Snapshot of northern Peru's abundant, coastal archaeology, including Sipan, Tucume, Huaca de la Luna & Chan Chan.
Pacific Ocean and desert landscapes interspersed with valleys and dry forest.
2 nights' accommodation in vibrant cities, renowned for culture and cuisine.
2017 price from £548 / $US 685 p/p (based on double occupancy in private service).
Includes all land transport, guided excursions, entrances & breakfasts.
This short and intense tour starts in Chiclayo, where we enjoy spectacular pre-Inca archaeology and the desert environment it was adapted to, before continuing south to the Colonial city of Trujillo, home to the huge Chimu citadel of Chan Chan.
Day 1: Chiclayo: Huaca Rajada, Tucume & Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum
We pick you up from the airport or your hotel in Chiclayo, and set off eastwards up the broad, flat Reque valley, past fields of sugarcane, with the foothills of the Andes in the distance, to arrive at the modern village of Sipan. This is the location of an adobe (mud-brick) pyramid, the Huaca Rajada, that made world headlines in 1987 with one of the most sensational finds of recent archaeology - a series of tombs of the pre-Inca Moche Culture, containing bones and accompanying treasure.
We can see into the tombs themselves, where there are superb reconstructions of the burials of priests and nobles, along with their sacrificed guards and companions.
A highly informative site museum tells the story of this extraordinary civilization, which created some of the finest pottery, jewelry and goldwork of the Americas, while also staging macabre costumed rituals of combat, sacrifice and worship as they sought to mediate a never-ending struggle between the forces of Order and Chaos.
We return to Chiclayo for a delicious lunch of Peru's northern-style cuisine, and then continue on to Lambayeque, where we visit the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum. This modern building, imitating the style of a Moche pyramid, was built to house the stunning and priceless objects unearthed at Sipan.
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 waxwork' exhibit of the lords and retinue of the Moche court, allowing us to glimpse the world of a dazzling civilization that thrived at a time when Europe was sliding into the Dark Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire.
We then drive to Tucume, a site where the Lambayeque culture - the descendants of the Moche - continued to build mighty adobe pyramids, including the longest of its kind in the world, at more than 700 m (2,300 ft), but whose customs showed influence from highland tribes.
The site was extensively investigated by the famed Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, and its history leads 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 pyramids and the surrounding dry forest habitat of the Leche valley.
We also visit the award-winning site museum, to enjoy the excellent collection of excavated objects, dioramas of daily life, and models of the pyramids.
We return to Chiclayo for an overnight stay at the Costa del Sol Hotel, or similar.
Day 2: Chiclayo to Trujillo: El Brujo & Pyramids of the Sun and Moon
In the morning, we travel with our guide by private vehicle to Trujillo. This half-day journey south, down the Pan-American highway, offers a shifting panorama of scenes from coastal Peru, alternating irrigated river valleys, such as Jequetepeque and Chicama, with stretches of arid dune and rocky desert.
Along the way, we visit the archaeological site of El Brujo. This site featured in National Geographic after the discovery of the mummy of a tattooed priestess, buried with a variety of ceremonial and military accoutrements. An extraordinary array of multi-coloured murals, dating from some seven phases of construction, depict scenes from the Moche daily life and celebrates sacrifice rituals.
We arrive in Trujillo at lunchtime. This city, founded in 1534 on the orders of Francisco Pizarro, maintains a Colonial atmosphere, with its spacious main square and adobe buildings, featuring huge, barred windows and massive wooden doorways.
We continue onwards, driving a short way from Trujillo, to visit the Temples of the Moon and the Sun, two huge flat-topped pyramids built by the Moche culture between 0 and 800 A.D.
The Temple of the Moon 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 walls of colourful friezes that were intentionally 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, as well as scenes of ritualised combat.
One wall is covered with such a multitude of mystifying symbols that it has been labeled simply 'The Complicated Theme' ... until some future archaeologist can offer a plausible explanation of them.
We return to Trujillo to spend the night at the Libertador Trujillo, or similar.
Day 3: Trujillo: Colonial Trujillo, Huanchaco Beach, and the pre-Inca city of Chan Chan
In the morning we tour the historic center of Trujillo, a city whose heart still pulses with Colonial splendour. We visit the immense main square and the spacious mansions built by Spanish and Creole gentry during the 17th and 18th centuries, before going to the Archaeology & History Museum, where objects from the various pre-Columbian cultures that developed in the La Libertad area are displayed.
We then visit Huaca Dragon, also known as Huaca Arco Iris (Rainbow Pyramid), that belonged to the Chimu culture. Located in the north of Trujillo, this was both a religious monument and a ceremonial and administrative center, built in adobe, whose murals are decorated with friezes, showing human figures and representing a stylized rainbow.
Then we make our way through Trujillo towards the coast, arriving at the great Chimu centre of Chan Chan, the largest adobe city ever built. It was in fact an elite settlement, a series of nine enormous palaces belonging to successive Chimu rulers.
At its height, the population here may have reached 50,000 people. Many of them were artists and craftsmen, who made the sumptuous goldwork, textiles and pottery for which the Chimu are famous.
At the Tschudi Palace enclosure we enter a labyrinthine series of courtyards lined with clay friezes of fish and ocean birds. We visit inner patios, residences, administrative buildings, temples, platforms and storehouses, and a huge reservoir where sunken gardens are thought to have produced specialized crops for the Chimu nobility.
We continue to the nearby beach resort of Huanchaco, where we have a chance to try the superb seafood of La Libertad at a restaurant overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Here fishermen still paddle out to sea, kneeling on caballitos de totora, one-man reed rafts which have been used for millennia to collect the abundant bounty of the Pacific ocean.
In the afternoon, we return to Trujillo for your onward flight, or for continued exploration of northern Peru.