Day 1: La Paz, Bolivia
Welcome to Bolivia. On arrival in La Paz, after you have cleared immigration and customs, you are met in the arrivals hall by our Bolivian representative and transferred to your hotel. The balance of day is at leisure for you to relax and acclimatize.
With elevations between 11,900 – 13,200 feet above sea level, La Paz is the highest capital city in the world. Founded in 1548 by a Spaniard, Alonso de Mendoza, it is the country's largest city, and the center of industry, commerce and finance. Although Sucre represents the judicial capital, La Paz has usurped most government power, and now is the de facto capital. More than a million people live in the city, over half of whom are descended from the indigenous Indian culture. Many of the women wear traditional clothing – colorful multi-layered petticoats, fringed shawls, lace aprons, and bowler hats, which look like they came straight from a pre-war London haberdashery.
Your hotel is located in an up-scale, quiet and safe neighborhood of La Paz. The Casa Grande Hotel is a new luxury property in a startlingly avant-garde designed building, featuring a large glazed atrium and indoor gardens. This spectacular hotel offers exclusive accommodation, top-class cuisine and excellent service in an elegant, tranquil atmosphere. Casa Grande Hotel - Deluxe Room
Day 2: La Paz
La Paz and its surroundings sometimes seem to come from a mysterious past. Around any corner or on any street, you may discover a hidden treasure from pre-Hispanic times. The indigenous, colonial, and modern areas, Indian Market, Witch Doctor's Market, and breathtaking panoramas are combined and framed by the majestic "Illimani" mountain. Join your guide for a city tour with stops at Plaza Murillo, the city's main square, the Presidential Palace, the National Congress and the huge modern Church of San Francisco. This church dates from 1549 and is one of the finest examples of colonial religious architecture in South America, richly decorated with native religious themes. Continue to the Mercado de Hechicéria, the Witch Market, where many unusual things are sold including llama fetuses used to protect against evil spirits. The artisan market on Sagarnaga Street is fascinating, as is the Museo de Metales Preciosos housing Inca artifacts. The Killi Killi Watchtower is located in the city's southern area, and it is here where one can observe the amazing geological shapes of the Valley of the Moon. Casa Grande Hotel - Deluxe Room (B,L)
Day 3: La Paz / Lake Titicaca
This morning, your driver and guide will pick you up for the three-hour drive to Huatajata on the shore of Lake Titicaca. This village is a popular spot to enjoy some of the trout the area is known for, and to take in the views of the lake. Continue the drive for approximately an hour to Copacabana, the closest town to Lake Titicaca on the Bolivian side. Before 1534, this was an outpost of Inca occupation among dozens of other sites in Bolivia. The Incas held it as the key to the very ancient shrine and oracle on the Island of Titicaca, which they had adopted as a place of worship. The site had also been an important site to the ancient the Aymaras from time immemorial. At Copacabana, there were minor ceremonial shrines of the Incas.
The Basilica of the Camarin de la Virgen de Candelaria features a statue carved in the 1576 by an Ican artisan. Called the Dark Virgin of the Lake, she is said to be responsible for countless miracles. The present Basilica that houses the statue was completed in 1805. One of its most well-known ‘Stations of the Cross' rituals takes place here throughout Easter. This also offers visitors a great walk that helps you understand the layout of the town and the position of nearby islands. The 20-minute uphill walk offers great views of the lake. In early February each year, the festival of the Virgin of Candelaria features Aymara dancers, people dodging bulls a la San Fermin, street parties and religious ceremonies.
Enjoy a boat excursion on the lake to two islands – Isla del Sol, the largest island on the lake, and the Isla de la Luna, both considered ancient holy sites of the Inca. It was here, according to local mythology, that Viracocha, the bearded god who created the universe, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca and created the sun and the moon. The islands remain largely undeveloped. Copacabana Hotel Rosario Del Lago – Lake view (B,L)
Day 4: Lake Titicaca / Isla del Sol / La Paz
This morning, board a private boat to visit the Temple Pilkokaina Holy Steps, the temple of the sun, on Isla del Sol, which is a more typical Inca structure with its triple doorway fronted building. Despite its diminutive size, it is a very elegant example of Inca architecture. Then you visit the Fountain of Youth. After lunch on the island, visit the nearby communities that live in the middle of Lake Titicaca. Return to La Paz in the afternoon. Casa Grande Hotel - Deluxe Room (B,L)
Day 5: La Paz / Uyuni
After breakfast, you transfer to the La Paz airport and are assisted with check-in procedures for your flight to Uyuni. On arrival in Uyuni, join your guide for a visit to the great salt flats. En route, stop at the train “cemetery” to see the remains of 19th and 20th century steam locomotives. A British mining company originally constructed the railway system between 1888 and 1892. The endeavor was encouraged by Bolivia authorities who believed that the country would flourish with a good transport system and connections to Pacific ports. In the 1940s, the mining industry collapsed leaving the trains abandoned and decaying in Uyuni. Continue to Colchani to visit the salt production factories, the small museum and market selling handicrafts, most made from salt.
The Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flats, spans 10,582 sq km/4,086 sq mi. Unlike traditional deserts, which have sand in abundance, the Salar de Uyuni features vast expanses of glistening white salt. The landscape is entirely flat, bar a few small ‘islands,’ which only accentuates its surreal beauty. Underneath the cemented salt are large reservoirs of lithium-rich brine. In fact, approximately 70% of the world’s lithium reserves are found in Salar de Uyuni and thus it’s not surprising that there’s an entire industry devoted to its extraction. Unlike any other place on earth, the Salar de Uyuni is breathtakingly beautiful and provides an extraordinary experience that will not be quickly forgotten. In the middle of the salar, you find Incahuasi Island, also known as Isla del Pescado thanks to its fish-like profile. Covered by millennial cacti and composed of coral, the island is a stunning reminder that the salt flats used to be part of a gigantic lake.
Stop at the salt-processing village of Colchani, where you learn about this vital activity. Enter the Salt Flats and stop by a multinational flag stand to see if your country is represented in this part of the world. Next, after a delightful lunch in the middle of the world’s largest salt lake, make your way to Incahuasi Island and hike to the top of this rocky outcrop full of giant cacti from where the 360-degree views of the salt flats are unmatched. Later, you are free to relax, or, like many visitors, take your time to play with your imagination and take advantage of the unique perspectives that the salt flats provide to shoot some amazing photos. Our grand finale allows us to watch sunset over the flats – certainly one of the planet’s most remarkable sights. Arrive at your accommodation in a small village on the rim of the salt flats in the evening. The Palacio de Sal is a uniquely crafted hotel with walls, ceilings, chairs and tables made in salt. The purpose of this special construction is its balance with nature and the surrounding landscape. Palacio De Sal - Standard Room (B,D)
Day 6: Uyuni
Leaving the salt flats behind today, you head for the enigmatic Red Lagoon. On the way, drive past extensive barren deserts such as Chiguana Desert. You can walk around at Ollagüe Volcano, and stop at the Cañapa, Hedionda, Chiarkota and Honda lagoons to view flamingos. Travel to Ojo de Perdiz, as remote a setting as you can imagine in the middle of the Desert Siloli, which forms part of the extensive Atacama Desert, considered the driest in the world. Here you find Arbol de Piedra, the stone tree, and other geological formations. In the late afternoon, reach the Red Lagoon, Laguna Colorada, a shallow salt lake in the southwest of the altiplano of Bolivia and close to the border with Chile. Ojo De Perdiz Tayka Hotel (B,L)
Day 7: Uyuni
After breakfast, visit Laguna Colorada where you will find three species of flamingos – the James's flamingo, also known as the puna flamingo, a species of flamingo that populates the high altitudes of Andean plateaus of Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina, as well as smaller numbers of both Andean and Chilean flamingos. Explore the geysers, Sol de Mañana, and Laguna Verde. The Licancabur Volcano stands guard over the shimmering emerald-green Laguna Verde, which changes color with the movement of the sun. Ojo De Perdiz Tayka Hotel (B,L)
Day 8: Uyuni / La Quiaca, Argentina
This morning, you are driven to La Quiaca on the border with Argentina. On the road, you will visit Tupiza, a town in southern Bolivia set amid rugged desert landscapes and red rock formations in the Tupiza River Valley. Trails lead up Cerro Corazón de Jesús and Cerro La Cruz for hilltop views of the town. Tupiza has many markets, including the huge Mercado Negro. On an interesting side note: America’s infamous outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were said to have been killed near San Vicente to the northwest.
Upon arriving at La Quiaca, you will be met by your Argentinean guide and driver before continuing to Tilcara. Drive by the Humahuaca Canyon with its multicolored landscape, stunning scenery and peaceful villages. It has been placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The region has always served as an economic, social and cultural crossroads, and has been populated for some 10,000 years, since the settlement of the first hunter-gatherers. It was a caravan road for the Inca Empire in the 15th century, then an important link between the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata and the Viceroyalty of Peru, as well as a stage for many battles of the Argentine War of Independence. The main settlement is the town of Humahuaca. Its center has cobblestone streets, adobe houses and a quaint plaza and some interesting sights include the Iglesia de la Candelaria facing the plaza, the Cabildo famous for its clock tower. Humahuaca also plays host to well-preserved indigenous ruins.
Continue south and pass by small villages such as Uquia, where the church Iglesia de San Francisco de Paula displays a restored collection of paintings from the Cuzco school of art. This afternoon, you reach Tilcara, which features red streets, fascinating museums with artifacts from all over the Andean world and a superb natural setting in the highlands. Las Marias Hotel, Tilcara- Standard Room (B)
Day 9: Tilcara
Spend a day exploring Tilcara and the area. On the east bank of the Rio Grande, the town is connected by a bridge to National Route 9. The area features dramatic mountainous landscapes and rich aboriginal traditions. Within walking distance from the town of Tilarca is the Pucará, a restored pre-Columbian fort, with its location offering spectacular views of the valley. The Museo Arqueologico, which houses a diverse collection of artefacts from the region, provides insight into native cultural beliefs. Las Marias Hotel, Tilcara- Standard Room (B)
Day 10: Tilcara / Purmamarca / Salinas / Salta
Depart Tilcara and drive south to Purmamarca, which is an excellent base to explore the amazing Cerro de Los Siete Colores mountain, locally referred to as the ‘artist’s palette’ due to the veritable rainbow of colors. Cerro de Los Siete Colores is best seen from a lookout point on the edge of the village. It also provides a stunning backdrop to the town when you are wandering the streets or picking up bargains in the local market.
After visiting Purmamarca, continue west to Salinas Grandes (Great Salt Falts), passing by la Cuesta de Lipan (Lipan Slope), the highest point in the journey – 4,170 meters/13,681 feet. The flats have sustained the indigenous communities for generations. They carry out sustainable salt mining as well as llama herding and limited agriculture.
The Puna highland region at about 3,400 m/11,000 ft, and is one of the driest, most arid places on earth. Among the multi-colored hills and cutting valleys, herds of vicuña and families of llama are watched over by local herdsmen, who still live a traditional life following ancient customs and sensibilities. The Puna is an expanse of enormous volcanic plains, salt flats, mineral lakes and the occasional oasis, inhabited by an array of birdlife including numerous flocks of native species.
Travel on to San Antonio de los Cobres, (4,080 meters/12,500 feet), a little mining town that is fairly representative of hundreds of towns across the mountains of the Andean Puna. Here, you get a look at the famous La Polvorilla Viaduct, an engineering triumph, built between 1930 and 1932. The viaduct is 223.5-meter/733-foot long steel beam with a maximum height of 63 meters/207 feet above the ground, and weighing some 1,590 tons. At an altitude of 4,200 meters/13,779 feet, it is one of the highest located viaducts in the world. You drive through Toro Canyon, which runs parallel to the tracks of the Train to the Clouds. Stop at the Tastil ruins, the largest pre-Inca Columbian ruins in Northwest Argentina. Arrive Salta in the late afternoon. House of Jasmines, Salta – Superior Room (B)
Day 11: Salta
This morning, you will enjoy a half day visit of the city, one of the oldest cities founded by the Spanish in Argentina. It still bears a distinct Hispanic character that sets it apart from other cities in the country with its colonial houses, narrow streets and the brownish green of the surrounding hills. You will visit the Cabildo (Town Hall), the Archbishop’s Palace and the Cathedral, all around the main square, 9 de Julio, as well as San Francisco’s church and San Bernardo´s church and convent. Then, you continue to the crafts market in an old mansion transformed into a museum and gift exhibition center. It offers an excellent chance to observe authentic samples of the native crafts work.
The last stop will be a visit to MAAM Musem (High Altitude Archaeology Museum). The museum is absorbing and exhibits the findings of an archaeological expedition in 1999, which most notably unearthed the perfectly preserved bodies of three Incan children, sacrificed around 500 years ago on the summit of the Llullaillaco Volcano. The findings remain one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the Incan era, and one of the highest altitude finds of its type anywhere in the world. House of Jasmines, Salta – Superior Room (B)
Day 12: Salta / Cachi
This morning, you head south, away from Salta city past rolling tobacco fields at the city’s edge before turning west, along gravel roads, through the parched canyon of Quebrada de Escoipe. The landscape morphs into the verdantly green Cuesta del Obispo and the Valle Encantado. Here, the road gently ascends, eventually climbing to almost 3,800 meters/12,000 feet, twisting and turning through the valleys along the way. At 3,620 meters/11,874 feet, you pass the Los Cardones National Park, characterized by the sprawling giant cacti plantations and a myriad of stone trails, constructed by colonizing Incan forces in the 15th century, still visible today. The small village of Cachi, 2,300 meters/ 7,544 feet, is one of the areas main attractions. Though tiny, it is a good place to explore a bit. Cachi’s restored colonial church is a national historical monument. La Merced Del Alto, Cachi – Superior Room (B)
Day 13: Cachi / Cafayate
Today you travel the main artery dissecting the heart of the Calchaqui Valley, which actually encompasses a number of valleys and rivers. The road snakes through the mesmerizing Quebrada de las Flechas rock formations and on to Cafayate, arriving late in the afternoon. This is the largest city in the Calchaqui Valley, and a small, tranquil hideaway for wine lovers. Thriving in some of the world’s highest vineyards, (1,750 meters/5,740 feet), these well-established grape varieties include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and, of course, Torrontes. Indeed, Torrontes is the only wine grape variety produced solely in Argentina. The grapes produce fresh, smooth and aromatic wines local to this region. You enjoy opportunities to visit wineries and sample their unique blends. Grace Cafayate – Superior Room (B)
Day 14: Cafayate / Salta / Depart
Today you return to Salta, passing the lunar-like Quebrada del Rio de las Conchas rock formations. These impossibly red, silver and orange cliffs are as majestic as they are inspiring. Arrive at the Salta airport in time for your onward flight. (B)
Land price, per person, double occupancy: From US$500 per person per day.