Northern Peru itinerary
The north of Peru, much less frequented by travelers than its southern counterpart, has it all too: charming cities and towns, landscapes of all colors and unique archaeological sites of pre-colonial cultures. There are amazing places everywhere, so it is essential to visit its jungles, mountains and coast. Precisely, the fact of being less visited is what makes it more special, since you will have the opportunity to share with the Peruvians in a more intact way than in the southern zone. How beautiful are the people in Peru! Some places you cannot miss in this adventure:
Boat trip Santa Rosa to Iquitos
Cohechán and surroundings Chachapoyas & Kuelap
Huascarán National Park Trujillo and surroundings
BOAT TRIP SANTA ROSA TO IQUITOS
This first part, purely Amazonian, is characterized by the rhythms of the jungle and fluvial transport. Santa Rosa de Yavarí is a tiny Peruvian community in the department of Loreto located in the Amazonian Triple Border with Colombia and Brazil. This isolated area of the world, on the banks of the Amazon River, is so fascinating because in such a small space there are three different cultures of the jungle... Each one from a different country, with its typical customs, dances, languages/accents (there is a rare mixture of Spanish and Portuguese, with some native intermingled words), and even facial and corporal expressions. It is worth visiting Tabatinga (Brazil) and, above all, Leticia (Colombia) to know its charms. In Leticia there are many things to do, both in the city itself and in the surrounding area (you can also hire a tour to the deep jungle). If you happen to be here by mid-July, you will be lucky enough to attend the Triple Border Fiesta/Festival, which takes place every year in one of the three cities and it is full of events of all kinds. Simple awesome.
Santa Rosa is also a port of departure to Iquitos. The starting point for the adventure by boat overcoming the largest river on Earth. The trip is made on a cargo ship, with the top floor accommodated with a few hammocks for the passengers (locals and intrepid adventurers).
It lasts around three or four days, crossing a monotonous but dreamy landscape: water, jungle and sky. Along the way small waterside communities can be seen. And from time to time the boat stops at one of them to load/unload) goods, which is a plus for the traveler, who will be able to wander the streets for a while, observe their people and, why not, try the gastronomy. Traveling by boat through the jungle is definitely a highly recommended experience. It does not matter much the specific journey, but the experience itself: a few days of total relaxation, contemplating a dreamy landscape and sleeping in a hammock. And the crew you share a roof with will somehow become your family. Tip: take a diary/notebook with you.
City in the middle of the jungle in which urban chaos mixes with the tranquility of nature. You need to know how to enjoy both the noises of mototaxis and the sounds of the rainforest. A curious fact: this is the most populated city in the world with no land access (you can only arrive by flying or sailing). Lots to see and d in the largest city of the Peruvian Amazon:
Walk through the beautiful center and along the waterfront, with beautiful views of the Amazon River.
Live the culture: observe the locals, chat with them, party...
Visit the amazing Belén Market, where exotic and peculiar products are sold (you would rather go and discover them yourself!).
Visit the interesting community of Nauta (connected by road). From here boats depart towards Yurimaguas *.
Travel to La Isla de los Monos (Monkey Island). It is a Wildlife Recovery Shelter that host primates and various other animals (most of them come from illegal trafficking)... You must pay a fee for the care of these monkeys, so, it is worth it in two ways: not only you will get in close contact with these friendly primates (some of them will climb to your head!), but also you will contribute your bit to the project. To get here, you must take a boat in Productores Port (Iquitos) towards Varadero/Mazan (the trip takes about 25 minutes).
Excursion to the Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm. This butterfly farm hosts a great variety of native butterfly species. To get there you must take a boat in Bellavista-Nanay port to Padre Cocha, then walk one kilometer (it is signposted). By the way, it is posible to spot monkeys here too!
Hire a guide for a jungle expedition. There are many agencies, all offering basically the same: hiking and camping in the jungle, wildlife observation, etc. You can choose from two or three days to more than a week.
To leave Iquitos and reach a more "civilized" area (that is, with roads) you have two alternative destinations: Yurimaguas and Pucallpa. Both involve an exciting river trip of several days through the warm and humid jungle (including the passage through the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve) and through coastal communities.
* You can get faster (and cheaper) to Yurimaguas departing from Nauta, in a two-days trip that includes overnight accommodation in a native community.
The most populated city of the department of San Martin does not have much to offer in itself... The surroundings, on the other hand, are full of beautiful places. This area, in the middle of the jungle, houses waterfalls, lakes and tropical vegetation in abundance. Highlights:
Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon). Approximately one hour south of Tarapoto is this beautiful lagoon. It is a place to enjoy gorgeous landscapes and relax for a whole day (or several). You can take a boat ride on the lake..
Ahuashiyacu Waterfall. It is located a few kilometers from the city, in the Cordillera Escalera Regional Conservation Area. Apart from its great beauty must be added that are easily accessible (20 minute walk from the entrance), which makes it a pretty tourist site.
Huacamaillo Waterfall. Beautiful hiking route to reach an equally beautiful waterfall. You will pass through paths surrounded by dense Amazonian vegetation and you will have to cross a river on several occasions. The journey takes about two or three hours (one way), but it is really pleasant, making stops whenever you want for resting or taking dips in the river. You can also cool off in the final waterfall and its deep pool. Unlike Ahuashiyacu, there are not many tourists here, only locals, which makes the place even more magical. It is ideal to spend a night in your tent.
Other great waterfalls: Carpishuyaco Waterfall and Puyacaquillo Waterfall.
In the department of Amazonas, about 4 hours from Tarapoto (3 from Moyobamba), this beautiful lagoon lies at an elevation of more than 2250 meters above sea level (the scenery from Tarapoto is wonderful), enjoying a perfect weather. Whether you come from the jungle or from the Andes, this will be an idyllic place for you to recharge your batteries. Besides strolling along the lake, you can take boat rides with the boatmen of the dock.
One of the most incredible places in Peru. This waterfall, near the small town of Cocachimba (department of Amazonas) was "discovered" and opened to tourism recently (2006). Before that, an impenetrable jungle closed any way to it and not even locals tried to get close (partly also because of the legend of a wicked siren). Now, a beautiful path leads to the waterfall, and more and more people do not want to miss this natural gem. Ranked neither more nor less among the five-tallest free-leaping waterfalls in the world (540 meters). The landscape up to the waterfall is spectacular. If you can, bring your tent and camp in front of the waterfall, it will be magical.
COHECHÁN AND SURROUNDINGS
Fabulous rural, little tourist area in the mountains where native authenticity, different landscapes of Peru and mysterious archaeological sites converge. Transport services in the area are zero, so the traveler must get around/travel by taxi or hitchhiking. Even so, it is worth a detour to get to know this special corner in the department of Amazonas. Some of the places that should be visited are these:
Valley of Huaylla Belén. A valley of green pastures through which a beautiful river traces a blue zigzag “path”. There a few cows live happily. Perfect to cool off and relax.
Sarcophagi of Karajía. These funerary relics of the Chachapoyas culture are located 2 km on foot from the interesting little town of Cruzpata, "hanging", literally, from a mountain wall overlooking a deep canyon. Amazing surroundings.
Quiocta Caves. At 11 km from Lamud (accessible by car) and after a short walk, these deep caves house several rooms with magnificent stalactites and stalagmites as well as skulls and human remains.
CHACHAPOYAS AND KUELAP
Chachapoyas is a pretty colonial town with beautiful views of the Andean highlands (interestingly, it is the capital of the department of Amazonas). However, it is its strategic location with many attractions around what makes this place being so popular for travelers in this northern part of Peru. To the north are Cohechán, Gocta and Pomacochas, among others (further away, the Tarapoto waterfalls); to the south, the main attraction is the Fortress of Kuelap.
Kuelap is an impressive archaeological site, height of the Chachapoyas civilization. It is huge (largest stony structure in South America), very well preserved and, best of all, receives few tourists. One of the best kept treasures in the country. The fortress is located on top of a mountain, at 3000 meters, with fantastic views of the mountains and valleys. To get here you have two options (both departing from Chachapoyas): by combi/bus directly to the entrance; after a hard trekking uphill from Tingo (around four or five hours).
In a valley surrounded by mountains, at 2750 masl, stands the capital of the homonymous department. One of the most important centers of the Andean area... And one of the most beautiful cities in the country. However, if there is something for which this city is known it is because it was here where the last Inca king, Atahualpa, was captured (and murdered) by Francisco Pizarro. You can visit La Habitación del Rescate (The Rescue Room), where Atahualpa spent the last seven months of his life. Apart from the beautiful center with a handful of stately buildings, there are other interesting places to visit nearby: the Baños del Inca, famous for the hot springs where the Inca used to bathe; the Ventanillas de Otuzco, a group of crypts that once served as funerary enclosures (50 a. C. - 500 d. C.).
By the way, the road that links Leymebamba, south of Kuelap, with Cajamarca goes through unforgettable Andes.
HUASCARÁN NATIONAL PARK
This Park exudes beauty in every river, lake and mountain. Located in the department of Áncash, the Huascarán National Park is home to pretty villages clinging to the mountains, the highest peaks in the country (up to 16 peaks exceeding 6000 masl), and exciting hiking trails. Lakes of impossible colors, glacial rivers, red queñua forests, pastures blooming with wild flowers, inhospitable areas... All of that awaits in the mountains (especially in the Cordillera Blanca section), making this place one of the most beautiful in Peru, in South America and in the world. A paradise for hikers and climbers.
There are dozens of excursions, for every taste: easy, moderate, difficult... One day, more than a week... Many start from areas near Huaraz and Caraz (towns worth visiting, especially the second). The entrance ticket to the Park is valid for up to 21 days, so make the most of it (if you have time)! I stayed a few days and only hiked a couple of routes, but I wish I come back one day for more. The ones I can recommend first hand are: Laguna Llanganuco and Laguna 69, two beautiful glacial lakes where time seems to stop. You can do both on the same route in two or three days, as they are close (there are a couple of free campgrounds). To get there you can take a taxi or hitch up to the entrance from Yungay. The most popular long trek is the Santa Cruz route, which takes on average three or four days, passing through landscapes of all colors: mountain passes, icy waterfalls, rivers, valleys… The beginning is near Caraz. It is also recommended to visit the Pato Canyon (continuation of the Callejón de Huaylas), where a river runs for 40 km splitting the mountains in two: on one side the Cordillera Blanca (this is, the White Range) and on the other the Cordillera Negra (Black Range). At the end is the charming little town of Huallanca
A curious fact: If the measurement is made from the center (nucleus) of the Earth, the Nevado Huascarán is the second highest mountain on earth (after the Ecuadorian Chimborazo volcano), surpassing the height of Everest by almost two kilometers!.
TRUJILLO AND SURROUNDINGS
Great metropolis at the foot of the Pacific Ocean that enjoys an interesting mix of modern and ancient cultures. The capital of the department of La Libertad deserves your visit because: it is very beautiful, with colonial architecture; it has an important historical legacy: pre-Columbian, with the Mochica and Chimu cultures, fundamentally, and after colonization, with the early foundation of the city by Francisco Pizarro in 1535 (it is considered the cradle of the Judicial Power of Peru); there are fascinating places around. To be highlighted:
Chan Chan. The most emblematic site of the Chimu culture (it was the capital of the kingdom) is a must if you are visiting this area. It is a huge adobe city (the largest in the continent, second in the world), amazingly preserved, in front of the wild Pacific. Apart from enjoying this spectacular city, you will learn a lot about the Chimu people, active between 900 and 1400 AD (probably defeated by the Incas). It is only 5 km north of Trujillo.
Huaca del Sol and Huaca de la Luna. Two great adobe works of the Mochica culture, being Huaca del Sol the highest adobe pyramid in the world. This pyramid represented the political organization while Huaca de la Luna had religious purposes. Between them was (back then) the Urban Nucleus, where all the citizens lived, except for of the upper classes, who resided in the Huaca del Sol. These sites are located 10 km south of Trujillo.
Huanchaco. If you are looking for sun and beach, this is your ideal destination. Village with a relaxed and happy atmosphere beach where you will find a handful of surfers and hippies. Just 10 km (north) of the city.
The strongest point of this city a few kilometers from the ocean is not its beauty and architecture. The capital of the department of Lambayeque stands out for the legacy that some important cultures left in their desert lands. Especially the Mochicas. It is a great destination for lovers of pre-Columbian cultures, clear in places like the Brüning Museum (large collection of objects, and information, on the cultures that lived here), or the Tombs of the Lord of Sipán (an ancient Mochica ruler of the third century).
Also, it is a good destination to come and relax on the beaches of its surroundings and get to know a little the local beach culture. The village of Pimentel, with a long sandy beach, is ideal for swimming in cold waters, watch the fishermen go fishing in their caballito de totora boats (legacy of their ancestors), watch the spectacle of pelicans filling the skies and the sea, and, of course, eat a wonderful ceviche.