The Grand Tour… of South America
We approached our much-needed holiday with both excitement and a little apprehension: we were new to Cox & Kings group tours and South America. We flew from London to Lima with a stopover in Madrid. After a little wait for our cases, there was a huge sigh of relief as mental images of sharing hubby’s underwear evaporated! We walked through the exit to a cacophony of new sounds – there was Peru, in all its unfamiliar glory.
There were crowds everywhere with smiling faces. We eventually located our welcoming guide, who directed our group to an awaiting bus. The journey to our hotel was a whirl of new sights, with our guide imparting local knowledge as we watched numerous small buses transporting locals to destinations that became familiar over the next day’s tour.
Lima is a great first stop: the architecture is impressive and so is the Pisco sour! With a free afternoon on day two, we wandered the city with our lack of Spanish, hand gestures aplenty. Finding a gem of a cafe, we enjoyed fine food and happy hour with wonderful views of the paragliders jumping from the cliff top and swooping over the Pacific.
Paragliders in Lima
The following morning we flew to Cuzco. With a knowledgeable guide in tow, we visited the Sacred Valley. We sampled local cuisine in Pisac, watched skilled jewellery makers and meandered up and down market stalls displaying colourful garments and crafts. By the end of the tour I had a new addiction: souvenir shopping. However, many friendships were formed and purchases shown and compared.
Ladies with llamas, Cuzco
Our next stop was Ollantaytambo, where we took in the Peruvian countryside dotted with seemingly half-finished buildings, dogs roaming happily and some inventive modes of transport. This destination was a practice run for Machu Picchu, with the effects of high altitude starting to be felt and the ruins and scenery proving to be an immersive step back into history. All of this was enhanced by the knowledge of our guide, who then took us on to our hotel for the night, which offered a high standard of comfort and impressive views.
Train to Machu Picchu
Saturday dawned: the day of the train to Machu Picchu – the icon synonymous with Peru that I had longed to visit for twenty years. It did not disappoint. Our whole group were united in admiration and wonder at the Incas who had created this city in the clouds.
We stayed at the splendid Monasterio hotel in Cuzco, experiencing Peruvian hospitality and the sights, shops and bars of Cuzco. The following day, we boarded the Belmond Andean Explorer train amid dancing and pan pipes: the tone was set and our group were entertained. We dined in good company and enjoyed superb levels of service on this luxurious train, all the while watching the stunning scenery en route to Lake Titicaca. On a recommendation from our very well-informed guide, we rose the following morning at 4am to enjoy the sunrise over Lake Titicaca, which was unforgettable.
Leaving this wondrous train, we embarked on our trip to Bolivia, which was a whole new experience. Traveling by hovercraft and coach – visiting markets, churches and islands along the way – with snow-capped mountains rising in the distance, we arrived at La Paz late in the evening. This city provided new encounters, particularly within the Witches Market, and a surprisingly efficient public transport system. I was a little apprehensive about the cable car to begin with, but it quickly impressed me: travelling above the numerous houses that are built into the hills made for a very different commute.
Cable car, La Paz
Saying goodbye to Bolivia, we flew to Argentina’s capital. Buenos Aires is a city of style, sophistication and, of course, the tango. The hotel was elegant and our new guide informative. We toured the city and found many treasures to savour. We celebrated our new found friendships with a mesmerising evening at a tango show. Watching the dancers twist and turn to the hypnotic beat of the musicians was yet another everlasting memory.
Day 13 welcomed the wonder of Iguazú Falls, which is nature at its most powerful and awesome. Our first sight of rising mist in the distance only hinted at the delights of the falls themselves. Our hotel sat proudly within the Argentinian national park and we were treated to seeing a range of wildlife, whilst trying to capture the immensity of it on camera.
You cannot describe the thrill of the boat ride into the falls nor convey the volume of water that descended around us, but we survived and we are now true adventurers! Farewell to Argentina and on to Brazil as Rio de Janeiro beckoned with its man-made wonders and famed beaches. Christ the Redeemer appeared to welcome us with arms opened as we were guided to the top. We all admired its construction and the amazing views it affords. Copacabana beach and Sugar Loaf mountain were also added to our memory box, as were sitting alongside friendly beach volleyball games, samba music and good-humoured sales pitches.
Rio de Janeiro
Then the day arrived for us to return home. Emails and phone numbers were exchanged, anecdotes traded and assurances given that our group was the best. But more importantly this trip was the best! Thank you Cox & Kings!
Rio de Janeiro sunset
Heather travelled on Cox & Kings’ Grand Tour of South America group tour. Alternatively, if you are interested in private travel, please either call one of our South America experts or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.