If you are looking for an ultimate South American experience, combining nature with culture, history and amazing food, you might want to check out two of the most special places in the continent: Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and Machu Picchu in Peru. These two wonders will truly blow your mind in a journey that grants a fair bit of adventure with opportunities to relax and unwind from your day-to-day life. As a bonus, a mandatory pit stop in Lima gives a chance to eat your way through the capital of the world’s leading culinary destination –believe us, this title is very well deserved- and to explore this flourishing urban destination.
This is by far one of THE most exciting destinations for nature lovers. It’s like a natural playground for diverse species, giving you endless opportunities to come up close with those iconic sea iguanas and giant Galapagos tortoises, thousands of bird species and a whole underwater universe, in an out-of-this-world setting.
The Galapagos Islands are an archipelago of volcanic origin comprised of 18 main islands, located about 1,000 kilometers west of continental Ecuador. It is a National Park, a Marine Reserve and World Heritage (UNESCO), recognizing its enormous significance. It is a truly unique place where you can follow Darwin’s footsteps on his theory of evolution.
Of course, being tropical islands by the Pacific Ocean and near the Equator, Galapagos also has some superb beaches where you can sit back and just let every bit of stress fade away. Imagine white sand beaches, soothingly warm waters, the shadow of some trees to keep you fresh and natural rock pools. Among the favorite beaches on Santa Cruz Island (touristic hub for Galapagos) are Tortuga Bay (turtle bay), El Garrapatero and Playa de los Alemanes (beach of the germans).
If you are looking for some activities, there are great options too. Visit Las Grietas, a sort of small canyon with two volcanic rock walls on the sides and filled with clear water (don’t forget your snorkeling gear!). There are also several short hikes featuring fantastic desert-like landscapes filled with opuntia cactus (endemic), lava lizards and many birds. You can also visit “los gemelos” –two adjoining sinkholes that resemble craters-, the lava tunnels and the giant tortoises ranches. Oh, and don’t miss out on dining at the fun and flavorful “calle de los kioskos” (kiosks street) in Puerto Ayora, where you pick your own fish or lobster to throw on the grill.
MACHU PICCHU AND THE SACRED VALLEY OF THE INCAS
Prelude – eating your way through Lima
Before heading to Cusco you will necessarily go through Lima. So, why not stay a day or two and enjoy this thriving coastal city with countless dining options. Everything from street food to fine dining is exciting in Peru, with and enormous variety of dishes and styles. While you are there, you can also check out Lima’s downtown and the touristic quarters of Miraflores and Barranco… a bit of walking might help make new room for your next meal.
Now… Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu
A short flight from Lima will bring you right up to the highland city of Cusco, at almost 3,400 meters above sea level. Allow some time for exploring the city itself, but pay close attention to the gorgeous Sacred Valley and, of course, the mystical and stunning Machu Picchu.
You can start by discovering the valley first, to get a good sense of the essence of the area, where culture and history mix up with nature. Located just over an hour outside from Cusco, the valley stretches over approximately 60 kilometers along the Urubamba River. It is also a fair bit lower than Cusco, making it into a very fertile and warmer land. There are archaeological sites all over it, local communities, beautiful weaving and artisanal handcrafts, Incan agricultural laboratories and many other features. It is also the perfect place to just kick back and relax.
Once you get a grasp of the special place you are at, then you’re ready for the main number. You’ll take the train to the town of Aguas Calientes, from which you’ll discover the Incan citadel of Machu Picchu. This outstanding piece of Incan ingenuity will absolutely amaze you; so give it a good full morning just to wonder around. There are also complementing visits and hikes, such as the Inca Bridge, Huayna Picchu Mountain, Intipunku or the Machu Picchu Mountain. Don’t forget to take your classic postcard-worthy Machu Picchu Picture… it is a World Wonder after all! ☺
Check out this itinerary example: