Q. I am fast approaching my 40th birthday and want to mark it with the definitive South American adventure with my husband. We plan to spend four weeks there from mid-February and do some serious hiking, too. How can we make the most of our time? Name withheld
A. For the "definitive" trip, start in the amiable city of Santiago. Make a side-trip from the Chilean capital to its colourful port, Valparaíso. Then go north to the Atacama Desert – contender for driest location in the world and an astonishing place to explore.
Cross the border into Bolivia. Pause for a day in the contrasting and fascinating cities of Potosi and Sucre. Then travel overland to La Paz, the highest capital in the western world. You should be acclimatising nicely, which will help when you cross the border at Lake Titicaca into Peru. This is the highest navigable lake in the world; make an excursion from the city of Puno out to the islands.
Another full travelling day takes you to Cusco, the Inca capital. From a traveller's point of view, the most significant bequest from the Inca Empire is known as the Inca Trail, which begins outside Cusco. While March is not the optimum month, because of the likelihood of rain, it is drier than February. The three- or four-day hike along the trail is tough but rewarding, and the culmination at Machu Picchu will be the climax of your trip. From here, it is mostly downhill to the capital, Lima. Spend a day or two in the Peruvian capital before your flight home.
Ask a specialist agent to make all the arrangements – in particular, the Inca Trail component. On a trip to mark a milestone in life, it is worth paying a little more for expertise and reassurance.