Peru & the Amazon High School Expedition

From Andean peaks steeped in Inca lore to the lush Amazon rain forest, Peru is a country of diverse wonders. In the heart of the ancient Inca Empire, immerse yourself in the colorful culture of the Peruvian highlands, and venture into incredibly sophisticated temples and fortresses, including magnificent Machu Picchu. Then travel deep into the Peruvian Amazon and discover jungles brimming with extreme biodiversity.

June 29 - July 17, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged group flights from Miami to Lima, Lima to Cusco, Cusco to Lima, and Lima to Miami.

Trip Highlights

  • Follow Inca trails to secluded stone villages, and see how the empire’s traditions and infrastructure live on in communities set amid ancient ruins.
  • Go on a thrilling white-water rafting trip through the Sacred Valley of the Inca, and glide along misty jungle waterways deep into the heart of the Amazon.
  • Visit National Geographic grantee Nilda Callañaupa’s textile center to meet Andean weavers for a lesson in making traditional dyes, then try your hand at the loom.
  • Practice wildlife photography on curious monkeys, giant anteaters, and a colorful kaleidoscope of birds and butterflies in the Amazon rainforest.

Itinerary | 18 days

Days 1-2

We begin in the vibrant city of Lima. From our base in the trendy Miraflores neighborhood, explore the city’s golden coastline, leafy parks, and colonial buildings. Visit Museo Larco, the world-famous archaeological museum that houses a vast collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. Dive into your On Assignment projects.

View Images


Days 3-7

Travel from Lima to the Sacred Valley of the Inca and settle in at Ollantaytambo. With its cobblestoned lanes and sophisticated system of working aqueducts, Ollantaytambo is the best existing example of Inca city planning. Follow ancient Inca trails to isolated stone villages where families live as they have for centuries. Hike through a mountain pass for breathtaking views of the valley, and practice landscape photography using the surrounding Andean peaks as a backdrop. Discover the Inca agricultural terraces of Moray, and visit Maras, where salt-evaporation ponds created by the Inca are stacked up the hillside. In vibrant street markets, encounter indigenous foods, colorful textile patterns, and local dialects passed down through many generations, and play soccer with local students.

Pull Quote
This program was life-changing. I really enjoyed meeting locals, partaking in a spiritual ceremony, star gazing, exploring the jungle, and trying so many delicious dishes.
Emily B., student traveler, Peru 2018

Days 18-19

Travel by train through spectacular mountain scenery to the once-hidden citadel of Machu Picchu. Abandoned by the Inca for centuries, the site was rediscovered in 1911 by explorer Hiram Bingham and excavated with support from National Geographic. Capture a unique photographic angle on this iconic site, and then venture through the ancient temples and dwellings to unlock their mysteries. Take an early morning hike up a nearby peak to watch the sun rise over the ruins before traveling back to Ollantaytambo by train.

Days 10-13

Arrive in Cusco, once the capital of the Inca Empire. Discover the city’s rich history, visiting the temple of Coricancha and the colonial cathedral. Stroll the city’s winding streets and photograph the relics of an empire long gone but not forgotten. Then explore the colossal fortress of Sacsayhuaman, site of one of the bloodiest battles in the Spanish conquest. Spend a day in the village of Chinchero, and visit National Geographic grantee Nilda Callañaupa’s textile center. Try your hand at the ancient art of Andean weaving, a tradition that continues today thanks to Nilda’s efforts.

View Images

Days 14-17

Leave the Sacred Valley behind and travel by private bus deep into the Peruvian Amazon, stopping along the way at magnificent pre-Inca ruins near the colonial outpost of Paucartambo. Board a boat at Atalaya and cruise even deeper into the rainforest, on the lookout for monkeys, giant anteaters, tapirs, ocelots, armadillos, peccaries, caimans, and the numerous bird species that inhabit Manú National Park. Meet and interview members of the Matsigenka Amazonian tribal nation, learning how they have adapted to live in harmony with their unique environment.

Days 18-19

Return to Cusco to put the final touches on your On Assignment project and present your findings to the group. Cap off your experience with a celebration on your final night.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
We will be traveling at high elevations while in Cusco and Machu Picchu. Cusco is at an elevation of 11,200 feet, and Machu Picchu, 8,000 feet. Participants should be physically fit.
We will stay in small, family-run inns and hostels throughout the expedition.

Holly Wissler, Ethnomusicologist

Meet Our Experts

Delve into Peruvian culture with ethnomusicologist Holly Wissler, who specializes in the musical rituals of Peru's Andean Q'eros and Amazonian Wachiperi indigenous groups. Based in Cusco and Austin, Texas, Holly works with these indigenous communities to preserve their culture and traditions, and is a guest lecturer for National Geographic and a number of U.S. university study abroad programs. She has produced documentaries about the largest pilgrimage festival in the Peruvian Andes and the Q'eros' musical rituals, and presented a small group of Wachiperi representatives at the 2015 Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Holly is fluent in Spanish and Quechua, the main indigenous language spoken in the Andes, and is conversant in both American and Peruvian Sign Languages. Holly is a classical flutist, and plays a number of traditional Andean instruments as well. Holly is currently working on her latest documentary, which advocates deaf rights in Peru. She lectures at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas State University. Holly will join the group in Ollantaytambo.

On Assignment Projects

Create a series of photo-essays that captures the many sides of Peru. Set out into the Sacred Valley with your team to photograph campesinos in traditional garb, old stone villages, and bustling markets, and get a fresh angle on the iconic Inca citadel of Machu Picchu. Practice wildlife shots in the Amazon, zooming in on scarlet macaws and conveying movement in frolicking monkeys. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Examine Inca and Amazonian cultures past and present. Learn about the iconic boulder masonry of the Inca and the preservation of ancient ruins, and reconstruct Machu Picchu during its heyday through writings or sketches. Meet indigenous people, and discuss how their age-old customs and beliefs are adapting to modern influences like technology, climate change, and land development.