador Santa Maria La Real

    Sucre, Bolivia

    Located just two blocks from Sucre's main plaza, the Parador Santa Maria La Real is in a renovated 18th-century Spanish colonial building. Each of the 23 rooms features a telephone, wireless Internet access, safe, and private bath. Hotel facilities include an on-site restaurant, a spa with Jacuzzi, and a historic underground tunnel and chambers that preserve a piece of Sucre's history.

  • Cristal Samaña Hotel

    Uyuni, Bolivia

    Located on the Uyuni Salt Flats, the Cristal Samaña Hotel is constructed of white salt blocks. Each of the 26 rooms has a private bath. The hotel has an on-site restaurant, and the decor throughout features artwork carved in the blocks of salt.

  • Radisson Plaza Hotel La Paz

    La Paz, Bolivia

    The Radisson Plaza Hotel is centrally located in La Paz near the Plaza Murillo, museums, shops, and restaurants. Each of the 200 rooms features cable TV, telephone, Internet access, minibar, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath. Hotel facilities include a health club with a heated indoor swimming pool, a bar, and two on-site restaurants.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two adventures to maximize your value. Here are more ways to create the OAT adventure that’s right for you:

  • Extend your adventure and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip extensions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your adventure
  • Choose to “break away” before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of OAT adventures to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium economy class
  • Extend your Land Tour-only Travel Protection Plan coverage and protect the air arrangements you make on your own—including your frequent traveler miles

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Or, when you make your reservation, you can choose our standard air routing, for which approximate travel times are shown below.

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $2295
w/ standard air $3295

NOW save a FULL 10% off any January-April 2015 departure—reserve by 8/6/14

Simply reserve a January-April 2015 departure of Southern Peru & Bolivia: Inca Landscapes & Lake Titicaca and pay in full by check or electronic funds transfer by August 6, 2014.* You’ll save a FULL 10% off your adventure, air add-ons, and pre- and post-trip extension price—reserve early for your best choice.

This example demonstrates how you can save, based on a 3/30/15 departure:

  ORIGINAL PRICE
per person
YOUR PRICE
when you pay in full by 8/6/14
Land Tour-only price:
$2595 $2336
Add a Bolivia extension: $1345 $1211
Add international airfare out of Miami: $900 $810
Total price per person $4840 $4356

Maximize your value by using the money you save for an optional trip extension

Call Now 1-800-955-1925

Private Departures—New for 2015

Now you can reserve a Private Departure of Southern Peru & Bolivia: Inca Landscapes & Lake Titicaca for your exclusive group of as few as 4 travelers. Enjoy a truly special adventure—starting from only $500 per person.

On your private departure, you can …

  • Travel in an exclusive group of friends or family members
  • Bring along several generations of your own family
  • Tailor the pacing of activities
  • Work with your Trip Leader to create unique experiences and special memories

"We wanted to take a family trip and called OAT to see if we could arrange a private departure. We has a great adventure—one that was extra special as it was just with family. We had all the lodges to ourselves and great guides. Everything ran like clockwork. I couldn't think of one thing to make the trip better."

P. Smilsky
11-time traveler
Eastham, MA

Group Size Additional Cost
4-6 $1100 per person
7-9 $500 per person

For more details, call our Group Sales Team
1-800-353-6262 and select Option #3.
Your representative can also tell you about the benefits of reserving a group of 10 or more.

This program is available on new reservations in 2015 only, and cannot be combined with any offers, including our Vacation Ambassador Referral program. The additional cost of a Private Departure is per person, on top of the departure price and varies by trip. Private Departures do not include any changes or additions to our standard itineraries. Age restrictions may apply to some itineraries and must be at least 13 years old to travel with Overseas Adventure Travel. Ask your Group Sales Team for details. Additional taxes and fees will apply. Standard Terms & Conditions apply. Every effort has been made to present this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors.

People of the Lake

Life on Peru’s man-made Uros Islands

by Philip McCluskey

Rather than live on land, Lake Titicaca’s Uros tribe created floating islands on which they could live relatively unperturbed.

The vast majority of battles that have taken place over millennia—between families, tribes, and nations—have been in pursuit of one thing: land. The more you had, the more likely you were to be attacked. The Uros tribe of Lake Titicaca (also known as the Uru) found an interesting way around this endless cycle of terrestrial greed: They decided not to live on the land at all. Instead, they created floating islands upon which they could live relatively unperturbed—and so their culture has endured, even as kingdoms have crumbled around them.

Over the centuries, the man-made Uros Islands provided significant advantages to the eponymous tribe, which predated the Inca by millennia. It allowed them to be in a much better position to defend their home from potential invaders and, should an invasion be imminent, even move their island to another location on the lake. Both the Incas and their Spanish conquerors saw the simple islands of the Uros as unworthy of their attentions, and so allowed them to maintain their lifestyle. The result was that the Uros culture—and their distinctive floating homes—persisted long after the grand temples and fortresses of great empires had been abandoned.

Islands built from reeds

The water-borne Uros villages were built using a simple material: totora, a plant which grows in the lake and is an inextricable part of the culture of the Uru people. Bundles of dried totora reeds are used to make the “floor” of the island, and reeds are also interlaced with ones growing up from the lake’s bottom in order to keep it in place. The islands are then further anchored with ropes attached to stakes at the lake bottom. Of course, the creation of these buoyant communities is just the beginning of the uses the Uros have for their most precious resource. Totora permeates most other facets of life here—it is used to make boats, crafts, medicines, and even snacks.

Travelers cruising through Lake Titicaca can see many of the 40-plus islands that are scattered on its midnight-blue waters. They vary in size; some of the larger ones host up to ten families, while smaller islands are home to two or three. The residents—of which there are 2,000 or so across all of the islands—might be hard at work creating handcrafts or conducting the exhaustive maintenance that each of these islands requires (it is necessary to add new reeds every three months in order to keep the islands intact).

A distinctive way of life

And once they step onto one of the islands, visitors can get a close-up look at life here. The Uru people mill about in traditional, brightly colored clothes and signature woolen hats which protect them from the chilly air in these rarefied climes (Lake Titicaca is 12,500 feet above sea level). Domesticated animals like cats (kept on the island in order to hunt rats) and cormorants (birds considered useful for their fish-catching prowess) may be spotted amid simple homes constructed of dried reeds.

Of course, while the Uros have maintained a connection to traditional culture through the years, the modern world has slowly crept into their lives. Solar panels can be found on the islands, providing electricity for televisions and radios (there is even an Uru radio station that plays music for several hours a day). Many Uru people have left the island life altogether, choosing instead to move to the mainland and embrace a more contemporary way of life.

The “People of the Lake” (as they call themselves) are slowly drifting away from the water that has sustained them for so many generations, and it may be only a matter of time before they abandon their island homes. For now, however, this culture remains a fascinating fixture on the waters of the South America’s most famous lake—and is well worth a visit for the curious traveler.