Arrive in Lima at any time and transfer to the hotel. There are no planned activities, so head out to explore the city. In the evening we will meet our tour guide and fellow group members to go over the details of our trip. Check the notice board (or ask reception) to see the exact time and location of the group meeting. If you arrive late, the leader will leave a message at the front desk. Peru is frequently referred to as the Land of the Incas. It is true that the Incas formed the greatest empire on the continent and left mysterious cities such as Machu Picchu. However, it is important to remember that the Incas were only the last in a long series of Peruvian civilizations spanning several thousand years and the ruins of many of these earlier civilizations can also be visited. Peru is made up of three main geographical areas: the Andes, the Amazon and the desert coastal area. Known as the City of Kings, Peru’s capital, Lima, was founded by Francisco Pizarro on the day of the three Kings (Epiphany) in 1535. The Plaza de Armas is the heart of old Lima, and it is here we find the Cathedral, Government Palace and Archbishop’s Palace. The Cathedral dates back to the 1700s and houses the remains of the conquistador Pizarro. To get a feel for colonial Lima, take a cab to the Plaza de Armas and watch the changing of the Palace guard in the afternoon. Walk the streets surrounding the Jirón de la Unión for great examples of Spanish-colonial architecture and to get a taste for life in a large South American city. There are many fine museums in and around the city, including the Museo Rafael Larco Herrera, which houses an equally impressive collection of pottery, mummies and textiles from the Paracas and Nazca cultures. The more affluent districts of Miraflores, Barranco and San Isidro, which are on the coast, offer nightlife and cafés all within walking distance. Limeños (Lima’s residents) are friendly, and the city is filled with excellent restaurants; seafood lovers in particular should be sure to try a ceviche, for which Lima is well known.
This morning we take an early flight to Cuzco, and check in to our comfortable hotel. We will then enjoy an orientation walk of this beautiful historic city and learn the basics with an introductory Spanish lesson. The remainder of the day is at our leisure, relax or explore the cobblestone streets during the afternoon and evening. Cuzco is the continent’s oldest continuously inhabited city and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travelers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 21th century way of life; one could easily spend a week just in and around the area. Inca-built stone walls line most of the central streets and we don't have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend. Every year Cuzco attracts thousands of travelers who come to delve into its noble but tragic past. It is the perfect base for optional explorations around the city and area as well as a range of outdoor activities. Relax and explore this fascinating city, and take time to acclimatize to the high altitude. Cuzco is considered the mecca of Peru and rightly so. This beautiful colonial town offers much to the visitor with its nearby ruins, cobble stoned streets, museums, churches and lively atmosphere. Among the more adventurous optional activities available in Cuzco are: horseback riding around archaeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara; white water rafting on the Urubamba River; and mountain biking down to the Sacred Valley, perhaps visiting an Inca ruin along the way. Cuzco’s numerous colonial churches are one of the city’s most common sights. The Cathedral was started in 1559 and took 100 years to build; it is also one of the city’s greatest repositories of colonial art. Immediately in front of the entrance is a vault containing the remains of the famous Inca historian, Garcilaso de la Vega. Also worth visiting are the churches of La Compañía, La Merced and San Francisco. While most ruins are just outside of the city, the main ruin within is the Coricancha, once the Inca Empire's richest temple. Today the ruin forms the base of the colonial church of Santo Domingo. During Inca times this temple was literally covered with gold, but within months of the arrival of the first conquistadors this incredible wealth had all been melted down. It is left to the individual imagination to envision the magnificence of the original structure. There are several good museums in Cuzco, including the Archeological Museum, which also houses a small art museum, the Regional History Museum and the Religious Art Museum. The best advice for exploring Cuzco is to wear a comfortable pair of shoes, arm yourself with a city map and set off to explore!
We depart from Cuzco with a local guide into the Sacred Valley for 2 full days of exploration. We visit the Ccaccaccollo Community and the Planeterra sponsored Women's Weaving Project where we watch demonstrations of ancient weaving techniques and wool dying. Next we tour and hike through the stunning Pisac ruins and visit the handicraft market. This evening we visit a local restaurant to enjoy a thousand year-old tradition, a Pachamanca-style dinner. The next morning we visit the site of Moray, which many archeologists believe was an agricultural experiment, started prior to the Incas arrival. We then continue to the pre-Incan salt pans of Las Salineras, which are still used today. A small natural hot spring fills up shallow pools dug into the hillside, which in the dry season, leave a thick layer of salt. After an included lunch, we visit a traditional Chicha House to try the popular local beverage, which is fermented from corn. We then finish with a visit the Incan fortress town and ruins of Ollantaytambo. A thousand year-old tradition: a Pachamanca, is an ancient ceremony akin to the Polynesian meal of burying a variety of delicious treats wrapped in banana leaves and slow-cooking them with pre-heated rocks buried in the ground. Our meal is prepared in a charming local restaurant by an experienced chief. Items include chicken, lamb, a variety of local potatoes and vegetables and plantain. The town and fortress of Ollantaytambo are strategically situated overlooking the beautiful Urubamba River Valley. This major ruin site is known as the best surviving example of Inca urban planning and engineering. It is admired for its huge steep terraces guarding the Inca Fortress and for being one of the few places where the Spanish lost a major battle during the conquest.
Today, we enjoy a scenic train ride through the Andes to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We take a brief orientation walk and then venture up to Machu Picchu for a guided tour. On Day 6, admission to Machu Picchu is also included, should we wish to explore the site on our own or hike to the Sun Gate, Inca bridge or Huayna Picchu. There also is free time for optional activities such as a visit to the hot springs, or shopping before we return to Cuzco later in the afternoon by train. Machu Picchu is both the best and the least known of the Inca ruins. It is not mentioned in any of the chronicles of the Spanish conquistadors and archeologists today can do no more than speculate on its function. The local Quechua farmers in the area knew of Machu Picchu for centuries, but it was not until an 11-year-old boy led the American historian, Hiram Bingham, to the site on July 24, 1911 that the rest of the world became aware of its existence. At that time the site was covered in thick vegetation, and Bingham and his team returned in 1912 and 1915 to clear the growth. Over the years, much work has been done on excavating and studying the site. Despite these efforts, many questions remain unanswered.
Enjoy a full day at leisure in Cuzco exploring on your own or take an optional tour. Optional activities include: horseback riding, archeological sites such as Sacsayhuaman, Tambo Machay and Puca Pucara, visit the Cuzco Planeterra project, visits to churches and museums, white water rafting, rock climbing and shopping opportunities.
Flight to the north of Peru, connecting through Lima.
Enjoy a tour of the Bruning Museum in Lambayeque which contains relics and artifacts of Peru’s most important archeological discovery of the past fifty years. Also visit the royal Moche tomb at Sipan was unearthed in 1987 near Chiclayo. The Bruning Museum in Lambayeque contains relics and artifacts and houses Peru's most important archaeological discovery of the past fifty years - the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum. Opened in 2003, this museum showcases the most important archaeological remains of the Mochica Culture, including the contents of the tomb of a Mochica leader, found in 1987. Chiclayo acts as a central hub for commercial and tourist activities. Nicknamed "The City of Friendship", Chiclayo certainly lives up to the name as you will find the locals to be welcoming and friendly. Take time to enjoy what the city has to offer.
Today we explore the archaeological site of Tucume, home to 26 pre-Columbian adobe pyramids. After, we visit the famed "Witches" market where local Shamans sell herbs and offer their spiritual services.
Travel to Trujillo with a stop at the El Brujo archaeological complex a major religious and population center of the Moche between the first and seventh centuries AD. Trujillo is the capital of the Department of La Libertad and is well known for it's colonial buildings, proximity to the Chimu ruins of Chan-Chan and the resort of Huanchaco, where the fishermen's boats are constructed of buoyant reeds and the seafood is both tasty and abundant.
Explore the ancient Chimu capital of Chan Chan. Considered the largest pre-Columbian city in the Americas and the largest mud city in the world. Afterwards it’s off to another archeological site the Temples of the Sun and Moon which appear like two pyramid-shaped huacas overlooking the south bank of the Moche River. On day 13, day is free with option to visit Huanachaco ruins, churches and Museums. The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are made of temples, which are superposed according to the different periods of the Mochicas. Archaeologists have found a tomb with more than 40 sacrificed warriors.
Flight back to Lima and enjoy our farewell dinner at Restaurant Huaca Pucllana, overlooking the famous Miraflores ruins. Option to visit museums and local markets for shopping.
Depart at any time.