Colombia, Ecuador & Peru

  • On this unique journey, you venture into the ancient cultures of South America that existed before the rise of the Incan Empire
  • Visit archeological sites of great merit such as Colombia’s San Agustín Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America
  • Trace Ecuador’s Cañari Indians at Ingapirca, the largest archaeological site in Ecuador
  • Travel to desert coastal zone of Northern Peru to enjoy special access to see the excavations at Sipan ruins, which were left by the Moche people, who preceded the Inca by some 1,000 years
  • Travel with guides who are specialists in history and archeology
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Enrichment Series



Ecuador & The Galapagos Islands



Price starts at $400 Land per person, per day, double occupancy.



Tour Highlights/Full Description

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  • On this unique journey, you venture into the ancient cultures of South America that existed before the rise of the Incan Empire
  • Visit archeological sites of great merit such as Colombia’s San Agustín Archeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site encompassing the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America
  • Trace Ecuador’s Cañari Indians at Ingapirca, the largest archaeological site in Ecuador
  • Travel to desert coastal zone of Northern Peru to enjoy special access to see the excavations at Sipan ruins, which were left by the Moche people, who preceded the Inca by some 1,000 years
  • Travel with guides who are specialists in history and archeology

Day 1: Arrive Bogotá, Colombia
Welcome to Colombia’s lively capital city, Bogotá, where a representative from Big Five will be waiting to escort you to your hotel.  In the center of the financial and commercial center of the city, Hotel Casa Medina is located in one of the most historic and traditional buildings of the city.  Due to its historic past, the hotel was declared a monument of cultural interest by the Colombian Ministry of Culture.  This honor is given to those monuments that because of their authenticity, originality, aesthetics, design or artistic values represent living testimony of its history and culture.  This afternoon, you will meet your archeological specialist guide who will give you an introduction about pre-Inca cultures.  You will discover the Gold Museum with its extraordinary selection of pre-Colombian gold work, the largest such collection in the world.  It includes the legendary Muisca raft of El Dorado in gold.  Only about 6,000 pieces are on display – a fraction, of their collection of some 55,000 pieces.  Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota

Day 2: Bogotá / Neiva
This morning, you transfer to the local airport to board your flight to Neiva.  Set out on a five-hour drive to San Agustin through the extensive floodplains of the Magdalena River Valley, with elevations from 701 meters/2,300 feet up to 1,730 meters/5,675 feet.  Pass by fruit, maize and, of course, coffee plantations as well as fields of rice paddies, cotton and wheat. Along the way, you visit Cacica Gaitana Monument, a statue in honor of a 16th-century Yalcon woman who led the indigenous people of the Upper Magdalena River Valley in armed resistance against the Spanish. You will also get a view of Betania Dam, and stop for achiras huilenses, a traditional cheese snack and a delicious Colombian coffee. Arriving San Agustin, check into Akawanka Lodge, which is located next to the San Agustín Archeological Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This afternoon, you explore the park set in a wild, spectacular landscape. It encompasses the largest group of religious monuments and megalithic sculptures in South America.  The region was first inhabited by a mysterious civilization approximately 5,000 years ago. One of the oldest pre-Columbian cultures remains largely a mystery as does their later disappearance centuries before the Spanish Conquistadores.  One of the few clues is a number of enormous stone statues in the forms of pumas, snakes, eagles holding snakes, warriors, good and evil, and women in childbirth, some of which weighed up to five tons, and ranged between 1.20 meters/4 feet and 4.25 meters/14 meters tall.  Walk on to the ceremonial Fuente de Lavapatas site before heading up the hill to the Lavapatas terrace for remarkable views of the surrounding countryside.  You will also visit the small Museo Arqueológico. Akawanka Lodge (B)

Day 3: San Agustín – Isnos  – San Agustín
Today, set off for the rural town of Isnos, where you will discover archaeological parks such as the Alto de los Ídolos,  and the Alto de las Piedras.  The best-preserved funerary complexes of the Agustinian culture are found at Alto de los Ídolos, with its sculptures, the presence of sarcophagi and ceremonial baths made from stone and paintings of the statues, the sepulcher and temple walls. Some of the well-preserved tombs show the original paint work and have some of the largest stone figures found so far; the tallest figure measures 7 meters/23 feet.  On a small hill a short distance away, the Alto de los Ídolos Archaeological Park feature four sculptures that have managed to retain the original colors as do the tombs.  One figure of a human has enormous canine teeth, and a representation of a character with human and animal features rests on its head. Moving between these sites gives you breathtaking views of the Macizo Colombiano massif and the elegant waterfalls of Salto del Mortiño and Salto de Bordones.  Enjoy lunch in Isnos before returning to San Agustín.  Akawanka Lodge (B,L) 

Day 4: San Agustín / Neiva / Bogotá
Travel back to Neiva to catch your flight to Bogotá. Upon your arrival, you are met and transferred to your hotel.  The remainder of the day is at leisure.  Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota (B)

Day 5: Bogotá / Quito / San Agustin Callo / Rio Bamba, Ecuador
This morning, you are transferred to the airport for your flight to Quito, Ecuador.  After claiming your luggage, you will be greeted by your Big Five Ecuador representative and transferred to San Agustin de Callo for a coffee break.  This colonial hacienda was built on the site of an Inca palace, one of the two most important archaeological Inca sites in Ecuador, and the point furthest north from Cuzco of Imperial style construction.  This remains a working farm and is owned by the family of a former president of Ecuador.  It offers an unrivalled glimpse into Ecuador’s rich and colorful past.  It has an Inca Chapel with its original 17th century ceiling and perfectly carved Inca volcanic stone walls. Then continue to Riobamba.  Hacienda Abraspungo (B,L,D) 

Day 6: Riobamba / Devil’s Nose / Ingapirca / Cuenca
Start the day with a notorious and thrilling train ride.  It departs early in the morning for a journey through remote highland regions and quaint Indian communities grouped around the many train stations along the way.  Just before noon, the train arrives at the most famous part of this trip…  the dramatic series of switchbacks that drop down to Sibambe and back up to the frontier town of Alausi.  Here you will savor lunch before entering the land of the Cañari Indians and Ecuador’s largest archaeological site at Ingapirca (the home of the king).  Get a glimpse of this site through a brief introduction to the site by an archeologist guide, and then continue to Cuenca.   Mansion De Alcazar (B,L)

Day 7: Cuenca – Ingapirca – Cuenca
This morning you return to Ingapirca to learn more about the history of this site, which features a mixture of Cañari and Incan architecture.  Its exquisitely carved stones were tightly fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle without the use of mortar as seen in other Incan sites.  The most significant building is the ruins of the temple of the sun, an elliptically shaped building constructed around a large rock.  The temple was positioned so that during the seasonal solstices, sunlight would fall through the center of the doorway of the small chamber at the top of the temple.  Much of this chamber has deteriorated.  Long before the Incans, the Cañari indigenous people settled here. They are particularly noted for their resistance against the Inca Empire but were eventually conquered by the Inca shortly before the arrival of the Spanish.  The Incas replaced the Cañari architecture with their own, but, as was their custom, they absorbed the best achievements of each culture they conquered.  In the case of the Cañari, that was in the fields of astronomy and agriculture. Today, the population of Cañari, which includes many mestizos, numbers only in the thousands.  Return to Cuenca in time for lunch and an afternoon excursion through this charming colonial Andean town, including a visit to the Panama hat factory.  The historic center of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust Site.  The origins of the first inhabitants go back to the year 8060 BC.  Mansion Alcanzar (B,L)

Day 8: Cuenca / Cajas National Park / Guayaquil
Enjoy time outdoors today as you walk through El Cajas National Park set amid strikingly jagged peaks, lakes and lagoons.  You may spot some of the large variety of animals, some of which are endemic and/or highly endangered.  Among the most prominent are South American condors, of which only 80 remain throughout all of Ecuador; the Curiquinga, a large black and white raptor; and the largest species of hummingbird in the world.  Some 157 bird species have been recorded here.  Overall, 44 species of mammals have been identified that include opossum, puma, coati, weasel, skunk, fox, porcupine, shrew, rabbits and other rodents.  Endemic are the Cajas water mouse and Tate’s shrew opossum.  At least 17 species of amphibians live around the lagoons in the park.   This afternoon, return to Cuenca in time for your flight to Guayaquil.  Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. The remainder of the day is free.   Hilton Colon Guayaquil (B) 

Day 9: Guayaquil / Chiclayo, Peru
Transfer to the airport for your flight to Chiclayo, Peru.  You are welcomed and transferred to your hotel.  The remainder of the day is at leisure and enjoy the amenities of your hotel.  Casa Andina Estelar Chiclayo (B) 

Day 10: Chiclayo – Tucume – Ferreñafe – Chiclayo
After a leisurely breakfast, visit the Tucume Pyramids, dozens of pre-Hispanic pyramids, enclosures and mounds found on the plain around La Raya Mountain.  This is the site of Tucume, covering an area of over 540 acres and encompassing 26 major pyramids and platforms. This was a major regional center, maybe even the capital of the successive occupations of the area by the Lambayeque/Sican (1000/1100-1350 AD), Chimú (1350-1450 AD) and Inca (1450-1532 AD).  Local shaman healers invoke the power of Tucume and La Raya Mountain in their rituals, and local people fear these sites, referring to them as Purgatorio (purgatory).   Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing to Chiclayo’s local market.  Often considered the most interesting part of the market is the witchcraft sector that sells trinkets such as animal skulls, incense, lizard skins, skulls, voodoo dolls, snake oils and magic potions. (Note* be careful about buying anything related to animals as you will likely not be allowed to bring it into the US).  Later this afternoon, tour the Sicán Museum in Ferreñafe.  The museum’s focus is on the Sicán culture, who were the first people to discover bronze in northern Peru.  In addition, the Sicán Museum has an interesting display of the tombs of the nobility.  They buried their dead in unique vertical rooms and surrounded them with large collections of pottery, metal crafts and a wealth of gold objects, Sicán masks and other items.  Much of this site was looted over time.  The Sicán’s roots traced back to the Mochica and other contemporary cultures such as the Cajamarca, Wari and Pachacamac.  Casa Andina  Estelar Chiclayo (B) 

Day 11: Chiclayo – Sipan, Huaca Rajada & Lampayeque – Chiclayo
This morning, with your specialist guide, visit Huaca Rajada, where, in 1987, a small group of Peruvian archaeologists led by Dr Walter Alva discovered the tomb of an important Moche governor.  About 34 kilometers/21 miles southeast of Chiclayo, the tomb was complete with all his attire, riches and his symbols of power.  The discovery was world news and is considered to be as important a discovery as that of the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamon.  The Lord of Sipan died some 1770 years ago. As sovereign, he was considered a semi god.  He lived for about 40 years and was 5.5 feet tall.  His rich robes and accessories included necklaces, breastplates, ear spools, nose rings, helmets, bracelets and scepters, mostly crafted in a combination of gold and silver.  The Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum provide insight in into this culture.  It houses items of exceptional beauty – three pairs of turquoise and gold ear ornaments showing ducks, deer and the Lord of Sipan himself, as well as breastplates of delicately threaded shell beads.  The necklace contains gold spheres and another of huge peanut shells – ten of which were in silver, ten in gold.  The scepter is decorated with an inverted gold pyramid with scenes of human sacrifice.  There are also objects in copper, shells and semiprecious stones.  The importance of this find is the fact that it was remarkably intact, and the main tomb was found untouched by thieves.  Shortly after the discovery of the Lord of Sipan’s tomb, Alva and his team found two more tombs, one of a priest and the “Old Lord of Sipan.”  By 2007, more than a dozen tombs had been identified. The importance of this discovery and the need to provide an appropriate place to house the finds led to the construction of the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum, which opened in 2002 in the city of Lambayeque.  Casa Andina Estelar Chiclayo (B) 

Day 12: Chiclayo / Trujillo
This morning, you set out to Trujillo, stopping at El Brujo en route.  El Brujo Archaeological Complex is an ancient site of the Moche culture and served as a major religious and population center between the first and seventh centuries AD.  There are two primary sites of interest: Huaca El Brujo (or Cortada/Partida) and Huaca Cao Viejo (or Huaca Blanca); both  built by the Moche between 0-600 AD.  Huaca Cao Viejo is famous for its polychrome reliefs and mural paintings, and the discovery of the Señora de Cao (Cao Maiden), the first known Governess in Peru.  An earlier pre-ceramic settlement near the complex is Huaca Prieta.  Interestingly, the site revealed evidence of the early domestication of chili peppers.  The site was later extended by the Cupisnique culture.   The Huaca Temple of the Sun is a scaled pyramid about 43 meters/141 feet tall, which, according to legend, was built in only three days by 250,000 men using about 70 million adobe bricks.  It served as a ceremonial site and possibly as an administrative center with housing for the upper class.  The Huaca Temple of the Moon, located 500 meters/1640 feet away, is a monument comprised of overlapping temples built during different periods.  A tomb was uncovered here with over 40 sacrificed warriors.  Atop its strong adobe surface are remains of large multi-colored murals that include the face of the Moche god, Aia Apaek.  Hotel Libertador Trujillo – (B) 

Day 13: Trujillo
Today, you investigate the site of Chan Chan.  The Chimu kingdom, of which Chan Chan was the capital, reached its peak in the 15th century, not long before falling to the invading Incas.  The planning of this huge city reflects a strict political and social strategy, marked by its division into nine citadels or palaces that formed independent units.  This city made of mud is believed to be the largest in pre-Colombian America as well as one of the biggest of the world.  Its importance is comparable to the ancient cities of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China.  It occupies an area of 15 square kilometers/5.8 square miles and encompasses palaces, temples, squares, ponds, gardens, aqueducts and labyrinths.  Its walls are ornamented with beautiful and stylized carved drawings of fish, pelicans, rhombuses, and foxes.  You will then visit the Huaca el Dragon. Also called “Huaca del Arco Iris” (rainbow), the archeological Chimú center is located a short distance north of Trujillo.  This huaca was a ritual, adoration temple and belongs to Chan Chan’s citadel.  Built of adobe, it is one of the best preserved and most important huacas of Peru.  Beautiful friezes adorn the walls.  Enjoy lunch at Huanchaco Beach.  Hotel Libertador Trujillo – Suite (B)

Day 14: Trujillo / Lima Depart
Transfer to the airport to board your flight to Lima, where you will connect your flight home. (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy:  From US$400 per person per day


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