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Peru: the Andean Heartland - Pre-Columbian to present day

A thorough exploration of pre-Columbian civilisations in Peru: Chachapoya, Moche, Chimú, Inca.

The lecturer, Dr David Beresford-Jones, is a fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge.

Stay on site at Machu Picchu and visit at quieter times.

Lesser-visited sites of northern Peru are included, including remote Kuelap, only recently made more accessible by cable car.

Spectacular Andean scenery, world famous cuisine.

100% of participants rated this tour as excellent last time it ran.

06 - 21 Sep 2018 £6,930 Book this tour

  • Remains of the Inca fort at Cuzco, lithograph, 1854.
    Remains of the Inca fort at Cuzco, lithograph, 1854.
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Of all the world’s vanished civilisations, few evoke as much mystique as the Incas of Peru. Stumbled upon and shattered by a handful of Spanish adventurers in 1538, the Inca Empire was the last great pristine civilisation on earth – a current aside from the mainstream of human history. Tawantinsuyu (the ‘Four Realms Together’), as the Incas called their empire, had been conquered with neither pen nor sword. In many senses ‘Neolithic’, it was administered through the khipu, a record-keeping system of intricate knotted cords, born of the marvellous textile traditions intrinsic to Andean civilisation.

And yet its dominion was vast, stretching over a distance greater than from London to Moscow, along the spines of the world’s highest cordilleras outside the Himalayas and home to scores of different ethnic groups. This tour seeks to understand and re-imagine the Inca Empire on a journey through its Andean heartland of Cuzco, following the sacred Vilcanota river. We take in classic Inca sites where their cyclopean stonework melds into the grandeurs of the Andean landscape to attain a Zen-like architectural aesthetic. The culmination is the most spectacular site of all, Machu Picchu, perched on the very fringes of Amazonia.

Yet the Incas were but the final flourish of an Andean cultural trajectory with roots many millennia deeper, a roll-call of cultures perhaps more magnificent still. So our exploration begins by the Pacific, from the excellent public and private museum collections in Lima, to the legacy of the Chachapoya or Cloud Warriors in the Amazonian Andes and the vestiges of Moche and Chimor on the northern coast.

En route we have ample chance to indulge in Peru’s extraordinary cuisine, acclaimed by chefs such as Ferran Adrià as ‘key to the future of gastronomy’. As with the ancient Andean civilisations, that cuisine is founded upon native food crops originating in one of humanity’s precious few ancient hearths of agriculture. It is set amid the world’s richest and densest concentration of ecotones, from desert coast to eternal snows to tropical rainforest, and adjoining one of its richest marine resources. Indeed, it is this that connotes the real importance of the Andes to our wider human story.


Martin Randall Travel is a member of the Latin American Travel Association – the authoritative voice in the UK for Latin American Travel and Tourism.


Day 1

The tour begins with a light dinner at the hotel at c. 8.30pm. You may check in to the hotel from 2.00pm. (flights from London are not included – see Practicalities). First of two nights in Lima.

Day 2

Lima. After an introductory lecture in the hotel, visit the Larco Herrera Museum with its famous collection of Moche and other pre-Inca ceramics. Continue to the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History with its collections of artefacts from Chavín, Nasca, Moche and Chimú cultures.

Day 3

Lima, Cocachimba. Fly north to Jaen (LATAM Airlines) and continue by coach to Cocachimba in the Amazonas region (c. 4 hours) with a packed lunch. Overnight Cocachimba.

Day 4

Kuelap, Chachapoyas. Drive and take a cable car amid jungle-clad mountains to Kuelap, occupied by the Chachapoya culture from 600 ad and sitting at 3000m above sea level. With 20m-high city walls and more than four hundred circular houses it is the largest stone structure in South America. Continue to nearby Chachapoyas for the night.

Day 5

Leymebamba, Cocachimba. Visit the Centro Mallqui, a museum which displays more than 200 Chachapoya-Inca mummies and their burial offerings. It also houses the largest number of khipus in Peru. Return to Cocachimba for the night.

Day 6

Chiclayo. A long but extremely scenic drive to Chiclayo (c. 9 hours) with a packed lunch. Overnight Chiclayo.

Day 7

Lambayeque, Trujillo. Visit the impressive museum dedicated to the ornaments and treasures discovered in the royal tombs of the Temple of Sipán (200–600 ad). Continuing south, El Brujo is a ceremonial centre of the Moche culture (1–700 ad) and the mausoleum of the Lady of Cao, an important priestess of that period. Her tomb is surrounded by painted relief murals, while her mummy still records the vestiges of the tattoos on her hands and legs. First of two nights in Trujillo.

Day 8

Trujillo. The Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol are the core of the ancient capital of the Moche empire. The former is adorned with superb polychrome reliefs indicative of its importance as a ritual and sacrificial centre. After lunch by the Pacific visit Chan Chan, the world’s largest adobe city and citadel of the Kingdom of Chimor for 500 years before its was destroyed by the Incas in 1470 ad. Its rich marine iconography reflects the importance of the sea to this civilisation.

Day 9

The Sacred Valley. Fly to Cuzco, via Lima and on to the Sacred Valley. Here, en route to the Amazon, the Urubamba (or Vilcanota) river twists through stunning mountain scenery and terraced farmland cultivated by the Incas. Urubamba sits at 2,870m above sea level and so the afternoon is free to rest and adjust to the altitude. First of three nights in Urubamba.

Day 10

Chinchero, Maras, Moray. At Chinchero a 17th-cent. church was built on top of an Inca temple. In the afternoon drive to the impressive Maras salt mines, exploited since before Inca times, and on to the marvellous concentric circular agricultural terraces of Moray.

Day 11

Pisac, Ollantaytambo. Visit the terraces and buildings of an Inca royal estate at Pisac. Lunch is at an hacienda of one of the valley’s oldest families, with its interesting private collection of art and antiques. Drive to the Inca citadel of Ollantaytambo, one of the last lines of resistance to the Spanish conquest, and site of elaborate water gardens amidst extraordinary cyclopean Inca stonework.

Day 12

Machu Picchu. Take the morning train to Machu Picchu, a scenic journey down the valley enjoyed through panoramic windows. Have lunch and settle in to the hotel before entering the site as the crowds disperse and the light fades. Forgotten during the Spanish conquest, the temples and buildings of Machu Picchu are consequently uniquely well-preserved, which, together with its setting high above the river amidst spectacular mountain landscapes, makes the site the most extraordinary archaeological site in South America. Overnight Machu Picchu.

Day 13

Machu Picchu, Cuzco. Free morning to return to Machu Picchu, perhaps at first light, before returning to Cuzco by rail and road. First of two nights in Cuzco.

Day 14

Cuzco. The Korikancha, the most sacred precinct and centre of the Inca Empire today beneath the Dominican Monastery, still preserves the finest examples of mortar-less Inca stonework with its trapezoidal doors and windows. The Inca Museum contains some 10,000 artefacts while Cuzco Cathedral has paintings of the colonial period. Visit the massive Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman with its monumental walls built using stones up to 400 tons in weight and the Inca ceremonial site of Qenko.

Day 15

Cuzco, Lima. The morning is free for independent exploration. Suggestions include the pre-Columbian art museum, or an optional walk through the city with the lecturer to view the many remains of its Inca palaces, fine Colonial churches and bustling markets. In the evening fly back to Lima. Overnight Lima.

Day 16

Lima. The day is free, with the option to visit the Amano Museum’s collection of pre-Columbian textiles. There is a transfer to the airport in time for the direct flight at c. 8.00pm from Lima to London Heathrow with British Airways.

Image of David Beresford-Jones

Dr David Beresford-Jones

Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge University. For the past 15 years he has directed investigations into ancient human-environment interactions on the south coast of Peru. He also has interests in the origins of agriculture, Pre-Colombian textiles and the synthesis of archaeology and historical linguistics, particularly in the Andes. He is the author of The Lost Woodlands of Ancient Nasca, the co-editor of Archaeology & Language in the Andes as well as many peer-reviewed journals articles and book chapters.

Price – per person

Two sharing: £6,930. Single occupancy: £8,290.


4 internal flights with LATAM (Airbus 320 & 319); 2 train journeys; transport by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 13 dinners and 10 lunches with wine or beer, water, and coffee; 3 packed lunches with water; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides. 


International flights between London and Lima are not included in the price of the tour. We will send the recommended flight options (that will be accompanied by our lecturer and/or tour manager) with your confirmation of booking and ask that you make your own flight reservation. The cost of an economy seat at the time of going to press is c. £700 and will be available to book in September 2017.


Hilton Miraflores, Lima: a comfortable 5-star hotel in the Miraflores district. Casa Hacienda Achamaqui, Chachapoyas: a colonial style lodge, equivalent to a 3-star, with beautiful views of the mountains and river. Casa Andina Select, Chiclayo a modern and functional 4-star hotel. Hotel Libertador Trujillo: 5-star colonial-style hotel in the main square. Hotel Tambo del Inka, Urubamba: 5-star hotel with an excellent restaurant. Sanctuary Lodge, Machu Picchu: 5-star, the only hotel at the entrance to the site. Palacio del Inka, Cuzco: 5-star hotel in a converted palace with attentive service. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.

How strenuous?

This is a long tour with some lengthy drives. There is a substantial amount of walking on the rough ground of archaeological sites, uphill and down so a good level of fitness is essential. Much of the tour is spent at high altitude (max. 3399m above sea level) which can exacerbate fatigue. Additional insurance may be required and anyone with heart or respiratory problems should seek advice from their doctor. Average distance by coach per day: 62 miles.

Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting:

Map for Peru.

'The lecturer was outstanding. His lectures and comments were superb and he communicated his erudition lightly and very effectively.'

'One couldn’t possibly have done so much so easily with such good accommodation for the same cost if travelling independently.'

'The lecturer was exceptional. I found I never enjoyed lectures so much and got so quickly interested the subject.'