Journey into Peru’s wild and ancient north where misty mountains plunge into unexplored jungle, ancient ruins lie empty and the once-powerful Inca empire envelopes you. Around every cobble stone corner there are surprises waiting to be discovered.
Our bus from Lima climbed high over the Andes to the Huánuco, once a key Inca settlement on the road between Cusco to Cajamarca. The city is known for the nearby Temple of Kotosh, one of Peru’s oldest Andean archaeological sites and La Danza de los Negritos, a celebration in remembrance of the slaves that were brought to work in the surrounding mines.
After dipping into the jungle, we emerged in the laid back town of Chachapoyas. For centuries it was the base from which the Spanish explored and exploited the Amazon. It is nestled in ethereal cloud forest and filled uncharted ruins. From Chachas it is a two hour drive to the famous ruin of Kuélap. This grand citadel is perched on a limestone mountain. Only twenty or so years before the Spanish arrived (and burned it down,) it was conquered by the Incas.
The next part of the journey was a real test of nerves. From Chachapoyas we climbed high up a narrow, foggy road and over Black Mud Pass (12066 ft / 3678m). There were no guard rails just a sheer three kilometer drop to the Rio Marañon below.
Happy that we survived the journey we settled into the colonial metropolis of Cajamarca. Little remains of the Inca city, except for the massive room the Spanish forced the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa to fill with gold before they killed him and melted it down. The havoc the Spanish wreaked on the region is on prominent display in Cajamarca. It was always on the back of my mind during the jubilant carnival festivities that overwhelmed the city in the following days. The crazy carnival in Cajamarca turns into a giant water fight. We warmed ourselves by soaking in the city’s thermal baths, the same natural baths where Atahualpa was relaxing when the Spanish arrived in Cajamarca.
The Northern Highlands are a paradise for anyone seeking Peru’s beauty, unique culture and history without all the crowds. Cloud forests, waterfalls, jungle covered ruins, bustling markets and the Peru’s fascinating past all await those who aren’t afraid to head off the beaten path.
Recommended listening – LA DANZA by NACIÓN EKEKO
We crossed high over the Andes to reach Huánuco.
Climbing the valley walls that surround Huánuco.
Every January in Huánuco dancers wear decorative black masks to remember the slaves that were brought to work in the surrounding mines.
The central market of Huánuco.
We ate and drank fresh fruit smoothies in the market every morning.
As we climbed out of the jungle we arrived at Chachapoyas. Home to Gocta waterfal, one of the tallest in the world. It was only made known to the world in 2005 by a German and Peruvian explorers. There are various measurements, but the most common is 771 metres (2,530 ft)
Taking it all in at the base of Gocta Falls.
Entering the cloud forest that surrounds Chachapoyas.
Chachapoyas is a sleepy, white town surrounded by high altitude cloud forest.
The Spanish used it as a base to explore the Amazon.
The main street in Chachapoyas.
Chachapoya translates to People of the Clouds. Upon climbing to the top of the fortress it felt like a very apt name.
Chachapoya structures were round with pointed, thatched roofs. There are a couple of square Inca buildings on the mountaintop as well.
Villager wearing a typical hat.
We switched vans halfway through the journey over the mountains. Each van only drove half way and back.
We stopped in a small town to get some fruit and snacks.
The colonial metropolis of Cajamarca was once home to the Inca emperor, but nearly all of the structures were destroyed. The stones were used to build the churches.
Typical long flute from the region.
Cuy (guinea pig) is a popular Andean delicacy.