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Empires of Peru: Kuelap and Machu Picchu

15 days from £2,676pp

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Empires of Peru: Kuelap and Machu Picchu

15 days from £2,676pp

Price excludes international flights at the beginning and end of the trip


Private Journey


Day 1

Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel in Miraflores.

You will be met at the airport and escorted by one of our local representatives to your hotel on the Pacific-side residential and commercial district Miraflores. Lima is a vast, complex metropolis, with a history dating from the era of its wealth and importance to Imperial Spain to its current status as a dynamic, growing city of trade, industry and tourism.

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Day 2

Private guided visit to the Larco Museum.
larco museum

Visit the Larco Museum, one of our favourites in Latin America, where exhibits are beautifully displayed in a colonial building with flowery patios. The museum houses an astonishing private collection of pre-Columbian ceramic pieces which will put your upcoming visits to archaeological sites in context.  The comprehensive range of pottery items shows you just how Peruvian culture developed over the centuries,  a great introduction to the exotic Moche, Sicán and Chimú cultures, and in fact this is the world's largest collection of artefacts from the eras of their ascendancy.

It's not all about pots though - there are displays of gorgeous textiles, intricate gold and silver work and haunting mummies, all left behind by highly artistic pre-Inca civilisations. To add to it all, there's an extensive and unique collection of erotic figurines.

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larco museum

Day 3

Fly to Jaen in northern Peru, continue to Chachapoyas.
road to chachapoyas

Fly to Jaen and drive onwards alongside paddy fields in Peru's premier rice producing region to Chachapoyas. This pleasant town (pop. around 20,000) is the capital of Amazonas, region, founded by the Spanish in 1538 and still retaining much of its colonial character. At an altitude of 2,335m, it is situated in a transition zone between the icy severity of the high Andes and the lush foliage of the Amazon basin.

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road to chachapoyas

Day 4

Full day guided discovery of Kuelap fortress; on to Gocta Falls.
Kuelap Fortress

A drive of an hour or so takes to you Kuelap temple/fortress, the jewel in the crown of the Chachapoyan civilisation (which flourished from 0AD onwards). Society at that time was organised in a system of chiefdoms, the vestiges of which are a group of sophisticated settlements even more grand and mysterious than those of the Incas.

Until recently it was necessary to drive up to the citadel (3,000m above sea level  - Chachapoya means “warrior of the clouds”) - along a steep winding road but today you will ride on the recently inaugurated cable-car.  Magnificent views help you to appreciate the feat of manpower and engineering involved in the construction of the towering walls - some are 20m high - encircling the whole hilltop. The telecabinas cross the valley in just 20 minutes, with all-embracing vistas across the valley.

When you get to the top you’ll be overwhelmed by the vast scale of the place with its massive stone ramparts. These monumental limestone walls enclose temples and dozens of roundhouses which were the homes of farmers, builders and craftsmen, decorated with motifs of birds and animals. No one knows much about the site but now it is believed that it was a ceremonial centre rather than a fortress.  You can judge for yourself, as you explore the complex (much of it is still covered with undergrowth and under restoration) and enjoy terrific views from cloud-level over the silvery river glimmering far below. Following your visit you'll be driven to Cocachimba close to Gocta Falls.

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Kuelap Fortress

Day 5

Hike to Gocta Falls.
Gocta Falls

It's a two-hour hike to the base of the lofty Gocta waterfalls. You walk through cloud forest festooned with orchids and giant ferns while populated by yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, mountain sloths and the brilliantly-plumed birds known as cock-of-the-rock. The Gocta Falls were unknown outside the immediate surrounding villages until a German explorer spotted them in 2005. They are the third-highest falls in Peru and are certainly a staggering sight, a two-stage silver ribbon plunging 771m from on high over dizzyingly vertical cliffs. If many self-proclaimed authorities are to be believed, this is the tallest single drop of river water in the world after Angel Falls in Venezuela. 

Overnight again in Cocachimba, within sight of the falls.

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Gocta Falls

Day 6

Continue by road to Chiclayo.

It is a day-long drive westward towards the Pacific from Cocachimba, which, at 1,809m, is set in an Amazonas province embracing the forested canyons of the east-facing Andean foothills. It's an incredibly beautiful and varies ride, starting through hills stifled by foliage and Peru’s humid rice-growing area then rising to cross a virtually uninhabited, increasingly wild and rugged section of the Andes mountain range before finally descending to reach the fertile oasis hosting Chiclayo, an large port on the north Pacific coast. This is one of Peru's most important agricultural regions. The city itself, modern and very busy, is a major commercial hub but is more famous for the archaeological treasures found in its vicinity.

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Day 7

Museum visits.
Sipan, Peru

Situated 35km from Chiclayo, Sipán is an extensive burial site of the Moche culture - a civilisation which flourished on the north coast of Peru between 100 and 800AD. Several royal tombs filled with 1,700-year-old offerings have been uncovered including pieces worked in precious metals, stone, pottery and textiles. The most startling discovery of the original excavation was of an entombed Moche leader, who became known as the Lord of Sipán.

This was followed by the finding of an even older tomb - predating the former by 200 years. There is a site museum featuring details of the excavation work and replicas of some of the finds. You’ll visit the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum where the original pieces are now exhibited. The museum, 17km from Chiclayo, is a replica of the Moche pyramid under which the tombs were found.

In the afternoon, travel to Ferreñafe, 18km north of Chiclayo, to discover the artefacts of the coastal Sicán (or Lambayeque) culture which was in ascendancy from 750-1,350AD. The Sicán Museum's reconstruction of a tomb provides visitors with an unparalleled insight into a complex culture. The exhibition covers everything from daily domestic life to craftsmanship and manufacturing processes used to produce the distinctive gold and ceramic works of art.

The museum also provides the perfect introduction to your next destination, Túcume, a vast Sicán archaeological complex known as the Valley of the Pyramids – it features as many as 26 adobe pyramids and was once a place of pilgrimage for the coastal population. This settlement dates back to 1,000-1,100AD, and was subsequently conquered by the Chimu and then the Incas. 

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Sipan, Peru

Day 8

Drive to Trujillo, coastal colonial city.

Travel for 4hrs by public coach along the coastal Pan-American highway, framed by harsh desert, to Trujillo, set in an oasis, in the morning. (A private transfer option would allow you to stop along the way at El Brujo archaeological complex, famous for its richly coloured murals on a Moche pyramid, and the Señora de Cao museum, which exhibits the tattooed mummy of the first female ruler of the Moche culture, the Lady of Cao. The museum also hosts ceremonial items, jewellery, weapons, ancient textiles and ceramics, as well as the touching mummified remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed).

The port Trujillo has an attractive colonial heart, with historic buildings painted in bright pastel shades.  The Plaza de Armas (main square) and its grand, ornate and golden cathedral were built in 1647. Surrounding the square are a number of aristocratic mansions also from the Spanish colonial era, many sporting baroque and rococo features. The city is lively in the evenings and famed for its traditional dances.

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Day 9

Guided visits to Moche monuments.
Chan Chan

Discover two temples 5km from Trujillo which also date from the Moche era. Visit the 1,500-year-old Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), built with many millions of moulded adobe bricks. Directly opposite, the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) dazzles with its decorated walls and impressive friezes. 

Have lunch at a restaurant on the coast at Huanchaco Bay, where fishermen continue to venture out to sea in fragile straw skiffs.  In the afternoon, take a tour of Chan Chan, the extensive pre-Columbian adobe citadel of the Chimú empire, considered the largest of its kind at over 20 square kilometres.

The partially restored city gives a true insight into yet another ancient Peruvian civilisation. It was founded somewhere between 850 and 1,300AD – no-one is sure, but it is older than the Inca empire which subdued it in 1470. At the apogée of the city’s influence it housed somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people and stored a wealth of gold, silver and pottery.

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Chan Chan

Day 10

Explore Trujillo then fly to Cusco.

After a morning at leisure further to explore Trujillo, fly to Cusco. The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire. Today its many impressive original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, while the bustling squares are dotted with ornate baroque colonial churches.

It’s a vivacious city, where cheerful young people selling excursions and alpaca clothing jostle for your attention in cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and cafés.

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Day 11

Guided tour of Cusco.

Today you are led on a tour of the city. You visit Q’oricancha, once the principal Inca Sun Temple, with extraordinarily intricate stonework, and then explore the colossal zigzag walls of Sacsayhuamán, a massive temple fortress brooding on a hillside above Cusco. In 1536 a desperate and defining three-day battle was fought between the Spaniards and the Incas here. The first conquistadores to see it were awestruck, and centuries later it is still an extraordinary and imposing sight.

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Day 12

Guided explorations of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
sacred valley

Today, head down from the high plains to explore the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas. Once the bread-basket of the Inca Empire, it was heavily populated in imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain, where well-preserved ruins bear witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created. The drive passes through or close to several of the villages and temple fortresses which pepper the valley.

A guided tour reveals the beauty of the valley. The drive takes in several of its villages and temple fortresses. You visit Pisaq, both the colonial village and the Inca terraces and fort high above. The engineering and preservation are unrivalled. From the flat valley floor the sculpted hillside rises up like a green staircase to the heavens. This Inca site sits on a spur, which juts out between two gorges. It contains a large complex of temples, observatories and grain stores linked by paths which hug the hillside.

Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to the fortress/temple of Ollantaytambo. Rising above the community below, the walled terraces and fortress of this Inca sanctuary provide some of the finest examples of Inca architecture. The snow-frosted Andean cordillera forms a stunning backdrop.

Ollantaytambo, sitting strategically at the gateway to the Amazon basin, was never captured by the Spanish conquistadores, but the Inca inhabitants decided that the settlement was too vulnerable and abandoned it. The fortress, the colonial grid plan and the Inca foundations are still intact and there are wonderful views down over the sloping hillsides and into the fertile valley.

In the late afternoon, take the train to Machu Picchu village (90mins). As the river Urubamba enters its narrow gorge between thickly-forested granite hills, there is room only for a single track, which hugs the right bank.  You spend the night in the busy village which is dedicated to serving the many visitors with artisan markets, bars and restaurants.

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sacred valley

Day 13

Guided tour of the Inca citadel Machu Picchu.
Machu Picchu Peru

The majestic ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, is nowadays reached by a zig-zag road. The American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath jungle vegetation. The ruins’ setting on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon  is as impressive as the ruins themselves.

Visits to Machu Picchu are tightly controlled nowadays, for conservation reasons. To start, you will have a guided tour of the ruins along one of the three approved routes. The tour takes 2-2.5 hours, after which there should be time to explore a little on your own. Return to Cusco by train and bus in the afternoon. 

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Machu Picchu Peru

Day 14

Day at leisure in Cusco.

Cusco is a compact city, easy to explore on foot independently. Forearmed with the knowledge you acquired on your city tour, you are at leisure to discover more of the local and artisan markets, the many churches and museums, and to wander the attractive narrow streets stopping off at a café, pisco bar or any one of a huge choice of restaurants.   If after all the cultural explorations you fancy something a bit more active, you can sign up for rafting, hiking or mountain biking.

There are optional excursions in the surrounding region, including a trip to Maras and Moray, about an hour’s drive from Cusco. Moray is a system of ancient agricultural irrigation paths which now form circular depressions in the earth, with wonderful views into the Sacred Valley and in the shadow of the snowy peak of Mount Veronica. From here it is a short drive to the salt pans at Maras, circular pans of glistening white carved into the mountainside. 

The towering walls of the ruins at Piquillacta, an impressive site dating back to the long-enduring pre-Inca Huari civilisation, is a short drive from Cusco and well worth a visit; it can be combined with viewing the impressive Inca aqueducts at Tipón.

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Day 15

Transfer to airport to connect with your international flight home.

For UK clients, the most convenient flights are with Avianca which has a flight from Bogotá from where there is a direct service to Heathrow.

You might consider stopping over in Bogotá, capital of Colombia, an exciting city with immense colonial architecture and the world famous Gold Museum. 

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