Get to know the extraordinary lost civilisation of the Inca and how they made the most of the extraordinary landscapes of South America. This 22-day tour explores the empire from its southern periphery beyond the Atacama Desert to its inner sanctum in Cusco and Machu Picchu, high in the Peruvian Andes. Throughout the journey, we tour fascinating archaeological sites, museums, temples and towns to explore the many cultures that inhabited the area before and with the Inca. Visits to thermal springs, mountain lakes, passes and canyons bring to life the remarkable natural history of the region.
Incan and pre-Incan civilisations, from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile to Cusco in Peru
South America’s archaeology, from the ancient mummies of the dry Atacama Desert to those frozen in Andean ice
The Spanish legacy in churches, monasteries and delightful town squares
Diverse landscapes and their impact on human history: high deserts and soaring mountains, the world’s deepest canyon and highest navigable lake, Titicaca
Contemporary life in vibrant capitals, in Santiago and Lima
The drama of Atacama’s desert, lakes and saltpans
Outstanding archaeological sites and museums in Arica, “city of the eternal spring”
Soaking in the thermal hot springs after journeying deep into the Colca Canyon
Unique traditional cultures on Lake Titicaca’s floating islands
The spectacular mountain pass from the Altiplano, through the Umayo River Valley to Cusco
Amazing Incan sites and sun temples of the Sacred Valley: Coricancha, Sacsayhuaman and Ollantaytambo
Ascend the glorious mountain estate of Machu Picchu, built at the height of the Incan Empire
Days 1–2: Take a walking tour of Santiago.
Days 3–5: Fly to San Pedro to visit pre-Incan sites, salt lakes and the high Andes.
Days 6–8: Drive across the Atacama, visit Arica’s archaeological sites and the Chinchorro mummies.
Days 9–11: Fly to Arequipa; visit a monastery and the Colca Canyon at Chivay.
Days 12–13: Explore Incan ruins and the islands of Lake Titicaca.
Days 14–15: In Cusco, visit an Incan sun temple, storehouse and citadel.
Days 16–19: Discover the Sacred Valley’s markets, churches and Incan ruins, including iconic Machu Picchu.
Days 20–22: Explore Lima before departing for home.
A detailed itinerary for this tour is available. Click on the link above to view or download.
Qantas and LATAM Airlines have flights into and out of Santiago. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Saturday 4 May: Arrival
Flights from Australia arrive in the late morning or early afternoon. Passengers booking their flights through Academy Travel will be transferred to our hotel. Meet your tour leader and fellow travellers in the lobby of the hotel this evening for drinks and introductions followed by a light dinner. Overnight Santiago (D)
Sunday 5 May: Santiago
This morning we begin our explorations with a walking tour of Santiago. We stop by the Palacio de la Moneda before continuing to the Plaza de Armas, the city’s symbolic and social heart since being founded in 1541 as a military training ground. The palm shaded piazza is surrounded by the neoclassical facades of Santiago’s most important buildings. We see the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Federal building and Central Post Office. Visit the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian art and see the wonderful collection of anthropomorphic vessels and Andean textiles, sculpture and jewellery. After a break for lunch we stroll through the landscaped parklands of Cerro Santa Lucia to the hilltop for a view of the city. Overnight Santiago (B, L)
Monday 6 May: To San Pedro de Atacama
We transfer to the airport this morning for our flight to Calama and drive to San Pedro de Atacama at an elevation of 2438 metres. This afternoon we travel to the Valle de la Luna to view the sunset over the stone and sand formations that have been carved by wind and water to create a beautiful lunar landscape. Overnight San Pedro de Atacama (B, L)
Tuesday 7 May: Around San Pedro de Atacama
A short distance from San Pedro de Atacama is Pukará de Quitor, an ancient stone fortress built around the 10th-century. The pre-Inca ruins were built by the Atacameño people to defend themselves from their South American neighbours. Further along, in the ravines of the San Pedro River, are the well defended Inca ruins in the Catarpe Valley. Returning to San Pedro we visit the Gustavo Le Paige Museum named after a Belgian Jesuit priest who collected and studied the well preserved archaeological finds of the Atacama Desert region. The museum traces the history of the area from the pre-Columbian era to Spanish colonisation and houses a marvellous collection of textiles, clay pottery and gold. Overnight San Pedro de Atacama (B, L)
Wednesday 8 May: The High Andes
Today we venture to the Altiplano in the Andean Plateau and visit the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile. Surrounded by the Andes Mountains at an average elevation of 2300 metres the salt flat is formed as there is no natural drainage outlets and through high levels of evaporation. After lunch we visit the high-altitude Lake Miscanti. Heart shaped and deep blue in colour, it is separated from Lake Miñiques by a lava flow from the Miñiques Volcano. Overnight San Pedro de Atacama (B, L)
Thursday 9 May: Iquique
Departing early this morning, we drive across the Atacama to join the coast at Tocapilla before turning north and following the shoreline to the port town of Iquique. There is a stop for lunch at Tocapilla and dinner is in Iquique where seafood is a local speciality. Overnight Iquique (B, L, D)
Friday 10 May: To Arica
Continuing our journey north, we drive along the Pan American Highway detouring to stop at Pisagua. Once a thriving mining port, it is now virtually a ghost town with the abandoned mansions of Nitrate barons and a once lavish theatre. Pinochet spent time here as an army captain and it played a notorious role as a prison camp during his dictatorship. We walk through the archaeological sites and the cemetery with its memorial to political prisoners who were buried in mass graves. After a picnic lunch we continue to Arica, our final destination for today. Overnight Arica (B, PL)
Saturday 11 May: Arica
This morning we visit the Museo de Sitio Colon 10 to see the 32 Chinchorro mummies that are displayed in situ after being discovered during conversion of the former private home by a local architect to a hotel. Now a museum, the mummies are laid out in the sand complete with funerary decorations and visible through glass panels in the floor. We then drive to the Azapa Valley to the Museo San Miguel de Azapa and see the world’s oldest known mummies including some infants. The museum has a permanent exhibition hall dedicated to Chinchorro mummies with displays of tools, clothing and adornments used in the mummification process. We have lunch before returning to Arica via the Lluta Valley with a stop to photograph the restored pre-Colombian geoglyphs carved into the valley walls. Overnight Arica (B, L)
Sunday 12 May: Arequipa
Today we depart Chile for Peru with a short drive to the border to complete immigration formalities and continue to Tacna where we have lunch. After lunch we depart for the airport for our flight to Arequipa. Upon arrival we visit the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries which is dedicated to Juanita the Ice Maiden, a 600-year-old mummy of a 12-year-old Inca girl discovered on top of the Ampato Volcano. Her body had been perfectly preserved in the ice and was wrapped and buried with funeral offerings indicating she was killed as a sacrifice to the gods. Overnight Arequipa (B, L)
Monday 13 May: Chivay
This morning we visit the Santa Catalina Monastery occupying an entire block. With its high walls, it is a citadel within a city and not just a religious complex. There are several courtyards and cloisters with brightly coloured walls in the Mudéjar style connected by streets with dwellings for the nuns. The Great Cloister is bordered by the chapel on one side and art gallery, built in the shape of a cross with murals depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, on the other. After lunch we drive to Chivay in the Colca Canyon. Overnight Chivay (B, L)
Tuesday 14 May: Colca Canyon
Today we travel into the Colca Canyon, the world’s second deepest canyon and twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. The scenery is spectacular as we pass El Misti Volcano to our view point into the canyon. Condors, the largest flying birds in the world, are often seen soaring on the updrafts produced from the valley below. Returning to Chivay, we have lunch in a local restaurant. This afternoon there is the opportunity to relax in the indoor or outdoor thermal pools at the La Calera hot springs. Overnight Chivay (B, L)
Wednesday 15 May: To Puno
We depart early this morning for the five-hour drive to Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. En route we visit the Inca ruins at Sillustani overlooking Lake Umayo. The ancient Colla people, who dominated the area, buried their nobility in funerary towers or Chullpas. We see the most impressive towers, reaching 12 metres and cylindrical in shape, housing the remains of entire family groups with enough food and belongings to take them onto the next life. From Sillustani it is a short drive to Puno, our destination for the next two nights. Overnight Puno (B)
Thursday 16 May: Lake Titicaca
At 3810 metres above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world and the largest on the South American continent. We spend the day visiting a number of the unique floating islands of Uros on the lake. We also visit the picturesque Island of Taquile with Bolivia’s snow-capped Cordillera Real as a backdrop – the red soil contrasts with the intense blue of the lake. The Quechua speaking islanders form a distinctly different community group from the surrounding islands and have a strong handicraft tradition deeply ingrained with social customs. We enjoy a simple lunch in Taquile before returning to Puno. Overnight Puno (B, L)
Friday 17 May: To Cusco
Today we travel from the Altiplano over a spectacular mountain pass before entering the Umayo River Valley and on to Cusco. En route we visit the Inca ruins at Raqchi, a large complex of storehouses and granaries that were part of a major trading centre. Central to the ruins is the temple of Wiracocha. Twenty-two columns of large stone blocks, once supported the largest known Inca roof which was destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors. We continue to Cusco where we spend the next two nights. Overnight Cusco (B, L)
Saturday 18 May: Cusco
This morning we visit the Inca sun temple, Coricancha. Dedicated to the sun god, Inti, it was the most important temple in the Incan Empire. Its walls were once lined with gold sheets and were filled with gold statues used in ceremonial rituals. The Spanish colonists demolished the temple stripping out the gold and used the Inca stonework to build the Church of Santa Domingo that now stands on the site. From Coricancha we head to the Cusco Cathedral completed in 1654 which, in addition to being a place of worship, is also a major repository of Cusco’s colonial art. After free time for lunch we spend the afternoon at the Inca citadel of Sacsayhuaman, an immense and impressive ruin of religious and military significance. The site comprises magnificent three-tiered zigzag fortifications, retaining walls, carved stone benches known as the Inca’s Throne and a flat parade ground where an important Inca religious ceremony called Inti Raymi is held every year. Overnight Cusco (B)
Sunday 19 May: Sacred Valley
This morning we visit the San Jeronimo markets and the church in Andayhualillas which is considered the Sistine Chapel of America due to the quality of its art works. After lunch in a local restaurant where there is the opportunity to witness a shamanic ceremony, we continue to the Sacred Valley stopping at the ruins of the Incan citadel at Pisac. Overnight Sacred Valley (B, L)
Monday 20 May: Ollantaytambo
Today we explore the ruins at Ollantaytambo where the Spanish conquistadors suffered a rare defeat in 1536 against the Manco Inca. The fortress also served as a temple with a ceremonial centre at the top of the terraces. The main structure of the Sun Temple is an incomplete building featuring the wall of the six monoliths built from enormous stones quarried from the mountainside six kilometres away. Overnight Sacred Valley (B, L)
Tuesday 21 May: Machu Picchu
We depart on the train from Ollyantaytambo to Machu Picchu. After lunch we explore Machu Picchu in the afternoon when most tourists have left for the day. Undoubtedly the highlight of the tour, the 15th-century Inca citadel evokes a sense of awe and mystery amongst the most seasoned travellers. Undiscovered by the Spanish conquistadors, Machu Picchu lay abandoned and unknown to the outside world until the local Quechua people guided American historian Hiram Bingham to the site in 1911. There is plenty of time to explore the sprawling Inca ruins as we depart when the site closes at 5pm and return to our hotel. Overnight Aguas Calientes (B, L, D)
Wednesday 22 May: Return to Cusco
The morning is at leisure to explore or you may choose to return to Machu Picchu with Chris and climb up to Huayna Picchu, hike to the Sun Gate or re visit the ruins. We depart by train in the afternoon to Cusco arriving around 8pm. Overnight Cusco (B)
Thursday 23 May: To Lima
We depart early this morning to the airport for our flight to the Lima. This afternoon we embark on a tour of the city including the Plaza de Armas, Lima Cathedral with its baroque façade and neoclassical interior and the San Francisco Monastery, famous for its bone-filled catacombs and vast library with antique texts, some of which pre-date the Spanish conquest. Overnight Lima (B, L)
Friday 24 May: Pucllana Pyramid
This morning we visit the Pucllana Pyramid, an adobe and clay structure built from seven staggered platforms located in central Lima. In the afternoon we visit the Larco Museum to view the large collection of over 50 000 pots and ceramic works from the Cupisnique, Chimú, Chancay, Nazca and Inca cultures. This evening we gather for our farewell dinner. Overnight Lima (B, D)
Saturday 25 May: Depart
The tour concludes after breakfast. (B)
Dr Chris Carter
Has an Honours and Master’s degree in archaeology and has recently completed a PhD. He has led tours to Central and South America for over 20 years.
Christopher Carter is an archaeologist with over 20 years’ experience leading tours to Central and South America, Spain and Ireland as well as within Australia. He is particularly interested in human interaction within landscapes and the formative period of cultural development.
Chris has a BA(Hons), MA and PhD from the Australian National University (ANU). He has worked as a tutor at the ANU and lectured at both the ANU and University of Sydney Centres for Continuing Education. When not leading tours, Chris works as an archaeological consultant and heritage advisor.
Chris’ research interests cover both Indigenous and Australian historical archaeology. He is also actively involved in research in the Atacama region of northern Chile and involved in a number of studies investigating the early settlement of this region. He has had a number of academic papers published in international journals.
As a teacher, Chris has always declared that archaeology cannot be learned in the classroom. Such statements resulted in him taking a group to South America in 1995. He has continued to lead several tours a year ever since. The areas visited have expanded to other regions that reflect the subjects he teaches.
We asked Chris, what part of tour leading does he find most rewarding?
“I love teaching and, as they say, ‘to travel is to learn’ and what better classroom than the wider world. Nothing satisfies me more than to lead people into new areas where they can see how humans have interacted with landscapes over the years – to witness the evolution of both the people and the environments they occupy.
On a recent tour, one member of the group commented that they can now ‘see’ a lot more than they did before. In the past, they had taken so much for granted and never thought about how things changed through time. Their eyes had been opened and they began to think more about what they were looking at. To me, these are the statements that make my job worthwhile.”
Hotels have been selected principally for their central location.
Santiago, Hotel Plaza San Francisco (2 nights)
San Pedro de Atacama, Pueblo de Tierra (3 nights)
Iquique, Terrado Suites (1 night)
Arica, Diego de Almagro Hotel (2 nights)
Arequipa, Hotel Libertador (1 night)
Chivay, Hotel Aranwa (2 nights)
Puno, Hotel Libertador (2 nights)
Cusco, Aranwa Boutique Hotel (3 nights)
Sacred Valley, Aranwa Sacred Vally Hotel (2 nights)
Aguas Calientes, Inkaterra Hotel (1 night)
Lima, Lima Country Club (2 nights)
* Hotels may be subject to change (to another hotel of equivalent quality). Any changes will be advised to all clients booked on the tour.
What is included in the tour price? Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price? Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.