Active Peru: The Santa Cruz Trek (10 days)
This is an awe-inspiring holiday designed for experienced mountain or hill walkers who want to experience the beauty and solitude of the landscapes covered by one of Peru’s many and various Andean treks. You travel inland from the desert coast north of Lima to a dazzling white, snow-crested range of jagged mountains: Cordillera Blanca.
You start with a couple of days to acclimatise among ice-blue lakes in the deeply glaciated scenery around the attractive little town of Caraz before setting off on the Santa Cruz Trek, which takes you through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru's premier trekking region. The region is defined by its plunging valleys, dotted with glaciers and gemstone blue and minty green glacial lakes. Human activity is represented by tiny pockets of agriculture and isolated indian villages, dwarfed by the grandeur and scale of the scenery. This is a wild, uncompromising landscape, its harshness mitigated by the friendliness of its people.
Day 1 Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel in the Miraflores district.
You will be met at the airport and escorted to your hotel in the cliff-side Pacific residential and commercial district of Miraflores. The half-hour drive to the hotel through Lima’s outskirts encapsulates the invigorating buzz of a modern-day Latin American capital.
Day 2 Transfer to the bus station, public coach to Caraz in the Andes.
Travel by bus for the 486km, 7-9-hour drive north and inland from Lima. Take the Pan-American Highway northwards following the coastal plain between the ocean and the Andean foothills.
Just over 190km short of your final destination, Caraz, high in the Andes mountains, you turn inland along a paved road which climbs through increasingly fertile valleys speckled with rural settlements: then the snow-capped peaks loom ahead.
The Cordillera Blanca is known for its plunging valleys, dotted with glaciers and gemstone blue and minty green glacial lakes. Human activity is represented by tiny pockets of agriculture and isolated indian villages, dwarfed by the grandeur and scale of the scenery. This is a wild, uncompromising landscape, its harshness mitigated by the friendliness of its people.
Caraz (2,285m), famous for its bees and honey production, is a pretty little town of low whitewashed houses which has a colonial plaza peppered with palm trees and flowers. It is one of the main bases for trekking in the area.
Day 3 Full-day trip to Lake Parón to acclimatise with some gentle walking.
This is the first of two days to acclimatise to altitude and stretch your legs in preparation for the trekking to come.
Today you have a full day excursion to Lake Parón.
It is the largest lake in Huascarán National Park, offering expansive views of the surrounding jagged snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca: an almost unbelievable electric turquoise standing in contrast to the more muted colours of the surrounding forested landscape.
Drive for two hours from Caraz through a granite canyon. Relax at the lake, or take an optional hike along trails through primary forest along the north shore before returning in the afternoon.
Day 4 Day at leisure to acclimatise.
Today you have a day at leisure acclimatising to the altitude in this delightful region. There's a range of walks and other activities which can be arranged for you locally.
Day 5 Santa Cruz Trek.
The Santa Cruz Trek is a full-service trek in the Cordillera Blanca.
The four-day guided trek along the Santa Cruz Valley covers 40km of striking, ever-changing terrain.
Be prepared to walk between 5km and 12km per day (5-7 hours walking): there’s a lot of ascending and descending over this relatively short distance.
Lunches will be packed and evening meals will be cooked for you, while your luggage will be transported from camp to camp. In the evenings, you camp in large tents. Bear in mind that you'll overnight at up to an altitude of 4,200m. This is a private service: just you and your guides and porters.
Depart Caraz in the morning and drive for an hour to reach Cashapampa where the trail begins. Meet up with the mule drivers and their animals to begin the ascent. Hike up the Santa Cruz gorge. After a steady climb, the track opens out into an area of meadow with views of the snow-capped peaks of Aguja and Caraz. It's a steady hot and dusty climb to reach the Paccharuri waterfall, then from here gently up to the campsite at Llamacorral (3,850m). Approximate trekking time 4-5 hours.
Day 6 Hiking the Santa Cruz Trek, camp.
Today is a full day of hiking and wonderful vistas. The day breaks with the day’s destination silhouetted in the distance, Mount Taulliraju. Climb steadily upwards as glaciated peaks tower above on both sides and the track passes two glittering emerald lakes: Ichiccocha and Jatuncocha. Camp at Taullipampa (4,200m) at the foot of the impressive Mount Taulliraju.
Day 7 Hiking the Santa Cruz Trek, camp.
The trail ascends towards Punta Union pass (about 2-3 hours' walk) the highest point on the trek at 4,750m. This old trail was heavily used in both pre-conquest and colonial times as a route for transporting goods from the eastern side of the Andes to the main valley.
Day 8 Return to Caraz.
Descend to Colcabamba before the final ascent to the camp in the small village of Vaqueira (3,700m).
Walk uphill towards Portachuelo Pass (4,767m), which enjoys splendid mountain views. There are also splendid vistas of the beautiful Llanganuco lakes. Road transport later picks you up and drives you to the lower valley and finally back to Caraz.
Day 9 Public coach to Lima.
The 486km, 7-9-hour road journey south to Lima starts with a drive of around 190km through pretty rural mountain landscapes snaking down towards the coast. The public coach then follows the Pan-American Highway southwards following the coastal plain between the ocean and the Andean foothills.
The thoroughfare carves a lonely path through unrelentingly bleak desert scenery and passing small coastal towns and villages. Eventually however you reach the outskirts of the massive conurbation which is present-day Lima.
Day 10 Transfer to airport for international flight.
EXTENSION: Cusco and Machu Picchu (6 days)
The word Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire, which reached its zenith at the same time as England was fighting the Wars of the Roses.
You have three days to explore the city - its baroque churches and museums constructed on the vestiges of magnificent Inca masonry - the Valley of the Incas which is studded with the ruins of Inca temples and fortresses, and the citadel of Machu Picchu, where an overnight stay gives you the opportunity fully to explore the site.
Day 1 Fly to Lima and connect by air to Cusco.
Day 2 Your city tour explores the Plaza de Armas, the 16th century cathedral and Santo Domingo church - built on the site of Qoricancha, Cusco's principal Inca temple. Visit also four Inca sites on the edge of the city including Sacsayhuamán, a fortress and ceremonial centre.
Day 3 Descend to explore the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas. Once the bread-basket of the Inca Empire, it was highly populated in imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain where well-preserved edifices bear witness to the Incas’ elaborate society. Pass through several of the colonial/indigenous villages and temple fortresses which pepper the valley. Visit Pisaq, famous for its market, and, Ollantaytambo, a giant fortress sitting strategically at the gateway to the Amazon basin – spend the night in the village here.
Day 4 Travel ( 90mins) by train to the ruins of Machu Picchu. The ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, was discovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911, when it was buried beneath jungle vegetation. You will have a guided tour of the ruins. Overnight at Machu Picchu village at the foot of the mountain.
Day 5 There’s the opportunity to return to the site of Machu Picchu in the early morning when the site is virtually empty and the early morning mists swirl around the surrounding mountain tops. Return to Cusco by rail and road (4 hours).
Day 6 Fly to Lima and connect with international flight home. Breakfast daily, lunch day 4.
EXTENSION: Peruvian Amazon (5 days)
The Peruvian Amazon is just an hour's flight from Cusco. This bird-filled area of humid tropical rainforest embraces many ox-bow lakes, an ideal home for caimans, turtles and giant otters.
Day 1 Transfer to Cusco airport for the flight to Puerto Maldonado. Staff from Posada Amazonas will escort you to the lodge by road and dugout canoe (3hrs). Accommodation is simple and comfortable, constructed to harmonise with the forest environment.
Days 2/3 Your stay includes a variety of early morning and late afternoon excursions. There are small clay licks close by, which attract throngs of parrots and parakeets. English-speaking guides will lead your exploration of the trails around the lodge. Climb a nearby 35m high canopy tower for expansive jungle and river vistas. You can discover the lakes and river banks by canoe to search for aquatic wildlife.
Day 4 Return to Puerto Maldonado and fly to Lima. Transfer to your hotel in the Pacific-side district of Miraflores, Casa Andina Private
Day 5 Continue your holiday or transfer to the airport for your international flight. Breakfast daily, full board days 2, 3.