Avid Vantage traveler sets out to discover the wonders of Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands

Vantage Travel Team June 21, 2018

Every time my wife and I sat down to discuss what was next on our travel bucket list, Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands inevitably came up. Finally, last year, we scheduled our trip for late January/early February of 2018. This would be our eighth trip with Vantage, and like the past seven, we extended our vacation by added the three day pre-tour to Peru’s Sacred Valley. I highly recommend you consider taking this pre-trip extension, as it ended up being one of our favorite highlights (check out the Zen-like luxury hotel we stayed at, the Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel: if you need more convincing!)

Like many other people, we thought that Machu Picchu was the exclusive location for Peru’s ancient sites, but upon arrival we were pleased to see that they were scattered across the Sacred Valley. Vantage’s tour covered many of these incredible sites, as well as a variety of other interesting cities, small villages, and colorful markets.

Machu Picchu is, of course, the most famous location in Peru, and it lived up to its reputation. We stayed in Aguas Calientes, a small, colorful city only a short distance from the foot of Machu Picchu. After a beautiful trip on a luxury train, we boarded a bus to take us to the foot of the mountain, and then up a narrow switchback road to the entrance of this UNESCO Historic Site. We spent all afternoon there, guided by experts. The next day was the highlight as we entered the site with glorious clouds rolling down the mountains. The atmosphere was made for dramatic photographs, of which I took full advantage. One of the options that day was taking the 2.5-mile round-trip hike to the Sun Gate, where we had a view of the entire ruins area, including the interesting, multiple switchback road from the foot of the mountain to the top.

Most of the days on this trip were already filled by exciting pre-planned excursions. But during some free time on one of the days, we had the fantastic option to join a tour through the Cotopaxi National Park. The hacienda and the surrounding countryside were absolutely breathtaking.

Like most trips of this type, you will spend some time transferring from place to place on a bus. The difference between this vacation and most others is that the bus trips were filled with dramatically interesting views. The bus drivers stopped several times to talk and interact with child shepherds and other interesting local people. We were awed by the mountain views, the cities sprawled out below us. In the Galapagos Islands we also dodged massive tortoises sleeping or walking in the road.

By the time we reached the Galapagos Islands, I was in photography heaven. One thing that struck me were the varying landscapes; every island we visited, though not physically that far apart from each other, had completely different terrain and vegetation. 

What amazed me most, however, were the animals. While I had studied up on the variety and quantity of animals, the peaceful intermixing of them was surprising. It was not unusual for a group of large iguanas to be sitting around with red crabs and penguins. 

I was definitely not expecting to see either cactus or flamingos, yet there they were. Looking back, one thing is clear: this adventure is one for the books, full of vivid imagery and stunning natural works of art. If South America is on your bucket list, you should plan to visit sooner rather than later and see for yourself!

Inspired by Jim’s travels? Discover these wonders on Legendary Machu Picchu & the Galapagos Islands.