For late May and early June of 2006 Rutahsa Adventures has organized 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 not on such a well-beaten tourist trail? Want to learn about some of the many cultures that flourished in Peru before the Inkas? Want to see the very spot where the Inka Empire came crashing down? Then come with us to Northern Peru for an amazing trip into history and marvelous Andean scenery.

Note: This website will differ from our usual lavishly illustrated trip websites, for two reasons. 1st: We are temporarily without access to a slide scanner and cannot scan our images of Huaca del Sol, Chan Chan, Cajamarca, etc. 2nd: There are a number of sites on this itinerary that are new to us: Huaraz, Chavín de Huántar, Chachapoyas. Where we can, we'll give references where you can find photos and other information, and, of course, if you want additional information about the visitors' sites on this trip you can always Google them! What we can tell you about the places we've already visited is that they are spectacular, and we expect no less of the new sites! We are eager to see them for ourselves.

Here's our itinerary:

DAY 1, Tues. May 23: AM: Arrive Lima. You will be met at the airport and taken to the Hotel Antigua in Miraflores (one of Lima's better residential and business districts), to check in, freshen up and/or rest a bit. Then a bite of lunch before the afternoon excursion.

PM: We board our private bus and go to Lima's fine Museo de la Nación, i.e., the Museum of the Nation. Here we will see dazzling displays of Peru's many different cultures, pre-Hispanic and present-day. This guided tour will prove invaluable in preparing us for our upcoming visits to the sites of Chavín de Huántar, Huaca del Sol, 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, we can walk as a group to El Gato Pardo, a very nice restaurant near our hotel, and continue to get to know one another as we enjoy our first supper in Peru.

DAY 2, Weds. May 24: Today we have the first of several long travel days in Peru-- remember, Peru is a BIG country! We will drive today 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 we turn inland and 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 we descend 75 km into the valley of the Río Santa to reach the city of Huaraz at 3091 m (10,141 ft). Here we will settle in for the night at the Hotel El Patio.

Just five kilometers from Huaraz, at the village of Monterrey, are the well known Baños Termales, natural hot springs baths...we may pay them a visit to relax a bit from our journey.

DAY 3, Thurs. May 25: 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, we will enjoy some of this splendor with a visit to Yungay and the Llanganuco lakes.

Yungay is the site of one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the Andes. On May 31, 1970, an earthquake triggered a massive avalanche and landslide that fell from the Nevado Huascarán (6768 m, 22,204 ft). 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 is now marked by a large white statue of Christ.

From Yungay we will turn eastward up the Llanganuco valley to see more of the path of the terrible landslide, but mainly to enjoy the magnificent scenery en route to the glacial lakes known as the Lagunas Llanganuco.

Lunch will be included on today's outing. In the afternoon we will return to the Hotel El Patio for a second night.

DAY 4, Fri., May 26: Our goal for today is the seminal archeological site of Chavín de Huántar. This site has given its name to what is believed to be the oldest major culture in Peru, existing from approximately 1300 to 400 BC. Aside from its 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!]

The most important feature at the archeological site is the large building known as the Castillo (castle) with its underground temple (which we will have been introduced to by the replica 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 will be included in today's outing. We will return to the Hotel El Patio for a third and final night. [B,L]

DAY 5, Sat. May 27: Today our destination is the major coastal city of Trujillo. To reach Trujillo we have another eight-hour drive, but one with much to see en route. We will re-cross the Cordillera Negra (but on a different road from that by which we reached Huaraz), with the promise of more great Andean scenery as we ascend and descend. There is also a visit to the important archeological site of Sechín to enjoy en route, but this means we need an early start. For an idea of what this little known site is like, click here: Sechín.

Circumstances permitting, we will also squeeze in a visit to the "Great Wall of Peru".

For this trip we'll carry box lunches and find ourselves a scenic picnic spot somewhere along the way.

Upon arrival in Trujillo we will settle into the 3-star Hotel El Conquistador for tonight and tomorrow night. [B,L]

DAY 6, Sun. May 28: Modern Trujillo, founded in colonial times, is situated near the major centers of two famous pre-Columbian cultures, the Moche (pre-Inka) and the Chimu (both 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 we will have seen stunning examples of this skill in the Museo de la Nación. But here at Trujillo we have come to 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, is 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 these successive Pyramid-temple edifices they have discovered the original, highly decorated walls of each previous temple preserved below the later additions. We 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 visited this site in 2003.

After our visit to the Moche capital, we will drive to the north side of Trujillo to the beach resort town of Huanchaco where we will find a restaurant specializing in ceviche and other Peruvian seafood specialties.

Here at Huanchaco beach we should 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 we will visit Chan Chan, capital of the Chimu kindgom. Like the Moche, the Chimu constructed their capital out of adobe. We will enter a partially excavated and restored palace compound named the Tschudi Palace, in honor of the archeologist of that name. The extent of this sprawling complex will amaze you. It contains ceremonial plazas, rooms for royal hearings, its own water supply, 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 Chimu king was not inherited by his successor. Thus, each successive Chimu 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 Chimu kingdom in the 15th century-- adopted and elaborated upon this system of empire-expanding non-inheritance.]

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

Second overnight in the Hotel El Conquistador in Trujillo. [B]

DAY 7, Mon. May 29: Today we continue up the coast to Chiclayo, an easy drive of just a little over 200 km on good highway. In the afternoon we will visit the archeological sites of Túcume and Sipán. For a preview of Túcume, click here: Túcume.

The Sipán site is very un-prepossessing, 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".

Our hotel tonight in Chiclayo will be the very comfortable Hotel Las Musas. [B]

DAY 8, Tues. May 30: Today will be one of the truly memorable highlights of this trip. Yesterday we visited the actual site of some remarkable discoveries and genuine "Indiana Jones" adventures. Today we see the very treasures themselves, now preserved in a world-class museum built especially to house these eye-popping artifacts: the Museo Nacional Tumbas Reales de Sipán (National Museum of the Royal Tombs of Sipán"). This museum is our reason for coming to Chiclayo, and you will not forget this experience.

Second night in the Hotel Las Musas. [B]

DAY 9, Weds. May 31: Today we once again turn inland and head back up into the mountains to the little-visited town of Chachapoyas, located in the center of an area once populated by the mysterious "Cloud People". Again, we are faced with a long drive-- approximately 10 hours-- over mostly good highway. Expect a lot of mountain roads and dramatic scenery and ups and downs as we cross first the Cordillera Occidental and later the Cordillera Central to arrive at last at Chachapoyas.

Once again, as a time saver, we will carry box lunches along with us for this segment of the trip.

Our resting place in Chachapoyas will be the Hotel Casona Monsante, a colonial building in the center of town. [B,L]

DAY 10, Thurs. June 1: Today we start early again, for a three-hour horse ride to Kuelap, citadel of the "Cloud People". (Those who do not wish to ride horses can go by vehicle along a serpentine mountain road to reach the site.)

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 seldom-visited 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 our visit to Kuelap we will return to board our vehicle and continue down the road to the town of Leymebamba, about 85 km past Chachapoyas. Here we will overnight at the Hostal Leymebamba, a somewhat basic place, but one that features that commodity so precious to the road weary (or saddle weary): rooms with private baths and 24-hour hot water! [B]

DAY 11, Fri. June 2: Today is almost certainly our hardest road day. We have but 144 km (90 miles) to go, but over some very difficult mountain roads. Expect an average speed of about 30 kph (18 mph)!

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 to cross a high range at Abra del Barro Negro (Black Mud Pass), 3678 m (12,067 ft) above sea level. From here the road plunges into the canyon of the Río Marañón, one of the deepest canyons 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 in the valley bottom 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. Here the road crosses the Marañón and starts back up on the other side, climbing once again to over 3600 m, before starting back down to the town of Celendín at 2600 m (8550 ft). Yes, this road will be an adventure!

We also have planned a stop at the ruins known as Molinete. And perhaps this will prove a good place to enjoy our box lunch.

In Celendín we will overnight at the Hostal Celendín, another pretty basic hostelry. [L]

DAY 12, Sat. June 3: Today we drive 118 km from Celendín to Cajamarca, and should arrive there about midday, as the drive is only 3 1/2 hours.

Thus far our trip has focused on splendid Andean scenery and archeological sites of pre-Inka cultures. At Cajamarca, in addition to fascinating pre-Inka remains from the Cajamarca culture, we also find the site of one of history's great and 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.

Upon arrival in Cajamarca we will check into the Hotel Portal de Marquez, a 3-star hotel in a colonial home.

This afternoon or evening we should walk a short distance to the central plaza to see the church, and more importantly, visit the ancient stone building said to be the very room where Atahualpa was held prisoner until he paid Pizarro one of the greatest ransoms ever made..only then to be garroted. That such a small handful of Spaniards 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.

For supper tonight we can either eat in our hotel dining room or choose from a variety of restaurants in town. [B]

DAY 13, Sun. June 4: In the morning we will drive a short distance out of town, climbing up into the treeless high region of Cumbe Mayo where an ancient stone aqueduct, ingeniously engineered, once carried water across the continental divide! Today parts of the aqueduct continue to function and a bit of a hike through picturesque rock spires will enable us to enjoy the alpine scenery as well as visit this intriguing bit of ancient engineering.

In the afternoon we'll sally forth again from Cajamarca to visit Las Ventanas de Otuzco (The Windows of Otuzco), a necropolis of niches carved in 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 peppered with the openings to the tombs, hence the name "windows".

Second night at the Hotel Portal de Marquez. [B]

DAY 14, Mon. June 5: Today we wind up our adventures in northern Peru, saying adios to our hard-working driver at the Cajamarca airport where we board our 6 AM flight back to Lima.

In Lima we will be met at the airport and taken to back to our familiar digs at the Hotel Antigua in Miraflores.

Travelers terminating their Peruvian excursion here may fly out tonight, or overnight at the Antigua and fly out in the morning. (Airport transfer service is included in the cost of the trip.) Travelers who wish to continue on to Cusco and the heart of the Inka Empire may also sign up for Rutahsa Adventures keshwa chaca excursion starting at the Hotel Antigua tomorrow, Tues. June 6. Rutahsa Adventures can also arrange extensions for travelers who wish to overfly the Nasca Lines, hike the Inka Trail, or visit the Peruvian Amazon. There are plenty of options in this marvelous country.

Whichever option you pick, the trip to northern Peru you just completed will be a memorable experience in a league all its own!


As of this writing (Oct. 10, 2005) we can give a cost which we believe will hold firm: $1922 per person with 10 to 12 participants; $1778 per person with 13 to 16 participants. A minimum of 10 participants is necessary to make the trip go; a maximum of 16 participants will be allowed. The trip price include all hotels (double occupancy rooms), ground transportation, air fare Cajamarca > Lima, park and monument entry fees, bilingual guide service, and some meals (continental breakfasts at most hotels and picnic lunches on certain outings, as noted in the itinerary), plus airport transfers in and out.

Travelers wanting single room accommodations will need to pay a singles supplement of $235.

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

If you would like an application blank, e-mail your request to: