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

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

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

Sites almost devoid of tourists around Trujillo are also included.

Spectacular Andean scenery, world famous cuisine.

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

  • 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 vestiges of Moche and Chimor cultures 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 in the afternoon to the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History with its collections of artefacts from Chavín, Nasca, Moche and Chimú cultures. Dinner overlooks the Huaca Pucllana, a vast adobe administrative and ceremonial centre of the Lima culture which flourished here at around 400 AD.


Day 3

Lima, Trujillo. Visit the heart of Colonial Lima (once the ‘City of the Kings’) to see the cathedral and the San Francisco Monastery with its Mudéjar church and important Spanish and Colonial art. In the afternoon fly north to Trujillo (LATAM Airlines). First of three nights in Trujillo.


Day 4

Trujillo. The Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol 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 5

Trujillo. Drive north to El Brujo, 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. Return to Trujillo, a handsome colonial city with a colourful main square. Visit the Casa Urquiaga, a colonial mansion in which the ‘Liberator’ Simón Bolívar stayed after proclaiming Peru’s independence in 1824.


Day 6

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 7

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 8

Pisac, Ollantaytambo. 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. Lunch is at an hacienda of one of the valley’s oldest families, with its interesting private collection of art and antiques. In the afternoon, visit the terraces and buildings of an Inca royal estate at Pisac. 


Day 9

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 10

Machu Picchu, Cuzco. Free morning to return to Machu Picchu, perhaps at first light, before catching an afternoon train and coach to Cuzco (c. 4 hours). First of three nights in Cuzco.


Day 11

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. 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. The Inca Museum contains some 10,000 artefacts while Cuzco Cathedral has wonderful ‘Cusqueña School’ paintings of the Colonial Period.


Day 12

Cuzco. The day 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 vestiges of its Inca palaces, fine Colonial churches and bustling markets.


Day 13

Cuzco, Puno. Take the late morning train from Cuzco to Puno, travelling through spectacular Andean landscapes. Arrive in Puno in the evening and sleep on board. Carriages and cabins are comfortable and lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and breakfast are served. Puno stands at an altitude of 3,830m above sea level.


Day 14

Lake Titicaca. The 88,000 acres of reeds growing along the lake’s margins have been used by the Uros people for centuries to build floating islands on which they make their homes, originally to escape conquest from more powerful forces. Visit these as well as the island of Taquile, whose inhabitants still wear colourful traditional costume. Overnight in Puno, on the shores of Lake Titicaca.


Day 15

Silustani, Lima. The spectacular chullpas, towering stone mausoleums in their beautiful location on the shores of Lake Umayo at Silustani were likely built by the Colla people, contemporaries and erstwhile opponents of the Inca. Fly in the early afternoon from Juliaca to Lima for the final night of the tour.


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.

Price – per person

Two sharing: £7,010. Single occupancy: £8,280. Supplement for deluxe mountain-view room at Machu Picchu: £170 (double) or £145 (double for single occupancy).


4 internal flights with LATAM (Airbus 320 & 319); 3 train journeys; transport by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 12 dinners and 9 lunches with wine or beer, water, and coffee; 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. Transfers will only be provided around the flights that we recommend. 


Hilton Miraflores, Lima: a comfortable 5-star hotel in the Miraflores district. 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. Belmond Andean Explorer train, small but comfortable twin or double bedded cabins with ensuite facilities. Public areas include dining, lounge and observation cars. Hotel Libertador, Puno: 5-star hotel with superb views of Lake Titicaca. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.

How strenuous?

A good level of fitness is essential. Unless you enjoy entirely unimpaired mobility, cope with everyday walking and stair-climbing without difficulty and are reliably sure-footed, this tour is not for you. On archaeological sites uneven ground, irregular paving, steps and hills are standard. Much of the tour is spent at high altitude (max. 3,830m above sea level) which can exacerbate fatigue. Additional insurance is required and anyone with heart or respiratory problems should seek advice from their doctor. Average distance by coach per day: 30 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?


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.'