Private Journeys

Empires of Peru: Kuelap and Machu Picchu

15 days from £2,780pp


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Overview & Highlights

A good value holiday which delivers a varied flavour of Peru’s multi-layered history of sophisticated pre-Conquest indigenous empires in their magnificent natural settings.  

  • Lima: Larco Museum
  • Cocachimba: Trek to Gocta Falls
  • Cocachimba: Tour of Kuelap ruined walled city
  • Chiclayo: Sipán and Tumbas Reales Museum
  • Chiclayo: Sican Museum, Túcume
  • Trujillo: Full day visit to archaeological sites including Chan Chan
  • Cusco: City tour
  • Cusco: Full day visit to the Sacred Valley of the Incas including Pisac
  • Guided tour of Machu Picchu

Surely no country in the world can compete with Peru for the sheer richness and variety of its history of empire. Waves of indigenous cultures, each with its own distinctive traditions, have left a huge cultural legacy. Ruined temples and fortresses abound, artistic artefacts have been discovered all around the country, and the descendants of these peoples maintain a strong identity linking them with their past.

With constantly improving infrastructure in Peru, it is now possible to discover the different vestiges of this heritage in what were once remote locations difficult (and expensive) to access. This exciting good-value holiday takes you to the archaeological sites of northern Peru, including cliff-top Kuelap of the mysterious Chachapoyans, the Moche temples on the desert coast and, of course, Cusco and the remarkable Inca citadel at Machu Picchu. 


Day 1

Arrive in Lima and transfer to hotel in Miraflores.

You will be met at the airport and escorted by one of our local representatives to your hotel on the Pacific-side residential and commercial district Miraflores. Lima is a vast, complex metropolis, with a history dating from the era of its wealth and importance to Imperial Spain to its current status as a dynamic, growing city of trade, industry and tourism.

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Day 2

Private guided visit to the Larco Museum.

Visit the Larco Museum, one of our favourites in Latin America, where exhibits are beautifully displayed in a colonial building with flowery patios. The museum houses an astonishing private collection of pre-Columbian ceramic pieces which will put your upcoming visits to archaeological sites in context.  The comprehensive range of pottery items shows you just how Peruvian culture developed over the centuries,  a great introduction to the exotic Moche, Sicán and Chimú cultures, and in fact this is the world's largest collection of artefacts from the eras of their ascendancy.

It's not all about pots though - there are displays of gorgeous textiles, intricate gold and silver work and haunting mummies, all left behind by highly artistic pre-Inca civilisations. To add to it all, there's an extensive and unique collection of erotic figurines.

Tom Johnson-Sabine ©

Day 3

Fly to Jaen in northern Peru, continue to Chachapoyas.

Fly to Jaen and drive onwards alongside paddy fields in Peru's premier rice producing region to Chachapoyas. This pleasant town (pop. around 20,000) is the capital of Amazonas, region, founded by the Spanish in 1538 and still retaining much of its colonial character. At an altitude of 2,335m, it is situated in a transition zone between the icy severity of the high Andes and the lush foliage of the Amazon basin.


Day 4

Full day guided discovery of Kuelap fortress; on to Gocta Falls..

A drive of an hour or so takes to you Kuelap temple/fortress, the jewel in the crown of the Chachapoyan civilisation (which flourished from 0AD onwards). Society at that time was organised in a system of chiefdoms, the vestiges of which are a group of sophisticated settlements even more grand and mysterious than those of the Incas.

Until recently it was necessary to drive up to the citadel (3,000m above sea level  - Chachapoya means “warrior of the clouds”) - along a steep winding road but today you will ride on the recently inaugurated cable-car.  Magnificent views help you to appreciate the feat of manpower and engineering involved in the construction of the towering walls - some are 20m high - encircling the whole hilltop. The telecabinas cross the valley in just 20 minutes, with all-embracing vistas across the valley.

When you get to the top you’ll be overwhelmed by the vast scale of the place with its massive stone ramparts. These monumental limestone walls enclose temples and dozens of roundhouses which were the homes of farmers, builders and craftsmen, decorated with motifs of birds and animals. No one knows much about the site but now it is believed that it was a ceremonial centre rather than a fortress.  You can judge for yourself, as you explore the complex (much of it is still covered with undergrowth and under restoration) and enjoy terrific views from cloud-level over the silvery river glimmering far below. Following your visit you'll be driven to Cocachimba. 

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Day 5

Hike to Gocta Falls.

It's a two-hour hike to the base of the lofty Gocta waterfalls. You walk through cloud forest festooned with orchids and giant ferns while populated by yellow-tailed woolly monkeys, mountain sloths and the brilliantly-plumed birds known as cock-of-the-rock. The Gocta Falls were unknown outside the immediate surrounding villages until a German explorer spotted them in 2005. They are the third-highest falls in Peru and are certainly a staggering sight, a two-stage silver ribbon plunging 771m from on high over dizzyingly vertical cliffs. If many self-proclaimed authorities are to be believed, this is the tallest single drop of river water in the world after Angel Falls in Venezuela. 

Overnight again in Cocachimba, within sight of the falls.

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Day 6

Continue by road to Chiclayo.

It is a day-long drive westward towards the Pacific from Cocachimba, which, at 1,809m, is set in an Amazonas province embracing the forested canyons of the east-facing Andean foothills. It's an incredibly beautiful and varies ride, starting through hills stifled by foliage and Peru’s humid rice-growing area then rising to cross a virtually uninhabited, increasingly wild and rugged section of the Andes mountain range before finally descending to reach the fertile oasis hosting Chiclayo, an large port on the north Pacific coast. This is one of Peru's most important agricultural regions. The city itself, modern and very busy, is a major commercial hub but is more famous for the archaeological treasures found in its vicinity.

Day 7

Museum visits.

Situated 35km from Chiclayo, Sipán is an extensive burial site of the Moche culture - a civilisation which flourished on the north coast of Peru between 100 and 800AD. Several royal tombs filled with 1,700-year-old offerings have been uncovered including pieces worked in precious metals, stone, pottery and textiles. The most startling discovery of the original excavation was of an entombed Moche leader, who became known as the Lord of Sipán.

This was followed by the finding of an even older tomb - predating the former by 200 years. There is a site museum featuring details of the excavation work and replicas of some of the finds. You’ll visit the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum where the original pieces are now exhibited. The museum, 17km from Chiclayo, is a replica of the Moche pyramid under which the tombs were found.

In the afternoon, travel to Ferreñafe, 18km north of Chiclayo, to discover the artefacts of the coastal Sicán (or Lambayeque) culture which was in ascendancy from 750-1,350AD. The Sicán Museum's reconstruction of a tomb provides visitors with an unparalleled insight into a complex culture. The exhibition covers everything from daily domestic life to craftsmanship and manufacturing processes used to produce the distinctive gold and ceramic works of art.

The museum also provides the perfect introduction to your next destination, Túcume, a vast Sicán archaeological complex known as the Valley of the Pyramids – it features as many as 26 adobe pyramids and was once a place of pilgrimage for the coastal population. This settlement dates back to 1,000-1,100AD, and was subsequently conquered by the Chimu and then the Incas. 

Fiona Raleigh ©

Day 8

Drive to Trujillo, coastal colonial city.

Travel for 4hrs by public coach along the coastal Pan-American highway, framed by harsh desert, to Trujillo, set in an oasis, in the morning. A private transfer option would allow you to stop along the way at El Brujo archaeological complex, famous for its richly coloured murals on a Moche pyramid, and the Señora de Cao museum, which exhibits the tattooed mummy of the first female ruler of the Moche culture, the Lady of Cao. The museum also hosts ceremonial items, jewellery, weapons, ancient textiles and ceramics, as well as the touching mummified remains of a teenage girl who had been sacrificed).

The port Trujillo has an attractive colonial heart, with historic buildings painted in bright pastel shades.  The Plaza de Armas (main square) and its grand, ornate and golden cathedral were built in 1647. Surrounding the square are a number of aristocratic mansions also from the Spanish colonial era, many sporting baroque and rococo features. The city is lively in the evenings and famed for its traditional dances.

Fiona Raleigh ©

Day 9

Guided visits to Moche monuments.

Discover two temples 5km from Trujillo which also date from the Moche era. Visit the 1,500-year-old Huaca del Sol (Temple of the Sun), built with many millions of moulded adobe bricks. Directly opposite, the Huaca de la Luna (Temple of the Moon) dazzles with its decorated walls and impressive friezes. 

Have lunch at a restaurant on the coast at Huanchaco Bay, where fishermen continue to venture out to sea in fragile straw skiffs.  In the afternoon, take a tour of Chan Chan, the extensive pre-Columbian adobe citadel of the Chimú empire, considered the largest of its kind at over 20 square kilometres.

The partially restored city gives a true insight into yet another ancient Peruvian civilisation. It was founded somewhere between 850 and 1,300AD – no-one is sure, but it is older than the Inca empire which subdued it in 1470. At the apogée of the city’s influence it housed somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 people and stored a wealth of gold, silver and pottery.

Fiona Raleigh ©

Day 10

Explore Trujillo then fly to Cusco.

After a morning at leisure further to explore Trujillo, fly to Cusco. The name Cusco derives from the Quechua word for navel, indicating its location at the centre of the Inca Empire. Today its many impressive original Inca walls display extraordinary craftsmanship, while the bustling squares are dotted with ornate baroque colonial churches.

It’s a vivacious city, where cheerful young people selling excursions and alpaca clothing jostle for your attention in cobbled streets lined with handicraft shops and cafés. In the evening, the town centre fills with people flocking to the many restaurants, bars and cafés.

Fiona Raleigh ©

Day 11

Guided tour of Cusco.

Today you are led on a tour of the city. You visit Q’oricancha, once the principal Inca Sun Temple, with extraordinarily intricate stonework, and then explore the colossal zigzag walls of Sacsayhuamán, a massive temple fortress brooding on a hillside above Cusco. In 1536 a desperate and defining three-day battle was fought between the Spaniards and the Incas here. The first conquistadores to see it were awestruck, and centuries later it is still an extraordinary and imposing sight.

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Day 12

Guided explorations of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Today, head down from the high plains to explore the fertile Sacred Valley of the Incas. Once the bread-basket of the Inca Empire, it was heavily populated in imperial times and scores of archaeological sites remain, where well-preserved ruins bear witness to the highly developed society that the Incas created. The drive passes through or close to several of the villages and temple fortresses which pepper the valley.

A guided tour reveals the beauty of the valley. The drive takes in several of its villages and temple fortresses. You visit Pisaq, both the colonial village and the Inca terraces and fort high above. The engineering and preservation are unrivalled. From the flat valley floor the sculpted hillside rises up like a green staircase to the heavens. This Inca site sits on a spur, which juts out between two gorges. It contains a large complex of temples, observatories and grain stores linked by paths which hug the hillside.

Continue along this picturesque, patchwork valley to the fortress/temple of Ollantaytambo. Rising above the community below, the walled terraces and fortress of this Inca sanctuary provide some of the finest examples of Inca architecture. The snow-frosted Andean cordillera forms a stunning backdrop.

Ollantaytambo, sitting strategically at the gateway to the Amazon basin, was never captured by the Spanish conquistadores, but the Inca inhabitants decided that the settlement was too vulnerable and abandoned it. The fortress, the colonial grid plan and the Inca foundations are still intact and there are wonderful views down over the sloping hillsides and into the fertile valley.

In the late afternoon, take the train to Machu Picchu village (90mins). As the river Urubamba enters its narrow gorge between thickly-forested granite hills, there is room only for a single track, which hugs the right bank.  You spend the night in the busy village which is dedicated to serving the many visitors with artisan markets, bars and restaurants.

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Day 13

Guided tour of the Inca citadel Machu Picchu.

The majestic ruined city, reclaimed from tropical cloud forest, is nowadays reached by a zig-zag road. The American explorer Hiram Bingham discovered it in 1911, by which time it was completely buried beneath jungle vegetation. The ruins’ setting on a ridge spur amid forested peaks and above a roaring river canyon  is as impressive as the ruins themselves.

Visits to Machu Picchu are tightly controlled nowadays, for conservation reasons. To start, you will have a guided tour of the ruins along one of the three approved routes. The tour takes 2-2.5 hours, after which there should be time to explore a little on your own. Return to Cusco by train and bus in the afternoon. 


Day 14

Day at leisure in Cusco.

Cusco is a compact city, easy to explore on foot independently. Forearmed with the knowledge you acquired on your city tour, you are at leisure to discover more of the local and artisan markets, the many churches and museums, and to wander the attractive narrow streets stopping off at a café, pisco bar or any one of a huge choice of restaurants.   If after all the cultural explorations you fancy something a bit more active, you can sign up for rafting, hiking or mountain biking.

There are optional excursions in the surrounding region, including a trip to Maras and Moray, about an hour’s drive from Cusco. Moray is a system of ancient agricultural irrigation paths which now form circular depressions in the earth, with wonderful views into the Sacred Valley and in the shadow of the snowy peak of Mount Veronica. From here it is a short drive to the salt pans at Maras, circular pans of glistening white carved into the mountainside. 

The towering walls of the ruins at Piquillacta, an impressive site dating back to the long-enduring pre-Inca Huari civilisation, is a short drive from Cusco and well worth a visit; it can be combined with viewing the impressive Inca aqueducts at Tipón.

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Day 15

Transfer to airport to connect with your international flight home.

For UK clients, the most convenient flights are with Avianca which has a flight from Bogotá from where there is a direct service to Heathrow.

You might consider stopping over in Bogotá, capital of Colombia, an exciting city with immense colonial architecture and the world famous Gold Museum. 


Tour info


2 (or 3, depending on international airline used) short internal flights; 4 scenic road journeys; 2 rail journeys. Some excursions involve a couple of hours travelling by road. The road journeys are a mix of public and private services, you have options to travel privately throughout to make stops en route but there will be an extra charge.


Here we use a mix of mid-trange, economical hotels, choosing accommodation we think is very comfortable but also well located and with some local character. Whether colonial in style or modern they have-equipped rooms, private bathrooms and heating. 


Breakfast daily, lunch days 4,5, 9; dinner day 5.


We carefully select our local partners, some of whom we have worked with for over 25 years. Their English-speaking guides understand the expectations of our clients very well, and are consistently singled out for praise by the latter on their return.

Summary Of Nights

15 days, 14 nights: Lima 2;  Chachapoyas 1, Cocachimba 2; Chiclayo 2;Trujillo 2; Cusco 2; Machu Picchu 1; Cusco 2.


The unit of currency in Peru is the sol.

How To Take It

Cash machines are available in all major cities and towns, and so taking a debit or credit card with a PIN number is the most convenient way of withdrawing money while on your trip, and in most shops and restaurants you can also pay by card. However, since cards can get lost, damaged, withheld or blocked, you should not rely exclusively on a card to access funds.  You are staying in some remote places where there may be no ATMs so always have some cash available.

We recommend that you take a reasonable quantity of US dollars cash (no more than is covered by your insurance), which you can exchange into local currency., Dollar bills should be in good condition, soiled or torn bills may be refused. You can take sterling, but the exchange rate is not always competitive or even available, restricting the number of places where you can change money.

Daily Spend

It is very difficult to give a guideline for essential expenses but a budget of around US$35 per day should cover the cost of meals not included in the holiday itinerary, drinks and the odd souvenir. Eat at the best restaurants and you will pay considerably more.


Tips are welcomed and local guides often rely on their tip as a significant proportion of their income. 

Most service industry workers will expect a tip of some kind and so it is useful to have spare change for hotel porters, taxi drivers and the like. It is common to leave 10 – 12% in restaurants.

Tipping guidelines can be found in our Briefing Dossier.


Travel insurance is essential. 

Details of our recommended policy can be found on our Travel Insurance page. 

Airport Taxes

If you have purchased your flights through Journey Latin America, the international departure tax is usually included in the ticket.

Journey Grade

You are travelling to some remote areas which are slowly being opened up to visitors. Road journeys are long and some still unpaved, but always offer views over a landscape dominated by nature.

This holiday is suitable for all able-bodied, reasonably fit visitors. If one of your party has a disability or other special requirements, please call us.

The streets in Cusco are cobbled and steep.


The rainy season in the Andes runs between November and March when there are showers most afternoons.

The dry season is in June, July and August when the sun is strong during the day, but at night the temperature drops dramatically (from freezing point to 10°C). April, May, September and October are less predictable, with both rainy and sunny spells.

Lima is covered in a dull grey mist for much of the year, although the sun does break through between November and March. It almost never rains in Lima, and temperatures are moderate.


The highest point of your journey will be your visit to Kuelap (3,050m) and Cusco (3,400m). A small minority of visitors may suffer temporarily from altitude sickness. Symptoms vary; most common are mild headaches, slight nausea and breathlessness. If you don’t recover in a day or two speak to our representatives; in very rare instances it is necessary to descend to lower altitudes. Most people are unaffected and if you drink plenty of water and allow your body to acclimatise (don’t exert yourself or drink alcohol) in the first couple of days after arrival, you will minimise your chances of suffering any symptoms.

Please refer to our Briefing Dossier for further information.

Clothing And Special Equipment

For day-to-day wear you should go prepared to encounter all seasons. Both warm clothing and a sun hat are essential at altitude; a light fleece jacket and a Gore-Tex (or similar) outer shell makes a good combination. Trousers, skirt or shorts made from light, quick-drying synthetic materials work well. If you plan to eat in smart restaurants, although clothing is not formal (no need for jacket and tie), something quite smart would be appropriate. Strong, comfortable footwear is essential and you should bring insect repellent, sun block and sun glasses.

Please get in touch with the office before departure if you have any doubts. Good equipment is very important and hard to come by in South America.


Preventative vaccinations are recommended against the following: typhoid; polio; tetanus; hepatitis A. You should consult your GP for specific requirements.

You can also find helpful information on the Masta Travel Health website. 


Holders of a full British passport do not require a visa, although passports must be valid for at least 6 months after the trip begins. Anyone with a different nationality should enquire with us or check with the relevant consulate.

If flying to the US, or via the US you will need to fill in your online ESTA application.

What's included in the price

  • Services of Journey Latin America tour leader
  • All land and domestic air transport
  • Accommodation as specified
  • Meals as specified
  • Excursions as specified

Included Excursions

  • Lima: Larco Museum
  • Cocachimba: Trek to Gocta Falls
  • Cocachimba: Tour of Kuelap ruined walled city
  • Chiclayo: Sipán and Tumbas Reales Museum
  • Chiclayo: Sican Museum, Túcume
  • Trujillo: Full day visit to archaeological sites including Chan Chan
  • Cusco: City tour
  • Cusco: Full day visit to the Sacred Valley of the Incas including Pisac
  • Guided tour of Machu Picchu

What's not included in the price

  • Insurance
  • Tips and gratuities
  • Meals other than specified
  • Optional excursions

Real Latin America Experts

  • JimAshworth
    Jim Ashworth - Travel Consultant

    Jim first caught the Latin American travel bug in 2001 when he decided at the last minute to join a friend travelling around Central America – he hasn't looked back since.

  • Chris Rendell Dunn
    Chris Rendell-Dunn - Travel Consultant

    Anglo-Peruvian Chris grew up in Lima and spent much of his adult life in between London and Cusco as a tour leader, before settling permanently in our Sales team.

  • Mary Anne Nelson
    Mary Anne Nelson - Travel Consultant

    Born in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, Mary’s insider knowledge and dry sense of humour make her a highly valued member of the Tailor-made team.

  • Paul Winrow Giffen
    Paul Winrow-Giffin - Travel Consultant

    After graduating in Computer Science, Paul spent seven months travelling from Colombia to Argentina and came home hooked on Latin America.

  • Lina Fuller
    Lina Fuller - Travel Consultant

    Lina's passion for the continent where she was born really took off when she moved to Córdoba to study, spending the holidays travelling between Argentina and her native Colombia.

  • Hannah Donaldson
    Hannah Donaldson - Travel Consultant

    Having spent part of her childhood in Colombia and worked in Brazil and Costa Rica, Hannah's ties to Latin America run deep. Hannah is an invaluable part of our Group Tours team.

Meet the team