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Trans South America, Complete Circuit - Itinerary

Week 1: Ecuador:  Quito, the start of our journey, is a beautiful heritage city nestled in the mountains.  We cross the equator to the Otavalo Indian markets.  Taking the mountain roads over the Andes we descend into the Amazon basin. At the river port of Misahualli on the Rio Napo; a tributary of the Amazon we stay in the jungle to canoe and walk with local guides to explore the eco system of the surrounding forests.  You can try your hand at catching piranha. 

Week 2: On the side of a nearly tame volcano is the spa town of Banos, which is popular with Ecuadorians who come to the hot springs.  There are massive gorges and white water rafting on the rapids of the Rio Loco.  At Alausi you can take the Devils Nose Railway down the mountain then on to Cuenca, an old colonial city.

Ingapirca is the first of the Inca stonework and ruins we see and are the most important Inca site in Ecuador.  We leave the green highland of Ecuador and descend to the barren coastal deserts.

We enter Peru, the heartland of the Incas.  On the Pacific Ocean desert coast surf beaches, and oasis towns.  Here the locals still fish with traditional reed boats.  We visit Chan Chan - a pre-Inca imperial city; the largest adobe city in the world surrounded by a nine-mile long wall.

Week 3: We visit Lima, which was the centre of the Spanish conquest of South America

The Nazca Lines are a series of enormous drawings of animals, geometric figures and birds.  They seem as though they are drawn in the desert by a giant hand, from the air.  Opinions as to their mysterious origins over 2000 years ago vary; from space craft landing sites to astrological calendars. You don’t need a spacecraft or a plane to see the lines, as they are quite visible from nearby hills

You can take a two hour boat to the Ballestas Islands, to see the sea lion colonies and penguins.

Week 4: We leave the coast and climb into the Andes to Chivay Hot Springs.  To Arequipa a beautiful colonial town overlooked three old volcanoes.  On the fields by the road, we see Llamas also their relatives the Guanaco, Alpaca and Vicuna.  The Colca is the deepest canyon the world, you can stand on the edge and watch Condors soar high on the thermals, rising from below.

Week 5: We drive across remote passes in the Andes to Cusco, the Incas Holy city; it’s the archaeological capital of the continent.  The Spanish colonial buildings are built on the indestructible foundations of the unfortunate vanquished Inca.  We spend time among the ruins of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.  You can hike for four days along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, or if you prefer take the train in a day.

Our last stop in Peru is Lake Titicaca; we take boats to visit the Indians living on floating reed islands on the lake.  Still by the lake, we enter Bolivia to the islands of the Sun and Moon, where the Incas believe they were created.

Week 6: Set dramatically against the mountains, high in the Andes, at 2,100 feet is La Paz; a magnificent Andean Indian city, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. 

Week 7: We cross the stark, high country of the Altiplano and Potosi where a tour of the silver mines is a must.  Mining is still carried out deep into the earth, as it has been for over 400 years since the Spanish opened it. The story of silver mining and slavery in the mines is horrific – the mines are still worked but now by free but often poor men

The Uyuni Salt Pan is the largest in the world and so is the biggest slab of salt in the world; ten billion tons of it.  In the dry season you can hire jeeps for two days to cross it.

We cross the border of Argentina, first visiting the city of Salta and on to Cafayate and Mendoza. In this wine growing area you can do a wine tasting tour on push bikes.

Week 8: We enter Chile to Santiago for a short break. From Santiago, set against the backdrop of the snow covered Andes; we head south, past vineyards and wineries to Pucon Lake District. You can hike up an active Villarica Volcano, (gas masks at the top), go white rafting then relax in thermal springs 

Week 9: Argentina.  We cross to the Andes to Bariloche alpine resort, it’s a beautiful area for hiking and chocolate super markets, for chocoholics.  We head south through the vast grasslands of Patagonia.

In Los Glaciares Park is the massive Moreno Glacier - 60 metres high and five kilometres-wide and is advancing slowly into Lake Argentinio.  Twenty storey high chunks of ice sporadically break from the ice face and tumble and roll into the lake.  You can walk across the top of the glacier and take a boat trip thru the lakes in front of it and other glaciers.

Week 10: In the Torres del Paine Park (Towers of Pain) are immense granite towers, which soar 2,000 metres above the national park.  We go hiking around the trails surrounding the peaks. 

Week 11: [Week 11 weather permitting].  We cross the Straights of Magellan to the most southern tip of the habitable world - Ushuaia town in Tierra del Fuego.  You can take a boat to the Island of the Wolves in the Beagle Channel.  We turn north following the coast to Punta Tombo Park with over half a million nesting penguins.

Valdez Peninsular is a marine park with sea lions and elephant seals.  On the Atlantic coast we stop on one of the sandy beaches near Bahia Blanca.  We cross the Pampas, a long flat plain; home of the famous Gauchos and big cattle country.

Week 12: Buenos Aires, we have a couple of days here to eat steak till you moo, go night clubbing and drink till you think you can dance the Tango.

Uruguay Optional ferry across the River Plate for a visit to Montevideo.

Week 13: We follow the Parana River, to the Jesuit Missions; which were built in an attempt to save the Indians, these mission stations featured in the film The Mission with Jeremy Irons.

Iguassu Falls; one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, spreading over hundreds of cascades.  There are rainforest walkways below the falls and boats dart into the cascades below.

Week 14: We enter Brazil at Iguassu Falls and head north west to Bonito, where you can swim and dive in the crystal clear river and lakes and hike into forests to search for wildlife. The Pantanal is a large tropical wetland - organise treks out into the vast wetlands, home to birds and fish. 

Week 15: Parati on the Atlantic Coast, relaxed historic coastal village without cars, take a schooner to the nearby islands.

Rio de Janeiro, Carnival & New Year’s Eve celebrations are great times to be here and party.

Other sights in Rio are the statue of Jesus Christ overlooking the city, map-like below, and the famous Copacabana & Ipanema Beaches.

Week 16:  A week’s break in Rio to really see the sites, enjoy the beach life and stretch out on Copacabana Beach with the Brazilians – you can spend all day on the beach with real Brazilian food and drinks supplied by strolling vendors. Take a favela tour and see how the other half really live. The Carnival is the biggest reason to be in Rio – get a ticket to the Sambadrome and see the best of the festival.

Week 17: Northwards to Teresopolis a town in the mountains beside Serra dos Orgaos or Pipe Organ Park, so named because this series of mountain peaks resemble church pipe organs. You can go walking in the park. On to Congonhas and to Ouro Preto, descend in old cable cars down into the 200 year old gold mines to see how getting gold out of the ground was done in the old days.

Week 18: We follow the Atlantic coast of Brazil visiting Linhares and Itaunas; empty beaches and old beautiful towns. We camp on the way and sometimes stay in local guesthouses. Parque Estadual de Itaunas is on the beach, with sea turtles hatching in season. To Caravelas in Bahia state on the Caravelos River, the park Parque Nacional Marinho de Abrolhos is also home to nesting sea turtles.

Week 19: On the coast the Pataxo Indians run the Monte Pascoal Park. Porto Seguro is where Brazil was first taken by the Portuguese half a millennium ago. The Old City is a living museum and with great beaches and nightlife.

To Salvador, which is the biggest historical port in Brazil where most of the original settlers and slaves from Africa arrived. Beautiful old buildings, with a distinct African culture.

We head inland to Lencois an old diamond town and Fumaca Falls. We head further into the interior to Navidade and Sera Geral Park & Aparados da Serra National Park.

Week 20: We head inland to Palmas city to Taquarucu, in an eco-tourist park where you can see dolphins, giant river turtles; all amidst waterfalls, rivers and caves.

Week 21: To Belem city on the coast, using the Amazon highway, crossing under the canopy of the rainforest. Here we wait for the riverboat cross the Amazon; to Macapa; a journey of 200 miles which takes 24 hours.

We explore Macapa this commercial hub where gold, iron, timber, oil and tin ore pass through on its way to neighbouring Santana.  The Equator also runs through the centre of the city, which has lead residents to call it ‘The capital of the middle of the world’. We journey north on dirt roads, can be rough going on little used roads

Week 22: Oiapoque on the Oyapock River is the border town before French Guiana
French Guiana, is actually a Department of France so many people don’t need a visa and the currency is the Euro. On to the capital city or in this case the Prefecture of Cayenne which is full of colonial architecture that just has to be explored.  The two most impressive are the Jesuits built town hall and St. Saviours Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Kourou is the Guiana Space Centre.  The site is quite close to the equator, so that the spinning earth can impart some extra velocity to the rockets for free when launched eastward, and it has uninhabited territory (in this case, open sea) to the east, so that lower stages of rockets and debris from launch failures cannot fall on human habitations.

Off the coast is Devil’s Island, prior home to one of France’s most notorious prisons and the home of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman during the making of the film Papillon. Nearby the old  penal town of St. Laurent du Maroni on the Maroni River.

April is normally the start of nesting time, where turtles make the journey up the beach to deposit their eggs in the warm sand.  We head to an area on the coast which is a nesting site for 4 of the world’s most famous turtle species.

We cross by ferry to Suriname, from French to Dutch culture. Suriname. It was a colony of the Netherlands from the seventeenth century until it achieved full independence in 1975; the country retains much of its Dutch character, while also having the distinctly Caribbean, Indian and African feel that permeates the whole region

We cross the Suriname River to the capital, Paramaribo.  There is along waterfront ideal for sitting back and relaxing in the cooling winds while watching local life go by. Parts of Paramaribo is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and walking the streets here the fusion between colonial, Caribbean and local architecture is pronounced as European styles were combined with local materials to produce a style of construction that is only found in this city with Suriname Mosque, Neveh Shalom Synagogue, St Peter and St Paul Cathedral and Arya Dawaker Hindu Temple and the Grand Presidential Palace. 

Here you join a river cruise to hopefully spot rare freshwater dolphins.  We spend a few nights in Paramaribo before we continue our adventure

Week 23: Following the coastal road west we cross the Courantyn River by ferry to Guyana and follow the coast to the capital Georgetown.

As a former British colony, Guyana is more like a Caribbean island than a South American country, people paly and follow cricket and everyone speak English with a West Indian accent; archaic and very pleasant on the ear – a British outpost on a Latino continent. It accounts for many famous people well known people; Rihanna, Leona Lewis Eddy Grant Michael Caine’s wife Shakira are of Guyanese origin – ‘Not a lot of people know that’

We spend a few nights in Georgetown, from where it is possible to take an overnight excursion to visit Kaieteur Falls in Kaieteur National Park in the Amazon rainforest.  At 221 metres, Kaieteur Falls is the world’s highest single drop waterfall.

Week 24:  After free time in Georgetown, we then head south, away from the coast, and into the dense rainforest of Guyana.  The main road has been massively improved in recent years following investment provided by the Brazilian government, but we will allow four days to fully explore the area and if the opportunity presents itself take some ad hoc detours down jungle tracks to see what we can find and bush camp in the wilds of the jungle; the area is full of unique flora and fauna and travelling through is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so we won’t want to rush.  This part of the trip is very exploratory in nature, and it is impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but the region has a reputation for being the best places to spot the elusive jaguar. 

We will also spend one night in a comfortable jungle lodge, nestled in the rainforest, and visit a high canopy walkway to view the rainforest from an elevated perspective and come eye-to-eye with some of the plentiful tropical bird life.

Week 25: we re-enter Brazil to Boa Vista is our overnight stop back in Brazil, where enjoy  locally caught fish in one of the riverside restaurants. We drive southwards through an Indigenous Wairmiri Reserve to rejoin the Amazon River at Manaus.

Manaus is far inland, though a port for ocean going ships and is the city in the heart of the amazon and its fortune was originally built on rubber. The city itself is worth an explore, and from this Amazon base you can take an adventure trips to the rainforest.

We head north from Manaus to the Waimiri Indian Reserve. We follow the jungle roads; they are rough, not well maintained to Boa Vista on the Rio Branco River, where you can visit the Parque Anaua, take a boat on the river Serra Grande and go walking.

Into Venezuela at Santa Elena, from this town you can leave the trip for a few days and climb Mount. Roraima; the mountain is actually a massive flat topped plateau, which is accessible by just one route, a walk which takes five days– this includes a couple of days exploring the uninhabited plateau. If you climb the plateau, you can catch up to the truck at Ciudad Bolivar.

Week 26: In Venezuela we enter the Great Savannah, with wide open grassland. We pass by and you can explore the Tepuis Mountains, which rise up into the clouds beside us – though only when its cloudy, with waterfalls pouring over their sides.

To Ciudad Bolivar, on the Rio Orinoco. We base our selves here to visit Angel Falls; at a kilometre high it is the highest in the world. The falls are not named after the angles in heaven but after the discoverer; a flying gold prospector from USA, named Jimmy Angel, he landed his plane on top of the falls and walked for 11 days to get out of the region as he could not take off again. To get to the Falls is a three day side trip by either flight, boat or small vehicle to see the Falls in Parque Nacional Canaima.

To get to the falls is complex, as they in an isolated in a remote area, deep in the rainforest. You fly from Ciudad Bolívar to reach Canaima camp; the starting point for river trips to the base of the falls. River trips generally take place from June to December, when the rivers are deep enough. During the dry season, which is the first 3 months of the years, there is less water than other months, so to get by boat to the falls is difficult, but clear skies for flying.

We pass the wetlands Llanos on the edge of the Orinoco, where you can take a 4 days side trip into the park. On to the town of Guanare, here a Coromoto Indian saw the Virgin Mary almost 500 years ago, and so the town has become a place of pilgrimage. On to the beaches of the Caribbean and see Henri Pittier National Park; a coastal park with beaches, waterfalls and birds.

Week 27: To Merida in the mountains, where you can go walking in the hill as well as paragliding, canopy tours, zip-lining, canyoning and white water rafting, good nightlife and lots of restaurants.

From Merida you can take a three day trip to the wetlands of Los Llanos where you can see caiman, capybara, anaconda snakes, anteaters, tapirs and the secretive jaguar.

Week 28: In the west of Venezuela is San Cristobal, the last city before we cross into Columbia to Bucaramanga and to Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast. Go snorkeling, hang out on the beach and visit Tayrona National Park

Week 29: we spend a few days in Cartagena, an old city surround by stone walls; they were built mainly to defend the city against British and American raids – which it successfully withstood. It’s the first Spanish colonial city built in South America and one of the most visited and is very well preserved with; cobbled streets, old churches, town squares and balconied building.

Medellin; the home of Pablo Escobar, a quieter city with his passing. Up into the mountains to Manizales in the coffee growing region where you can visit a coffee plantation and try the freshest roast coffee. Visit Parque Los Nevados, to walk in the mountains.

In the peaks of the Andes is Bogota, another old city with good food, museums and churches. Take a bird’s eye view of the city from Monserrate Hill and church.

Week 30: We cross the Tatacoa Desert, with ocher and gray arid eroded cliffs surrounded by mountains. We take the Pan American Highway to Parque Purace; with giant condors, the active Volcano Purace, with hot springs and a Sulphur Mine. 

Week 31: The white city of Popayan is a colonial town worthy of a film set high in the Andes make a small stop to admire the chalk white facades and stock up on supplies, before following the Andes south towards Pasto. Our last stop in Colombia is Ipiales, with the Santuario De Las Lajas – [Sanctuary of the Rock] a unique church suspended above a beautiful river gorge, with a waterfall below.

During the last few days of our trip we cross over the border to Ecuador, visiting Otavalo, a mainly Indian town surrounded by mountains before we reach Quito, the end of our trip.

 

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