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

For 2010 Rutahsa Adventures is offering 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 sign on to Rutahsa Adventures to Northern Peru Excursion for an amazing trip into history and marvelous Andean scenery.

This trip is offered as a personal excursion for independent travelers-- You tell us when you want to travel and how many are in your group, and we'll make all the arrangements for you from your arrival in Lima's international airport until your departure from Peru.

Here's the itinerary:

DAY 1, Tues. [Note: it is not necessary to start on a Tuesday, but this is a good day to start in order to visit all the sites on the intinerary, due to the closure of some museums on certain days of the week.]: AM: Arrive Lima. You will be met at the airport and taken to the Casa Andina Centro in Miraflores, one of Lima's better residential and business districts, to check in, freshen up and/or rest a bit. Then you can have a bite of lunch before beginning the afternoon excursion.

PM: Board your private transportation with your bilingual guide 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 museum 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 La Rosa Nautica or the Huaca Pucllana. The former is a wonderful rambling wood structure at the end of a pier, so you can dine in elegance, while watching the seabirds and surfers as the waves roll right under you. The latter 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). 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, Weds.: Today you board your private car, with professional driver and bilingual guide, and head north out of Lima, up the coast to visit the ancient site of Caral. This archeological site is not well-known to Peru visitors, but made worldwide news recently when archeologists declared it to be the oldest known true city in the Americas, some 4600 to possibly 5000 years old, according to radiometric dating. This unexpectedly early date is forcing revision of archeological concepts of the development of civilization in South America. The site represents a large (65 hectares, or 160 acres) urban complex of pyramids, sunken plazas, and other constructions. See Caral archeology.

From Caral you will continue on a short distance northwards towards Huaraz, to the town of Barranca where we will overnight at the Hotel Chavín.

Included meal: B (breakfast), BL (box lunch)

DAY 3, Thurs.: After breakfast you continue on northward along the coast for just about 10 km, then turn northeastward, inland, to follow the valley of the Río Fortaleza for 125 km, ascending 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 into the valley of the Río Santa to follow this river northward 42 km to a junction where you turn eastward again, ascend to cross the Cordillera Blanca and then descend along a road clinging to the mountainside to reach the town of Chavín de Huántar. Today's route will feature many beautiful views!

A short drive beyond Chavín de Huántar is the Konchucos Lodge, a rustic but very pleasant lodge jointly owned by Explorandes and Rainforest Expeditions, built primarily to cater to Andean trekkers. Konchucos will be your lodging tonight.

Included meals: B, BL, D (D=dinner)

DAY 4, Fri.: The main treat today is the seminal archeological site of Chavín de Huántar. This archeological site has given its name to what was long 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 as a sort of "mother culture" due to 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!

After visiting Chavín, you will have lunch and then get en route again to Huaraz.

You recross the Cordillera Blanca, descend again into the valley of the Río Santo and turn north to reach the city of Huaraz at 3091 m (10,141 ft). Just beyond the city, in the village of Monterrey, is the comfortable Hotel El Patio, home for the next two nights.

Also at Monterrey, are the well known Baños Termales, natural hot springs baths...and, depending on the hour you arrive today and again from tomorrow's outings, you may find an opportunity for a visit to relax and enjoy the baths.

Included meals: B

DAY 5, Sat.: 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 can enjoy your box lunch near one of the beautiful lakes.

After a box 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, BL

DAY 6, Sun.: 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 7, Mon.: 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 have 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 you reach 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 Huanchaco Beach where we'll find a restaurant for lunch. 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

DAY 8, Tues.: 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 comfortable Hotel Casa de la Luna. Included meals: B

DAY 9, Weds.: Today the vehicle that has served so well thus far will be traded in for a 4WD vehicle, 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 five days. 4WD vehicles can handle these mountain roads better than a car or van, 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 Casa Vieja, in a former private home in the center of town.

Included meals: B, BL, D

DAY 10, Thurs.: Today you begin to learn about the "Cloud People" or Chachapoyas culture with a visit to the archeological site of Karajilla. One of the distinctive characteristics of the Chachapoyas culture is its cliffside cemeteries. At Karajilla bizarre sarcophagi in the form of highly stylized human figures are perched on ledges of a cliff face. The burials were constructed of clay over a framework and painted to represent human figures, then carefully placed on a sheltered ledge where they have survived the centuries since the passing of the Chachapoyas people.

Wear your hiking boots today, as a 20 - 30 minute hike is required to reach the burial site.

Second night at Hotel Casa Vieja. Included meal: B, BL, D

DAY 11, Fri.: Today you'll begin to appreciate more fully the use of 4WD vehicles as your driver heads 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, you will continue on to El Chillo Lodge, a rustic hostelry developed in an hacienda located in the Utcubamba Canyon.

Included meals: B, BL, D

DAY 12, Sat.: Today will be spent learning more about the Chachpoyas culture by visiting the archeological site of Revash, noted for its cliffside tombs. For detailed info about Revash, click here. Reaching Revash will require a drive followed by a hike of perhaps up to two hours duration, so wear your hiking boots and be prepared for a workout.

After visting Revash we continue on to the tiny, but charming in its own way, mountain town of Leymebamba, where we will overnight in the Casona Leymebamba.

We expect to reach Leymebamba in time to visit the local museum of Chachapoyas culture, which is both worth a visit and worth supporting.

Included meals: B, BL, D

DAY 13, Sun.: Today is almost certainly the most spectacular road day of the trip. It is also the longest... The distance from Leymebamba to Cajamarca is just 253 km (157 miles), but over some very exciting mountain roads, and it will take all day. So be prepared for an early start and a long day in the saddle-- perhaps 8 - 10 hrs, depending on the number of photo stops you want to make!

The road, which crosses the valley of the Río Marañón, has been described as one of the "most spectacular routes in all Peru." After leaving Leymebamba the road first climbs through verdant valleys to reach a high pass called Abra del Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass), 3678 m (12,067 ft) above sea level. From here the road plunges into the rugged canyon of the Río Marañón, one of the deepest in South America. The road descends more than 2700 m (over 8900 ft) vertically through various ecological zones-- from cloud forest down through agricultural zones into rather arid country-- to arrive at the village of Balsas at the river's edge at 950 m (3116 ft). From the name "Balsas" you can figure that the villagers once made their living ferrying people and freight across the river, before the bridge was built. After crossing the Marañón the road starts back up on the other side, winding back and forth, seemingly forever until it once again tops out at over 3600 m, before starting back down to the town of Celendín at 2600 m (8550 ft). Yes, this road will be an adventure!

At Celendín, 144 km from Leimebamba, the rugged part of the road is behind us. The remaining 109 km on to Cajamarca will seem like a piece of cake

Upon arrival in Cajamarca you will be happy to check into the Hotel Portal del Marques, a comfortable 3-star hotel in a colonial home.

For supper tonight you can either eat in the dining room of El Portal or choose from a variety of restaurants in town.

Included meals: B, BL

DAY 14, Mon.: Thus far the trip has focused on splendid Andean scenery and archeological sites of pre-Inka cultures. But Cajamarca, in addition featuring fascinating pre-Inka remains from the Cajamarca culture, is also the site of one of history's great tragic moments: the capture of the Inka Atahualpa by the Conquistador Hernán Pizarro, ensuring the downfall of the most powerful of all the many Andean empires.

After breakfast you will go on a walking tour of Cajamarca, through the central plaza, past the lovely colonial church, to the ancient stone building said by some to be the very room where Atahualpa was held prisoner by Pizarro. Others assert that this is the room where Atahualpa drew a line as high as he could reach on the wall and promised to fill the room with gold and silver in exchange for his freedom. In either case, the Inka proceeded to pay one of the greatest ransoms ever paid...treasure poured in from Cusco and all over the Inka Empire for months on end. And when Atahualpa's promise was fulfilled, he was rewarded not with his freedom (which, of course, the Spaniards could not permit without ensuring their own destruction), but with death by being garroted.

That a mere handful of Spaniards (62 horsemen and 106 infantry) had the audacity to attempt and succeed in the capture of Atahualpa, who led an army of tens of thousands of warriors, beggars the imagination. But the Spaniards' lust for gold gave them a boldness of spirit that is hard not to admire in spite of their cruelties. And Atahualpa's hubris --certain of his own invincibility-- led him to fall into a well-planned trap. For a fascinating account of the conquest of Peru, read "The Conquest of the Incas" by scholar John Hemming.

Our walking tour can also include the Cajamarca market, always an interesting hive of activity, and a good place to find souvenirs.

The afternoon will be free time, to follow your own interests. Recommended options include: 1) visiting the hot springs just about a 10 minute drive from downtown-- it was at these springs where Atahualpa was encamped with his army when he made the fateful decision to visit the Spaniards in Cajamarca; today the springs are replete with group and private bathing facilities, and you can enjoy relaxing in the waters here; OR, 2) driving out to visit the fascinating archeological site Las Ventanas de Otuzco (The Windows of Otuzco), a necropolis of niches carved into cliffs of volcanic tuff. Many of the tombs-- all now empty-- are simple small chambers excavated in the rock, while others are multiroom affairs. The cliffside is thoroughly pocked with the openings to the tombs, hence the name "windows".

Second night at the Hotel Portal del Marques. Included meal: B

Included meals: B

DAY 15, Tues.: Today the adventures in northern Peru, come to a close. You say adiós to this fascinating region at the Cajamarca airport where you board the 9:50 AM flight back to Lima. Hope for a window seat, as the flight over the rugged Andes is spectacular!

In Lima you will be met at the airport and taken to back to familiar digs at the Casa Andina Centro in Miraflores.

After checking into the Casa Andina, freshening up, and having a quick bite of lunch, one further outing is in the offing....

To review and sum up all the different sites and cultures you have seen on the excursion to the north, a visit to the Museum of Archeology, Anthropology, and History is planned. While an older and less spiffy museum than the Museum of the Nation (visited on day 1), this museum exhibits many extremely important pieces: for example, here you can see the originals of the Raimundi and Tello stelae from Chavín de Huántar. The exhibit rooms are arranged according to the chronological development of human culture in Peru, making this visit an excellent way to tie together all you have seen on this trip.

Travelers terminating their Peruvian visit now may fly out tonight, or overnight at the Casa Andina and fly out in the morning. (Airport transfer service is included in the cost of the trip.)

Day 16, Weds.: For those who did not depart last night: Transfer out to Lima's international airport for your flight back home.

END of TRIP...or is it? Read on!

Rutahsa Adventures can arrange pre- or post-trip extensions for travelers who wish to overfly the Nasca Lines, visit the Peruvian Amazon, or go trekking in the Andes. There are plenty of options in this marvelous country.

Write us for details and costs for these trip extensions.

Whichever options you pick, the trip to Northern Peru will be a memorable experience in a league all its own!


The trip cost depends on the number of travelers. We can price this trip for an individual, a couple, or any group size. So let us know how many are in your party when you write to tell us when you want to travel.

The trip price will include all hotels, ground transportation, air fare Cajamarca to Lima, park and monument entry fees, services of a bilingual Peruvian personal guide, plus bilingual local guide services as needed, and meals as listed in the itinerary (continental breakfasts at most hotels, box lunches on some days, dinners on some days), plus airport transportation in and out.

Not included: air fare U.S.- Lima - U.S., meals not listed as included and beverages, souvenirs, tips, medical or other personal expenses.

If you are interested in this trip, e-mail us at:

Photos on this website by Janie and Ric Finch, @copyrighted.