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 people and the fantastic recently discovered riches of their rulers’ tombs.
- Visit the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Lima
- Explore the Ransom Room at Cajamarca
- 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.
Our adventures kick off with a full day in Lima, which was founded by the Spanish in 1535, and swiftly given the title of “City of Kings”. We begin at the National Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which provides an excellent introduction to the country’s diverse history. Among the collections are over 2,000 musical instruments, 65,000 pieces of ancient ceramics, and burial bundles dating back as far as 10,000 BC.
We also take in the grand Plaza de Armas in the heart of the colonial district, and admire some of the elegant historic buildings which helped the city centre achieve World Heritage status in 1988.
We fly to the Pacific city of Trujillo in north-western Peru this morning, and waste no time in visiting Huaca del Dragón, a great adobe pyramid covered in detailed anthropomorphic carvings, said to represent a rainbow. It is thought that this impressive building was used both as a shrine and a storage facility.
We continue to Chan Chan, the capital of the Chimú people, a vast city featuring palaces, royal burial chambers, and acres of elegant clay architecture. This is the largest pre-Colombian city in all of South America, and reached the height of its powers in the 15th century. Though floods and wind have done some damage since, the site remains breath-taking in terms of its size and intricacy.
Remaining in old Trujillo today, we enjoy an excursion to the multi-layered Moche Temples of the Sun and Moon. Legend has it that the 43-metre high Temple of the Sun, the largest known adobe structure in all of South America, was erected in just three days by an army of 250,000 men.
The Temple of the Moon, while smaller, is thought to have served a more ceremonial purpose than its administrative counterpart. Excavations here continue to uncover a wealth of wonderfully preserved architecture and decoration, including splendid painted tiles and reliefs featuring gods and warriors.
Our journey takes us north to the El Brujo complex, the occupation of which dates back to the Pre-Ceramic era of approximately 4,700 BC. Here, in temples and burial mounds, we find evidence of the wide array of cultures who have left their mark on this site: from the Cuspinique to the Lambayeque.
Within El Brujo lies the majestic site of Huaca Prieta, a prehistoric settlement discovered in the 1940s, which borders the Pacific Ocean. Following our explorations we return to Trujillo and visit the Cassinelli Museum, a private collection of artefacts uniquely housed in the basement of a petrol station. Don’t miss demonstrations of the whistling pots, ceramic vessels designed to mimic calling birds.
After tucking in to breakfast we travel deep in to the highlands, where we discover the remote Kuntur Wasi, the “House of the Condor”. Constructed in around 1000 BC, these ruins reveal the traces of an important religious Chavín complex, consisting of plazas, painted figures, funereal structures, and temples.
An on-site museum gives us further information on the history of Kuntur Wasi, with details of the dig that brought it back to life, and various recovered objects including a splendid crown with 14 faces.
This morning we explore the colonial city of Cajamarca, well known for its decadent architecture and hot springs. As part of our tour we stop at the "Ransom Room", said to have been filled with gold by the captured Incan emperor Atahualpa in exchange for his freedom in 1532. His deal was not honoured by the conquistadors, who burned him at the stake, thus bringing the Incan Empire to an end.
This afternoon we enjoy some free time to explore the rest of charming Cajamarca at our leisure.
East into the mountains of the Chachapoyas region we go, to the “Land of the Cloud People”, Andean warriors conquered by the Incas shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in Peru.
Prepare for the isolated jungle habitat of the Amazonas. Here lush plains and deep valleys conceal all manner of exotic wildlife, such as the dazzling Green Jay and the Golden Spectacled Bear.
Today we enjoy special access to Leymebamba Museum to view mummies recovered from the Lake of the Condors in 1997. Over 200 crouching bodies and their accompanying funeral offerings are on display here, providing an atmospheric encounter with the Chachapoya people.
Also in this museum is an exhibition of well-preserved quipus, or “talking knots”, which were used by the Incans as a non-written form of record-keeping.
We drive north to the immense stone fortress of Kuélap, the area’s own version of Machu Picchu, where mighty walls surround a large and complex settlement where once lived farmers, artisans and builders. Situated high in the Andean mountains, Kuélap was established in around AD 500, and its mighty ruins consist of towers, canals, vast fortifications, and some 200 round stone houses, many of which still feature detailed patterns and reliefs. Though approximately 300,000 people resided here at its peak, the city was abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest, and not rediscovered until the 19th century.
Our destination today is Karajia in the Utcubamba Valley, where we hike to the mysterious tombs of the “ancient wise men”, set in rugged limestone cliffs. Dating from the 15th century, seven painted Chachapoyan sarcophagi peer out across the forested valley below – the eighth having been destroyed by an earthquake.
At 2.5 metres tall, and constructed from clay, sticks and grasses, the wise men make for an eerie monument – indeed two are still topped with the skulls of their inhabitants.
A day of rest and stunning scenery today, as we make the long but beautiful drive west from the verdant mountains to the lively inland city of Chiclayo. Founded by a Spanish priest in 1560, the settlement has grown from a small rural community to a friendly and thriving commercial centre; the beating heart of the Lambayeque region. A brilliant base for our next few days of archaeological adventures.
We spend our morning at the royal tombs of Sipán, just 20 miles east of Chiclayo. The fourteen tombs at this bountiful site were unearthed wholly intact from 1987 onwards, and are widely considered to be the most significant South American find in recent decades. The most famous of the tombs discovered here is that of the Lord of Sipán, a high-ranking Moche warrior-priest, his body adorned in precious ornaments, who ruled the Lambayeque Valley in the 3rd century AD.
The second part of our regal encounter brings us to the world-class Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum, where a wealth of extravagant booty and ritual objects from the burials are carefully displayed. Here we find incredible treasures, such as a necklace crafted from gold and silver peanuts, and the bizarre copper statue of a crab-man. A peerless collection of Moche antiquities.
Following breakfast we travel to the newly-excavated site of Ventarron, a 4,500-year old temple containing fantastic painted murals, thought to be the oldest in the Americas. Skeletons of monkeys and parrots have been found on site, as well as shells typical to Ecuador – indications of a people engaged in transactions with far away cultures.
We move on to the plains of Túcume, where we find a vast pre-Hispanic site featuring traces of graveyards as well as 26 adobe pyramids. Túcume is thought to have been a destination for pilgrims from the coastal Sicán population. It was later occupied by the Chimú and Inca people. A ceramic workshop on these grounds continues to adhere to techniques dating back some 2,500 years.
A laid-back day starts with us wandering through the sprawling market of Chiclayo. This is one of Peru’s most popular markets, thanks in no small part to its infamous “Mercado de Brujos”, or witch-doctor’s market, where all manner of herbs and amulets can be bought.
We continue to the rare 16th-century Andean Chapel of San Pedro Morrope, which was founded in a bid to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. Though conceived by colonialists, its construction is very much pre-Hispanic in style, built with materials such as adobe, mud and carob trees, and featuring a pyramid-shaped altar.
This evening we fly back to Lima.
Today we make the most of our location, travelling just south of Lima to Pachacamac in the Lurín River Valley. First settled in around 200 AD, Pachacamac grew to become the sacred hub of a number of civilisations, including the people of the Lambayeque, Nazca, Wari, Tiwanaku, and Chimú.
Here the creator god Pacha Kamaq, also known as the “Maker of the Earth”, was worshipped in ornate temples, offerings were made, and oracles were consulted – religious activity which has earned this site the title of “the Mecca of Peru”. Pachacamac’s well-known group of stepped pyramids were built in approximately 1300, and stand here in various states of preservation. Ongoing excavations suggest that more of this enormous site’s 2,000-year history is waiting to be discovered.
We return to Lima this evening where we enjoy a jubilant farewell feast.
We spend our final morning in the country at the privately-owned Larco Herrera Museum, housed in an 18th-century building on the site of a 7th-century pyramid. The museum showcases some 4,000 years of pre-Colombian history, and among its many masterpieces is a unique collection of ancient erotic pottery.
Following our visit we transfer to the airport, and board our flights back from Peru.
We say our last goodbyes as the group arrives home.
- 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
For full information about Passport validity and Visa requirements as well as Health and Vaccination information please click here.