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Day by Day Itinerary

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

Travel to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos Islands with OAT to discover two of Latin America’s most important cultural and natural marvels. First, follow in the footsteps of the ancients as you walk among the impressive ruins of the “Lost City of the Incas" and experience Peruvian culture in the Andean landscape of the Sacred Valley. Then continue to Ecuador's Galápagos Islands, where you may swim in unspoiled coves with rollicking sea lions as your playmates. You'll also find a living laboratory of Darwin’s landmark theory of evolution in these "Enchanted Isles."

From the city to the country, we encounter the vibrant cultural legacies of Peru and Ecuador. With an overnight stay and plenty of time to explore Machu Picchu and the opportunity to slip into secluded Galápagos coves aboard our exclusively chartered small ship to land on pristine shores, you will embark a journey to Latin America as diverse as it is magnificent.

Lima Quito Expand All
  • You depart the U.S. late this evening.

  • You arrive at the Lima airport early in the morning. An OAT representative will meet you and accompany you to your hotel, where you'll get acquainted with our Trip Leader and fellow travelers, including those who took the optional pre-trip extensions to The Amazon Rain Forest of Peru or Bolivia: La Paz & Lake Titicaca.

    After some time to rest up in the morning, we’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Then we set out to explore Lima's most interesting colonial sites. A local guide will join us as we explore the city's streets and architecture—evidence of the city’s Spanish heritage—from its main square, Jiron de la Union, to the Lima Cathedral.

    We'll visit Lima’s National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and history of Peru at Bolivar Square, which contains unmatched collections of Inca artifacts along with other antiquities from Peru’s many intriguing ancient cultures. The museum contains an impressive collection of ceramics, gold and silver items, and textiles from the ancient cultures of Chavin, Mochica, Chimu, Tiahuanaco, Pucara, Paracas, Nazca, and Ica. Our tour continues to the city's Miraflores and San Isidro districts.

    This evening, get acquainted with your traveling companions during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Explore the Ollantaytambo ruins during a tour of Peru

    We have breakfast and then take an early morning flight to Cuzco. After landing in Cuzco, we travel north to Pisac, a town known for its splendid Incan ruins high on the mountain overlooking the city. We’ll have a boxed lunch, and then explore these ruins and admire the stunning views they offer. Afterwards, we check in to our hotel in the Sacred Valley, which is at a lower elevation than Cuzco; staying here helps us acclimatize to the altitude. Dinner is at the hotel this evening.

  • This morning, we visit the massive Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo. This is one of the few places where the Spanish lost a battle during the conquest of Peru.

    In 1536, the army of Manco Inca held off a Spanish invasion company led by Hernando Pizarro. We can climb up the huge terraces guarding the ancient hilltop temple area.

    Then we’ll share A Day in the Life of the Urubamba community in the Sacred Valley. We’ll meet students at a local school (when in session) and spend time with their teachers. Donations from Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative—have helped pay for classroom construction at the school. Then we’ll visit Urubamba’s market and pick up ingredients for the Home-Hosted Lunch we’ll share as guests of a Sacred Valley family. We’ll also sample locally brewed corn beer before returning to our hotel. Dinner is at a local restaurant this evening.

  • Explore Peruvian villages during a guided tour

    After breakfast this morning, we visit a pottery workshop. Then we continue to Ollantaytambo, where we’ll board the train to travel to Machu Picchu. The train ride takes a bit less than two hours and offers spectacular views into the gorge of the Urubamba River. We'll have a boxed lunch while we're riding the train.

    Most travelers visit Machu Picchu on a day trip, which makes for a hectic pace and only limited time at this unique archaeological wonder. We can take a closer look, and have a more relaxed pace, during our overnight visit to Machu Picchu. The train brings us to the town of Aguas Calientes, from which we then drive to the ruins. This drive takes about a half an hour, as we must follow a zigzag route up a steep hill. (The return trip by bus takes the same amount of time; or if you prefer, you can walk downhill and along the valley floor for about two hours.) When the day-trippers leave the ruins to catch the last train of the day, we remain longer and enjoy an uncrowded experience.

    Our expert OAT Trip Leader gives us a complete and compelling look at the fabled “Lost City of the Incas,” which was discovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist (and later, U.S. Senator) Hiram Bingham. Subsequent discoveries (such as Bingham’s later unearthing of the Inca Trail and the 1941 discovery of nearby Huayna Picchu) suggest that Machu Picchu was not simply a “lost city” but part of a whole “lost region.” More than 172 tombs have been excavated, and in 2002 Peruvian archaeologists uncovered the first complete burial site, with a woman’s skeleton, bronze pins, and a clay pot. Here we can explore sites like the Ritual Baths, the Palace of the Princess, the Main Fountain, and the Temple of the Sun, quietly contemplating the achievements of this most fascinating and mysterious civilization. We then return to the town of Aguas Calientes. Dinner is included this evening.

  • We rise early to travel to Machu Picchu again after breakfast, arriving before the crowds. You can remain at the hotel if you wish, but most travelers appreciate this chance to see the ruins in a different light.

    Explore Machu Pichu on an overnight hiking adventure

    You can wander the sprawling ruins on your own, or, depending on which trails are open, choose between two hikes. One brings you to the Inca Bridge, where a trail built with impressive Inca engineering crosses a cliff face. In one spot, the Incas left a deep gap, which they bridged with logs that could be removed to render the trail impassable to enemies. The second option is an ambitious hike to the Sun Gate at the Machu Picchu end of the Inca Trail, which offers a fine view over the ruins.

    We descend to the valley below to have lunch. Then, in the afternoon, we return by train through the spectacular Urubamba Gorge. Back at Ollantaytambo, we get off the train and take a bus to Cuzco, making stops at points of interest along the way. When we arrive in Cuzco, we check into our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • After breakfast, join our optional tour to Tipon, a location south of Cuzco with well-preserved ancient agricultural terraces and an Incan irrigation system whose canals still carry water. These provide impressive evidence of Incan ingenuity and engineering skills. This optional tour includes lunch at local restaurant. Or, remain in Cuzco to make your own discoveries, with lunch on your own.
    In the afternoon, we explore Cuzco, starting with a walk to the Plaza de Armas. We’ll also discover the Qoricancha Sun Temple, the city’s most important ceremonial structure during the Incan era. Historical records of the time note that its walls were once covered with 700 sheets of gold studded with emeralds and turquoise; when the sunlight streamed through the windows, the reflection off the precious metals was blinding. In the late afternoon, we return to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • We begin this morning’s explorations at the massive Sacsayhuaman fortress set on a hilltop overlooking Cuzco. Its double-zigzag wall is said to symbolize a puma’s teeth, and at one time, there were three immense towers and a labyrinth of rooms large enough to garrison 5,000 Inca soldiers.

    Today, the interior buildings are gone, having been dismantled by the Spaniards for their stone, but the imposing outer walls remain. Recent excavations have revealed this ancient stone complex to be much larger than previously thought. As we walk through, consider first that Inca workers built its walls entirely by hand, securely fitting boulders weighing as much as 125 tons without a drop of mortar. Next we visit the sacred ceremonial center of Kenko. At each site, we have plenty of time to walk around and take photographs.

    Encounter a curandero ceremony during a tour of Peru

    Then we’ll witness a traditional healing ceremony conducted by a curandero, an Andean medicine man. This ancient healing tradition has deep roots in Incan culture and is not simply a cure for illnesses, but also a prayer for good health and well-being with an offering to Pachamama, a deity associated with fertility and Mother Earth. A curandero will often employ herbs and healing plants, and for some conditions, he may conduct a religious ritual with sacred objects and shamanic chanting (called icaros). Thought to possess a gift from God to heal the sick, the curandero also sees himself as a front-line soldier in the battle between good and evil on Earth—particularly when patients believe their physical ailments have supernatural causes.

    Afterwards, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and the rest of your afternoon is free. We'll gather for our last dinner in Peru at a local restaurant this evening.

  • After an early breakfast at our Cuzco hotel, we bid farewell to our Peruvian Trip Leader and depart for our flight to Lima. From Lima we fly to Quito, Ecuador, arriving in the afternoon.

    Discover the colonial splendor of Quito during a guided tour

    In Quito, we will be met by our Ecuadoran Trip Leader. Quito, Ecuador’s capital, is a city whose colonial splendor has earned it designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the older part of town, hundreds of colonial-era structures remain to this day, the largest being the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco.

    This evening, we’ll enjoy our first dinner in Ecuador.

  • See a musical performance by the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra in Quito

    After breakfast this morning, we enjoy a moving musical performance by the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra, whose members are physically or mentally disabled. Grand Circle Foundation is proud to provide Sinamune with financial assistance, helping to give these talented and dedicated musicians the support and encouragement they deserve.

    After the concert, we’ll depart for downtown Quito, stopping at the Itchimbia lookout point along the way. In Quito’s historic section, we’ll see La Basilica, with its impressive 377-foot Condor Tower—notice how the gargoyles represent indigenous animals. We also enjoy a walking tour of Quito’s colonial nucleus: Independence Plaza (Plaza de La Independenzia), featuring a winged statue representing freedom. We’ll see the Presidential Palace, with its stalwart guards in traditional uniforms keeping watch. Then we finish at San Francisco Square to see its church and mingle with local people in its plaza.

    Following lunch at a local restaurant, we continue exploring Quito with a stroll on La Ronda, a historic narrow lane where you can sample traditional candies, see work by local artists, and hear musicians. Then we return to our hotel and you have the rest of the afternoon free for making your own discoveries in Quito. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • Discover Plaza Island during a small ship cruise of the Galapagos

    After breakfast, we fly from Quito via Guayaquil to the Galápagos—an enchanted Pacific archipelago that straddles the Equator some 600 miles west of the Ecuador's coast, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Upon landing in mid-morning, we make a short bus transfer to the dock, where we board our boat. You can stow your gear in your cabin and orient yourself on deck. We’ll stay onboard in comfortable cabins for the next three nights, roaming the archipelago with the services of our boat crew and our expert Trip Leader, who is a certified Galápagos naturalist.

    Please note:The following description is meant only as a general guide to the cruise itinerary that you are likely to follow. The selection and order of islands visited cannot be guaranteed due to the Galápagos' frequently variable weather, marine, and environmental conditions, and changes in airline schedules between the mainland and the Galápagos. This is a carefully managed park with fragile ecosystems. To safeguard them (and to ensure your own comfort), ship and park authorities have the prerogative to revise our course at a moment's notice.

    During the summer and fall, the Humboldt Current moves through the Galápagos Islands, cooling sea and land temperatures, and creating a mist that covers the islands—locally known as garua (soft rain)—during the day. The Humboldt Current is strongest from July to October, delivering the choppy water that surrounds the islands.

  • Today we continue our exploration of the Galápagos. Our Trip Leader will give us an orientation briefing, including conservation techniques suggested by the Galápagos National Park. He or she is a graduate of the elite certification program conducted at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz by the Galápagos National Park Service. We file our Galápagos cruising itinerary with the conservation authorities of the Galápagos National Park. Park biologists periodically review it, and they have the authority to make changes to our plan to minimize our impact on the ecosystems of the islands. Our Trip Leader also provides the park with information on species behavior, and we are proud to work in cooperation with Park officials in preserving the priceless natural wonders of the Galápagos.

    During our cruise, we'll see unique wildlife and striking geological formations. We'll make numerous landings by small motor dinghies that involve wading ashore. Once on land, we'll walk with our Trip Leader along trails that bring us close to the many indigenous species. Wildlife sightings are unpredictable, but you may see species including land and marine iguanas, and exotic birds such as blue-footed and masked boobies. When we are not viewing wildlife on shore, we can swim, sunbathe, and perhaps go snorkeling among sea lions and vividly colorful tropical fish. We'll see remote white-sand beaches, sparkling clear water, and volcanic landscapes of black and red rock. 

  • Encounter the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz

    Here is a preview of the islands you may call on during your Galápagos cruise.

    Santiago (James) Tidal pools reveal a profusion of octopi, starfishes, and other undersea life. Rare fur sea lions that were once on the verge of extinction cavort nearby, and we often spot oyster-catchers, blue herons, and
    yellow-crowned night herons.

    Bartolome One of the youngest islands, Bartolome displays a fantastic landscape of lava formations—including its famous signature, Pinnacle Rock. Penguins are often spotted on the shore.

    Mosquera Beach Mosquera Beach is a very small, white sand islet, located between Baltra and Seymour. It is ideal for swimming and snorkeling, and sea lions often visit.

    Rabida (Jervis) A reddish beach and steep volcanic slopes give this island a distinctive look.

    Santa Cruz (Indifatigable) At the Charles Darwin Research Station, learn about pioneering ecological studies and the giant Galápagos tortoise-breeding program.

    Floreana (Charles) Like the other islands, Floreana has its coterie of remarkable creatures. But it’s the human stories that will engage you here as your guide tells of the first inhabitant, a shipwrecked Irishman, and the quirky “post office” in a barrel, where sailors since 1793 have been leaving letters for delivery. This “post office” still operates today.

    Santa Fe (Barrington) Hike through a forest of opuntia cactus where land iguana doze, and then snorkel in clear water with coral reefs, manta rays, sea turtles, and colorful schools of fish.

    North Seymour Here you’ll find the largest colony of frigatebirds in the Galápagos and a major nesting site for the blue-footed booby, depending on the season. On the beach, sea lions ride the waves.

    San Cristobal (Chatham) The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on this island is the sleepy capital of the Galápagos province. Nearby is Lobos Island, home to pelicans, frigatebirds, and a sea lion colony.

    Española (Hood Island) Sea lions, marine iguanas, and many kinds of birds are found here, including Darwin’s finch, Hood mockingbirds, and blue-footed and masked boobies. Along the southern shore, spectacular cliffs rise up from the sea. From April to November, the remarkable waved albatross, which can spend years at sea without touching land, can be seen performing their unique, perfectly choreographed mating ritual.

  • Today, we disembark our ship on Santa Cruz Island and explore Puerto Ayora, the largest town in the Galápagos. We’ll visit a local market, have lunch, and then meet the creatures that define these islands: Galápagos tortoises. We finish our day with an insider’s look at life on a working coffee and sugar plantation. We return to Puerto Ayora to check into our hotel. We have dinner at a local restaurant this evening.

  • Behold the Virgin of Quito statue on Panecillo Hill while touring South America

    This morning, we fly from the Galápagos via Guayaquil back to Quito, where we’ll arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon. Dinner is on your own this evening.

    • Meals included:

    You have the morning at leisure to make your own discoveries in Quito; lunch is on your own. In the afternoon, we'll visit the colorful Inaquito produce market and then head to the Inti Nan Museum. Inti Nan is the Quechua phrase for “Path of the Sun,” and the museum contains replicas of indigenous sun temples and other interesting artifacts—not to mention the fact that the equator actually runs through the museum. This evening, we celebrate our discoveries at a Farewell Dinner, then transfer to the airport for our return flight to the U.S.

    Please note: If you travel in Jan.-Feb. 2014, your flight home from Quito departs in the morning and the the Inti Nan Museum visit takes place on Day 10.

    If you are taking the post-trip extension to Ecuador: The Andes & the Devil's Nose Train, you will travel overland to Riobamba after breakfast today; the Quito activities mentioned will take place on the last day of your extension.

Lima Quito Expand All
  • You depart the U.S. this evening.

  • You arrive at the Lima airport early in the morning. An OAT representative will meet you and accompany you to your hotel, where you'll get acquainted with our Trip Leader and fellow travelers, including those who took the optional pre-trip extensions to The Amazon Rain Forest of Peru or Bolivia: La Paz & Lake Titicaca.

    After some time to rest up in the morning, we’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Then we set out to explore Lima's most interesting colonial sites. A local guide will join us as we explore the city's streets and architecture—evidence of the city’s Spanish heritage—from its main square, Jiron de la Union, to the Lima Cathedral.

    We'll visit Lima’s National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and history of Peru at Bolivar Square, which contains unmatched collections of Inca artifacts along with other antiquities from Peru’s many intriguing ancient cultures. The museum contains an impressive collection of ceramics, gold and silver items, and textiles from the ancient cultures of Chavin, Mochica, Chimu, Tiahuanaco, Pucara, Paracas, Nazca, and Ica. Our tour continues to the city's Miraflores and San Isidro districts.

    This evening, get acquainted with your traveling companions during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • Explore the Ollantaytambo ruins during a tour of Peru

    We have breakfast and then take an early morning flight to Cuzco. After landing in Cuzco, we travel north to Pisac, a town known for its splendid Incan ruins high on the mountain overlooking the city. We’ll have a boxed lunch, and then explore these ruins and admire the stunning views they offer. Afterwards, we check in to our hotel in the Sacred Valley, which is at a lower elevation than Cuzco; staying here helps us acclimatize to the altitude. Dinner is at the hotel this evening.

  • This morning, we visit the massive Inca fortress of Ollantaytambo. This is one of the few places where the Spanish lost a battle during the conquest of Peru.

    In 1536, the army of Manco Inca held off a Spanish invasion company led by Hernando Pizarro. We can climb up the huge terraces guarding the ancient hilltop temple area.

    Then we’ll share A Day in the Life of the Urubamba community in the Sacred Valley. We’ll meet students at a local school (when in session) and spend time with their teachers. Donations from Grand Circle Foundation—part of the World Classroom initiative—have helped pay for classroom construction at the school. Then we’ll visit Urubamba’s market and pick up ingredients for the Home-Hosted Lunch we’ll share as guests of a Sacred Valley family. We’ll also sample locally brewed corn beer before returning to our hotel. Dinner is at a local restaurant this evening.

  • Explore Peruvian villages during a guided tour

    After breakfast this morning, we visit a pottery workshop. Then we continue to Ollantaytambo, where we’ll board the train to travel to Machu Picchu. The train ride takes a bit less than two hours and offers spectacular views into the gorge of the Urubamba River. We'll have a boxed lunch while we're riding the train.

    Most travelers visit Machu Picchu on a day trip, which makes for a hectic pace and only limited time at this unique archaeological wonder. We can take a closer look, and have a more relaxed pace, during our overnight visit to Machu Picchu. The train brings us to the town of Aguas Calientes, from which we then drive to the ruins. This drive takes about a half an hour, as we must follow a zigzag route up a steep hill. (The return trip by bus takes the same amount of time; or if you prefer, you can walk downhill and along the valley floor for about two hours.) When the day-trippers leave the ruins to catch the last train of the day, we remain longer and enjoy an uncrowded experience.

    Our expert OAT Trip Leader gives us a complete and compelling look at the fabled “Lost City of the Incas,” which was discovered in 1911 by Yale archaeologist (and later, U.S. Senator) Hiram Bingham. Subsequent discoveries (such as Bingham’s later unearthing of the Inca Trail and the 1941 discovery of nearby Huayna Picchu) suggest that Machu Picchu was not simply a “lost city” but part of a whole “lost region.” More than 172 tombs have been excavated, and in 2002 Peruvian archaeologists uncovered the first complete burial site, with a woman’s skeleton, bronze pins, and a clay pot. Here we can explore sites like the Ritual Baths, the Palace of the Princess, the Main Fountain, and the Temple of the Sun, quietly contemplating the achievements of this most fascinating and mysterious civilization. We then return to the town of Aguas Calientes. Dinner is included this evening.

  • Explore Machu Pichu on an overnight hiking adventure

    We rise early to travel to Machu Picchu again after breakfast, arriving before the crowds. You can remain at the hotel if you wish, but most travelers appreciate this chance to see the ruins in a different light.

    You can wander the sprawling ruins on your own, or, depending on which trails are open, choose between two hikes. One brings you to the Inca Bridge, where a trail built with impressive Inca engineering crosses a cliff face. In one spot, the Incas left a deep gap, which they bridged with logs that could be removed to render the trail impassable to enemies. The second option is an ambitious hike to the Sun Gate at the Machu Picchu end of the Inca Trail, which offers a fine view over the ruins.

    We descend to the valley below to have lunch. Then, in the afternoon, we return by train through the spectacular Urubamba Gorge. Back at Ollantaytambo, we get off the train and take a bus to Cuzco, making stops at points of interest along the way. When we arrive in Cuzco, we check into our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • After breakfast, join our optional tour to Tipon, a location south of Cuzco with well-preserved ancient agricultural terraces and an Incan irrigation system whose canals still carry water. These provide impressive evidence of Incan ingenuity and engineering skills. This optional tour includes lunch at local restaurant. Or, remain in Cuzco to make your own discoveries, with lunch on your own.

    In the afternoon, we explore Cuzco, starting with a walk to the Plaza de Armas. We’ll also discover the Qoricancha Sun Temple, the city’s most important ceremonial structure during the Incan era. Historical records of the time note that its walls were once covered with 700 sheets of gold studded with emeralds and turquoise; when the sunlight streamed through the windows, the reflection off the precious metals was blinding. In the late afternoon, we return to our hotel. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • Encounter a curandero ceremony during a tour of Peru

    We begin this morning’s explorations at the massive Sacsayhuaman fortress set on a hilltop overlooking Cuzco. Its double-zigzag wall is said to symbolize a puma’s teeth, and at one time, there were three immense towers and a labyrinth of rooms large enough to garrison 5,000 Inca soldiers.
    Today, the interior buildings are gone, having been dismantled by the Spaniards for their stone, but the imposing outer walls remain. Recent excavations have revealed this ancient stone complex to be much larger than previously thought. As we walk through, consider first that Inca workers built its walls entirely by hand, securely fitting boulders weighing as much as 125 tons without a drop of mortar. Next we visit the sacred ceremonial center of Kenko. At each site, we have plenty of time to walk around and take photographs.

    Then, we’ll witness a traditional healing ceremony conducted by a curandero, an Andean medicine man. This ancient healing tradition has deep roots in Incan culture and is not simply a cure for illnesses, but also a prayer for good health and well-being with an offering to Pachamama, a deity associated with fertility and Mother Earth. A curandero will often employ herbs and healing plants, and for some conditions, he may conduct a religious ritual with sacred objects and shamanic chanting (called icaros). Thought to possess a gift from God to heal the sick, the curandero also sees himself as a front-line soldier in the battle between good and evil on Earth—particularly when patients believe their physical ailments have supernatural causes.

    Afterwards, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant and the rest of your afternoon is free. We'll gather for our last dinner in Peru at a local restaurant this evening.

  • Discover the colonial splendor of Quito during a guided tour

    After an early breakfast at our Cuzco hotel, we bid farewell to our Peruvian Trip Leader and depart for our flight to Lima. From Lima we fly to Quito, Ecuador, arriving in the afternoon.

    In Quito, we will be met by our Ecuadoran Trip Leader. Quito, Ecuador’s capital, is a city whose colonial splendor has earned it designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the older part of town, hundreds of colonial-era structures remain to this day, the largest being the 16th-century Monastery of San Francisco.

    This evening, we’ll enjoy our first dinner in Ecuador at a local restaurant.

  • See a musical performance by the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra in Quito

    After breakfast this morning, we enjoy a moving musical performance by the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra, whose members are physically or mentally disabled. Grand Circle Foundation is proud to provide Sinamune with financial assistance, helping to give these talented and dedicated musicians the support and encouragement they deserve.

    After the concert, we’ll depart for downtown Quito, stopping at the Itchimbia lookout point along the way. In Quito’s historic section, we’ll see La Basilica, with its impressive 377-foot Condor Tower—notice how the gargoyles represent indigenous animals. We also enjoy a walking tour of Quito’s colonial nucleus: Independence Plaza (Plaza de La Independenzia), featuring a winged statue representing freedom. We’ll see the Presidential Palace, with its stalwart guards in traditional uniforms keeping watch. Then we finish at San Francisco Square to see its church and mingle with local people in its plaza.

    Following lunch at a local restaurant, we continue exploring Quito with a stroll on La Ronda, a historic narrow lane where you can sample traditional candies, see work by local artists, and hear musicians. Then we return to our hotel and you have the rest of the afternoon free for making your own discoveries in Quito. Dinner is on your own this evening.

  • Discover Plaza Island during a small ship cruise of the Galapagos

    After breakfast, we fly from Quito via Guayaquil to the Galápagos—an enchanted Pacific archipelago that straddles the equator some 600 miles west of Ecuador's coast, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    Upon landing in mid-morning, we make a short bus transfer to the dock, where we board our boat. You can stow your gear in your cabin and orient yourself on deck. We’ll stay onboard in comfortable cabins for the next four nights, roaming the archipelago with the services of our boat crew and our expert Trip Leader, who is a certified Galápagos naturalist.

    Please note:The following description is meant only as a general guide to the cruise itinerary that you are likely to follow. The selection and order of islands visited cannot be guaranteed due to the Galápagos' frequently variable weather, marine, and environmental conditions, and changes in airline schedules between the mainland and the Galápagos. This is a carefully managed park with fragile ecosystems. To safeguard them (and to ensure your own comfort), ship and park authorities have the prerogative to revise our course at a moment's notice.

    During the summer and fall, the Humboldt Current moves through the Galápagos Islands, cooling sea and land temperatures, and creating a mist that covers the islands—locally known as garua (soft rain)—during the day. The Humboldt Current is strongest from July to October, delivering the choppy water that surrounds the islands.

  • Today we continue our exploration of the Galápagos. Our Trip Leader will give us an orientation briefing, including conservation techniques suggested by the Galápagos National Park.

    Discover the many indigenous species of the Galapagos

    He or she is a graduate of the elite certification program conducted at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz by the Galápagos National Park Service. We file our Galápagos cruising itinerary with the conservation authorities of the Galápagos National Park. Park biologists periodically review it, and they have the authority to make changes to our plan to minimize our impact on the ecosystems of the islands. Our Trip Leader also provides the park with information on species behavior, and we are proud to work in cooperation with Park officials in preserving the priceless natural wonders of the Galápagos.

    During our cruise, we'll see unique wildlife and striking geological formations. We'll make numerous landings by small motor dinghies that involve wading ashore. Once on land, we'll walk with our Trip Leader along trails that bring us close to the many indigenous species. Wildlife sightings are unpredictable, but you may see species including land and marine iguanas, and exotic birds such as blue-footed and masked boobies. When we are not viewing wildlife on shore, we can swim, sunbathe, and perhaps go snorkeling among sea lions and vividly colorful tropical fish. We'll see remote white-sand beaches, sparkling clear water, and volcanic landscapes of black and red rock.

  • Explore the Galápagos Islands on a small ship cruise

    Here is a preview of the islands you may call on during your Galápagos cruise.

    Santiago (James) Tidal pools reveal a profusion of octopi, starfishes, and other undersea life. Rare fur sea lions that were once on the verge of extinction cavort nearby, and we often spot oyster-catchers, blue herons, and yellow-crowned night herons.

    Bartolome One of the youngest islands, Bartolome displays a fantastic landscape of lava formations—including its famous signature, Pinnacle Rock. Penguins are often spotted on the shore.

    Mosquera Beach Mosquera Beach is a very small, white-sand islet, located between Baltra and Seymour. It is ideal for swimming and snorkeling, and sea lions often visit.

    Rabida (Jervis) A reddish beach and steep volcanic slopes give this island a distinctive look.

    Santa Cruz (Indifatigable) At the Charles Darwin Research Station, learn about pioneering ecological studies and the giant Galápagos tortoise-breeding program.

    Floreana (Charles) Like the other islands, Floreana has its coterie of remarkable creatures. But it’s the human stories that will engage you here as your guide tells of the first inhabitant, a shipwrecked Irishman, and the quirky “post office” in a barrel, where sailors since 1793 have been leaving letters for delivery. This “post office” still operates today.

    Santa Fe (Barrington) Hike through a forest of opuntia cactus where land iguana doze, and then snorkel in clear water with coral reefs, manta rays, sea turtles, and colorful schools of fish.

    North Seymour Here you’ll find the largest colony of frigatebirds in the Galápagos and a major nesting site for the blue-footed booby, depending on the season. On the beach, sea lions ride the waves.

    San Cristobal (Chatham) The town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on this island is the sleepy capital of the Galápagos province. Nearby is Lobos Island, home to pelicans, frigatebirds, and a sea lion colony.

    Española (Hood Island)< Sea lions, marine iguanas, and many kinds of birds are found here, including Darwin’s finches, Hood mockingbirds, and blue-footed and masked boobies. Along the southern shore, spectacular cliffs rise up from the sea. From April to November, the remarkable waved albatross, which can spend years at sea without touching land, can be seen performing their unique, perfectly-choreographed mating ritual.

  • Encounter the Charles Darwin Research Station on Isla Santa Cruz

    We continue our exploration of the Galápagos. As we take in their striking seascapes, we can consider how they have impressed great American writers in two different centuries. Herman Melville blended knowledge of the islands, gained from his days as a sailor, with fiction in his 1854 novella The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles. More than 100 years later, Kurt Vonnegut's 1985 novel Galápagos drew inspiration from the author's own visit to the archipelago. Unique and remote, the Galápagos Islands will no doubt continue to influence creative artists for centuries to come.

  • Behold the Virgin of Quito statue on Panecillo Hill while touring South America

    This morning, we disembark our ship and fly from the Galápagos via Guayaquil back to Quito, where we’ll arrive at our hotel in the late afternoon. Dinner is on your own this evening.

    • Meals included:

    You have the morning at leisure to make your own discoveries in Quito; lunch is on your own. In the afternoon, we'll visit the colorful Inaquito produce market and then head to the Inti Nan Museum. Inti Nan is the Quechua phrase for “Path of the Sun,” and the museum contains replicas of indigenous sun temples and other interesting artifacts—not to mention the fact that the equator actually runs through the museum. This evening, we celebrate our discoveries at a Farewell Dinner, then transfer to the airport for our return flight to the U.S.
    If you are taking the post-trip extension to Ecuador: The Andes & the Devil's Nose Train, you will travel overland to Riobamba after breakfast today; the Quito activities mentioned will take place on the last day of your extension.

Extensions

Traveler Reviews

There's no better way to learn what a trip is like than from the firsthand experiences of your fellow travelers, and our Traveler Reviews are the real deal—unbiased and unedited—giving you an honest appraisal of the experiences that await you on this trip.

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Striving for Excellence

Read about our goals >

Our #1 commitment is delivering the best travel experience at the best value, so we take feedback from our travelers seriously as we strive to improve what we do. And one of the best ways for us to measure how travelers have rated our trips—including their experiences and the value we offer—is from our post-trip surveys, sent in by travelers.

Ratings based on percentage of travelers who rated these features "Excellent".

Overall Trip Excellence
81%
Trip Leader Excellence
88%
Ship Excellence
81%
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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 15 days with three 1-night stays; 2 pre-dawn departures; early sightseeing on 1 day
  • International flights to Peru depart Miami around midnight, and internal flights that require very early morning wake ups
  • Airport transfers in Lima and Quito can take more than 1.5 hours

Physical requirements

  • Not appropriate for travelers using 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

Altitude

  • 7 full days at altitudes between 7,000-11,000 feet

Climate

  • Daytime temperatures range from 60-90°F
  • Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and Quito have a mountain climate with a large drop in day to night temperature

Terrain

  • Travel on unpaved roads; walking on rough, steep, slippery trails that do not have handrails; climbing many high stone steps; wet landings via motorized Zodiac rafts; snorkeling excursions; and encounters with rough seas while cruising
  • Agility and balance are required for embarking small motor dinghies

Transportation

  • Travel by 20-passenger coach, train, 16-passenger small ship, and rubber inflatable Zodiacs 
  • 4-6 hour drives, two 1.5-hour rail journeys, and 4 internal flights of 1.5-3 hours each

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 do not need a visa for this trip.

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 you may need a visa. 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

  • Galápagos Small Ship

    Our 16-passenger Galápagos small ship is chartered exclusively for our OAT group. The ships we use are 85-95 feet long and can maneuver easily among the islands. All ships feature lounge areas, a bar, sun deck, and a dining room serving local and international cuisine. The simply appointed cabins have twin beds, a porthole or window, and a private bath with shower. As we travel at night, there will be engine noise.

Main Trip

  • 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.

  • San Augustin Urubamba Hotel

    Urubamba, Peru

    In the Sacred Valley, we stay at the 72-room San Agustin Urubamba Hotel, located on the landscaped grounds of a former colonial estate and just a short drive from the Inca sites of Ollantaytambo and Pisac. Hotel facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, spa, on-site restaurant and bar. Each room features cable/satellite TV, telephone, wireless Internet access, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Imperio Machupicchu Hotel

    Aguas Calientes, Peru

    To explore Machu Picchu over two days, we stay overnight at this hotel in Aguas Calientes, a very small town near the site. This location facilitates our discoveries; however, all accommodations here are located near railroad tracks and a river that create significant noise day and night. The Imperio Machupicchu's 18 rooms are simply appointed and each has a private bath, TV, and telephone.

  • José Antonio Cuzco Hotel

    Cuzco, Peru

    The 126-room José Antonio Cuzco Hotel is situated in the historic center of Cuzco, just a short walk from the Plaza de Armas. Services available on-site include a restaurant serving Peruvian cuisine, a currency exchange, a souvenir shop, and a hairdresser. Each air-conditioned room features a minibar, cable TV with DVD player, direct-dial phone, safe and Internet access.

  • Mercure Grand Hotel Alameda

    Quito, Ecuador

    In Quito we stay at the Mercure Grand Hotel Alameda, located in the city center one kilometer (0.6 mile) from the Casa de la Cultura concert hall and El Ejido Park. Each of the 148 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, minibar, telephone, safe, and private bath. The hotel has a restaurant and a bar on-site.

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Hotel Carvallo

    Cuenca, Ecuador

    The Hotel Carvallo is located in the historic center of Cuenca. This contemporary hotel, built in a restored colonial house, provides updated amenities and personalized service. Each of its 30 rooms includes a telephone, cable TV, minibar, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Mercure Grand Hotel Alameda

    Quito, Ecuador

    In Quito we stay at the Mercure Grand Hotel Alameda, located in the city center one kilometer (0.6 mile) from the Casa de la Cultura concert hall and El Ejido Park. Each of the 148 air-conditioned rooms features cable TV, minibar, telephone, safe, and private bath. The hotel has a restaurant and a bar on-site.

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 $4595
w/ standard air $5495

Solo Traveler Stories

Why Travel Solo on Machu Picchu & the Galápagos

We're proud to offer the best value for solo travelers in the industry, guaranteed, with FREE Single Supplements on your base trip and all extensions. Travel with the leader in solo-friendly travel on Machu Picchu & the Galápagosand save up to $3425 per person versus the competition.

Our small group size and expert, resident Trip Leaders help solo travelers make personal connections and ensure peace of mind. Here are some thoughts from solo travelers about why this adventure was right for them.

"Each day presented new learning experiences, and at times, it seemed like too much beautiful nature to take in all at once. The history was wonderful, and then, to face it was beyond words. It was a powerful experience for me."

Linda Dannenberg, 3-time traveler
Albuquerque, New Mexico

Poetic Beauty at Machu Picchu

Marie Guzman, 6-time traveler, Greendale, Wisconsin

You might say I’m hooked on OAT. I’ve already taken five trips, including journeys to Egypt and Jordan, Turkey, Southeast Asia, Kenya and Tanzania, and most recently Machu Picchu and the Galápagos. I always capture my experiences, thoughts, and feelings by journaling during my adventures. However, my journals are slightly different from most, as mine are poetic rhyme. They’re not the flowery kind that leaves the reader thinking, “I wonder what she meant by that?” My poetry is filled with places, events, impressions, people, and the wonderment of discovery.

I’ve always fancied myself a poet. And it allows me to combine my two greatest passions in life: traveling and writing. I’ve also realized that when you write about your travel experiences in any form, it forces you to pay closer attention to all of the sights, sounds, and people around you.

The best thing about my journals is that I can come home, put the journal in a safe place, and pull it out years later to remember my trip … and every moment and feeling comes back to me in living detail. I feel as if I’m right there again.

There are so many special moments from my trip to Machu Picchu and the Galápagos that come back to me as if I traveled there just yesterday. As I read through my journal, I remember visiting Machu Picchu for the first time. I may not remember every detail of our hike or the actual effort it took to get to the Sun Gate, but I do remember that we were there before the full sunrise and we caught our first glimpse of the ruins through the clouds. When we reached the top, the sun came out, the clouds dissipated, and we viewed Machu Picchu in all of its breathtaking beauty. We just stood there and absorbed the sight before us.

There was a certain electricity there. And as we approached the Pyramid of the Sun, we were within inches of touching the stone altar. I felt a sensation as if there was some type of energy coming through. The feeling really took me by surprise. I took a few moments to meditate and remember the incredible moment.

It’s experiences like what I encountered at the Pyramid of the Sun that can’t be explained or shown in an image. They can only be expressed through my poetry.

My journals have also encouraged others in my travel group to write as well. I normally travel on my own—and it allows me to meet new and interesting people that way. I’m always struck by how wonderful some of my fellow travelers are, and I’ve made some lifelong friends during my trips around the world.

Sometimes, when I share my words with my fellow travelers, it helps them share their own writings. As I read through their notes, it opens up a whole new world for me. I’m able to see the world through their eyes. We both might have experienced the same moment, but our interpretation of this moment was completely different from one another. That’s what makes writing and traveling such a magical thing: We come together on the trip as strangers, but by the end, we’ve shared a piece of ourselves with each other.

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in Peru & Ecuador

Here’s how OAT travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Machu Picchu & the Galápagos adventure. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite OAT trip photos.

   

While exploring Quito’s historic Plaza San Francisco, Maria Cristina Aguilera, 2-time traveler from Boulder, Colorado, took the opportunity to meet a local family selling hand-woven scarves. Quito was the first city in the world to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site, in 1978.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: OATtravelerphotos@oattravel.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

Partner since: 1994
Total donated: $633,277

Making a difference in Peru & Ecuador

Simply by traveling with OAT, you support the work of the nonprofit Grand Circle Foundation. Alan and Harriet Lewis created the Foundation with the mission of changing people's lives through travel — which includes both the travelers who journey with OAT, and the local people who welcome us so warmly into their homelands.

Learn more about our work in Peru & Ecuador, and what you'll experience during your itinerary:

A Day in the Life of the Urubamba Community

Urubamba Village Schools

Your journey through Peru's Sacred Valley includes the experience of A Day in the Life of the local residents. OAT prides itself on changing people's lives through hands-on cultural experiences, and with your visit here, we hope to do just that. In addition to visiting a primary school, you'll meet the residents of the local Urubamba community in an intimate, personal way that typical tourists would never be able to.

Read More

A Day in the Life of the Urubamba Community

Your journey through Peru's Sacred Valley includes the experience of A Day in the Life of the local residents. OAT prides itself on changing people's lives through hands-on cultural experiences, and with your visit here, we hope to do just that. In addition to visiting a primary school, you'll meet the residents of the local Urubamba community in an intimate, personal way that typical tourists would never be able to.

"We shopped by ourselves in the market, stopped at homes and many more interactive events. Our tour leader Freddy made it a memorable day. Fabulous!"

Frances & David Wilson, 8-time travelers
Austin, Texas

Meet the People of the Urubamba Community

Urubamba Village Schools

Your Day in the Life of the Urubamba community in the Sacred Valley begins with a visit to a primary school supported by Grand Circle Foundation's World Classroom initiative. You'll spend time interacting with the children, who, along with their teachers and principals, will answer questions and tell you all about their school and their education system. You'll watch with glee as the students perform a traditional local dance, read poems, and even engage in a sing-along with you.

After you say goodbye, your day continues with a trip to the local market to shop for ingredients to use while cooking lunch—which you'll learn to do under the guidance of a local family as you sit with them in their home. This memorable meal lets you see for yourself how local residents live as you tour their home and talk to them about their lives.

Your last stop takes you to a local tavern, where you'll sample corn beer known as chicha, a local specialty. You'll be both refreshed and entertained, as you'll also be given the chance to try your hand at a tossing game that was invented by the Incas and still played by the locals today—sapo, or the "frog game."

You'll head back to the hotel with a better understanding of a different culture, in a way that only living a day in their lives can provide.

Grand Circle Foundation

Supporting a World Classroom: Peru & Ecuador

Grand Circle Foundation's World Classroom initiative has two components on this adventure. In Peru, you'll visit a school in the Urubamba community. And in Ecuador, you'll visit the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra, where our projects have included renovating and building additional classrooms, purchasing computers, funding scholarships, and more.

Read More

Supporting a World Classroom: Peru & Ecuador

Grand Circle Foundation's World Classroom initiative has two components on this adventure. In Peru, you'll visit a school in the Urubamba community. And in Ecuador, you'll visit the Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra, where our projects have included renovating and building additional classrooms, purchasing computers, funding scholarships, and more.

"Visiting a local school was certainly an eye-opener. The enthusiastic teachers and children were delightful, and very appreciative."

Christine Cieslowski, 7-time traveler
Columbia, Maryland

Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra

Partner since: 2004 • Total donated: $133,699

Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra

The students at Sinamune must overcome mental and visual challenges to develop the motor skills needed to play a musical instrument—and in doing so, they gain the confidence to face many other challenges they might encounter during their lives. Furthermore, by welcoming OAT travelers, the school aims to educate the wider world about Ecuadorian music.

Since 2004, Foundation donations have helped refurbish the beautiful auditorium at Sinamune, where our visiting travelers enjoy musical performances. We've also supported the purchases of a vehicle, new computers, and musical instruments for the school; contributed funds to many building improvements; and helped to fund scholarships.

One notable Foundation project was construction of the Alison Mae Regan room, a special multimedia classroom named in memory of a teacher of autistic children who died tragically in an accident at age 25. Because many of Sinamune’s special needs students benefit from a more visual approach to learning, the electronic “whiteboard” and digital projector in this classroom enhance their instruction in subjects ranging from geometry to art and physics, which are taught here along with the school’s special focus on music.

Pucruto School

Partner since: 2008 • Total donated: $26,543

Pucruto School

You might visit the school at the Urubamba village of Pucruto. Here, Grand Circle Foundation donations have helped to fund a kitchen, new classroom, dining area, and plumbing improvements. The school has also received four computers to enhance the students' learning experience.

Villa Marcelo Primary School

Partner since: 2004 • Total donated: $71,779

Villa Marcelo Primary School

Until Grand Circle Foundation support arrived, the fourth and fifth grade students of Villa Marcelo Primary school had to share a single classroom. Our donations allowed  construction of a separate classroom, so that each grade can now concentrate on its own curriculum. We've also supported renovating the dining room and helped to fund the school's purchases of desks, chairs, playground equipment, and dance costumes.

School in session:

The Peruvian schools are in session from March through July 25 and August 5 through January. The Sinamune Disabled Children's Orchestra is in session year round, with vacation over the month of August and periodic closures for Christmas, New Year's, and other holidays.

Gifts to bring if you're visiting:

  • Pens or pencils
  • Small musical instruments
  • Toys
  • Spanish-language math, science, or geography books
  • Maps
  • T-shirts
  • Jackets
  • World maps
  • Shoes
  • Deflated soccer balls
  • Athletic equipment
  • Toothbrushes
  • Illustrated English dictionaries
  • Caps
Grand Circle Foundation

Alan and Harriet Lewis founded Grand Circle Foundation in 1992 as a means of giving back to the world we travel. Because they donate an annually determined amount of revenue from our trips, we consider each one of our travelers as a partner in the Foundation’s work around the world. To date, the Foundation has pledged or donated more than $97 million in support of 300 different organizations—including 60 villages and nearly 100 schools that lie in the paths of our journeys.

Read More

Private Departures—New for 2015

Now you can reserve a Private Departure of Machu Picchu & the Galápagos for your exclusive group of as few as 4 travelers. Enjoy a truly special adventure—starting from only $2000 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 $5000 per person
7-9 $2000 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.

Darwin’s Galápagos

Islands whose wildlife inspired a great naturalist

by Jessie Keppeler

Darwin had the perfect location in the Galápagos Islands, whose geographical isolation made them ideal for studying evolution.

Six hundred miles west of mainland Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean lies an archipelago of huge scientific significance—the Galápagos. When these volcanic islands formed roughly five million years ago, they were devoid of all life. The creatures that make the Galápagos famous today crossed hundreds of miles of open ocean to get there. Some flew or swam, but others reached the islands by less conventional methods—carried in animals’ stomachs, attached to the feathers or feet of birds, or floating on rafts of vegetation.

Because of these circumstances, the wildlife on the islands today consists primarily of birds, sea mammals, and reptiles. The Galápagos giant tortoise crawls slowly along the rocks, land iguanas scurry across ledges, and playful sea lions and penguins swim offshore. Since the islands were never inhabited by large predators, the animals of the Galápagos have little fear of visitors.

A naturalist arrives in the Galápagos

These fearless creatures caught the attention of a young naturalist named Charles Darwin when he arrived in the Galápagos aboard the HMS Beagle. On September 16, 1835, Darwin first set foot on San Cristobal Island. Initially, he was not impressed. He wrote in his journal, “The black rocks heated by the rays of the vertical sun like a stove, give to the air a close and sultry feeling. The plants also smell unpleasantly.”

Darwin referred to the marine iguanas that he found scurrying along the shore as “hideous-looking creatures, of a dirty black color, stupid and sluggish in their movements.” He conceded, however, that in the water the iguanas swam “with perfect ease and swiftness,” and he was amazed by how tame all the animals and birds were.

Darwin was further impressed by the wildlife of the Galápagos when he first saw the islands’ giant tortoises. When the Beagle sailed on to Floreana Island, the governor of the Galápagos told Darwin that he could identify the island of origin of any of the giant tortoises simply by the shapes and markings of their shells. The governor’s comment stayed with Darwin, and its full impact struck him later.

A theory is born

Soon after Darwin had returned to England in 1836, he formulated his idea of “natural selection” as a mechanism for the creation of new species. In his own words, “Natural Selection … leads to the improvement of each creature in relation to its conditions of life; and consequently, in most cases, to what must be regarded as an advance in organization.” But it wasn’t until 1859—over two decades after his time in the Galápagos—that Darwin finally released his masterpiece: The Origin of Species. The scientific community embraced Darwin’s theories, and the general population was quick to follow. The book has remained in print since 1859 and has been translated into more than thirty languages.

Although Darwin was not the first to theorize about the topic, he is credited with laying the foundation for the modern theory of evolution. He achieved this by linking natural selection to biological evolution in a way that no one else had before, based on his thorough study of the subject.

For the research that led to his theories, Darwin had the perfect location in the Galápagos Islands, whose geographical isolation made them ideal for studying evolution. Separated from the mainland by 600 miles of deep water and swift currents, and isolated from each other, these islands allowed species to develop independently, making differences across populations—like those of giant tortoises—more apparent to an observer.

The Galápagos today

In the Galápagos Islands today, visitors still arrive by boat, stepping ashore much as Darwin did nearly 200 years ago. The geology has changed little—the islands’ surface is basalt volcanic rock, with many lava flows. And the islands are still bustling with rare animals and birds—from the playful fur seal to the bright red vermilion flycatcher. In 1979, the Galápagos were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for their incredible wildlife.

There are 58 resident bird species on the Galápagos, and another 25 species that migrate to the islands. A visitor to the Galápagos today could find over 40 species of birds during a week of careful observation, and everyone sees at least some of the famous Darwin’s finches, of which there are 13 different species.

Among sea birds, the charming and playful Galápagos penguin is notable. The waved albatross stands out for its courtship ritual of 20 minutes of bowing, honking, and whistling, as do the boobies, who fly fast and plunge deep into the ocean. There is also plenty of reptile viewing. Just like Darwin, visitors today can observe the marine iguana, the only sea-going lizard in the world, and the larger land iguana.

Because mammals had fewer chances to survive a great ocean crossing, there are fewer of them on the Galápagos. There are, however, two bat species, two species of rice rat, and the Galápagos sea lion. These mammals, a subspecies of the California sea lion, are generally curious and will join snorkelers at play. Fur seals, whales, and dolphins are also found in the waters offshore.

In 1964, the Charles Darwin Research Station was established on Santa Cruz Island, and today, its more than 100 scientists, educators, and volunteers work to preserve the natural heritage of the Galápagos. Named for the naturalist who brought the world’s attention to the unique wildlife of these isolated islands, the Research Station helps to ensure that Darwin’s legacy will endure.