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.


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 vendors.

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 smoothly.

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 temple.

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 Copacabana.)

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 in Puno.

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 en route.

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 Adventurers.

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: Hotel Picoaga.

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 world!

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 is dramatic!

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.

                        RECOMMENDED READINGS:

        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.,
             195 p.
        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.