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Ultimate Galápagos Exploration & Ecuador's Amazon Wilds 2014

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Pre-trip: Machu Picchu & Cuzco, Peru

An overnight stay near fabled Machu Picchu allows us to visit the ancient temples in the quiet of untouristed hours ... a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family provides a revealing glimpse into the daily lives of our gracious hosts ... a train ride through the Sacred Valley brings us to the heart of unforgettable Peru—the perfect beginning for our Ultimate Galápagos Exploration adventure.

It's Included:
Airfare from Lima to Quito, plus all internal flights
Accommodations for 1 night in Lima, 3 nights in Cuzco, and 1 night near Machu Picchu
11 meals—5 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 2 dinners (including 1 Home-Hosted Lunch)
7 small group activities
Services of our own resident OAT Trip Leader, who speaks English and the native language
All transfers

    You depart late this evening from the U.S. on your flight to Lima.

    • Accommodations:

    You arrive in Lima early this morning, and an OAT local representative will meet your flight and help you transfer to our hotel. The day is free to explore Peru’s colonial capital on your own. You might visit the National Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology at Bolivar Square. Here you will see an impressive collection of ceramics, gold and silver items, and textiles from the ancient cultures of Chavin, Mochica, Chimu, Tiahuanaco, Pucara, Paracas, Nazca, and Inca. Stroll through one of Lima’s large open plazas; visit a Franciscan monastery; or discover the fashionable Miraflores neighborhood.

    Regardless of how you spend the day, you’ll have the evening at leisure to try one of Lima’s many charming restaurants for dinner on your own.

  • After breakfast at our hotel, we transfer to the Lima airport and board a flight for Cuzco. Upon arrival, we meet our OAT Trip Leader, who will accompany us on the entire trip. We arrive in time for lunch at a local restaurant. Cuzco is 10,909 feet above sea level and you can anticipate feeling the effects of high altitude.

    Five hundred years ago, Cuzco thrived as the capital of the sprawling Inca Empire, a status it held for more than two centuries. At its peak, it was a sophisticated metropolis with paved streets, water systems, and no poverty. Its temples, filled with gold and silver, were pillaged when Pizarro and his conquistadors invaded the city in 1538. But many splendors still remain, as we will see during our explorations.

    Over lunch, our Trip Leader begins to acquaint us with Cuzco’s dramatic and colorful history. Then we take a walking tour to explore 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 sheets of gold studded with emeralds and turquoise; when the sunlight streamed through the windows, the reflection off the precious metals was blinding.

    We have dinner at our hotel this evening.

  • This morning after breakfast, we drive to two important Incan sites. First we'll see the massive Sacsayhuaman fortress. Set on a hilltop overlooking the city, it is constructed of enormous stones weighing up to 125 tons apiece. Its double-zigzag wall is said to symbolize lightning, 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, as does the Inca throne. Recent excavations have revealed this ancient stone complex to be much larger than previously thought. Next we visit the sacred ceremonial center of Kenko. At each site, we have plenty of time to walk around and take photographs.

    Next, we enjoy regional culture and cuisine during a Home-Hosted Lunch with a local family. You have the rest of the afternoon free for independent exploration in Cuzco. Later we have a special evening together with dinner at a local restaurant.

  • After breakfast this morning, we travel by bus for about 90 minutes to Ollantaytambo, where we’ll board the train for 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 an hour.) When the day-trippers leave the ruins to catch the last train of the day, we remain longer and enjoy an uncrowded experience.

    Our 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, unearthing 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 as we contemplate the achievements of a most fascinating and mysterious civilization.

    We spend the night at our hotel in Aguas Calientes, and dinner is on your own.

  • We rise early to drive back to Machu Picchu 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.

    • Meals included:

    After an early breakfast, we fly from Cuzco to Lima and then from Lima to Quito, Ecuador. We arrive in Quito in the afternoon and transfer to the hotel, where we begin our Ultimate Galápagos Exploration & Ecuador’s Amazon Wilds adventure.