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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.

Two visits to Machu Picchu, as well as sites almost devoid of tourists around Trujillo are included.

Spectacular Andean scenery, world famous cuisine.

Option to add a 3-night extension with the lecturer that includes a flight over the Nazca lines, or a private trip to Lake Titicaca.

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  • 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 on Peru’s 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.

Optional tour extension: Paracas & the Nazca lines

20–23 September 2022

We offer the opportunity to remain in Peru for a further three nights and discover the Nazca lines, one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries. Spread over 500 square miles of arid countryside are 300 geoglyphs representing animals, plants and shapes up to 180m in length, thought to have been created by the Paracas and Nazca cultures between 900 bc and 600 ad. Many theories attempt to explain their existence and purpose, given that they can only be properly appreciated from the air.

A stay in the scenic bay of Paracas with an excursion to the wildlife-rich Ballestas islands, combined with the desert scenery of Ica, Peru’s most successful wine-growing region, makes for a relaxing end to the tour. 

Optional tour extension: Lake Titicaca

We can also organise private extensions with a local guide to Lake Titicaca. We suggest two or three extra nights including luxury train travel from Cuzco to Puno (3,830m above sea level), a boat trip on the lake to visit the floating islands of the Uros people and the stone mausoleums at Silustani. Contact us for more information and a quote.

Day 1

Arrival in Lima. The tour begins on day 2, Thursday 8th September, but accommodation is included for the night of 7th September to allow for arrivals. You may check in to the hotel from 3.00pm. First of three 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 Museo de Arte, Lima (MALI) which features around 1,200 pieces of art from the Pre-Columbian era to the mid-20th century. 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. 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. Continue to the Amano Museum’s collection of pre-Columbian textiles. 

Day 4

Lima, Trujillo. A free morning in Lima before an afternoon flight to Trujillo, a handsome colonial city with a colourful main square. First of three nights in Trujillo.

Day 5

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 it was destroyed by the Incas in 1470 ad. Its rich marine iconography reflects the importance of the sea to this civilisation. 

Day 6

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. 

Day 7

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 8

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 9

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 an interesting private collection of art and antiques. In the afternoon, visit the terraces and buildings of an Inca royal estate at Pisac.  

Day 10

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 it the most extraordinary archaeological site in South America. Overnight Machu Picchu.

Day 11

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

Day 12

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 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 13

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 14

Cuzco, Lima/Paracas. Fly in the morning from Cuzco to Lima, landing at c. 1.00pm, where the tour ends. 

Optional extension

Day 14 continued

Drive south from Lima airport to the coastal resort of Paracas (c. 4½ hours). An evening lecture explores the theories behind the creation of the Nazca lines. First of three nights in Paracas.

Day 15

Nazca lines, Ica. Morning flight over the Nazca lines (c. 1 hour 40 minutes) to observe c. 18 different figures (airline: Aerodiana. 12 seater planes, all window seats) followed by lunch and tasting at a nearby vineyard.  

Day 16

Paracas, Ballestas islands. A morning boat trip passes a candelabra-shaped geoglyph etched on to a sandy hillside, associated with the Nazca, before continuing to the Ballestas islands. Observe a wide range of birdlife from the boat including Peruvian Boobies, Guanay cormorants as well as Humbolt penguins and sea lions. Free afternoon.

Day 17

Drive at c. 12.00 noon to Lima airport, arriving at c. 5.00pm.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £5,740. Single occupancy: £6,830.


3 internal flights with LATAM (Airbus 320 & 319); 2 train journeys; transport by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 8 dinners and 8 lunches (including 2 picnics) with beer, water, and coffee, plus wine with dinner; 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 recommended flight options from London with your booking confirmation, which are available to book in October 2021. You can either make your own reservation or we can book on your behalf. The cost of a World Traveller (economy) seat with British Airways at the time of going to press is c. £700.


AC Miraflores, Lima: a comfortable and modern 5-star hotel. Wyndham Costa del Sol, Trujillo: 4-star colonial-style hotel in the main square. Hotel Sol y Luna: a Relais & Châteaux property with individual cottage-style rooms. Inkaterra, Machu Picchu Pueblo: cottage-style rooms in a forested area on the edge of the town. Palacio del Inka, Cuzco: 4-star hotel in a converted palace with attentive service. 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. Half of the tour is spent at high altitude (2,870–3,400m 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: 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 FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.


Optional tour extension: Paracas & the Nazca lines

20–23 September 2022

Price – per person

Two sharing: £1,780 Single occupancy: £1,930.


Flight over the Nazca lines with Aerodiana (aircraft: Cessna Gran Caravan; weather dependent; cancelled trips can sometimes be rearranged for the following day); transport by private coach; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 2 dinners and 1 lunch with wine or beer, water, and coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and local guide.


La Hacienda Bahia Paracas: a comfortable, 4-star, resort-style hotel.

How strenuous?

Please refer to the guidelines for Peru: the Andean Heartland. You may not find the flight over the Nazca lines enjoyable if you suffer from motion sickness.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 4 and 22 participants. Should numbers reach 10, the tour manager of Peru: the Andean Heartland will also accompany the group.

Optional tour extension: Lake Titicaca

We can also organise private extensions with a local guide to Lake Titicaca. We suggest two or three extra nights including luxury train travel from Cuzco to Puno (3,830m above sea level), a boat trip on the lake to visit the floating islands of the Uros people and the stone mausoleums at Silustani. Contact us for more information and a quote.

'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.'