Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Travel to Peru: Archaeology in Lima

Machu Picchu and the Lord of Sipán are well-known aspects of Peru’s rich archeological heritage. But did you know that Lima, Peru’s capital city where virtually all international travelers touch down on their way to the Incan Imperial capital of Cusco, was also a principal center of pre-Hispanic culture? Lima contains more than 30 recognized archeological sites, and the areas surrounding Lima contain a similar number. Innumerable other archaeological sites disappeared during the 20th century urbanization of Lima.

When you travel to Peru, interested in its archaeology, a great place to start is the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History, located in the colorful Plaza Bolivar in the district of Pueblo Libre. It will orient you to the wealth of Peru’s fascinating archeological past, while artfully displaying the variety of its skillfully crafted jewelry, ceramics and textiles. Just outside the museum, you can also enjoy some of Lima’s finest colonial architecture and any one of a number of delightful local restaurants.

Perhaps the most rewarding archaeological site in Lima is the Huaca Pucllana, conveniently located in the district of Miraflores - home to many of Lima’s best hotels and restaurants – see This site was an important ceremonial and administrative centre of the Lima Culture, built between 4th and 6th centuries A.D. with millions of mud bricks over an expanse of 15 hectares. A site museum contains ceramics and other artifacts; entrance is free and guides are available. Open daily, except Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the entrance to the site is one of Lima’s finest restaurants, appropriately called the Restaurante Huaca Pucllana. Splendid lighting offers a spectacular view of the huaca in the evening. For the best view, ask for a table on the outdoor patio.

In nearby San Isidro lies the Huaca Huallamarca (named Pan de Azúcar by the Spanish). It is the oldest and least understood of the sites mentioned here. It was found as an amorphous pile of cobblestone-shaped adobes (unlike materials at any other site in Lima, but similar to pre-Incan sites elsewhere on the Peruvian coast) and was recently constructed into a pyramid that the visitor can climb to a height above the surrounding treetops. There is also a site museum. Open daily, except Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On the way to the airport from Miraflores and San Isidro, in the district of San Miguel, an expansive complex of huacas is the remains of a major ceremonial center built by the Maranga Culture between the 8th and 13th centuries A.D. This important archaeological site, constructed of mud-covered walls that are not adobe, can be viewed from inside the Parque de las Leyendas Zoo, which is located on the archaeological site. Unfortunately, the huacas can be viewed only through fences on the perimeter of the zoo, but there is an exhibit inside the zoo that offers the visitor information about the huacas and a few artifacts discovered during their excavation in the 1970s. The zoo is open every day, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Be aware that weekends and holidays can be very crowded.

Thirty kilometers south of Lima on the Pan-American Highway is the "king" of Lima's archaeological sites – Pachacámac. This was a pre-Inca and Inca group of temples, plazas and urban zones that was continuously inhabited from the 4th century A.D. (first by people of the Lima culture, followed by the Wari, and finally, the Incas) until 1533. At the time of the Spanish conquest, Pachacámac served as the principal Incan ceremonial and administrative center for the area around Lima. At the entrance there is a site museum where the visitor will learn of the work conducted here by German archaeologist Max Uhle – the father of Peruvian archeology - in 1896. From the museum, you can visit the different pyramidal buildings that end at the Temple of Sun in the highest zone of Pachacámac. You need half a day to visit this major site.

Last but certainly not least, try to save a day to see the sacred city of Caral, home to the oldest known civilization in the Americas. Three hours north of Lima by car in the Supe River Valley, Caral is a striking 30-acre site, still under excavation, that includes no less than 6 pyramids among other monumental buildings. Caral has been radiocarbon dated at 2,650 B.C., making it contemporary with the great civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China; fully 1,500 years older than the civilizations of Mesoamerica and more than 4,000 years older than the Inca Empire. A visit to Caral promises to be a rewarding finale to your discovery of the surprising richness of archeology in Peru’s capital city of Lima, and a highlight of your travel to Peru.

Description: When visitors interested in archaeology travel to Peru, they mostly enjoy Cusco, Machu Picchu, or the Lord of Sipan. However, Lima the capital of Peru also offers many interesting archaeological sites including museums, Huaca Pucllana, Huaca Huallamarca, Pachacamac and last but not least Caral ( 3 hours drive from Lima), considered the oldest known civilization in the Americas.

About the Author: Carlos R. Fitts is the Manager of Andean Odyssey (Lima-Peru) (, experts in travel to Peru and other destinations of the Andean Region, offering a wide range of customized tours to this surprising land

Monday, April 25, 2005


The Galapagos - The Enchanted Islands

The Galapagos Islands are the most unique living museum of evolutionary changes. In the Islands, animals have never learned to fear men. This is a land of volcanoes, solid lava flows and white sand beaches.

In 1936, the islands were declared a National Park by the Government of Ecuador. Galapagos is now the only protected coastal marine area in the Southeast Pacific, and the second largest marine reserve in the world. It holds more than 50,000 square miles including 20,000 square miles of the interior waters of the islands.

The archipelago is famous as a home to animal species unique in the world. Around 120 bird species are found in the Galapagos, some of which are endemic in the islands. The most important are penguins, frigate birds, albatrosses, seagulls, boobies, pelicans, the flightless cormorant and Galapagos hawks among others. Other important animals of the islands are the Galapagos tortoise, which is probably the best known, found on seven of the islands, the marine iguana, the only reptile adapted to life in the water, land iguanas, lava lizards and harmless snakes. Among the aquatic species, living underwater, we can find whales, whale sharks, manta rays, sword fish, turtles etc.

The Archipelago is made of 13 large islands, 6 minor ones and more than 40 islets. The islands are of volcanic origin, from lava eruptions.

The main islands in Galapagos are:
San Cristobal
The most easterly island in the archipelago, and one of the oldest, San Cristobal has an area of 430 It has beautiful white coral, shell beaches and blue waters. Large colorful birds, sea lions and of course the famous giant turtles known as Galapagos can be found in the island.
A fresh water lake in the crater of a volcano called el Junco, the Isla Lobos, Leon Dormido and Cerro Tijeretas are some of the most important sights of the island. Diving and fishing are very popular in San Cristobal.
Santa Cruz
Located in the center of the Archipelago, it is the second largest island after Isabela, with 986 sq km. The island has exuberant vegetation, beautiful landscapes and varied weather. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, where the famous Charles Darwin Research Station is found, with a center for breeding Galapagos turtles. The most important attractions near the town are Tortuga Bay, a white sandy beach of about a kilometer long, lava tunnels, craters etc.
This is the largest island in the archipelago, with an area of 4,600 sq km, made up of six volcanoes, five of them active ones. Negra Sierra Volcano is one of the main attractions, with one of the largest craters in the planet (10,000 meters of diameter) and a large colony of Galapagos turtles in the center. In this island we can find a breeding center for giant turtles and beautiful beaches.
Genovesa is a small island, with 14 sq km and a maximum altitude of 76 m. In the center lies Lake Actarus, filled with salt water. This island is important due to the large and varied bird colonies which nest here. In this island, visitors can find frigate birds, red footed boobies, masked boobies, swallow tailed gulls, tropical birds etc. In Genovesa we can also find the smallest marine iguana in the archipelago.
Located in the extreme southeast of the islands, with 60 sq Km. It is one of the oldest of the archipelago, with approximately four million years. The main sights in Española are Bahia Garner with a beautiful beach, the “Hueco Soplador”, where water shoots out reaching more than 20 meters and Punta Suarez, with important number of bird species and animal species, some of them live only in this island, like the mockingbird, the lava lizard, the marine iguana among others.
One of the youngest island of the archipelago, located to the west and separated from Isabela by the Bolivar Channel. It has an area of 642 sq. km. Punta Espinoza is an important sight, with penguins, cormorants, sea lions, turtles and iguanas.
With an area of 27 sq. km, Baltra is important because of the airport which connects by air with the main land in Ecuador. The Itabaca channel is the access to Santa Cruz.
This small island is one of the most visited places in Galapagos, with an impressive volcanic cone which can be climbed, amazing beaches with different color sand, made up of volcanic material. Visitors enjoy diving and swimming in the crystal clear water of Bartolome.

Friday, February 25, 2005


Inca Trail between Cusco and Machu Picchu, Peru

The Qapac Ñan, was a major road system ( the Royal Road) of the Inca Empire. This system was the real spinal column of the empire, integrating what is today Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and the North of Argentina and Chile, with more than 2,500 kilometers of roadways.
Cusco, the millenary capital of the Inca empire was both the administrative and religious centre of the empire. Today’s Cusco, with a mixture of colonial and inca architecture has become one of the most important historical, archaeological and tourist attraction in the Americas.

The citadel of Machu Picchu, at 4 hours train ride from Cusco, is no doubt the best example of Inca architecture, planning and technology, well known for the way they have been harmonized with the beautiful mountains surrounding it. Due to the incredible archaeological value of these Inca ruins, as well as the amazing natural landscape surrounding them, Machu Picchu was declared as a Natural and Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1983.
The Inca Trail adventure starts at the imperial city of Cusco, taking the train towards Machu Picchu, but getting off at kilometer 88, the trail starts here. The trekking this first day takes around 6 to 7 hours, including a visit of the archaeological centre of Patallacta, and arriving to camp at Wayllambamba (Grass Prairie), a flat grassy area at an elevation of around 2000m. On a sunny day, the snow covered peaks of the Cordillera Urubamba can be seen.

After Wayllabamba, the second day, the trail begins to climb slowly through fairly dense sub-tropical vegetation and continues climbing upwards beyond Llupachayoc ("Place of Offerings").The ascent becomes increasingly steep towards the first pass, the Abra de Warmihuañusca ("Dead Woman's Pass"). This is the highest point of the Inca Trail. This place is cold and windy due to the elevation, covered with ichu, a highland pasture. After the Abra the trail descends steeply towards the valley of the Pacaymayu river (hidden river). At the bottom of the river valley is the second campsite.
The third day starts with a steep climb towards the second pass the Abra de Runkuracay, which is at around 3500m. On the far side of the pass, the trail descends towards a valley passing by the twin lakes of Yanacocha (black lake). At around this point, the trail changes from a dirt path to a narrow stone roadway. Then, the trail leads to a large Inca ruin, Sayacmarca ("Dominant Town"), a fantastic inca site on the edge of a mountain with a panoramic view of the Aobamba Valley and the Pumasillo snow covered peak. After Sayacmarca, the trail descends to the valley floor, and the roadway takes the form of a long causeway leading across what may have been the bed of a lake. On the far side, the trail begins to climb again.

Phuyupatamarca (Town Above Clouds), is one of the most beautiful sites in the Inka Trail, almost always with clouds, typical of the cloud forests, and agricultural terraces and fountains with circulating fresh water.Below Phuyupatamarca, the trail spirals and descends steeply towards Wiñayhuayna, ("Forever Young"), the site of another Inca ruin, named after a typical orchid in the area. This is the last campsite and former urban center before arriving to Machu Picchu next day. Several Inca archaeological centers are visited during the third day, including Runcuracay, Sayacmarca, Cochamarca, Phuyupatamarca and Wiñayhuayna. The final day starts from Wiñayhuayna, arriving to Intipunku, the Gateway of the Sun, and through a rectangular doorway, the ruins of Machu Picchu can be seen. The Inca Trail connects to Machu Picchu at the “Watch Tower”, located in the south side, by the ancient entrance to the city
The Inca Trail between Cusco and Machu Picchu, was named as the number one adventure travel destination according to the World’s 20 best Adventure Holidays in England in July, 2004. Mr. Simon Calder, Editor of the Independent and Mr. Paul Goldstein from Exodus Travel, specialized in adventure travel, participated in this nomination.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Machu Picchu, Natural and Cultural Heritage of Humanity

In an area of 32590 hectares, The Machu Picchu Sanctuary is home of a wide variety of living species, including more than 300 species of orchids and more than 400 species of birds, in different ecological levels ranging from 1725 up to 6000 meters above sea level, from the humid cloud forests to permanent snowed peaks. The majestic beauty of this wonderful natural landscape as well as its impressive Inca ruins, makes Machu Picchu one of the most important tourist destinations in the world.
Machu Picchu was discovered by an American archaeologist, Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911 when he was leading an expedition for Yale University, looking for Vilcabamba, the last city of Manco Inca. Later, Bingham and 12 other scientists sponsored by the National Geographic Society presented the first study of Machu Picchu. There are two well defined sectors in the citadel. The agricultural southern sector contains a succession of narrow platforms one on top of the other, interconnected and irrigated by channels. The northern sector is the urban area, with beautiful buildings of wonderful Inca architecture. Both sectors are divided by a large defense wall.
The impressive Inca Trail between Cusco and Machu Picchu, which was recently selected in England as the best adventure travel destination world wide, connects to Machu Picchu at the “Watch Tower”, located in the south side, by the ancient entrance to the city. Going down towards the urban sector and to the central part of the citadel, we find 16 sacred fountains and ponds. Further down, the main square of the city is a large open space that used to be the main ceremonial place, around which the activities of the population were organized.
The population of Machu Picchu in ancient times was around 2,000 persons. They had their own supply of food, the agricultural produce cultivated in the platforms (called “andenes”), and their own transportation system, using the traditional llamas.

Recent studies conducted by Peruvian scientists indicate that Machu Picchu was constructed by Inca Pachacutec to become a sacred monument. However, the area was also used as a large open agricultural laboratory, since the Incas cultivated there not only Andean products, but also exotic agricultural goods.
Due to the incredible archaeological value of these Inca ruins, as well as the amazing natural landscape surrounding them, Machu Picchu was declared as a Natural and Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1983. The mist covered ruins of Machu Picchu catch the imagination and raise the spirit of its visitors. They are the best example of Inca architecture, planning and technology, well known for the way they have been harmonized with the beautiful mountains surrounding it. There is not yet any picture or film of Machu Picchu capable of transmitting the emotion and feeling of mystery of visitors when they arrive to the awe inspiring citadel of the Inca Empire.

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