The Andes form the backbone of the South American continent stretching from Colombia right down to the furthest reaches of Patagonia, trailing into the ocean at Cape Horn. They are an ever-present backdrop to South America’s most breath-taking and truly unique natural landscapes.
Embark on an extraordinary journey through the highest reaches of the Andes from Peru through Bolivia and into Chile where traditional communities still retain their original culture, traditions and customs amid some awe-inspiring volcanic peaks.
Step away from the well-worn tourist trail to absorb my favourite panoramas in the company only of condors and alpaca. You will feel like you could touch the sky in one of the most stunning mountain ranges on the planet.
Journey first to Peru (which now finally has a direct flight from the UK, and to San Jose in Costa Rica) to head south to Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Now, whilst Machu Picchu may be rather busy for some, it does remain one of the most iconic and truly impressive Inca citadels in the country and should not be missed.
However I suggest you combine this with other smaller Incan sites in the Sacred Valley region, with some unique activities from paddle-boarding on Lake Huaypo with lunch cooked underground, cycling among tiny villages to local salt terraces and a chance to chat to a local weaving community that we support directly.
But for a rare opportunity to really understand more about the local communities that eke out a living in the Andes, as well as enjoy some dramatic mountain landscapes, then take a few days to trek in the Apu Ausangate region.
Journey on foot from one local lodge to the next, south of Cusco for a truly authentic local experience that few get to experience.
The Andean Explorer train service that links Cusco with Puno by Lake Titicaca is sadly due to stop running as of next March (perhaps to be replaced with a more luxurious version?).
However, the crowds generally head to the Peruvian side of this spectacular lake anyway at Puno so I prefer instead to fly to La Paz directly from Cusco to enjoy the much more tranquil and less visited side of Titicaca.
True, the accommodation is not so luxurious but this is a fascinating journey through the mysticism and traditions of the highest navigable lake in the world amid simply jaw-dropping vistas. Stay in a traditional eco-lodge on one of the islands, explore the dramatic site of Tiwanaku and meet the local shaman who can tell your fortune in the coca leaves.
Continue along the spine of the Andean peaks such as Illimani towards one of Latin America’s most spectacular natural phenomenon, as you cross the largest stretch of dazzlingly white salt flat in the world from Uyuni.
Geometric shapes in the salt crust stretch as far as the eye can see, interrupted only by one or two islands of giant cacti and framed by deepest blue skies and volcanic peaks.
A luxuriously renovated Airstream campervan can be your private dining room and bedroom out on the Salar for nights under the glittering stars.
As you wend further south, you will come across vivid high altitude red desert filled with curious rock formations and interspersed with lakes of vivid hue from deep red to emerald green and azure blue, where rare flamingo species flock.
Take a 4wd safari finally to a luxurious desert oasis in the Atacama Desert where the sunset colours the peaks behind a fiery red.
This coming year, for the first time, you can end your epic Andean adventure with a stunning balloon ride over the Atacama Desert. Then you head for home from Chile, perhaps stopping to stay in a gourmet luxury wine lodge in the Central Valley first.
From January 2017 BA will add a direct flight from London to Santiago de Chile, giving you the wonderful opportunity to book a spectacularly epic Andes journey with the chance to take advantage of direct flights both outbound and inbound as of early next year!