Machu Picchu and the Galapagos; these are by far two of the main international renowned attractions on the South American continent. Machu Picchu, the “Lost city of the Incas”, is South America’s most popular ancient destination and the one this website is dedicated to. The Galapagos Islands are Darwin’s playground and South America’s most popular wildlife and safari destination. Following we want to make a case why Machu Picchu and the Galapagos is the ideal combination for any South America traveler.
A quick introduction; Machu Picchu; located in the Southern Peruvian Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is the mythical Inca site many explorers, treasure hunters and adventurers have sought for till 1911 when Hiram Bingham (re)discovered the place from under the lush Rainforest that reclaimed this magnificent feature of architecture and skill. The site was probably abandoned after the arrival of the Spanish in 1532 and the country and Inca Empire shattered quickly under the new oppressors. It is incredible how detailed and intact the site has remained after being covered by forests for almost 400 years. Nowadays most of the ruins have been cleared from the forest and Machu Picchu can again be appreciated in all its glory.
The Galapagos Islands; this archipalago of 119 Islands (among larger, medium and tiny islands) is part of the Ecuadorian Territory but is located on the Equator about 1,000km (620mi) from the mainland in the Pacific Ocean and . The archipalago gained its fame after famous scientists Charles Darwin passed through the islands where he obtained many of its insights exposed in his widely acclaimed Origin of Species study he released in 1859. The islands contain a very fragile but incredibly diverse ecosystem and is one of the areas on the planet with most endemic species. Several types of birds, Iguanas, sea life and large mammals can only be found on these islands. Conservation of the islands has always been a headache for the government but after having declared the whole archipelago as Unesco World Heritage site, the islands have found a balance between protecting and exploring these fascinating and unique islands.
Now, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands are both appreciated bucket lists destinations and due to their location and increased flight connections, the ideal partners to line for a great 12-14 day South America adventure. Combining South America’s most impressive archeological destination with one of the planet’s most unique wildlife areas makes for a trip that will be remembered for years. Most people start in Lima, Peru as this is a larger airline hub than Quito in Ecuador. After one or two nights in Lima to check out the city’s culinary boom, you can fly on to Cusco, the old Inca Capital of Peru. Cusco is the gateway to Machu Picchu and a city that in itself deserves a couple of your days. Being built by the Inca and rebuilt by the Spanish the city has a typical architecture, style and culture that is not found anywhere else. Between Cusco and Machu Picchu one can also find the Sacred Valley of the Incas, a beautiful lush Valley where one can appreciate several other impressive Inca ruins and some villages that look to have stand still in time. Finally we reach Machu Picchu; words do not do justice to describe the magic of this place. Not only its unique architecture and the building secrets we are still discovering till today, but also because of its unthinkable location. Perched on a mountain top between two granite peaks overlooking the valley below from two sides Machu Picchu was as strategic as it is impressive. After visiting Machu Picchu you can head back to Cusco for one or two days and from Cusco the next morning head north to Ecuador and its impressive capital. What not many people know is that Cusco and Quito share an important bond that dates from centuries back. When the Spanish arrived to Peru, the Inca Empire covered the whole area between from nowadays Southern Colombia till Santiago de Chile but due to its sheer size had become ungovernable. This is why a civil war broke out in these years dividing the Inca Empire among two brothers, both claiming the “throne”. Huáscar, the oldest of the two brothers claiming the throne maintained the Inca Capital in Cusco, where it had always been, meanwhile his half brother Atahualpa made Quito the Inca Capital. In the end Huascar got captured by the Spanish and this signalled the beginning of the end for the mighty Inca Empire. With Cusco and Quito going back for such a long time, both cities claim the title of oldest still inhabited city in the Americas. After having seen Cusco, you will be surprised by the colonial look of Quito and even though its long heritage you will find little Inca remnants in the city or country. The most important Inca site in Ecuador is Ingapirca, close to the city of Cuenca. For more information on the Inca sites in Ecuador have a look here.
As you come from Cusco the altitude of Quito will do little more to you as Quito is located about 800 meters lower than Cusco. Apart from the small but cozy colonial city center, one of the city’s highlights is located about 30km from Quito; the Middle of the World Museum, located on the Equator line. From Quito you can then head to the Galapagos Islands. The islands can be visited in one of two ways; either with a multi day cruise on one of the many ships and cruises that cover the area or one can opt for an island hopping program during which you stay at one or more hotels on one of the inhabited islands such as Santa Cruz or San Cristobal and from here do day excursions to the surrounding islands. Keep in mind that visiting the Galapagos is covering a lot of ground (well water to be more precise) as the area is quite vast and each island has its particular attractions. Most island hopping programs and cruises start with a 4 or 5 day itinerary. In general the cruises are the ones that offer the most destinations and they can move around when you are asleep but even with a cruise you will have to opt for the longer 8 day cruises in order to cover most of the sights than can be visited. There are times when the water is more rough than other times but in general the water around the islands is relatively choppy all year round. This is important to take into consideration when choosing between an Island Hopping program or cruise and also between the different ships as larger ships and catamarans are more stable than smaller ones. If you would like more information or see a more detailed itinerary for a Machu Picchu and Galapagos Island vacation, please have a look here.