PERU: CUSCO, MACHU PICCHU and the KESHWA
CULTURAL ADVENTURE IN THE INKA EMPIRE
The keshwa chaca, the Last Inka suspension bridge
For June 2006, Rutahsa Adventures is offering a trip across the heart of the
Inka Empire, featuring Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and, of course, mysterious
Machu Picchu. A trek of the famed Inka Trail will be offered as an extension to
the main itinerary. A very special feature of this excursion will be the
witnessing of the annual rebuilding of the last remaining Inka straw
HERE'S OUR ITINERARY:
DAY 1, Tues., June 6: AM: Fly into historic Lima, "The City of Kings".
You will be met at the airport and transferred to the Hotel Antigua, our
lodgings in the tony Miraflores section of the sprawling capital city. For a
preview of this very pleasant hotel, visit their website, then hit your "back"
button to return to this itinerary: Hotel Antigua
After lunch we'll board a private bus and enjoy a Lima city tour. We will pass
through some of the affluent, modern sections of the city and enter the old
city. Here we will visit the Plaza de Armas, where we will see the
impressive national government palace and the national cathedral. One of the
noteworthy features of Lima's colonial palaces is their ornate wooden balconies. We will visit the historic
San Francisco convent with its eerie catacombs.
DAY 2, Weds., June 7: After breakfast (included) at the Hotel Antigua we
will be taken to the Lima airport to board our flight to Cusco. Among other
things, this means going from very close to sea level to over 11,000 ft
elevation, and soroche or altitude sickness is something you have to be
wary of. You'll want to take it easy today, with no strenuous activities. So
we'll go from the Cusco airport directly to our Cusco hotel, check in, and rest
In Cusco, our home will be the Hotel Picoaga, which occupies a 16th-century
Spaniard's mansion. To preview our digs in Cusco, visit the Picoaga's
website, then return to this itinerary: Hotel Picoaga.
In the afternoon we'll start learning our way around Cusco with a guided walking tour of the capital and sacred center
of the Inka Empire, the very "Navel of the Earth". We'll visit the Plaza de Armas (just three short blocks
from our hotel), the cathedral (built over the ruins of one of the Inka
palaces), and also the Inka holy of holies, the Q'orikancha or Sun Temple.
We'll see the world-famous "Twelve Cornered
Stone", located in a wall of the Inka Roca's palace, which the
conquistadores rebuilt as the archbishop's palace. In fact, everywhere
we walk in the heart of Cusco the tragic conflict between the Inkas and the
conquering Spaniards is evident in the contrast between Inka architectural
remains and the colonial structures that sit atop them.
This evening we might want to eat together as a group, and if that's the case,
we can go to a restaurant which is built on the site of the Inka Pachacuti's
palace and features one of the original palace walls. Certainly not an
architectural treat you can get at just any old restaurant! [B]
DAY 3, Thurs., June 8: Our morning starts with an extensive buffet breakfast
at the Picoaga. Afterwards, we board our private bus for a short ride up into
the hills above Cusco to reach the four nearby ruins of Tambomachay (the Bath
of the Inka), Puka Pukara (the Red Fortress), Q'enko (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
After returning to Cusco, you will have the afternoon free to explore and visit
the many intriguing sites in this wonderful city. You will have your Cusco
Visitor's Ticket (included in the cost of the trip), which will allow you entry
to various sites not on the guided introductory tour. Second night in the
Hotel Picoaga. [B]
DAY 4, Fri., June 9: After another great breakfast at the Picoaga, we
board our bus and head south out of Cusco in the direction of the keshwa
chaca, a special place and something that makes Rutahsa Adventures' Peru
excursions very special indeed.
About two and a half hours out of Cusco we reach the small town of Combapata,
where we turn off the main highway and head up into a little-visited section of
the altiplano. About two hours driving on gravel roads that are
well-maintained, but which at times will still take your breath away, will bring us to the gorge of the upper
Río Apurimac (the "Mighty Speaker" in Quechua). Here, at a place seldom
seen by outsiders, hangs the last authentic Inka suspension bridge.
Known in Quechua as a keshwa chaca, the bridge is made of grass
and must be renewed every year. The rebuilding is a three-day community
project, performed the second weekend of 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 have
been continuously rebuilt and used since Inka times. And our visit is timed to
allow us to watch the bridge rebuilding, and to join in the fiesta on Sunday
celebrating its renewal. For a detailed description and numerous photos of this
remarkable piece of engineering and living history, visit our website keshwa chaca.
Yesterday was the first day of rebuilding the bridge --or, to put it more
accurately, building a completely new bridge to replace the weathered bridge
built a year ago. The day was dedicated to fabricating the four huge rope
cables that support the bridge, and the two smaller cables that make the hand
rails. All are made of qq'oya, a tough Andean bunch grass.
Today the cables go up, and our early morning departure from Cusco is because
we hope to arrive in time to see the great rope cables pulled into place by
lines of straining Quechua men on each side of the dramatic river canyon. Each
of the heavy cables must be laboriously hauled up and even more laboriously
adjusted so that all four hang evenly in the
same shallow catenary curve-- if they do not hang evenly the flooring cannot be
set in place tomorrow. The slack of the cables is adjusted by winding them
around a double set of large stone sleepers
embedded in the stone bridgehead on each side of the canyon. This should be
an interesting process to observe.
Our lodging tonight will be in a campsite with two-person
dome tents, sleeping bags and pads all
supplied. Our meals will be cooked for us and served to us in a dining tent,
and based on past experience, they will be more than adequate! [B,L,D]
DAY 5, Sat., June 10: Today is the day the new bridge is finished and we
will witness the four main cables being fashioned into the bridge floor with cross-sticks lashed to the cables with fresh
rawhide, while simultaneously a multitude of small rope stringers are laced
from the hand rail cables to the outside floor cables, forming the sidewalls to
the bridge, so that it can be crossed without danger of falling off into the
icy river 60 feet below. This work is accomplished by two master bridge
builders and their assistants working their way out from the bridgeheads to
meet in the middle.
The last stage of the work is to lay the flooring, formed of mats of brush and grass, commonly scented with
flowers, tied together, and giving a solid, easy-to-walk-across flooring to the
The bridge-building activities are carried on under the watchful eyes of a
local shaman who performs the rituals necessary for the construction to proceed
as planned. Upon completion of the great work, sometime late this afternoon,
the bridge will be blessed, and then opened for crossing. Sometimes the first
crossing is reserved for special guests, but we will have our chance and no
matter how many times Rutahsa Adventures visits this wonderful site (2006 will
be our 8th visit!), it is always thrilling to stride swaying high above the
swift Apurimac, supported by our faith in a half-millenium (or more) of native
engineering and bits of twisted grass!
Although the bridge has been described in National Geographic, the subject of a
NOVA program (1995), filmed for a Peruvian cultural documentary (1999) and
featured in a spring 2005 BBC broadcast, it remains to date little visited by
outsiders. It is part of a rural Peruvian world nearly forgotten. Rutahsa
Adventures' travelers have the privilege of witnessing first hand the
ancient traditions and engineering techniques of the Inkas maintained today by
their descendants as a way of honoring their ancestors and Pachamama ("Earth
We hope that our visits (and the fame that the bridge is beginning to gain)
will help the people of the bridge-building communities sustain this beautiful
tradition. In order to show our appreciation to the people of the four
communities that construct the bridge, we will make a donation of school
supplies, children's clothing, toothbrushes and toothpaste to the local
village authorities, to be distributed to the children of the communities.
We overnight in camp again tonight. [B,L,D]
DAY 6, Sun., June 11: It's festival time today! This morning tents will go up, vendors will arrive in trucks
and buses, speaker systems and the rainbow banner of the Inkas will be erected,
dance teams from towns throughout the region will arrive, and locals in their
finest fiesta clothing will come by bus,
truck horse and mule, and afoot, to celebrate the annual renewal of the
keshwa chaca. And Rutahsa Adventures travelers will witness a colorful
and thoroughly Peruvian spectacle. You'll get a memorable dose of traditional
costumes, energetic swirling dancers, raucous Andean music (some of which is
remarkably similar to Beijing opera!), and pungent smells of local cookery.
It's a truly great scene!
After a final lunch in camp, we head back to the main highway, and return to
Cusco, making some photo stops en route to record the dramatic scenery we rushed
through to get to the bridge site on Friday.
In Cusco we'll settle back into our familiar digs, the Hotel Picoaga. [B,L]
DAY 7, Mon., June 12: After breakfast we will leave Cusco today in our
bus, headed for the Sacred Valley, with our first stop at the colonial church
at Chinchero, built on top of Inka ruins.
At Chinchero, we may split into two groups, depending on whether or not we have
some hard-core hikers on board. Those who want to hike for several miles
through the Peruvian countryside will hike from Chinchero to the Inka ruin of
Huchuy Cusco, and then descend by trail a couple of more miles and a couple of
thousand feet down the steep walls of the Sacred
Valley, to be picked up by the bus. This is said to be an excellent hike,
and the ruins of Huchuy Qosqo are reported to be very interesting. But we
cannot comment from personal experience, as this will be a first for Rutahsa
Adventures, one we are looking forward to. We expect the hike to be 6 to 8
hours in duration, and we know that you need to be in good hiking shape for
this one! For a bit more info on this hike, visit Explorandes website
description Huchuy Qosqo, then hit back to return to our trip.
Those who don't fancy that much excercise will visit the colonial church at
Chinchero, famous for its frescoes. Next,
a drive across a beautiful patchwork agricultural panorama, with snow-capped Andean peaks as a backdrop.
This will bring us to the enigmatic Inka site of Moray, where giant natural
sinkholes have been converted by the Inkas into terraced agricultural sites. Some archeologists believe these
sinkhole-farms served as an agricultural experimental station, where Inka
cultivators took advantage of microclimates provided by different elevations in
the sinkholes. Today the site is favored by seekers of scenic and mystic
inspiration who come here to meditate.
After Moray, this group still has the opportunity to do some hiking. There is
an interesting hike down an old trail/road to the "salt mines" at Maras. Here
salt has been produced since pre-conquest times, in hundreds of manmade
evaporation ponds that resemble a gleaming miniature city viewed from afar.
Past Maras the trail continues down to the Sacred Valley where our bus and
driver will pick us up. This hike should take about three hours.
Anyone not wanting to hike can simply stay with the bus, coming around by road
to meet the Maras hikers, and then all will be taken to our lodgings for the
night, the Hotel Pakaritampu
in the town of Ollantaytambo. After depositing this group, our driver will go
to pick-up point to await the Huchuy Cusco hikers as they come down into the
Sacred Valley. [B,L (a box lunch will be included for both hikers and non-hikers)]
DAY 8, Tues., June 13: In the morning we will drive through the Sacred
Valley to the town of Pisac. Looming above the colonial town is the amazing
archeological site also called Pisac, and which many find as dramatic and
thrilling as Machu Picchu itself. The approach by road winds up the
mountainside, affording views of Pisac's stupendous agricultural terraces,
known as andenes, built by the Inkas
and still in use today. From the parking lot we will stroll through a section
of ruins, across the top of the terraces, to reach a fortified dwelling area, with a view of a cliffside Inka cemetary.
From here we will hike along a breath taking trail, up steps and through a
tunnel, then past watchtowers and down steps to reach the Pisac temple complex. By the time you reach the Sun
Temple you will be fully convinced of one thing: the Inka people didn't
After visiting Pisac we will stop for a really fine buffet lunch in the Sacred
Valley, before returning to Ollantaytambo.
Back in "Ollanta" we will explore the Inka fortress-temple of Ollantaytambo. This site was 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 Ollanta is very
special: it retains its original Inka 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 cuy, or guinea pigs, underfoot. Ollantaytambo is also a good
place to see traditional Andean costume
still being worn, and hand-loomed ponchos and other textiles may be purchased
Our lodgings tonight are at the Hotel Pakaritampu again, so we will have ample
opportunity to explore Ollanta, enjoying the town, its history, and the
surprising variety of restaurants that have popped up in the last several
DAY 9, Weds., June 14: 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 Inkas", one of the world's premier archeological sites, the
"must-see-of-must-sees" in South America, and 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 tour of the site.
After our introduction to Machu Picchu we will have lunch at the hotel at the
ruins, then free time to continue exploring the site until the last bus heads
back down the mountain to Aguas Calientes. What you will discover is that most
of the crowds disappear as the day-trippers return to Cusco on the afternoon
train, but you can remain to enjoy Machu Picchu as it should be enjoyed--
tranquil, mysterious, and ever beautiful. Just don't miss that last bus...it's
a long walk back down!
Train ticket, Machu Picchu round trip shuttle bus and entry all included. [B,L]
DAY 10, Thurs., June 15: Morning: free time to go back up to Machu
Picchu to get to know some of the intricacies of Machu Picchu proper-- its residential areas, its fountains, temples,
amazing agricultural terraces, and a thousand intriguing nooks and crannies.
Or, you can take some of the 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 Inka drawbridge; you can hike along
part of the famed Inka Trail to the Inti-Punku ("Sun Gate"), or even continue
on to the lovely ruins of Wiñay Wayna (for a small trail admission fee).
Lots of possibilities for this morning! However...you need to be back down at
the hotel around 1 PM to check out, gather with the group to go to the train
station for the trip by rail back to Cusco.
Actually, we'll get off the train at Poroy on the outskirts of Cusco, where our
driver will meet us and take us back to the comforts of the Hotel Picoaga again.
Second day Machu Picchu entry and bus tickets included; train ticket to Cusco
DAY 11, Fri., June 16: The luxury of a full free day in Cusco! By now
you know your way around, have picked out some favorite restaurants and shops,
and have read enough in your guide books to know which visitor's sites you
still want to visit-- so it's time to do your own things today. Enjoy!
Final night at the Hotel Picoaga. [B]
DAY 12, Sat., June 17: This morning we bid the Picoaga and Cusco
adiós and head for the airport to board our return flight to
Lima. In Lima we will be met at the airport and taken once again into the
Hotel Antigua, just a few blocks from the Pacific, in Miraflores.
After lunch we will go to visit the famous Museo del Oro. This
mind-boggling private collection is much more than just precolumbian gold. The
wealthy collector was omnivorous with his acquisitions and the museum features
precolumbian artifacts of many types, including ceramics, featherwork,
textiles, and mummies, plus colonial and post-colonial arms and armour,
saddles, and more. The museum is a truly amazing collection, well worth
seeing, even if not well organized and curated by modern museum standards.
Overnight at the Hotel Antigua. (Those who wish to do so may book flights
departing from Lima tonight.) [B]
DAY 13, Sun., June 18: Unfortunately, all good things eventually must
conclude, and so it is for our Inka Empire Adventure...so today it's off to the
airport to head back home, carrying with you a million memories of an
extraordinary visit to an extraordinary part of the world. And if you're
shooting digital, you might just have a million images by now! Our guess is
this won't be your last trip to Peru...there's so much more to see, experience
and learn! [B]
INKA TRAIL TREKKING OPTION: Hale and hearty adventurers
with good hiking legs may want to enjoy one of the world's greatest trekking
experiences: the Inka Trail. A four-day Inka Trail trek can be arranged as an
extension to this trip, starting from Cusco at the end of the main excursion.
Interested parties should enquire about the requirements and cost. This trek
option includes bilingual professional guide, meals, cook, porters, all
necessary camping equipment.
Here's the Inka Trail itinerary:
Day 1: Serious hikers who opt for the Inka Trail will begin their adventure
in Cusco, traveling first by train into the Sacred Valley, then on down the
Río Urubamba to Km 88. Here the hikers detrain and cross the river to
reach the first campsite at Q'ente, located on Inka terraces below the first
of numerous ruins to be seen on this world-famous trek. [B,L,D]
Day 2: From Q'ente the trekkers begin hiking in earnest, passing by the major
archeological site of Patallacta, and climbing up the Cusichaca Valley to the
small community of Huayllabamba. Here the trail turns and begins to climb
steeply toward the first pass. You'll camp at Llulluchapampa, below the high
pass. 9 km, approx. 6 hrs. [B,L,D]
Day 3: Up and over Warmiwañusca Pass (4200 m, 13,776 ft), down to cross
the Pacamayo river, then climb again past Runkuraqay ruins, across a second
pass, to reach camp near the ruins of Phuyupatamarca. 9 km, approx. 8 hrs.
Day 4: Today you descend from Phuyupatamarca, visit Wiñay Wayna ruins,
then continue on another two hours to reach the Intipunku, or Sun Gate, and
your first view of Machu Picchu. From here you descend to the magnificent
ruins themselves, continuing on down to Aguas Calientes to check into a
three-star hotel for a well-deserved hot shower and rest. [B]
Day 5: Visit to Machu Picchu, then return to Cusco by train; overnight in a
three-star hotel in Cusco. [B]
For additional information on the Inka Trail, visit Rutahsa's
Hiking the Inka Trail website.
TAMBOPATA RESERVE - AMAZON BASIN EXTENSION
Anyone wanting a real change of scenery from the Andes should consider a visit
to the Tambopata Reserve in the Amazon basin. This is a fantastic trip, which
features boat trips on the Tambopata River, lush rainforest jungle, great
birding and lots of other wildlife viewing as well. Visits to the Tambopata
Reserve simultaneously benefit both wildlife conservation and the indigenous
people of the area. Trips to Tambopata come in several plans, ranging from
3d/2n to 7d/6n trips. All the trips can be seen at Rainforest Expeditions'
website Tambopata. Because the
shorter trips do not get further up the Tambopata River than Posada Amazonas,
we recommend most highly the 5d/4n trip as a minimum stay. This trip includes
Posada Amazonas plus two nights at the Tambopata Research Center. Pick the
trip that appeals to you the most and Rutahsa Adventures can book it for you at
COST OF THE TRIP: The cost of the main excursion will depend on the
number of participants. A minimum of ten participants will be necessary to
make the trip go. Here are the costs (based on double room occupancy; single
room accommodations will be available at extra cost):
HOW TO GET ABOARD: To request an application form, please contact Rutahsa
Adventures at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- With 13-16 participants: $1927 p/p
- With 10-12 participants: $2025 p/p
- Singles supplement: $370
- Trip price does NOT include airfare to and from Peru.
- For a detailed description of the services included, please request a trip
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.