June 10-20, US$3,950pp twin share. DOWNLOAD THE FULL ITINERARY.
Cusco, Peru, heart of the ancient Inca Empire, is the jewel of South America. Photographers from around the world converge to admire the distinct Spanish colonial architecture and mysterious Inca stonework. Beyond the city lay countless ancient shrines, testament to a civilization that thrived for hundreds of years in this high, barren landscape, before succumbing to the 16th Century Spanish Conquest.
Nowhere is the Inca’s finely attuned natural aesthetic and mastery of stone more visible than in the citadel of Machu Picchu, a site so well hidden, it escaped Spanish destruction, and was only “discovered” by American Hiram Bingham approximately 100 years ago. See a gallery of Jonathans images here.
Despite centuries of Spanish domination and imposition of their culture, religion and language, remnants of the Inca civilization remain to this day, squired away in isolated pockets of the Andes, where Quechua, the Inca’s language, is spoken exclusively, and residents’ knowledge of the world is limited to their particular valley, with ancient superstitions still prevalent.
It is these people we will seek out on our journey to the fabled Qoylluri’ti Festival, a once-a-year pilgrimage that forms the centerpiece of local Andean community life. The Qoylluri’ti is a celebration of animist pre-colonial beliefs, such as the Apus, or mountain spirits, mixed with Catholicism. For an entire week, Andean peoples from across the region gather in a high, glacier-encircled valley, 10km from the nearest roads to dance, pray, and share stories. There are even groups from the coast and the Amazon who participate in an atmosphere of welcoming fraternity.
The Qoylluri’ti Festival is more than a religious event; it is also a great source of community pride, with costumed groups dancing, around the clock, in an attempt to out-do their mountain neighbors. The whip is frequently included in these rituals, some of which involve consensual, forceful flagellation of fellow group members as a means to demonstrate group unity.
The costumes they wear are blindingly colorful, often festooned with strange symbolisms such as open bottles of rubbing alcohol and plastic doll heads to ward off evil spirits. Full facial masks hide the identities of the dancers, who, in a surreal twist, adopt eerie falsetto voices to further obscure their identity. Some masks feature grotesquely exaggerated facial features, whose sexual suggestiveness purportedly lends to their power. The costumes fall within one of three distinct categories, with each filling a specific role in the festival. There is even a costumed group tasked with patrolling the festival to ensure it remains peaceful, and alcohol free.
After this once-in-a-lifetime experience, we will drive back to Cusco and then to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world (and home to landlocked neighbor Bolivia’s navy). Lake Titicaca is so huge that from its shores, one can observe the curvature of the Earth, as high mountains and clouds appear to sink lower and lower into the horizon as the Earth curves away beneath.
In Titicaca, we will travel to three islands to observe and photograph the traditional way of life of the residents in a comfortable home-stay program. From there, we will travel to the shoreline city of Puno to experience one final night in the Andes, before visiting the hilltop Inca ruins of Sillustani, where certain artifacts have strange magnetic properties, before flying back to Lima to conclude the tour with a farewell dinner and flights home the next day.
Detailed Itinerary June 10-20, 2014 (Download PDF version)
Day 1: Arrive Lima
International arrival in Lima, transfer to group hotel. Meet and greet. Due to different arrival times, there are no group meals this day.
Day 2: Lima Tour
Following breakfast, we depart on a guided photographic tour of the City of Lima, from its pre-Inca ruins interspersed throughout the city, to the beautiful colonial architecture and famous wooden balconies of the center, to the modern bustling city of the present day. Peruvian cuisine has recently been discovered by international foodies, and has quickly become the darling of the culinary world. There no better place than Lima to experience the variety of dishes on offer, which we will do this day for our group lunch and dinner. Photo review session tonight, time permitting.
Day 3: Lima-Cusco
We fly from Lima to Cusco on an early morning flight, arriving in Cusco in time to check into our hotel and enjoy an early lunch before touring the incredible sights and faces of this city. We will see the beautiful central Plaza de Armas, the ornate Cathedral of Cusco, the Qoricancha Temple (Temple of the Sun), where the Spanish built directly on top of the Incan stone constructions, the incredible Sacsayhuaman construction above Cusco, featuring house-sized stones stacked together, and then the ruins of Puca Pucara and Tambomachay, all phenomenal photographic opportunities. Throughout this day, we will be conducting mini-workshops on the use of light and shadow with composition for architecture and landscape photography. On this night, participants are free to explore the city on their own to experience some of Cusco’s fabulous cuisine. Photo review session tonight, time permitting.
Day 4: Cusco-Sacred Valley-Aguas Calientes
We leave Cusco in our private bus, crossing the high country with views of the Cordillera Urubamba, dropping in to the Urubamba River into Peru’s Sacred Valley, so called because it is rife with Inca and pre-Inca spiritual sites. Today we start in Pisac ruins, which offer a panoramic view of stone-terraced slopes and a fascinating altar to the sun. From there we visit Pisac market, a gathering rich in photographic opportunities. On our walkabout, we’ll be discussing street photography, including techniques to engage your subject, and how to best set up your camera to quickly and discreetly capture the moment. After the market, we’ll enjoy a delicious group lunch.
We’re working on a special treat for this day, which might substitute for our next destination, Ollantaytambo, with its Inca ruins and terraces, originally used as storehouses for times of famine. After our group dinner, we will board a train to Aguas Calientes village, at the base of Machu Picchu. Night in Aguas Calientes.
Day 5: Machu Picchu
Today will be a chance for our group to divide into the early risers and those who would prefer to sleep in a tad more. For those wishing, we’ll catch a 5:30 a.m. bus for the short ride up to Machu Picchu to observe the sunrise over the Andes and photograph the ruins in the beautiful dawn golden hour. After this leisure session, those sleeping in will join the others for a guided tour of the ruins, with English-language interpretation from our wonderful local guide, with plenty of time for photos at every location. For those wishing to get in some leg-burning exercise, we will offer the option to climb to Machu Picchu Mountain, high above the ruins, and appreciate a spectacular 360-degree panorama of three 6000m mountain ranges, Machu Picchu, and the edge of the Amazon jungle below. Moderate fitness is required for this option, and although very safe, it is not recommended for those afraid of heights. Please tell us in advance, as this option requires advance purchase of a separate entry fee, not available on the day of the visit.
Box lunch at the ruins.
We will then bus back to Aguas Calientes village to catch our afternoon train back to Ollantaytambo, where we’ll enjoy our group dinner and spend the night. Photo review session tonight, time permitting.
Day 6: Qoylluri’ti Festival
Today is the centerpiece of our trip, and while it will be a very long day, the sacrifice will be well worth it. We will rise at 4:00a.m. for a 5:00 departure in our private bus to the Cordillera Vilcanota, stopping along the way to photograph the incredible views of the towering Ausangate Mountain. If possible, we will stop in the village of Ocongate or Tinqui to photograph the traditionally dressed locals, whose clothing will be very different from that we’ll see in other regions.
After approximately 4 hours, we’ll arrive in the village of Mawallani, where we will have coffee and/or coca tea to brace ourselves for the 10km, smooth horseback ride that awaits us up to the Qoylluri’ti Festival, held at an altitude of 4500m. During the ascent, we’ll pass and be passed by fascinating locals, many of whom will enjoy having their picture taken by a group of mounted gringos. We’ll spend approximately 3 hours at the festival, walking together as a single group or two smaller groups, with translations and interpretations along the way by Jonathan and our local guide. The photographic opportunities cannot be seen anywhere else in the world, nor at any other time than during this festival.
In the early afternoon, we’ll ride, or walk if preferred, back down to our waiting bus, where a hot dinner will be waiting for us in a warm dining tent. Those wishing to descend early will be able to do so. Approximately 4 hours drive back to Cusco.
Day 7: Cusco-Puno
8:00 a.m. departure in our private bus to Puno, stopping in the charming village of Andahuaylillas, home to one of Peru’s oldest Catholic cathedrals, whose ornate gold-painted walls have earned it the moniker “Sistine Chapel of the Andes.” Continuing our journey over the Peruvian Altiplano, we’ll stop in to explore the ruins at Raqsha, where the Incas built upon constructions from previous cultures. From there, we’ll travel on to the fascinating village of Pucaran to observe the traditional fabrication of roofing tiles and photograph the colorful natives. Lunch along the way in Sicuani. We will finish our day at our hotel in Puno, along the shores of Lake Titicaca. Photo review session, time permitting.
Day 8: Lake Titicaca
8:00 a.m. departure on our private boat to the island of Urus, constructed entirely out of floating native reeds, called totora. From Urus we’ll continue to Amantani Island, where we’ll enjoy a traditional Andean lunch prepared by our local host families, then have the afternoon free to explore the small island. The island’s highpoint offers a tremendous 360-degree view all the way to Bolivia, with great opportunities to photograph the golden hour hitting the glaciated peaks of the Cordilleras Apolobamba and Real. At night, after dinner and a display of traditional dance by our host families, those feeling up to braving the cold can join us for long-exposure mini-workshop of the Andean night sky.
Day 9: Lake Titicaca - Taquile - Puno
After breakfast and some free exploration time in the morning, we’ll board our private boat for the short journey to the island of Taquile, where we’ll meet more locals and enjoy a traditional lunch, then board our boat for an early afternoon arrival back in Puno. Photo review session, time permitting.
Day 10: Puno - Sillustani - Lima
Today again will provide an opportunity for early risers, or those who may have missed the sunrise on Amantani, to join Jonathan for a pre-dawn walk to a lookout above Puno to try to capture the sunrise over that city, Lake Titicaca, and the Bolivian Andes. For those who wish to sleep in, we’ll enjoy a leisurely breakfast prior to our 10:00 a.m. departure for the Sillustani Ruins, which are unique in appearance and offer another great photo opportunity in contrast to the stark altiplano. We’ll then enjoy lunch before boarding our group flight back to Lima, where we’ll transfer together to our group hotel and enjoy a farewell dinner, with the chance to share our best shots with each other one final time.
Day 11 - Lima - International Departure
Following the included breakfast, the rest of this day is dedicated to flying home. We will assist with private airport transfers according to your schedule.
Trip cost $3,950pp includes:
Hotel accommodation (9 nights) in 4 to 5-star hotels.
One night accommodation in comfortable and clean home-stay in Amantani Island
All meals except on day 1, dinner on day 3 and lunch and dinner on day 11.
All road, rail, horse, air and water transportation within Peru.
Entry fees to all sights visited.
Tips for local Peruvian guides, drivers, cooks, horse wranglers and boat captains.
Group and informal individual photography instruction and photo review by Matt Granger and Jonathan Stewart, includes pre-trip consultations on gear selection.
Trip cost DOES NOT include:
International Airfares (You need to get to & from Lima)
Mandatory travel insurance
Dinners on days 1,3, and 11
Lunch on day 11
Excess baggage on domestic flights (23kg limit)
Single supplement ($700)
Shopping and extras.
$3,950 - $200 deposit via paypal below required to secure your place. Compare our itinerary, inclusions and price - this is a very well priced package.
1 place remaining! Group strictly limited to 12 participants, don't miss out!
While this trip is cultural in nature, and designed to accommodate travelers of differing fitness levels, we will be reaching altitudes in excess of 4500 meters, or nearly 15,000 feet, as this is where the festival takes place. Travelers are strongly encouraged to consult with their doctor prior to this undertaking to ensure they are fit enough to embark on such a journey, and to make any medically necessary preparations in anticipation of the trip.
While the trip is geared towards photographers, all are welcome, as there will be much to see and do beyond taking pictures. Aside from Machu Picchu, where we will slowly walk up and down stairs from site to site, the trip will be of a low exertion level. For those who wish to exercise, there will be options to hike up Machu Picchu Mountain, to walk around the islands on Lake Titicaca, and to hike up to a viewpoint above Puno.