South America: Andes & Amazon Semester, Sample Itinerary

This is a sample itinerary. No two Dragons courses are the same. Every itinerary considers the unique strengths of the instructor team and interests of the student group.
Week 1 We arrive in the dramatic El Alto International airport, at 13,300 feet the highest international airport in the world. We are greeted by stunning snow-capped peaks and the bustling city of La Paz. Together we travel to our orientation site in the Yungas, a semi-tropical cloud forest situated at a much lower altitude than La Paz. Here we begin to acclimatize, take in our beautiful surroundings, and get to know each other as a group. During orientation students develop important skills for navigating a new culture and the places we’ll visit, while setting goals and expectations for the semester. A hike to the nearby Mt. Uchumachi provides stunning views of the Yungas valley and a chance to begin to hone our hiking skills!
Upon completing orientation, we travel back to La Paz and on to the city of Sucre. We explore this charming colonial capital while preparing for our first trek in the Cordillera de los Frailes. Our days in Sucre are filled with a scavenger hunt to test our navigation skills, exposure to the rich Quechua cultural foundation in the region, and collaboration with our trekking partner, Condor Trekkers.
Week 2 Setting out for the mountains, we depart for our first trek in the Frailes range outside of Sucre. We backpack through this unique landscape for four days, passing through cave paintings, a dramatic crater, dinosaur footprints, and several Quechua communities known for their brilliantly imaginative weavings. Along the way, we will develop our trekking skills and further come together as a group.
Upon completing our trek we travel to Potosí, site of the infamous Cerro Rico which single-handedly financed the Spanish Empire for centuries and contains one of the most tragic stories of abuse of indigenous cultures in the Americas. Today it is Bolivia’s poorest region and the still active mines give insight into resource extraction and environmental issues. Here we will partner with Connatsop, a union of child workers, and visit one of the many still-active mines in the region.
Week 3 Heading further south, we travel to Uyuni, site of the largest salt flats on the planet. We spend four days exploring this dramatic wonderland, taking in breathtaking views of the Salar and surrounding National Park. A day hike takes us to the top of Mt. Tunupa, the multi-colored volcano that overlooks the Salt Flats. We sleep in rugged hotels made of salt, visit geysers and lagoons populated by endemic flamingoes, and soak in mineral hot springs. Home to the largest lithium deposits on the planet, we also delve further into resource issues in the region, exploring mining activity and its impact on traditional quinoa production.
Weeks 4-6 Traveling overland to the city of Cochabamba, we begin our extended homestay in the semi-rural community of Tiquipaya. Here we will settle into a routine, getting to know a local family intimately and immersing ourselves in this rural way of life. Students develop an independent study topic of their choice, with potential topics including weaving, Andean music and dance, medicinal plants and healing, socio-political issues, traditional agriculture, and Bolivian cooking. Our time here will be defined by 16-20 hours of Spanish instruction per week, meetings with local activists and community partners, and time with homestay families. Our Program House, situated on an organic farm in the Tiquipaya countryside, provides a welcoming space for group gatherings and exposure to local agricultural practices.
During our second and third weeks, students will deepen their leadership skills and take a more active role in group planning and logistics. They further delve into issues in socio-political mobilization, indigenous rights and representation, development, and US-Bolivian relations. A weekend excursion takes us to the summit of Mt. Tunari, the highest peak in the department of Cochabamba. We close out our time in Tiquipaya with a community potluck with homestay families and other friends.
Week 7 Bidding farewell to our community in Cochabamba, we travel back to the dramatic city of La Paz. Taking in this bustling city, we prepare for our next trek in the Cordillera Real range. Here we collaborate with Teatro Trono, a well-known theater and activist group, and meet with local organizations and intellectuals.
Week 8 From the mountain town of Sorata we will depart for an extended trek traversing the glaciated peaks around sacred Mt. Illampu before descending into montane forest and eventually the Amazonian tropics. Along the way we explore issues in conservation and land use in an area that is rapidly being transformed by encroaching gold miners, and observe the dramatic ecological transition between highland peaks and tropical lowland forests.
Week 9 Finishing our trek in the tropical frontier town of Guanay, we continue deeper into lush Amazonian forests. We descend the Beni River by canoe to the Pilon Lajas indigenous preserve, with stops to visit waterfalls, look for wildlife, hike through the jungle, and learn about rubber tapping and other nuances of the forest. Arriving by boat to the community of Asunción de Quiquibey, we spend several days living with families in this traditional indigenous village. Settling into the rhythm of the community, we study rainforest ecology while participating in a service project with community members. Our time here will be highlighted by soccer games with our hosts, workshops in local farming and artisanry, and trips to the river to cool off.
Week 10 Bidding farewell to Bolivia, we travel overland around Lake Titicaca to Peru. We arrive in the Quechua town of Ocongate, gateway to some of the best hiking in the Peruvian Andes. Over the next week we explore the magical Ausangate/ Q’eros region, trekking from high, glaciated peaks down into semi-tropical cloud forests. We possibly participate in homestays in the remote village of Quico Chico, a settlement of stone huts accessible only by foot where the Q’eros people trace their lineage directly back to the Inca. From there we continue on to Ausangate, one of the most sacred mountains in the Andes.
Week 11 Traveling to Cusco, we take in this historic city while preparing for our excursion to Machu Picchu. Options include the Salkantay or Choquequirao treks, or homestays along the way in the agriculturally rich communities of Parque de la Papa. We will close out our journey in the sacred lost ruins of the Inca, camping at the base of Machu Picchu and hiking up to the gateway of this dramatic site at dawn.
Week 12 Closing out our time together, we spend our final days at a retreat center in the Sacred Valley. Here we reflect on our journey, celebrate our time together, and prepare for the transition back home. The student flight departs from the city of Cusco.