DAY 1 CHICLAYO TO CHACHAPOYAS: ACROSS THE ANDES TO THE AMAZON.
We drive northward from Chiclayo across Peru's coastal plains, following the
Pan-American Highway, then turn east onto the Trans-Andean route, ascending
gently through regions of dry forest interspersed with irrigated farmland.
Our road loops towards the lowest pass of the Peruvian Andes, at
2,135m/7,000 ft, where we cross the continental divide and enter the Upper
Amazon basin. Following the valley of the Huancabamba/Chamaya river system
we pass broad ribbons of bright green rice terracing, forming a striking
contrast with the cactus and dense thorn-scrub vegetation of the
mountainsides. Lower downstream we pass the massive dam and intake of the
Olmos irrigation project, ultimately destined to divert much of this water
through a 23Km/14.2 mile long tunnel to the Pacific slope of the Andes.
We reach the bridge over the Marañon, one of the great tributaries of the
Upper Amazon, which was formerly believed to be the source of that mighty
river. Here we enter the Peruvian department of Amazonas, former home of a
mysterious and powerful civilization, the Chachapoyas, whose remnants we
will explore during this journey.
We follow the Utcubamba river, the main artery of the Chachapoyan heartland,
first ascending a dramatic canyon then winding up the mountainous valley
which leads us to El Chillo, the charming hillside garden hotel which will
be our home for the next three nights. (Box Lunh, D)
DAY 2 CHACHAPOYAS: JOURNEY TO THE CLIFF TOMBS OF REVASH AND ON TO
We follow the Utcubamba valley upstream, spotting herons and perhaps an
Andean torrent duck in the river as we slowly ascend the valley. At the
village of Santo Tomás we turn off the main highway, crossing the river and
ascending a side valley where vivid scarlet poinsettias the size of trees
overhang the walls of typical Chachapoyan farms, with verandas surrounded by
wooden columns, and topped with tile roofs. Soon we meet our wranglers and
the calm, sure-footed horses that will carry us up the trail to Revash.
Throughout this journey we gaze up at huge cliffs that loom ever closer.
These limestone formations, laid down in even layers over geological aeons,
tend to break away in neat collapses, often leaving extensive overhangs and
protected ledges beneath them. In such places the ancient Chachapoya built
the tombs where they buried their noble dead.
A gigantic fold in the cliffs, testifying to millennia of unimaginable
tectonic forces, lies ahead of us, and at the top of the fold one such cave
houses a group of tombs, ruined structures still bearing their original coat
of red and white pigment. But they are far off, and this is not yet Revash.
Another hour brings us to a viewpoint much closer to the cliffs, and here we
see two adjacent sets of caves, featuring cottage-sized structures covered
in still-bright mineral-oxide paintwork. Some of them look like cottages,
with gabled roofs, others like flat-topped apartments. They are adorned with
red-on-white figures and geometrical symbols -- a feline, llamas, circles,
ovals -- and bas-relief crosses and T-shapes, which perhaps once told the
rank and lineage of the tombs' occupants. They are silent, empty, their
contents long ago looted, their facades still trying to tell us a story
whose meaning was lost long ago.
Retracing our steps we continue our road journey to Leimebamba, which we
reach mid-afternoon. This settlement was established by the Incas during
their conquest of the region, and continued as a colonial town under the
Spanish. It retains much of this antique charm in its balconied houses with
narrow streets where more horses than cars are parked. We go a little
further up the highway and pull in to the spacious garden environment of the
Leimebamba Museum, where we visit a delightful collection of extraordinary
artifacts recovered from another group of cliff tombs discovered as recently
as 1997 at the remote Laguna de los Condores, high in the mountains east of
The exhibits, cheerfully displayed in well-lit rooms, offer a sample from
the mass of artifacts recovered from this amazing discovery. In 1997 a group
of undiscovered cliff tombs -- similar in style to those of Revash -- was
spotted above the remote Laguna de los Condores by local farmhands. Although
they looted and damaged the site, a mass of priceless objects and a trove of
vital information was rescued. We see gourds carved with animal and
geometrical symbols, an array of colorful textiles, ceramics, carved wooden
beakers and portrait heads, and a selection of the dozens of quipus (Inca
knotted-string recording devices) recovered from the site. A big picture
window offers a view of the temperature- and humidity-controlled temporary
"mausoleum" where more than two hundred salvaged mummies are kept.
Archaeologists are still uncertain as to how most of this material came to
be so startlingly well-preserved, in tombs that during the rainy season were
actually behind a waterfall! But perhaps the most striking thing about the
tombs is that they contain burials from all three periods of local history:
the Chachapoya cultural heyday, the post-Inca invasion period, and the
post-Spanish conquest. Archaeologists are continuing to study the material,
seeking to learn more about the Chachapoya and their relationship with their
Inca masters. The quipu finds have been especially valuable to scholars
seeking to decode the Inca record keeping system.
After our museum tour we can visit the Kenticafé across the street, for a
cup of the best coffee in Chachapoyas, where we may see dozens of the
region's exotic hummingbirds flitting among the strategically placed
feeders, perhaps including the dazzling and highly endangered Marvellous
We return to El Chillo for dinner and overnight. (B, Box Lunch, D)
DAY 3 CHACHAPOYAS: KUELAP, THE GREAT WALLED CITY OF NORTHERN PERU.
We spend a full day visiting this huge and mysterious site, beginning with a
drive through places whose names -- Choctamal, Longuita, and Kuelap itself
-- evoke a lost language and a vanished ancient people who spoke it, the
Chachapoyans. We don't know what they called themselves, but the Incas who
finally conquered these fierce warriors knew them by their Quechua
soubriquet, Chachaphuyu -- Cloud People -- after the cloud-draped region
where they lived.
Kuelap's existence was first reported in 1843. For years it was believed to
have been a Chachapoyan fortress, and when we first catch sight of it from
the fossil-encrusted limestone footpath that leads there it is hard to
believe it was not. The massive walls soar to a height of 19m/62ft and its
few entranceways are narrow and tapering, ideal for defense. Yet the
archaeological evidence now suggests that this was principally a religious
and ceremonial site.
Chachapoyas was not a nation, or an empire, but some sort of federation of
small states centered on numerous settlements scattered across their
mountainous territory. The earliest settlement dates obtained here suggest
that its construction began around 500A.D. and, like the Moche coastal
pyramids, it was built in stages as a series of platforms, one atop the
It is now a single enormous platform nearly 600m/2,000ft long, stretched
along a soaring ridgetop. Seen from below, its vast, blank walls give no
hint of the complexity and extent of the buildings above. When we reach its
summit we find a maze of structures in a variety of styles and sizes, some
of them faced with rhomboid friezes, some ruined and some well preserved.
Here we can try to imagine the lives of the Chachapoyan elite and their
servants who lived here, enjoying a breathtaking view of forested Andean
mountains and valleys.
So distant and neglected was this region until recently that little
archaeological research has been done at this important site, and our
knowledge of it remains vague. An adjacent site named La Mallca, larger
though less dramatic than Kuelap, has not been studied at all.
Even today, Kuelap's remoteness ensures that only a handful of other
visitors are there to share it with us.
We drive to Chachapoyas city for dinner and overnight at Casa Vieja Hotel.
(B, Box Lunch, D)
DAY 4 CHACHAPOYAS: SPECTACULAR HIKES TO EITHER GOCTA FALLS, OR THE CLIFF
TOMBS OF KARAJÍA
Here we have the option to choose between two very different and spectacular
Gocta. We drive to the city of Chachapoyas and on to the village of
Cocachimba, the trailhead for this lovely walk through forest and farmland
to the foot of the world's third highest waterfall. Amazingly, the existence
of these falls was not known to the world until they were spotted by a
German explorer in 2006! Local people lived in fear of them and stayed away,
owing to their ancient legend of a dangerous enchantress, the siren who
lived in the falls. Our walk takes approximately three hours each way, and
along the route we have a good chance of spotting the Andean
Cock-of-the-Rock, Peru's national bird. The male of this large, brilliantly
colored red-and-black member of the cotinga family sports a huge crest that
completely envelops its beak. When the males gather they hop from branch to
branch through the trees, insulting each other with loud squawks and
screeches in an attempt to attract females.
We hear the thunder of Gocta before we see the falls, a huge two-stage
torrent of water falling from the towering limestone cliffs characteristic
of the entire region. When we are close they are so high that the rim of the
falls, 771m/2,528ft above us, seems to be lost in the sky. We can spend some
time here enjoying the refreshing mist of the falls and enjoying the
surrounding forest, viewing hummingbirds, toucanets, and, with luck, a
troupe or two of capuchin or woolly monkeys. During the dry season when the
volume of water is not too ferocious, those willing to face the chilly
waters (and perhaps the siren!) can bathe in the pool beneath the falls. We
hike back to Cocachimba and return to Chachapoyas in time for dinner.
Karajía. We drive half and hour from Chachapoyas to the village of Caclic,
and then take a side road for about 1 ½ hours, before beginning a descent of
300m/1000ft, to the clifftop at Cruz Pata, then take a level path which we
follow for a short way to the foot of even higher cliffs. Here we can look
across a vertical cliff face to a completely inaccessible cave where the
ancient Chachapoyans somehow installed nine tall clay figures, up to some 3m
high, inside which the bodies of chieftains and perhaps their families were
interred. One of the figures has been destroyed by falling rocks, and one
damaged. The others are intact. The heads have angular, stylized faces, made
of clay, while the bodies of the figures were made on site of wattle and
clay, which was then covered in brightly painted designs. On top of the
heads sit skulls, but whose skulls they were we cannot even guess at,
because these figures have been left undisturbed, not studied by
archaeologists, and thankfully not destroyed by looters. How the ancient
Chachapoyans reached this place to create this burial site for their elites
is still a mystery.
We return to the city of Chachapoyas in the afternoon. (B, Box Lunch, D)
DAY 5 CHACHAPOYAS TO CHICLAYO: BACK ACROSS THE MIGHTY MARAÑÓN.
After an early breakfast we return to Chiclayo by road. We will make a
pleasant stop at a suitable spot along the way to eat our box lunch. We
arrive in Chiclayo in the late afternoon and transfer to your selected
hotel. (Overnight by your own) (B, Box Lunch)
END OF THE SERVICES