Travel through spectacular Peruvian mountain scenery, on the trail of some of the greatest of Andean cultures – the Moche, Chimu and the mysterious Chachapoya, ‘the people of the cloud forest’, warriors and traders who initially resisted Inca conquest and whose city of Kuelap towers magnificently above the Utcubamba Valley. A highlight of our tour is special access to the ‘mummies of Leymebamba’, found in tiny houses on a cliff face above the remote ‘Lake of the Condors’. The founder of the museum tells us their remarkable story.
Led by David Drew, this unique tour reveals the glories of Peru beyond Machu Picchu. See temples, pyramids and abandoned mud brick cities as we step into a lost world of Andean archaeology – little-seen and still being uncovered.
- Drive into the mountains of the Chachapoyas region – ‘land of the Cloud People’
- See the imposing mud brick cities of the Moche and Chimu and the fantastic, recently discovered riches of Moche rulers’ tombs
- Visit the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Lima
- The New World
- Historic Churches
- Special Access
- All Inclusive
We arrive in coastal Lima, Peru’s capital and largest city, and transfer to our comfortable hotel for a chance to relax and settle in.
We begin with a full day in Lima, founded by the Spanish in 1535 and given the title ‘City of Kings’. We go first to the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which provides an excellent introduction to the country’s rich and extremely diverse pre-Hispanic history. After lunch by the Pacific ocean we take in the grand Plaza de Armas and other elegant architecture at the heart of the Colonial capital.
This morning we fly to the city of Trujillo on the northern coast of Peru. We then visit the Huaca del Dragon, an adobe pyramid dating from Chimu times which may have served as both a shrine and storage facility. It is covered in images of snakes, humans and repeated representations of rainbows, a seeming reference to fertility.
We continue to Chan Chan, once the Chimu capital and a vast city of palaces, royal burial chambers and acres of imposing mud brick architecture. This would have been one of the largest pre-Columbian cities in South America, reaching the height of its powers in the early 15th century. Though floods and wind have done much damage since, the site remains breathtaking in its sheer scale.
Remaining in Trujillo today, we enjoy an excursion to the Moche Temples of the Sun and Moon, names given them by the Spanish. The 43-metre high Temple of the Sun, the largest mud brick structure in the Americas, was the administrative and more public centre, while the Temple of the Moon, a kilometre away across what was once an enormous adobe city, is thought to have served a more exclusive, ceremonial purpose. Recent excavations here have uncovered wonderfully preserved architecture and decoration, including splendid painted reliefs featuring gods, warriors and victims destined for sacrifice.
We drive north, firstly to the famous early coastal site of Huaca Prieta, discovered in the 1940s and which dates back to the pre-Ceramic period c. 3,000 B.C. From the highest mound here we will see the vast pyramids of the Moche site of El Brujo, further along the coast to the north. Recent excavation at El Brujo has revealed a grand architectural layout and painted facades similar to those on the Temples of the Sun and Moon. They have also found dramatic and very rich burials here, including that of a female ruler whose heavily tattooed body was well preserved and her tomb full of ceramics and wonderful precious metalwork. After lunch we continue driving north along the Pacific coast to the city of Chiclayo, where we stay for the next 3 days.
We spend our morning at the site of the royal tombs of Sipan, 20 miles east of Chiclayo, where a series of magnificent, intact graves were discovered in 1987 and subsequent years by local archaeologist Walter Alva. The first untouched tomb to be found was that of the famous ‘Lord of Sipan’, a high-ranking Moche warrior-priest who ruled the Lambayeque valley in the 3rd century AD. He was buried with a group of sacrificed retainers to accompany him to the afterlife and an amazing array of ritual objects and adornments of precious metals, such as head-dress ornaments, exquisite tiny figures of warriors and a famous necklace of gold and silver peanuts.
In the afternoon we visit the world famous, purpose-built Royal Tombs Museum in the town of Lambayeque, where the Sipan treasures are on display.
We travel a short distance from Chiclayo to the 4,000 year-old temple site of Ventarron, where Walter Alva’s son Ignacio has worked in recent years. Some remarkable and very early murals, including the well-preserved image of a deer caught in a net, have been found here.
Later we move on to the enormous expanse of ruins at Tucume, which
contains some 25 large adobe pyramids and was occupied from the early centuries AD through the Chimu and into the Inca periods. A good modern museum will help us to make sense of this sprawling, very impressive site.
We begin the day by travelling from Chiclayo north west to the small town of Morrope, where stands a rare jewel of the early Colonial period, the Chapel of San Pedro. It dates from the late 16th century and was founded here as part of the attempt to convert local people to Christianity. The Chapel’s architectural style and details of its construction are decidedly pre-Hispanic, including the use of bent carob tree trunks to hold up the roof, the use of plastered ‘quincha’ or cane and a stepped altar just like a pyramid. A larger church was later built next door, but the original chapel remains and has fortunately survived the heavy rains of ‘El Ninos’ in recent years.
From Morrope we return to Chiclayo to the large local market, which includes the ‘Mercado de Brujos’, the witch-doctor’s market, where all manner of herbs and amulets can be bought. A relaxed lunch will be followed by an easy afternoon before the Guide Lecturer gives a talk in the early evening.
A day of travel and impressive scenery, as we make the long but beautiful drive eastwards from the coast and up into the mountains, until we finally reach the small town of Chachapoyas in the ‘Land of the Cloud People’.
Our destination today is Karajia above the Utcubamba valley, from where we walk or ride to see a series of ancient sarcophagi of humanoid form that peer out from the ledges of a remote cliff face. There were once a lot more of them, but they were made very simply from a framework of sticks and grasses covered in clay and over the centuries many have fallen into the ravine below. Sarcophagi such as this were one of the characteristic forms of burial of the ancient Chachapoya people, who were clearly keen to place their ancestors in the landscape close to the homes of the living
We drive north and take a newly installed cable car up to the immense stone fortress of Kuélap. The region’s own equivalent of Machu Picchu, its mighty walls surround a large and complex settlement where once lived farmers, artisans and warriors. Situated high in the Andean mountains, Kuélap dates from around AD 500, though it reached its peak between about AD 900-1100. The impressive stone ruins consist of vast retaining walls that contain watch-towers, temple structures and some 200 round houses, many of which still feature decorative relief patterns on the exteriors. In the 11th century some 200,000 people may have lived here and in farming communities round about. But the city was abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest and not rediscovered until the mid 19th century.
Today we enjoy a very special visit to the Museum in Leymebamba that houses Chachapoyas mummies dramatically recovered from the remote ‘Lake of the Condors’ in 1997. There are some 200 well preserved mummies on display here, wrapped in layers of cotton textiles and accompanied by numerous ceramic and other objects, including bright feather-work and a large number of ‘quipus’, the still mysterious and largely undeciphered knotted string recording system used by the Incas. We are introduced to the museum by one of its founders and we then have lunch in her nearby hous
An all day and very beautiful drive from Leymebamba that takes us out of the Chachapoyas area, down into the great canyon of the Maranon river and finally into the mountains that surround our destination of Cajamarca.
A day in and around Cajamarca begins with a visit to the remarkable early pre-Inca system of aqueducts at Cumbe Mayo outside the city, from where we return to see the well known ‘Ransom Room’. About the only genuinely Inca building that survives here, it is said to be where in 1532 the captive Inca ruler Atahualpa demonstrated to the Spaniards how he would fill the room with gold if that would grant him his freedom. Lunch at the hot springs where Atahualpa may have been lodged when the Spaniards arrived, and in the afternoon we have some free time to see more of the Colonial centre of the city.
From Cajamarca we drive west to the dramatically positioned ruins of ‘Kuntur Wasi’ or ‘House of the Condor’. The site dates back to around 1,000 BC and the ‘Chavin’ era. It also possesses a good local museum, with some impressive objects recovered from a number of intact tombs discovered here. We return to Cajamarca for an afternoon flight to Lima.
We spend our last morning in the marvellous Larco Herrera Museum, housed in an 18th century style building on top of a pre-Hispanic pyramid in the Lima suburb of Pueblo Libre. The Larco family originally had large sugar estates in the Chicama valley, the heartland of the Moche culture, and the museum has a quite unrivalled collection of Moche ceramics. But alongside this, they possess some equally important material from other ancient Peruvian cultures. We have a very good lunch here too, and it serves as a fitting and relaxed end to the holiday before we transfer to the airport for our flight home.
We arrive back in the UK.
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Tour Manager
- Local Travel - Private a/c coach
- Meals - All meals included with wine at dinner
- Entries & Tips - Entry to all sites in programme; tips included
- Field Notes
3 nights in a modern hotel in Lima
3 nights in an upscale hotel in Trujillo
2 nights in a contemporary hotel in highland Cajamarca
2 nights in a traditional hotel in elevated Leymebamba
1 night in Nuevo Tingo
1 night in a colonial-style hotel in cloud forest-ringed Chachapoyas
3 nights in a modern hotel in Chiclayo
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