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Witness the renewal of the last Incan rope bridge, a magnificent work of communal art along an ancient Incan pathway. Follow the time-worn trade routes of southern Peru and stay in rural communities. This is a journey for travelers who long to get off the beaten path and see what is real about a place on earth.
The river of the Speaking Gods, the Apurimac, flows through southern Peru. On the bend of a remote canyon the last Incan bridge is suspended above this river.It is made of grass.
It is not that this rope bridge has somehow magically survived countless centuries of weather. A hanging grass bridge in the Andean highlands only lasts a year. What is many, many centuries old is the annual community ritual of rebuilding this bridge on the same curve of the river, along the same ancient trail, held by the same stone anchors and using the same methods that have been passed down since long past the reach of memory.
This is ancient, living cultural art and ritual.
To witness the annual rebuilding of this bridge is to travel through time to an era when great public works were done by community and by hand. This is still true on the bend of the Apurimac. And though once there were bridges like this throughout the Andes, the work and ritual has been lost.
But not in this place called Q’eswachaka. Four communities, two from the south side of the canyon, two from the north, come together to collectively make a bridge entirely by hand… twined, braided and knitted together in three days.
This fascinating, pioneering tour takes you there. We will witness the rebuilding of this bridge. We cut grass and learn to twine rope and we will meet the men and women, dressed in their beautiful traditional clothing, who keep this bridge alive.
This is the heart of our trip. But there’s more, for a bridge exists to connect roads which exist to connect communities.
Our journey is a magnificent journey through the paths and communities forged by the centuries in the Southern Andes
This trip mimics that of ancient traders who would have traveled the stone paved pathways of the Inca empire, carrying cargo with trains of llama. In our van we will follow ancient routes, from Arequipa far in the south, beneath the volcanos, to the elegant Incan capital city of Cusco. Along our route we will visit sections of the Incan trail, the temples of fallen kingdoms and Incan granaries. We’ll stay in small villages, eat home-cooked meals and visit the beautiful Colca canyon, home of the Andean condor. There will be llama and alpaca, traditional weavers and music. This epic journey takes us over and around magnificent mountains, through the contrasts between past and present, surrounded by the most beautiful scenery and across a bridge that connects people, and like a wrinkle in time, connects centuries.
With the majestic presence of the Apurimac river in the background, archaeological sites covering various kingdoms and hundreds of years of Andean history, and most importantly, the presence and smiles and hands of amazing true artisans and communal leaders of this part of the world, Q’eswachaka, the last Incan Bridge, will connect you deeply with the true, still-beating heart of the The Andes. As with the bridge, it may result in a link that will last forever.
Day 1, Arequipa, The beginning (D)
Our journey begins in Arequipa, located in the southwest Peruvian Andes, on a wide valley surrounded by the presence of gorgeous volcanoes. This city of white stone buildings has been an important commerce center since the time of ancient empires. At 7,700 feet elevation, this is a good place to begin to acclimatize our bodies for the high country we’ll be traveling in. And the regional beauty makes it an ideal spot to start exploring the history and wonders of Peru. We will meet as a group, introduce ourselves and start sampling the cosmopolitan flavors that have made this area famous among Peruvians.
Overnight in Arequipa
Day 2, The Flavor of a City (B,L)
We take it easy today as you adapt to the elevation. Our morning will be spent visiting the Andean Sanctuary Museum, home of the famous “Juanita” mummy. The display, organized by a local university, will help us understand the highly complex array of cultural practices developed in the area. Arequipa is full of stories that show us the amazing ways past and present merge in Peruvian culture. Lunch at a local “Picantería” will tell us another of these stories. Enjoy the afternoon at your own pace. Arequipa offers much to explore, such as the fascinating Santa Catalina Monastery, a village within a city. A place to lose yourself for hours.
Overnight in Arequipa
Day 3, Into Vast Landscapes (B,L,D)
Like ancient merchants who left this city laden with goods, we too begin our journey following the ancient routes. Though instead of on foot with alpaca carrying our burdens, we climb into our van and let it carry us. We climb above the city onto the edge of a great mountain and stop in the village of Chihuata to walk the stones of venerable Incan roads before traveling upward into the National Reserve of Salinas and Aguada Blanca, a highland wilderness of pampas, salt flats, wild Vicuña, vast landscapes and small villages. Through this land the ancient traders travelled and so do we. Our lunch will be served at a crossroad traveler’s stop, just before ascending to a high pass full of Apachetas, a ritual offering done by mountain travelers since ancient times. We then descend again into the Colca river valley, arrive at the picturesque town of Coporaque, and settle into our hotel.
Overnight in Coporaque
Day 4, A Canyon called Colca (B,L,D)
This morning we offer you a choice. Take it easy, sleep in, enjoy the view from the hotel, explore the village, breathe the high air, take it easy on your body. Or get up early and travel down the valley with a local guide to the Cruz del Condor, a place with dramatic views of the steep Colca Canyon and opportunities to view the gigantic Andean Condor in flight. In the afternoon we visit the Incan ruins of Uyo-Uyo. The hike and exploration of the site will finish with a soothing and restorative dip at a local hot spring, and a nearby venue for dinner.
Overnight in Coporaque
Day 5, Llama Pack Train (B,L,D)
Today we go deeper into the culture of the Andes, into villages and into the life and culture of the Quechua people. We leave the land of hotels and towns and enter the land of villages and rural homestays. This is a fantastic way to visit more remote towns where accommodations provided by villagers. Clean, basic, sufficient and loving. And the lodging income stays right in the village. This morning we meet with a group of women who will share with us a disappearing practice that was once the mainstay of commerce upon these Incan roads: pack trains of good carried my llamas. We’ll accompany this group of women as they move down the trail. We will start to grasp, from their childhood stories and fun manners, the real life of this part of the world, the sweet sound of the native language Quechua and a taste of ancient traditions. After our shared trading mission with them, we go with our hosts to their home village, whose name means “Stone Village”. These women have created a community tourism project and like dedicated mothers, will be looking after us. They will feed us, share with us some of the goings on in town and set us up in traditional, Andean style stone houses, which will be our homes for the night.
Overnight in Sibayo
Day 6, Traveling Through TIme and Space (B,L,D)
We will travel far today, passing through a landscape of mountains, canyons and ancient ruins. Our path takes us to a spectacular area known as the Three Canyons of Suckuytambo where we’ll meet the Apurimac river for the first time. This river, whose name means Speaking God, will accompany us throughout this trip. In this dry land its waters were and are essential. Our riverside travels naturally take us past remarkable archaeological sites such as the ones of Taqrachullo and María Fortaleza which we will explore and learn about. Imagine a vast landscape and the immense breadth of history. You can smell it in the wind here. Our long day’s travels, following ancient trade and travel routes, past fallen kingdoms and living villages, delivers us to Racchi, which is both a living village and fallen kingdom. We’ll learn more about that tomorrow. Today we will be met by beautiful, traditional villagers, fed and settled into our village homes.
Overnight in Racchi
Day 7, Old Village, Ancient Trail (B,L,D)
We awaken in a village. In a household. Food being prepared, with our village mothers to look after us. Earth walls, quiet voices. This place has been here since long before the Inca. But the Inca left quite a mark. In the center of town is a vast Incan complex for food storage and temple walls five stories tall. Racchi is perhaps the most important Incan site south of Cusco. The stone paved Incan trail comes right through the center of this town, once the ancient llama commerce freeway. Our village hosts will take us on a hike along this very old road that once connected the far corners of an empire. The traill will bring us to the center of the archeological site where we can wonder over the deep cultural history of this place. And then walk out its front door and into the living village of Racchi, where we’ll meet Luciano, the potter, play with clay, eat tasty local food, enjoy music and be part of this very old place.
Overnight in Racchi
To the Place of the Rope Bridge
The heart of this journey is made of mountain grass. Our modern paved highways and stone cobbled Incan roadways finally bring us to the gorge cut by the Apurimac river where the last Incan bridge sways. It has linked one side to another for over five centuries, allowing the people of the highlands to come and go on a journey to visit their neighbors across the canyon or travel from one end of the Incan empire to the other.
Though this bridge, called Q’eswachaka, is ancient, it never grows old. Each year it is reborn through the working hands of men and women and a shaman’s blessing. This is what we’ve come to see and be part of. It is a multi-village work party and ritual little changed in half a millenia. It is the creation of a grand work of civic art and a lesson that a bridge made of the most basic local resource and communal collaboration can outlast any piece of iron or concrete.
Day 8, Grass Rope and a Shaman’s Blessing (B,L,D)
We travel from Racchi to a far corner of Peru today and say hello to the place of the bridge. Throughout the day men and women from the surrounding villages will descend to the bridge, each bringing with them about 150 feet of handmade grass rope that they will contribute to the new bridge. Everyone beautifully dressed in the generational style of this area. The rope will be gathered, measured, and through the day worked into thicker and thicker cables, the crucial elements of the bridge. In addition to seeing this process we will meet the main Chaka Ruwaq (bridge weaver) who will share with us his story and teach us the basics of the bridge construction. We will also meet a respected regional shaman who will offer us a traditional Andean fortune telling ritual in preparation for our group’s offering to Mother Earth (Pachamama) ceremony, an important practice of respect in the Andean highlands. And we settle into our homestay just above the river. If you listen with great care, you will hear the sound of a hundred sickles slicing grass throughout the hills.
Overnight in Winchiri
Day 9, A Snake Sheds its Skin (B,L,D)
We are here to witness, to interact, to slow down and see the winding together of things. This morning we will try our hands at the art of turning grass into twined rope, working side by side with villagers. Like walking, this may be easier than it looks! Mid-morning the great rope cables that were braided yesterday will begin to be pulled across the river. The new bridge will take form over the old bridge. And, like a snake shedding its skin, the old bridge will be shed from the canyon walls and fall with a rush of air to the river below. Representing centuries of tradition yet being nothing more than grass and a year’s worth of dust and dew, the river will digest it. From perches and overlooks we’ll witness this moving process of release and renewal.
In the afternoon we will visit a nearby community to meet a local political authority to learn from him about community and communal responsibility in this area, ruled by the traditions of Quechua people. Dinner will be home cooked at the house of Doña Fortunata, the woman who first hosted tourists in this hard to reach area. As we enjoy supper with her we can learn from her stories.
Overnight in Winchiri
Day 10, The Ritual of Renewal (B,L,D)
This morning we leave the rivers edge to visit a villager up the mountain who will work with us to create our own miniature grass bridges. We are but novices and must leave the real bridge making to the generational masters, but that does not mean we cannot play. In the afternoon we return to the canyon bottom to witness the work the working, the pulling and shouting, see the smoke of the shaman’s fire, the women seated along the road twining more cord, groups of men creating the floor or carpet for the bridge, the scent of cooking food, a growing mood of excitement, the big sky above. As we see the bridge transform in the hands of these communities, we’ll also begin to understand the rituals of time renewal and reciprocity that tie together these communities. Before the light of the day is gone today, the new bridge should be completed!
Overnight in Winchiri
Day 11, Celebration and Onward Migration (B,L)
On our 11th day of travel the bridge between two sides will have been completed and blessed. Today we may cross the bridge! And what follows is celebration. A day of music, food and regional dances. We will immerse ourselves in this long enough to feel the human energy and fun, but not so long that we lose our hearing. Then we bid our farewells to the grass bridge, those who have hosted us and the mountains and river. But we have to continue our trek, begun what seems like a lifetime ago in Arequipa. Today is the final leg and by evening we will have arrived in the spectacular, ancient capital of the Incan Empire, Cusco. As we travel there we will pass four beautiful lagoons, traverse mountain valleys and visit with an association of weavers where the women will share with us their ancestral spinning and weaving knowledge.
Overnight in Cusco
Day 12, In The Heart of the Empire of Four Sides (B,D)
We have come to understand over the course of our journey the importance of the ancient road systems that tied together the old worlds of this place. Our walk today will take us to the very heart of these roads: the main Plaza of Q’osqo, the epicenter of the Empire of the Four Sides. Cusco is a fascinating city, a fusion of the old and modern world. The buzzing streets with amazing arts and crafts, locals and tourists, set on a backdrop of colonial buildings with Incan foundations. We will meet this city on a walk this morning. We’ll then set you free to explore as your heart desires and then gather again in the afternoon. Cusco is surrounded by impressive archeological sites and, like Rome, the ancient roads all converged on this center. We will visit the recently uncovered site of Inkilltambo, as well as a place called the Moon Temple. This temple will be our last stop before reaching Cusco city along the old East side road or Antisuyo, through the ancient San Blas neighborhood and right to the front door of our hotel. Here, our epic journey through time, culture and the vastness of the land of the Incas comes to an end. It is time to celebrate, so wash the dust off your feet and let’s have a feast worthy of dignified travelers!
Overnight in Cusco
Day 13, Your Own Trail (B)
You may depart at any time today. We highly recommend staying on in Cusco and exploring on your own. This city is fun, friendly and fascinating. Or continue along the old Incan roads. Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley lay just around the bend.. Contact us for options.
- A Professional, bilingual guide
- 12 nights accommodation
- All activities and visits on the itinerary
- All local transport in private van
- Entry fees, tips for meals
- High quality, small group travel
- 12 Breakfasts, 10 Lunches, 10 Dinners. See itinerary for included meals. We have chosen to leave some dinners out when we are in places where people can easily find dining on their own. This gives people a chance to explore, have time away from the group, chose not to eat if their stomachs are satiated (almost always the case on our tours).
- International Flights
- Travel and medical insurance
- All services, meals other than those indicated above, alcoholic beverages
- All items of a personal nature e.g. drinks, laundry, telephone calls, medical needs, tips etc
- Tips to tour guides