Having experienced the classic southern route of Peru, the “Gringo Trail” if you will, I was interested to experience the much, lesser-visited north. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m one of the privileged few to have experienced a really special place before it booms. I’ve spent the last few days doing brilliant things like visiting 4500-year-old Moche pyramids, hiking to cliff side Chachapoya tombs and looking around world-class museums, and not once have I seen even one other tourist. It’s been one private viewing after another, which couldn’t be more different from the south of the country, where hundreds of people flock to the top sights daily on their routine Peru holiday.
Being in the back of beyond, I didn’t expect the museums to be much cop, but I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed museums as much as I have on this trip. The Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum is an absolute treasure trove – it’s full of incredibly well preserved artifacts found in the Sipan Tombs; burial places of some of the most important people in the ancient Moche culture. Having seen the actual tombs earlier in the day, it was fantastic to see their even more incredible contents. I can’t even begin to imagine the excitement of the archaeologists upon discovering all that ancient history, piece by piece; the intricacy of these artifacts is mind blowing, as is their state of preservation. I bounced around the museum like a child in a sweet shop, wanting to look at, and wishing I could touch, everything. The mysteries of this culture and their beliefs are so enthralling it’s almost frustrating, as so little is known, but it’s so, so exciting to examine the things they valued enough to put into graves and ponder over their meanings and importance. For instance, owl necklaces seemed to be on every neck, but no one knows why.
The most accurate word I can find to describe the scenery around Chachapoyas is enchanting. If we’d stopped everywhere I wanted to take pictures of something beautiful, interesting or sweet, we’d still be miles from here. Instead, I hiked for two hours to the Revash painted tombs built into the cliff face. This was hard going but hugely rewarding. After that I visited a couple of family run lodges, each with just a few rooms and delightful owners. I spotted, and managed to photograph, a big sword-billed hummingbird that sounded like a lawnmower at one of these. Then, another outstanding museum, containing over 200 mummies found in another cliff side Chachapoya tomb about a 10 hour walk from the museum.
I spent the next day visiting Kuelap – a remote mountain ridge-top citadel – just as impressive as Machu Picchu, if not more. It has the same ethereal, atmospheric quality as some of the overgrown temples in Cambodia’s Angkor complex. Again – my guide and I had the place entirely to ourselves, with the exception of two dogs and a puppy who followed us around, and the few llamas employed to mow the lawn. In the afternoon we squeezed in a hike to see the amazing karajia, statues on a cliff face housing bodies. Walking around a corner and looking up to see them perched on the cliff face, as they have been for hundreds of years, was an incredible thrill.
There’s so much more to see in the north that I’ve not had time for on this trip, so I will certainly be coming back. Hopefully as soon as possible!
I’ve now come down to Huaraz, in Central Peru, to sample some of the stunning hikes in the Cordilleras Negra and Blanca. Then onto the south and into the Amazon. This is set to be a Peru holiday of epic proportions and one I can’t wait to start offering to our clients.