Evening shadows creep across the Callejón de Huaylas towards the snow-capped Cordillera Blanca near Huaraz

For May of 2007 Rutahsa Adventures is organizing a very special and unusual excursion to Peru, with second-time Peru travelers in mind. Already been to Cusco and Machu Picchu? Want to see parts of this spectacular country that are absolutely fabulous, yet not on such a well-beaten tourist trail as Cusco? Want to learn about some of the many cultures that flourished in Peru before the Inkas? Cultures upon which the Inka Empire was founded? Want to see the very spot where the Inka Empire came crashing down? Then travel with Rutahsa Adventures to Northern Peru for an amazing trip into history and marvelous Andean scenery.

The trip is planned to start Sunday May 13, 2007. There are lots of flights into Lima, but we recommend you try to get one that gets you into LIM before 10 AM so you don't miss any of the planned activities. If you want to come in on the night of the 12th, we can arrange to have you met and taken to the hotel.

Here's the itinerary:

DAY 1, Sun., May 13: AM: Arrive Lima. You will be met at the airport and taken to the Hotel Sonesta Miraflores located in one of Lima's better residential and business districts, to check in, freshen up and/or rest a bit. Then a bite of lunch in the Sonesta's small restaurant before the afternoon excursion.

PM: Board the group's private bus and go to Lima's fine Museo de la Nación, i.e., the Museum of the Nation. Here you will see dazzling displays of Peru's many different cultures, pre-Hispanic and present-day. This guided tour will prove invaluable in preparing you for our upcoming visits to the sites of Chavín de Huántar, Huaca de la Luna, Chan Chan, Sipán, Kuelap, and Cajamarca. You will be astounded at the incredible number of sophisticated cultures that arose along the Peruvian coast and in the Andes long before the Inkas.

For supper, Miraflores offers a variety of good dining spots. For a special dining experience, we recommend the Huaca Pucllana and La Rosa Nautica. The former is an archeological site with a ruined adobe temple-- the huaca-- with a fine restaurant right on the edge of the ruins (which are lit at night). The latter is a wonderful rambling wood structure at the end of a pier, built right over the waves-- you can dine in elegance, while watching the seabirds and surfers as the waves roll under you. Both restaurants are excellent, and you can try one tonight and the other at the end of the trip when you return to Lima. Ask the hotel to call you a cab to go to either of these great restaurants.

DAY 2, Mon., May 14: Today will be the first of several long travel days in Peru-- remember, Peru is a BIG country! You will travel by private bus from Lima to Huaraz, about a seven-hour drive. But the length of the trip will be made up for by the variety of scenery. The first 200 kilometers will be northwest, paralleling the Pacific coast. Then the bus turns inland to follow the valley of the Río Fortaleza 125 km up into the Cordillera Occidental of the Andes to cross a high pass at 4080 m (13,385 ft). From the Fortaleza Pass the highway descends 75 km into the valley of the Río Santa to reach the city of Huaraz at 3091 m (10,141 ft). Just beyond the city, in the village of Monterrey, is the comfortable will Hotel El Patio, home for the next three nights.

Also at Monterrey, are the well known Baños Termales, natural hot springs baths...and, depending on when the outings for the next couple of days end, you may find an opportunity for a visit to relax and enjoy the baths.

Included meals: B, BL (B=breakfast, BL=box lunch)

DAY 3, Tues., May 15: The city of Huaraz lies in the Callejón de Huaylas, a narrow valley between the Cordillera Negra --the lower, snowless western range crossed en route to Huaraz-- and the Cordillera Blanca --a high, snow-capped range. It is because of this magnificent mountain scenery, replete with glacial lakes, hot springs and numerous archeological sites, that Huaraz is the most important center for climbing, trekking and backpacking in Peru.

Today, you will enjoy some of this splendor with a visit to the lovely turquoise Llanganuco glacial lakes, under the brow of the towering icy Nevado Huascarán (6768 m, 22,204 ft). After enjoying the dramatic and invigorating glacial scenery reminiscent of California's famed Yosemite Valley, you'll enjoy a picnic lunch.

After lunch, a hike down an ancient trail (probably an Inka or pre-Inka road) is planned. The trail, which passes through a grove of queñua trees and alongside a rushing glacial meltwater stream, is partly stone paved, characteristic of Inka roads.

The last stop for the day will be at the former site of the city of Yungay, where one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the Andes occurred on May 31, 1970, when an earthquake triggered a massive avalanche and landslide that fell from near the peak of Nevado Huascarán. This huge mass of snow, ice and earth became fluidized and rushed down the valley at extremely high speed (perhaps as high as 300 km/hr), to bury the town of Yungay, some 14 kilometers down-valley. With little or no warning or time to flee, almost all of Yungay's 18,000 inhabitants died. Although the town has been rebuilt in a new location, out of the way of future landslides, the path of the debris flow is still visible, and the original site of Yungay has been declared a national cemetery, marked by memorials, scattered ruins and other reminders of the dramatic tragedy.

With a bit of luck you may witness a lovely peaceful sunset gild the Nevado Huascarán, from whence the deadly avalanche came.

Second night in Hotel El Patio. Included meals: B, PL (PL=picnic lunch)

DAY 4, Weds., May 16: The goal for today is the seminal archeological site of Chavín de Huántar, a drive of three hours from Huaraz (a bit longer allowing for photo stops) crossing a major mountain range.

The site of Chavín de Huántar has given its name to what has been believed to be the oldest major culture in Peru, existing from approximately 1300 to 400 BC. Aside from its antiquity and longevity, the Chavín culture is considered highly important for its strong influence on succeeding cultures throughout northern Peru. The Chavín people worshipped first and foremost a Feline God, and secondarily condor, snake and human-like deities. [We cat-lovers are glad to see they had their priorities straight!] There is also evidence that hallucinogenic drugs, such as the San Pedro cactus, were part of their religious rituals.

The most important feature at the archeological site is the large building known as the Castillo (castle) with its underground temple (a replica of which is in the Museo de la Nación in Lima). This temple contains the famous carved rock known as the Lanzón de Chavín (Giant Lance of Chavín). To quote from the Lonely Planet guidebook, "It is a thrilling and distinctly mysterious experience to come upon this four-metre-high dagger-like rock stuck into the ground at the intersection of four narrow passages deep within the Castillo." Be sure to bring your own flashlight for this adventure!

Lunch (perhaps a bit of a late lunch) will be at nearby Hotel Konchucos, a lovely rustic lodge for trekkers.

Third night at Hotel El Patio. Included meals: B, L (L=lunch)

DAY 5, Thurs., May 17: Today's destination is the major coastal city of Trujillo. To reach Trujillo requires another long drive, but one with much to see en route. A well-maintained gravel road heads west out of Huaraz city to re-cross the Cordillera Negra to descend back to the Pacific coast. The winding way up to the high pass features tremendous views of the snow-capped Cordillera Blanca. The long route down to the coast passes through a tremendous variety of scenery and ecological zones.

With an early start it should be possible to reach the important archeological site of Sechín in time (around 1 PM) for a late box lunch, but bring along some snacks just in case you get hungry en route.

Sechín features a partially restored stone temple complex, with outer walls decorated by spear-toting warriors and the dismembered bodies of sacrificial victims...heads, arms and legs, torsos, spilled intestines, and so on in gory extravagance, all portrayed in strange cartoon-like carvings. For a better idea of what this little visited site is like, click here: Sechín.

Trujillo lies about three hours drive north of Sechín, following the Pan American Highway. Once in Trujillo you will settle into the 3-star Hotel Los Conquistadores, very close to the Plaza de Armas for tonight and tomorrow night.

Included meals: B, BL

DAY 6, Fri., May 18: Modern Trujillo, founded in colonial times, is situated near the major centers of two famous pre-Columbian cultures, the Moche (pre-Inka) and the Chimú (pre-Inka and contemporaneous with the Inka).

The Moche culture (also called Mochica in older literature) flourished from the first to the eighth centuries AD, forming a kingdom stretching 550 km along the Pacific coast of what is now northern Peru. Their settlements were limited to a series of river valleys, and dependent on a complex system of irrigation canals that made agriculture possible in this arid region. The Moche are best known for their fantastic skill in ceramics-- and you will hve already seen stunning examples of this skill in the Museo de la Nación. But here at Trujillo you will see the monumental architecture of their principal temples.

The Moche system of irrigation made possible a food supply that supported a dense population. This, in turn, provided the necessary work force for major projects such as palaces, pyramids and temples. A short distance out of Trujillo we find the great pyramids of Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol (huaca is the general Andean term for a "sacred place"). This site was the Moche capital around 600 - 400 BC.

The Huaca del Sol, or Pyramid of the Sun, was by some accounts the largest pre-Columbian structure in South America, rising 28 m (92 ft) above the desert floor, with a base covering some five hectares. It was constructed of large adobe bricks, estimated to exceed 130,000,000 in number. This massive construction, like the smaller, but still impressive Huaca de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon) was built and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries. Each rebuilding was bigger and better than its predecessor, and, in fact, the previous construction was entombed by the newer version. As archeologists have excavated and tunneled into the successive pyramid-temple edifices of Huaca de la Luna, they have discovered the original, highly decorated walls of each previous temple preserved below the later additions. You will have the privilege of viewing elaborate and elegant murals molded in adobe and painted in still vivid red, white, ochre, and black. You will be genuinely astounded, as we were when we first visited this site in 2003.

After visiting the Moche capital, the next destination is lunch on the north side of Trujillo at the beach resort town of Huanchaco for lunch (included). Ceviche or other Peruvian seafood specialties are the recommended fare!

At Huanchaco beach you will see caballitos ("little horses"), the traditional reed fishing boats that have been used here since time out of mind. These little boats-- seen depicted in Moche pottery-- are straddled and ridden like horses out into the sea by artesanal fisherman even today.

After lunch, Chan Chan, capital city of the Chimú Kingdom is the final treat for the day. Like the Moche, the Chimú constructed their capital out of adobe. You will visit a partially excavated and restored palace complex named the Tschudi Palace, in honor of the archeologist of that name. The extent of this sprawling, walled compound will amaze you. It contains three ceremonial plazas, rooms for royal hearings, its own water reservoir, a burial platform, and a large number of rooms believed to be for the storage of tribute. But the truly mind-blowing aspect of this palace is that it is only one of nine such huge palace complexes (each today named in honor of an archeologist prominent in Peruvian studies). Apparently the wealth of a Chimú king was not inherited by his successor. Thus, each successive Chimú lord had to build his own palace, and, in all probability, had to extend the kingdom in order to acquire the wealth necessary to build his new digs! [The Inka, who conquered the Chimú kingdom in 1470, adopted and elaborated upon this system of empire-expanding non-inheritance.]

Like the Moche, the Chimú people were highly skilled metallurgists, who produced beautiful works of art in gold and silver. For more on Chan Chan and the Chimú culture, see National Geographic, Mar. 1973, "Chan Chan, Peru's Ancient City of Kings".

Second overnight in the Hotel Los Conquistadores in Trujillo. Included meals: B, L

DAY 7, Sat., May 19: Today our trip continues up the coast to Chiclayo, an easy drive of just a little over 200 km on good paved highway most the way. En route to Chiclayo a side road leads to the Moche archeological site of Sipán, a rather un-prepossessing site --just another one of the many Moche adobe pyramid sites-- and one that would not be on the itinerary were it not for the incredible discoveries made here in the late 1980s and early 90s. Sipán can justifiably be considered the "King Tut equivalent" for South America. But whereas the fabulous treasure-filled Egyptian burial was that of a single pharoah, here a royal tomb was looted before archeologists arrived on the scene to discover and painstakingly excavate three more spectacular treasure-filled tombs. The saga of the looting, the archeological salvage work, the international black market trade in illicit treasures, and the triumphant discoveries of the three pristine tombs is all told in "Lords of Sipán, A True Story of Pre-Inca Tombs, Archeology and Crime" by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick, highly recommended reading, and a real page-turner! Also see National Geographic, Oct. 1988, "Discovering the New World's Richest Unlooted Tomb" and "Unraveling the Mystery of the Warrior-Priest" (same issue), plus June 1990, "The Moche of Ancient Peru: New Tomb of Royal Splendor".

After a brief site visit, where reconstructions of the three royal tombs can be seen, it's on to Chiclayo for lunch, and of the real highlights of this excursion: you will see the actual treasures from the Sipán burials, now preserved in a world-class museum built especially to display these eye-popping artifacts: the Museo Nacional Tumbas Reales de Sipán (National Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán).

The artfully planned museum is entered by walking up a ramp, just as Moche pyramid temples were entered. The displays take you gradually down into the lower levels of the museum through the series of burials unearthed at Sipán in the same order as the archeologists discovered them. This wonderful museum is the main reason for coming to Chiclayo, and you will not forget this experience. N.B.: No cameras of any kind are allowed in this museum.

Your hotel tonight in Chiclayo will be the very comfortable Hotel Costa del Sol. Included meals: B, L

DAY 8, Sun., May 20: Today a short drive from Chiclayo brings our group to Túcume, another adobe pyramid and temple complex, but this one belonging to the post-Moche, pre-Chimú Sicán or Lambayeque culture. For a preview of Túcume, click here: Túcume.

Next stop: lunch at a restaurant in Chiclayo (included).

After visiting Túcume site and noting the similarities between it and the Moche and Chimú sites, a visit to the Sicán Museum is in order to learn how the Sicá or Lambayeque culture differed from the others, and to see more magnificent treasures recovered by the archeological studies.

Second night in the Hotel Costa del Sol. Included meals: B, L

DAY 9, Mon., May 21: Today the bus that has served so well thus far will be traded in for a caravan of 4WD vehicles, for the excursion route once again turns inland to head back up into the mountains and will pass over some pretty exciting roads during the next four days. 4WD vehicles can handle these mountain roads better than a bus, making the trip both safer and more comfortable...and less time consuming. Today will still be a long travel day-- approximately 9 or 10 hours-- to arrive at the little-visited town of Chachapoyas, located in the center of an area once populated by the mysterious "Cloud People". The road from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas is paved most of the way, but the last part is gravel. Expect a lot of ups and downs and dramatic scenery as you cross first the Cordillera Occidental and later the Cordillera Central to arrive at last at Chachapoyas.

Once again, as a time saver, box lunches will be supplied for this segment of the trip.

Your resting place in Chachapoyas will be the Hotel Casona Monsante, a colonial building in the center of town.

Included meals: B, BL

DAY 10, Tues., May 22: Today you'll begin to appreciate more fully the use of 4WD vehicles as the caravan starts up the narrow, winding road to Kuelap, the walled mountaintop citadel of the "Cloud People".

Kuelap is a pre-Inka mountain fortress surrounded by immense stone walls up to 20 meters high. Within the walls is a city of around 400 circular buildings. This out-of-the-way site is very impressive and one of Peru's most mysterious archeological treasures, as little is known about the Chachapoyas people. Their society developed around 800 AD, some 600 years before the Inka Empire, but the Inka overran this area around 1470, and probably gave these people the name we know them by today, the Chachapoyas, or "Cloud People". For more information, visit or read National Geographic, Sept. 2000, "Quest for the Lost Tombs of the Peruvian Cloud People".

After visiting the Kuelap archeological site, it is just a short ride back down to the village of Maria where accommodations and meals are available in rustic local. You'll enjoy the mountain air and vistas from Maria, and interacting with the villagers. Don't expect luxury here, but do expect a very friendly welcome