Arrive to Lima on the flight of your choice today and overnight at your hotel in the Miraflores District.
Most flights to Chiclayo depart in the afternoon, so the day is free to explore the museums, restaurants, and sites of Lima. Visit Lima independently, or we can arrange city tours and other excursions in Lima for the morning and early afternoon. Click here for more details on optional excursions.
In the afternoon, a private transfer will take you to the airport for your flight to Chiclayo. After settling into the hotel, the evening is free to spend as you wish. Northern Peru is rich in archeology, history and offers quite a geographical contrast to the southern region of Peru. From the 1st to the 15th Century AD, this region was home to some of South America's most prominent cultures - Moche, Lambayeque, Chimu and Chachapaoyas - who were exquisite craftsmen and excelled in the skills of ceramics, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy and warfare.
This morning you will travel toward Lambayeque to visit the Tucume Pyramids. Tucume is believed to be an important regional center for the Sican in 1000-1350 AD, followed by the Chimu, and finally the Inca in 1450-1532 AD. An impressive site, Tucume is made up of over 540 acres and has 26 major pyramids and platforms. You will then visit the world famous Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum. The design of the museum was inspired by an actual Moche pyramid at Huaca Rajada. The museum displays all the archaeological material found in Sipan, including one of the most important finds in pre-Inca history; the Lord of Sipan tomb. There are impressive collections of gold, masks, jewelry, scepters and hundreds of ceramic pieces. The tomb, discovered in 1987, was the richest ever found in the western hemisphere. Its importance is commonly compared with Egypt's Tomb of Tutankamon.
In the afternoon, you now have the chance to explore the ruins that unearthed the spectacular treasures now housed in the museum. The ruins of Huaca Rajada near the village of Sipan is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in the last few years. These Moche ruins have become famous for the unlooted tombs, specifically the "Lord of Sipan" tomb, which were discovered by Walter Alva in 1987.
We begin our ten hour drive northward from Chiclayo across Peru’s coastal plains, following the Pan-American Highway, ascending gently through regions of dry forest interspersed with irrigated farmland. 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.
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 former realm of a mysterious and powerful civilization, the Chachapoyas.
We follow the Utcubamba river, the main artery of the Chachapoyan heartland, first ascending a dramatic canyon then winding up the mountainous valley for a final magnificent drive up to Cocachimba where we spend the night at the Gocta Andes Lodge.
There are two alternatives for today's excursion:
Gocta. We start our trek to the waterfall of Gocta from the front door our hotel. Enjoy 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 continue to El Chillo in time for dinner.
Karajía. We head back through the Utcubamba valley and drive through the canyon until we can cross over to the neighboring Province of Luya. From the town of Luya we drive on to the village of Cruz Pata, where a short walk (45min) takes us down to Karajia. These striking sarcophagi, sculptured like humans have become an icon of the area. For 750 years they have looked towards the rising sun and undoubtedly are the resting place for some elite members of Chachapoya warriors. Returning to our transport, we drive on to El Chillo a former hacienda and here we stay the night.
We drive to Yerbabuena (1 hour) this morning, where we will walk for a steady 2 hours uphill for a close up view of a spectacularly colorful cliff tomb. This is Revash, a group of tombs standing as ruined structures still bearing their original coat of red and white pigment. There are 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, crosses and T-shapes - that perhaps once told the rank and lineage of the tombs’ occupants. They are silent, empty, their contents long ago looted, but 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. Visit the Leimebamba Museum with 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 town. A big picture window offers a view of the temperature- and humidity-controlled temporary “mausoleum” where more than two hundred well-preserved mummies are kept.
Return to El Chillo (two hour drive) for dinner and a restful night's sleep.
Leaving El Chillo we drive 1.5 hours to the largest ancient stone structure in South America - Kuelap. We spend a full day visiting Kuelap, 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 as the, Chachaphuyu -- Cloud People -- after the cloud-draped region where they lived.
For years Kuelap was believed to have been a Chachapoyan fortress with some massive walls that soar to a height of 19m/62ft and few narrow entranceways 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 other. 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 creating a maze of structures in a variety of styles and sizes. 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 and overnight at Casa Vieja Hotel.
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. Take an afternoon flight back to Lima and connect to your international flight.
Alternatively, we can make arrangements to extend your trip in Peru. Click here for extensions such as to the Amazon, Lake Titicaca, or Machu Picchu.
$460 single supplement