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 suspension bridge.


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 a bit.

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 world!

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 bridge.

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 Mother").

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 sleep-walk!

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 here.

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 years. [B,L]

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'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! 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 included. [B]

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 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.


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 a discount.

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

                        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.