PERU and BOLIVIA:
CULTURAL ADVENTURE TRAVEL IN THE INCA EMPIRE
Machu Picchu, the "Lost City of the Incas"
To start 2002 in a spectacular fashion Rutahsa Adventures is organizing a
trip across the heart of the Inca Empire, beginning in Bolivia with a visit
to Lake Titikaka, legendary birthplace of the first Inca, and continuing on
to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu. A trek of the famed Inca
Trail will be offered as an extension to the main trip.
This trip is being offered by Rutahsa Adventures exclusively for the
Appalachian Mountain Club.
HERE'S THE ITINERARY:
DAY 1, Friday, 3/29: Fly US to La Paz, Bolivia (LPB); arriving around
7 AM Saturday.
DAY 2, Saturday, 3/30: Morning: Arrive in La Paz, at one of the world's
highest airports, over 4050 m (13,300 feet) above sea level. During the
transfer from the airport to our hotel we drop about 1500 feet, and get our
first views of La Paz, sprawling throughout a
valley below the plateau on which we landed, with snow-crowned Illimani
towering on the distant skyline. We will proceed directly to the Residencial
Rosario, a pleasant 3-star hotel with a good restaurant, to rest, sip some coca
tea, and begin to acclimate to the altitude. It is highly advisable to take it
easy upon arrival to avoid soroche, altitude sickness.
Afternoon: La Paz, population approaching a million, is the de facto capital
of Bolivia, which is to say that although the much smaller city of Sucre to the
south is the legal capital of the republic, most of the government offices are
located here in La Paz, and most government business is done here. We will get
oriented in La Paz by visiting a small park overlooking much of the city,
visit the Plaza Murillo with its government palaces and cathedral, and then set
out on foot to explore the incredible market complex near our hotel. Here
block after block of shops, booths, and street vendors offer an amazing and
bewildering array of goods ranging from wonderful woven goods of alpaca and
llama wool, musical instruments, antiques, foodstuffs, hardware, and all the
items a well-supplied brujo (witch doctor) might need, including herbs,
potions, and dried llama fetuses. You can even buy fake fossils from street
For supper we'll visit a peña, where Andean musicians sing and
play folksongs featuring panpipes, charango, quena and other
traditional instruments. This special welcome supper and cultural experience
is included in the tour cost.
DAY 3, Sunday, 3/31: In the morning we'll drive about an hour north to
the impressive pre-Incan ruins of Tiwanaku. This site is famous for its monolithic gateways and
giant idols. Tiwanaku was the capital of what some archeologists believe to
have been the longest surviving empire of all the precolumbian Andean
civilizations, flourishing for over a thousand years. Later Inca rulers are
said to have visited Tiwanaku and been inspired by its monumental ruins.
Afternoon: Free time to continue exploring the amazing and seemingly endless
market area near our hotel.
DAY 4, Monday, 4/1: Lake Titikaka is our goal, and the Island of the Sun
our very special thrill today. We take a chartered bus north from La Paz to a
small port town to board the modern catamaran that will transport us in style
across the beautiful and grand lake to Isla del Sol, legendary
birthplace of Manco Capac, the first Inca and his sister-consort, Mama Ocllo.
You can watch the scenery glide by from a sun deck atop the vessel, or from
within the main salon through picture windows while sipping a cocktail.
Breakfast will be served shortly after getting under way, and a fine buffet
lunch will be served later in the cruise. Titikaka, famous as the world's
highest regularly navigated lake at 3856 m (12,651 ft), is stunning, and you
will be amazed at the extent of ancient agricultural terracing evident on the
hillsides all around the lake.
After a leisurely cruise of several hours, we will dock at the Isla del
Sol (Island of the Sun), to climb a flight of Inca steps, passing by a
sacred spring, to visit the Inti Wata Cultural Complex, a very well-done
visitors center owned by the same company that operates the catamaran. The
complex features an excellent small museum, totora reed boat building
demonstrations and (sometimes) native dance demonstrations. There are gardens
of native crops and flowering plants, and an opportunity to see llamas,
alpacas, a vicuña, and even a guanaco
(the rarest of the four Andean cameloids) up close. Most importantly,
and dramatically, an Aymara shaman will
ceremoniously bless us to ensure that our trip on to Peru will continue
Upon leaving the visitors' complex we will cruise around to the north side of
the island to the village of Challapampa to go ashore again. The villagers of
Challapampa welcome visitors to enter their school, chapel, and even into their
homes. They have created a small museum for the benefit of foreign visitors,
and often put on folkloric demonstrations. We will also have time at
Challapampa to go for a short hike along Inca trails to the ruins of an Inca
Once back aboard our catamaran we will have supper in the salon, served by
candlelight. After supper, if the weather is favorable, sitting and conversing
in fresh air and moonlight on the upper deck will be a pleasant past time
before going to bed in our cabins below decks.
DAY 5, Tuesday, 4/2:We'll get under way early today, to cruise on to
Copacabana, probably arriving there not long after we finish our breakfast.
Copacabana, seen here in the rosy glow of
twilight, is more than just a charming lakeside resort town. It is the
site of Bolivia's most important religious shrine, an impressive
Moorish-style cathedral built in 1610-1620.
Many miracles have been attributed to the a black wooden statue of Mary, known
as the Dark Virgin of Candelaria or Copacabana, and housed in this great
church. Although many pilgrimages are made to Copacabana for many reasons,
one of the more unusual practices is for the owners of newly purchased
automobiles to bring their vehicles here to be blessed by a priest and then
showered with champagne. (We will visit this shrine on a walking tour of
After lunch we will board a private bus and head north a few
kilometers to cross the border into neighboring Peru and then drive on up the
west side of Lake Titikaka to the Peruvian port town of Puno to spend our
first night in Peru in the Hotel Qelqatani. En route we'll have great vistas
of the lake, and we'll visit the interesting remains of an Incan
fertility temple at Chucuito, as well as
the colonial church of Pomata with its wonderful red sandstone carvings.
DAY 6, Wednesday, 4/3: In the morning we will visit some of the
historic ships of Lake Titikaka, including the SS Yavari (on the left in the photo). The Yavari was
built in England in some 2500 pieces that were packed up and over the Andes,
assembled, and launched on Titicaca in 1867! Originally steam-powered
(designed to burn llama dung!), she was converted to semi-diesel in 1913. She
is now being restored and we will go aboard. Lying next to the Yavari
is the SS Ollanta, originally a plush passenger steamer launched on the
lake in the 1930s; today she belongs to the Peruvian Navy.
After our lesson in ship history we will boat out to the floating islands
inhabited by the Uros people. This small group of indigenous people live on
artificial islands made of floating mats of
totora reeds. The community even has its own schools on one of the
islands. As a part of our glimpse of this amazing
living space and lifestyle, we will see --and perhaps take a ride on-- the
traditional reed boats. Be sure to carry some fresh fruits with you to give
the Uros children-- a real treat for them.
After lunch in Puno we will drive to the eerie archeological site of
Sillustani. Here a pre-Incan society built impressive stone funerary towers
known as chullpas on a mesa
overlooking an other-worldly landscape. Second night in the Hotel Qelqatani
DAY 7, Thursday, 4/4: Today we board another comfortable chartered bus
to head northwest towards Cusco. The highway takes us along the northern
shore of Lake Titikaka for a farewell vista, then to Juliaca, and on across the
altiplano, and finally up through a high Andean valley, to cross a divide and
start down the Cusco side. We can expect to see herds of llamas and alpacas
About halfway to Cusco we reach the small city of Sicuani, where we'll
overnight at the rustic Centro Vacacional. But first we'll roll on past
Sicuani for a short 20 km to visit the fascinating Inca ruins of Raqchi, where
the imposing remains of a Temple to Viracocha,
the creator of the world in the Inca theology, stand amid a complex of
storehouses, barracks-like buildings, and other constructions along the margins
of a lava flow.
DAY 8, Friday, 4/5: After breakfast we board our bus again and head
for a place seldom seen by outsiders, and which will surely prove one of
the most memorable of many memorable experiences on our trip: the last
authentic Inca suspension bridge. BTW, getting there is at least half the fun as our road winds through the high
country, passing Quechua villages, patchworks of wheat and potatoes, and flocks
of sheep and llamas. We can expect some friendly encounters and cultural
exchanges along the way, such as this Quechua
girl sharing delicious freshly boiled papas with a group of Rutahsa
The suspension bridge, known as a keshwa
chaca, is made of straw and must be renewed every year or two. The
rebuilding is a three-day community project, generally performed each June.
Made known to the outside world by explorer/author Loren McIntyre (see
McIntyre's fascinating article in the Dec. 1973 issue of National Geographic)
this bridge is believed to be the last remaining Inca straw suspension bridge
that has been continuously rebuilt and used since Inca times. Provided the
bridge gets rebuilt as usual in June of 2001, it should be in good enough
condition to be crossable for those
brave enough to trust a straw span 60 feet above the swift Apurimac River.
A special part of our plan today is a visit to one of the two villages
responsible for the rebuilding of the suspension bridge. Here we will make a
donation of schools supplies to the village president and local teacher.
This is our way of saying "thanks" to the villagers for maintaining their
ancient custom of straw bridge building-- which has been abandoned everywhere
else in Peru. This village visit also proved to be a very rewarding experience
to participants in Rutahsa's 2001 Peru trip. Not only were we treated like
visiting royalty, but several of the villagers donned their finest fiesta dress
and accompanied us to the bridge.
After a picnic lunch by the bridge and dramatic river gorge, we head on north
to Cusco. If time permits, we will stop en route at the wonderful colonial
church of Andahuaylillas and, possibly, the pre-Inca site of Pikillacta.
In Cusco our hotel with be the Hotel Picoaga, which occupies a 16th-century
Spaniard's mansion. To preview our digs in Cusco, visit the Picoaga's
website, then use your "back" button to return to this trip description:
DAY 9, Saturday, 4/6: Our morning starts with a very short bus ride up
into the hills above Cusco to visit the four nearby ruins of Tambomachay (the
Bath of the Inca), Puca Pucara (the Red Fortress), Qenco (an extremely weird
huaca or sacred place), and finally the mighty Sacsahuaman fortress overlooking Cusco. This amazing work is built
of truly cyclopean stones fitted together
with inexplicable precision. Unquestionably, it is one of the wonders of the
Our next pleasant task is getting acquainted with Cusco, the "Navel of the World", seat of the Inca Empire. We'll
descend from the fortress back to the city for lunch, then set out to explore.
The Plaza de Armas (just four short
blocks from our hotel), the Cathedral, the Temple of the Sun, and many other
important sites are on our afternoon walking tour. You will see the
world-famous "Twelve Cornered Stone" and
marvel at original Inca walls and doorways. The stonework lives up to and
exceeds everyone's expectations--it is absolutely marvelous.
DAY 10, Sunday, 4/7: Optional activities today: Those who have fallen
in love with Cusco can have a free day to explore this city on their own.
Yesterday's get-acquainted tour just scratched the surface, and there is so
much more to see: churches, museums, the market, etc. But those who want to
see more of the Peruvian countryside and a smaller Quechua town will arise
early to travel to Paucartambo, some 115 kilometers (4 hours one way) from
Cusco, over a somewhat exciting mountain road that is open to two-way traffic
only on Sundays! The road is not without its hazards --mainly due to
landslides-- in the wet season, and there won't be a lot of time to visit
Paucartambo when we get there: this day trip is mainly for the drive, which
DAY 11, Monday, 4/8: We leave Cusco today headed for the Sacred Valley,
by way of Moray and Chinchero and a stimulating hike!
Moray is an enigmatic Inca site where giant natural sinkholes have been
converted by the Inca into terraced agricultural
sites. Some archeologists believe these sinkhole-farms served as an
agricultural experimental station, where Inca cultivators took advantage of
microclimates provided by different elevations in the sinkholes. Today the
site is favored by seekers of the mystic who come here to meditate. We can
meditate too as we eat our picnic lunch.
At Chinchero, we will visit an important colonial church with wonderful frescoes, built atop the ruins of an
Inca fort or palace. The drive to Chinchero is across a beautiful patchwork
agricultural panorama, with snow-capped Andean
peaks as a backdrop.
From Chinchero we will hike several miles --downhill-- past Inca huacas
(sacred places) in the form of mysteriously worked rock outcrops with seats,
stairways, and inexplicable carvings, down into the Sacred Valley, where our
bus will be awaiting us. The hike is optional, and anyone preferring to ride
on the bus may do so.
Our bus driver will pick us up in the Sacred Valley and take us to the
Posada del Inca, a wonderful hotel occupying
the site of a former monastery, and located right in the heart of the Sacred Valley. To see what the Posada del Inca
is like, you can visit their website (but don't fail to hit your "back" button
to return to this trip description!):
Posada del Inca.
DAY 12, Tuesday, 4/9: In the morning we will explore the Inca
fortress-temple of Ollantaytambo. This
site was actually still under construction
when the Conquistadors arrived, and today's ruins preserve evidence of the
construction techniques. In addition to the impressive ruins, the living town
of Ollantaytambo is very special: it retains its original Inca civic planning
layout of canchas, a grid of narrow cobbled streets separating
walled blocks with interior courts.
We will visit a home in one of the canchas to get a glimpse of Quechua
homelife, replete with the household guinea pigs underfoot. Our overnight will
be at the Posada del Inca again. Ollantaytambo is also a good place to see
traditional Andean costume still being worn,
and hand-loomed ponchos and other textiles may be purchased here.
After a fine buffet lunch in a lovely hotel in the town of Urubamba, we will
drive to the opposite end of the Sacred Valley to visit the citadel of
Pisac, with its stupendous andenes
(agricultural terraces) still in use today, its fortified dwelling areas and the remains of its
temple complex. The site sprawls along a
steep narrow ridge and hiking the interconnecting trails, steps and tunnels
from one sector to another will convince you of one thing: the Inca people
did not sleepwalk!
DAY 13, Wednesday, 4/10: This morning we board the narrow-gauge train
that will trundle us down the Urubamba River gorge to Machu Picchu, the legendary
"Lost City of the Incas", one of the world's
premier archeological sites, one of those exceedingly rare places where the
works of nature and man combine to create a place of transcendental mystic
beauty. Our train arrives in the town of Aguas Calientes by mid-morning, and
after checking into the Machu Picchu Inn it's up the zig-zag road to the
sacred citadel for a guided introduction to the site.
DAYS 14 & 15, Thursday and Friday, 4/11 & 12: Two full days at Machu
Picchu! In addition to getting to know the intricacies of
Machu Picchu proper-- its residential areas,
its fountains, temples, amazing agricultural terraces, and a thousand
intriguing nooks and crannies, there are numerous hikes that lead to wonderful
places: climb up Huayna Picchu for a breath-taking (literally) view of
Machu Picchu far below; the really ambitious
can take a seldom-traveled trail from the peak of Huayna Picchu down the
backside to the Temple of the Moon, then return to Machu Picchu by a different
trail around the flanks of Huayna Picchu; a much less strenuous trail leads
to the Inca drawbridge; you can hike along
part of the famed Inca Trail to the Inti-Punku ("Sun Gate"); you can even
hike directly out of Aguas Calientes up to Putukusi peak for a vista of Machu
Picchu that only a few travelers ever see. Bird watchers may want to stroll
along the railroad paralleling the river to look for cock-of-the-rocks and
other exotic feathered friends. Orchid fanciers may want to visit the Machu
Picchu Pueblo Hotel and take their guided orchid walk. So many options--
That's why we are spending two days here!
On Friday afternoon we will return to Cusco by train and take up our lodgings
at the Hotel Picoaga for a final night in Cusco.
DAY 16, Saturday, 4/13: Fly from Cusco to Lima, arriving mid-morning
(flight ticket is included in the cost of the excursion). We'll check into
the Posada del Inca Miraflores, a modern hotel, just a few blocks from the
Pacific, in Lima's toney Miraflores district. For a preview of our hotel,
click here: Posada del Inca Miraflores, but don't forget to use your "back"
button to return to this itinerary.
After lunch, we go on a Lima city tour. Our tour of Peru's capital city
climaxes with the world-renowned Gold Museum, a private collection of
precolumbian artifacts that includes much more than vast holdings of gold:
ceramics, textiles, war implements, and more. Admission to the Gold Museum
also includes admission to a large arms collection, amazing in its own right.
Unfortunately, all good things must eventually conclude, and so our Inca
Empire Adventure winds down as we prepare to board our return flights to the
US, leaving out of Lima tonight or in the morning.
DAY 17, Sunday, 4/14: Those who did not fly out late last night will
go to Lima airport this morning to board return flights home, carrying a
million memories of unforgettable wonders seen, new friends made, and the
determination to return someday to Bolivia and Peru.
INCA TRAIL TREKKING OPTION: Hale and hearty adventurers
with good hiking legs may want to enjoy one of the world's greatest trekking
experiences: the Inca Trail. A four-day Inca Trail trek can be arranged as an
extension to the Inca Empire Adventure. Interested parties should enquire
about the schedule and cost. This trek option includes bilingual professional
guide, meals, cook, porters, all necessary camping equipment.
The itinerary for the Inca Trail trek is as follows: Day 1: Leave
Cusco in morning; short visit at Ollantaytambo fortress; then on to
trailhead to commence trek; camp near Llactapata ruins. Day 2: Long uphill
hike towards Dead Woman Pass, stopping to camp for the night at
Llulluchapampa. Day 3: Cross Dead Woman Pass (over 13,000 ft) and
continue on to Phuyupatamarca to camp. Day 4: Hike into Machu
Picchu, via the Sun Gate, with a side trip to beautiful Wiñay Wayna ruin
en route; bus down to Machu Picchu Inn in Aguas Calientes.
For a detailed description of the Inca Trail, visit Rutahsa's
Hiking the Inca Trail website.
COST OF THE TRIP and HOW TO GET ABOARD: For cost information and making
reservations, please contact Kathy Didier of the Appalachian Mountain Club by
clicking here Kathy. Kathy
will provide you with the requested information and put you on the mailing
list for trip up-dates and developments.
Beltran, Miriam, 1970, Cuzco, Window on Peru, Second Ed. Revised:
New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 221 p.
Frost, Peter, 1989, Exploring Cusco: Lima, Nuevas Imagenes S. A.,
Frost, Peter, and Bartle, Jim, 1995, Machu Picchu Historical
Sanctuary: Lima, Nuevas Imagenes S. A., 64 p.
Hemming, John, 1981, Machu Picchu: New York, Newsweek Book
Division, 172 p.
Hemming, John, and Ranney, Edward, 1990, Monuments of the Incas,
Albuquerque, Univ. of New Mexico Press, 228 p.
Prescott, William H., 1882, History of the Conquest of Peru:
Philadelphia, J. B. Lippencott & Co., v. 1, 510 p., v. 2,
530 p. [Prescott's amazing work went through various
editions and printings, and should be available in major
Squier, E. George, 1877, PERU: Incidents of Travel and Exploration
in the Land of the Incas: New York, Henry Holt and Co., 599 p.
[A classic 19th-century travel work by an archeologist and
diplomat; originals scarce, but a modern reprint has been
Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.