Oddly, most Peru travelers never have the chance to explore Northern Peru -- our remedy is this culturally-charged and history-filled Peru tour. Spend the first part of your trip exploring the ancient strongholds of pre-Incan kingdoms near Trujillo and Chiclayo, visiting this area's most important ruins and the museums that shelter their most prized treasures. Then we'll make our way south to colonial Cusco, visit the important Incan ruins of Sacsayhuamán, Pisac and Ollantaytambo, and we spend two days exploring the Lost City of Machu Picchu in this tour. A great off-the-beaten-path Peru holiday!
This morning, catch a flight to Chiclayo; upon arrival, a guide will meet you at the airport and take you to your hotel. After settling into the hotel, the evening is free to spend as you wish. Northern Peru is rich in archeology, history and offers quite a geographical contrast to the southern region of Peru. From the 1st to the 15th Century AD, this region was home to some of South America's most prominent cultures - Moche, Lambayeque, Chimu and Chachapaoyas - who were exquisite craftsmen and excelled in the skills of ceramics, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy and warfare. From Chiclayo, we begin exploring the remnants, tombs and temples from the pre-Inca civilizations that once dominated the landscape.
This morning you will travel toward Lambayeque to visit the Tucume Pyramids. Tucume is believed to be an important regional center for the Sican in 1000-1350 AD, followed by the Chimu, and finally the Inca in 1450-1532 AD. An impressive site, Tucume is made up of over 540 acres and has 26 major pyramids and platforms. You will then visit the world famous Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum. The design of the museum was inspired by an actual Moche pyramid at Huaca Rajada. The museum displays all the archaeological material found in Sipan, including one of the most important finds in pre-Inca history; the Lord of Sipan tomb. There are impressive collections of gold, masks, jewelry, scepters and hundreds of ceramic pieces. The tomb, discovered in 1987, was the richest ever found in the western hemisphere. Its importance is commonly compared with Egypt's Tomb of Tutankamon.
After yesterday's visit of the Sipan Museum, you now have the chance to explore the ruins that unearthed the spectacular treasures now housed in the museum. The ruins of Huaca Rajada near the village of Sipan is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the last few years. These Moche ruins have become famous for the unlooted tombs, specifically the "Lord of Sipan" tomb, which were discovered by Walter Alva in 1987. After our visit, transfer to Trujillo. The 3.5 hour drive south follows the Panamerican Highway through deserts and irrigated valleys. Your Trujillo hotel is conveniently located in the colonial core of the city. Enjoy a restful evening.
The city of Trujillo boasts come of Peru's greatest examples of colonial homes, and the city has taken great efforts in preserving the historic architecture of Trujillo. Visit carefully restored colonial homes, Casa Iturregui, Casa Urquiaga or La Merced Church. Stop at the University of Trujillo's museum, Museo Arqueologico. The university is directing excavations at Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon); the museum proudly displays the collections found at the site.
Today we discover the unforgettable remains of the Chimu civilization. First visit the ruins of Chan Chan, the capital of Peru's largest pre-Incan empire, Chimu. In 1986 Chan Chan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. This kingdom once ruled stretched over 800 miles (1300 km), reaching all the way to present-day Lima. Follow your tour of Chan Chan with a visit to the Dragon Temple - also referred to as Huaca Arco Iris or Rainbow Temple. An elaborate panel displays the namesake of this ruin; two dragon-like creatures sheltered by a serpent or rainbow.
Finish our the day with a trip to the beach town, Huanchaco. Fisherman in Huanchaco use a distinct reed raft called, caballitos de tortora. Fisherman in this region have been delicately crafting these rafts for over 2,000 years.
The Sun and the Moon Temples (Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna) were built by the Moche civilization between 100BC - 650AD. At 1,250 feet, the Sun Temple is the tallest adobe pyramid in the Americas, and one of the largest in the world. Its counterpart, the Temple of the Moon is considered to be a former religious complex. Some of Peru's best-preserved murals are found at the Moon Temple. Even with substantial looting, excavations have revealed a large collection of exquisite ceramics and metalworks produced by obvious masters.
After our visit, you will have some free time for lunch before your transfer to the airport to catch a flight to Lima. Upon arrival, meet your transfer at the airport to take you to your hotel. Overnight in Lima.
Andean history comes alive in Cusco. Quechua speaking descendents of the Incas fill the streets and markets, colonial churches sit atop bases of smooth stonework laid centuries before the Conquistadors, and campesinos (Peru's rural farmers) in colorful dress move busily back and forth across the plazas. In the afternoon, you'll tour Cusco's largest open market and the adjacent witches' market. After tasting a few unique local foods, you will visit the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco, a local organization committed to preserving the region's weaving traditions. (If visiting the Sacred Valley on Sunday, you will visit their center in Chinchero instead). Watch weavers demonstrate their craft and learn about the history and processes of Peru's most well-known art form.
Journey into one of the most beautiful areas of Peru: the Sacred Valley. Test your bargaining skills with the locals while visiting one of the great textile markets in the area. You may hike to the inspiring ruins of Pisac, or take a short walk through the countryside to the seldom-visited town of Maras and its pre-Columbian salt mines (still in use today with salt being collected in traditional fashion) as well as the Inca agricultural terraces of Moray, thought to have been a nursery to experiment with and modify different varieties of crops. Make your way to the living Inca city of Ollantaytambo where you can relax for the night.
In the morning, visit the ruins and town of Ollantaytambo. During the Inca Empire, Ollantaytambo served as a royal estate and later a refuge after the Spanish conquered Cusco in 1537. The ruins feature expansive terraces and well-preserved architecture, and the town is still laid out as it was during the Incan empire, allowing its visitors to glimpse the history which still exists within its boundaries.
Board the train and follow the Urubamba River as it tumbles its way towards the Amazon and the sacred city of Machu Picchu. Ancient canals still bring water from the high mountains to the baths used by Inca priests. As visitors, you're welcomed to respectfully dip your hands in the cool water. After your tour of the Machu Picchu, you'll return to Machu Picchu Pueblo (town formerly called Aguas Calientes) to soak in the hot springs and dine on local trout fillets.
Today is your chance to watch the sunrise at Machu Picchu and to listen to the spirits of the city's past inhabitants before the hikers from the Inca Trail arrive. You can choose to book a permit to climb the sacred peak of Huayna Picchu, hike to the Sun Gate which overlooks the ruins or take a walk through the lush cloudforest to the Temple of the Moon. In the afternoon, you'll return by train to Cusco with your guide. (Let us know if you would like help arranging entrance fees or hiking permits for today – these are not included and sell out in advance!)
Today is free to relax and explore with your guide or on your own. Travelers can go on a city tour of the churches and surrounding ruins, such as the enormous Sacsayhuamán ruins that overlook Cusco (these ruins showcase building blocks the size of SUVs). You can also wander through the bustling Plaza de Armas in the heart of Cusco, shop for love potions in the local markets, or people watch from the cafes and restaurants that line these lovely streets. For those bursting with energy, horseback riding, mountain biking, or even whitewater rafting (Class III-IV) can be arranged. The evening is yours to take in some of Cusco's varied and exciting nightlife.
$965 single supplement