ANCIENT CULTURES of NORTHERN PERU
PERU IS BETTER, THE SECOND TIME AROUND!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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 then...one 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
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
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
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 Kuelap.org 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