Archaeology & Nature of Northern Peru

4 Days / 3 Nights

Daily departures all year round.
Trujillo, Chaparri & Chiclayo

This itinerary combines some of the most spectacular highlights of Peru´s desert archaeology with a taste of one of the planet´s rarest forest habitats, the arid "Tumbesian" woodlands of Peru´s north coast. We visit the glorious cities and temples of the Moche and Chimú civilizations, and glimpse the vestiges of an opulent Spanish colonial era in the modern city of Trujillo. The middle part of our journey takes us to a lodge in the Chaparrí nature reserve, set in the fascinating Pacific dry forest, and home to rescue projects for the threatened Andean Spectacled Bear and the critically endangered White-winged Guan. Finally we reach the city of Chiclayo, whence we launch our exploratory journeys to the pyramids of Túcume and Sipán and visit the spectacular collection of Moche treasures at the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum.


Day 1 - Trujillo: the great adobe pyramids of Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol, the picturesque beach resort of Huanchaco, and the pre-Inca city of Chan Chan.
Fly from Lima to Trujillo and transfer to the Libertador Hotel, in the heart of the colonial city. After checking in, our first destination will be the Huacas of the Sun and Moon - vast adobe temples built by the Moche culture, which ruled the North Peruvian coast during the first millennium A.D.

The Huaca de la Luna is an extraordinary demonstration of what patient long-term archaeology can achieve. Here, at a site that has been well known and frequently looted for centuries, excavations have revealed layer upon layer of ancient construction, uncovering wall after wall of colorful friezes that were deliberately buried by the Moche, and had not seen the light of day for one-and-a-half thousand years. Bloodthirsty fanged deities and exotic gods in the form of spiders, snakes felines, octopi and other marine creatures rub shoulders with lines of dancers, warriors and naked prisoners, and scenes of ritual combat. One wall is covered with such a multitude of mystifying symbols that it has been labeled simply "The Complicated Theme" - until some future genius can offer a plausible explanation of them. A site museum to display material unearthed here is under construction, and when opened it will be part of this visit.

Following our visit we head for the Pacific shore, to visit the royal palace complex of Chan Chan, built by the Chimú culture in the period leading up to the Inca invasion in the late 15th century. This enormous complex, the largest adobe city ever built, was in fact an elite settlement, a series of nine enormous palaces belonging to successive rulers of the Chimú realm. It is divided into nine separate palaces, which are vast adobe compounds, colorful and sumptuous in their heyday, and still hugely impressive even as ruins today.

At its height the population here may have reached 50,000 people. Many of them were artists and craftspeople, who made the dazzling goldwork, textiles and pottery for which the Chimú were famous. At the Tschudi palace enclosure we enter a labyrinthine series of courtyards lined with clay friezes of fish and ocean birds, and surrounded in places with open meshwork-style adobe walls, believed to represent fishing nets. We visit inner patios, residences, administrative buildings, temples, platforms and storehouses, and a huge reservoir where "sunken gardens" may have produced specialized crops for the Chimu nobility.


Day 2 - Trujillo to Chaparrí: the Moche temple of El Brujo and a desert drive to Chaparrí nature reserve.
We set off early, heading north by road up the Pan-American Highway and into the adjacent Chicama river valley, then making a short detour to the Pacific shore to visit the archaeological site of El Brujo. This site, featured in National Geographic magazine after the sensational discovery here of the mummy of a tattooed priestess, buried with a variety of ceremonial and military accoutrements. An extraordinary array of multicolored murals dating from seven or more phases of construction depicts both scenes from the daily lives of the Moche, and gory rituals of sacrifice.

North Peru

After lunch we drive through the major northern city of Chiclayo and then turn east towards the foothills of the Andes. Another 60Km/40 miles of paved road, followed by about 15 km/10 miles of dirt track, bring us to the spectacular layered cliffs of Chapparí mountain, and our lodge in the heart of the Chaparrí private nature reserve. We arrive in time to enjoy the late afternoon atmosphere of this enchanted place, located in a rare and highly threatened dry forest habitat, formerly abundant on the north coast of Peru.

The lodge is a set of simple, comfortable and environmentally harmonious buildings made of adobe and wood beams, in the north-coast style, with Chimú and Moche motifs artfully worked into the design.

The Chaparrí reserve offers a network of trails for wildlife viewing, and an animal rescue center, where Andean Spectacled bears taken from illegal captivity are kept, and are prepared for return to the wild when possible. Other rescued wildlife here include Andean Condor, King vulture, Ocelot, and the extremely rare Military Macaw.

The reserve's flagship bird species is the White-winged Guan, a large bird similar to a wild turkey, which are quite numerous and easy to see here, but so rare elsewhere that they are considered critically endangered.

(Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner)

Day 3 - Chaparrí to Chiclayo: Wild Nature in the Desert Forest, and the Tomb of a Desert Chieftain.
We spend the morning walking the trails of the 34,412ha./85,034 acre Chaparrí reserve, viewing wildlife and forest in the company of an experienced resident guide. We´ll see some of the resident protected species, and hope to see some of the rarer denizens of the reserve. We´ll learn much about the various endemic bird and animal species of this unique semi-desert ecology, which is extremely arid for much of the year, then briefly lush and green during the annual rains.

After lunch we drive back towards the coast to visit the famous site of Sipán. Here a mud-brick pyramid made world headlines in 1987 with one of the most sensational finds of recent archaeology. Known as the Huaca Rajada - the "Cracked Pyramid", because of the deep gulleys weathered into its flanks - this eroded adobe platform yielded fabulous ancient treasures from a series of deeply buried tombs of the pre-Inca Moche culture, who lived in the valleys of Peru's north coast 1,500 years ago. We see the tombs themselves, with superb reconstructions of the burials of priests and chieftains, together with their sacrificed guards and companions.

A highly informative site museum tells the story of this extraordinary civilization, who created some of the finest pottery, jewelry and goldworking of the Americas - while also staging macabre costumed rituals of combat, sacrifice and propitiation as they sought to mediate a never ending struggle between the forces of Order and Chaos.

We continue on to Chiclayo to overnight in this bustling tropical city.

(Breakfast, Lunch)

Day 4 - Chiclayo, then Lima: Túcume, and the Royal Tombs of Sipán.
This morning we drive from Chiclayo to the village of Túcume, where we enjoy the atmosphere of a pleasant north-coast oasis, which is home to 26 pre-Columbian adobe pyramids. Here we see the chronological sequence that followed the fall of the Moche, at a site where their descendants, the Sicán culture, continued to amass millions of adobe bricks for the building of mighty pyramids - including the longest of its kind, at more than 700m/2,300ft - but were now influenced by highland tribes, and began to abandon their old ways. The history of this scenic site - extensively investigated by the famed Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl - leads us all the way to the Incas, who conquered the region not long before they, in turn, were conquered by the Spanish. We can climb to a viewing platform with superb views of the surrounding pyramids and the dry woodland habitat of the Leche valley. We can also visit the small, intimate and low-tech site museum, to enjoy the excellent collection of excavated objects, dioramas of daily life, and models of the pyramids.

We drive back in the direction of Chiclayo, stopping in the city of Lambayeque for a sensational visit to the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum. This modern building, representing the style of a Moche pyramid, was built to house the stunning and priceless objects unearthed at Sipán. (A single looted object from the tombs was intercepted at an auction in the U.S. - carrying a reserve price of $1.6 million!)

Here we see the incredible array of precious symbols and images, stones and shell necklaces, ear-plugs and headdresses that were worn and displayed at Moche ceremonies, and also learn what is known of their meaning. This astonishing visit ends at an "animated waxworks" exhibit of the lords and retinue of the Moche court, allowing us to glimpse and imagine the world of an unfamiliar but dazzling civilization that thrived here at a time when Europe was sliding into the Dark Ages after the fall of the Roman Empire

We return to Chiclayo for a delicious lunch of Peru's northern-style cuisine at a top local restaurant. Later we say farewell to the warm, dry valleys of Northern Peru and transfer to the Chiclayo airport for your flight to Lima.

(Breakfast, Lunch)

Archaeology & Nature 2019
4 days/3 nights
Private Departures: Daily all year-round.
Prices per person 1 2 3 4/up Sing Supp
  $1964 $1495 $1040 $888 $190