Rúpac: an overnight hike in the mountains

Head north out of Lima to the town of Huaral, in the valley of the river Chancay. Turn east and follow the river valley through the desert plains and into the foothills of the mighty Andes, passing the irrigated fields and orchards that help to feed the mega-city. Drive by ancient mud-brick temples crumbling back into dust, by rural villages nestled into bends in the river…

Three hours out of the city, turn off the main road and onto the bumpy track to the village of La Florida, where you pay the community a small fee to enter their lands and continue up the steep switch-back dirt track that leads to the ghost-town of Pampas, abandoned as people moved down the valley to towns with electricity and running water, though people from La Florida still tend crops on the ancient agricultural terraces that surround the over-grown buildings.

Rupac ruins hike

Pampas, last home of the Atavillos of Rúpac, now a ghost town

Rupac ruins hike

The donkey-man’s faithful companion

Here  you meet the man with the donkeys who will carry your packs up the steep trail ahead, leaving you only to worry about food, water and cameras as you make the climb up to 3 400 mASL through the misty clouds, stopping to spot birds and identify pretty wild-flowers, or just to catch your breath and admire the view as the green hills give way to the coastal desert.

First you reach the ruins of the outpost , most likely a guard post on the original trail climbing up from the valley below, and get your first glimpse of the distinctive stone buildings first constructed about a thousand years ago and still standing. Climb a little higher and the hidden citadel of Rúpac comes into view, just as the rains arrive. Shelter, shivering, in the ancient ceremonial porticoes while you await for the man with the donkeys to arrive, carrying the tents and warm clothes.

Rupac ruins hike

The outpost ruins with sweeping views over the misty valleys below

Rupac ruins hike

A spectacular sunset silhouettes the ruins

Pitch your tents quickly in the last showery light of the afternoon, finishing just in time for a break in the weather where a huge double rainbow appears, arcing over the ruins of Pampas and the trail that brought you here. Be treated to a spectacular sunset silhouetting the ruins that in the morning you will explore. Meanwhile there’s a light supper and sleep for tired bodies, disturbed by the villager’s cows in who’s overnight pasture you’re inconsiderately camped.

Wake when the sun makes it’s way over the mountains and set out to explore this unrestored treasure of the Atavillo culture, who built these windowless square stone building 2 and 3 stories high. With nothing but stone and clay they’ve made stairs, storerooms, courtyards and chimneys, they’ve built walls that are perfectly square. With their protective stone roofs and solid construction they’ve withstood the Andean weather and frequent earth tremors. Perhaps the protective ring of tombs, or chullpas, home to the bones of their ancestors, kept the walls strong long after the fall of this ancient culture.

Rupac ruins hike

Early morning sun drenches the ancient stone buildings

Rupac ruins hike

A cullpi that would have had an amazing view, if the Atavillos had gone in for windows

The Altavillos occupied the highlands of the western Andes, on the desert’s edge from the 900s to the 1500s AD, building their distinctive cullpi houses long before the rise of the Incas and never being conquered by them. An offshoot of the Huari culture, they grew maize and raised guinea-pigs and Andean camelids, worshipping their ancestors, the sun (huillca), and the moon (pasac) until the Spanish came. Around 1600 the Atavillos of Rúpac and the surrounding area were relocated forcibly to the new town of Pampas by the Spanish conquerors, their cullpi and chullpas abandoned to the elements and to memory.

Explore the fascinating ruins until the sun grows hot, then it’s time to de-camp and make the trek back down – donkey-less – to Pampas, where the minibus waits to shuttle you back to the city, via a late lunch of BBQ pork – the local speciality – and some well-earnt cold drinks in the town of Huaral. By nightfall you’re caught in the crawling traffic and fantasising about a good shower and much-needed sleep. At  long last make it home, put your tired body to bed and dream of near-forgotten cultures who built such resilient towns on the tops of mountains for hundreds of years until the Spaniards came and the world changed, irrevocably.

Dream of Peru…

Rupac ruins hike

What goes up must walk back down, this time without the aid of donkeys

Rupac ruins hike

Rúpac: what a magical place

* Reference for information about the Atavillo culture, their constrution and archaelogical sites (in Spanish): http://huayopampa.com/turismo/informe-sobre-los-atavillos.html

8 Comments on “Rúpac: an overnight hike in the mountains

  1. Beautiful Toni. Just beautiful. Thanks for sharing this.
    How tough must the people have been who lived there so long ago – and who couldn’t get a minibus back to town.

    • Thanks Eric!

      There are plenty of people still living in conditions as tough or tougher than these in Peru. In the high sierra and the deep jungle not much has changed in the last 500 years beyond the arrival of tourists and a few new diseases. I am so very lucky to have the creature comforts I do!

    • There are hundreds of cultures here, both extinct and extant, that I’d never heard of. The number of distinct cultures that have arisen in Peru is remarkable, but reflective of the diversity and small extent of various habitats and ecological niches humans have managed to exploit here. There are still dozens of tribes in the Amazon that maintain their native languages, including several in voluntary isolation (to protect against diseases that could wipe them out, mostly). I’m hoping I get to meet some on my jungle trip next week!

  2. Oh wow Toni, such a dreamy and fascinating place to be. You’ve captured it so well with your words and photos. Looking at these images just puts things into perspective somehow.

    • The place is a photographer’s dream, and with the magical sunset we were treated to it was impossible to take bad photos of the place. I’m glad you enjoyed the post: something a little different for me.

  3. I loved your descriptions and the beautiful photos!

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