North Peru – Diversity galore! Beaches, remote mountains, and deep lush jungle!
I think It is more a hardy type of backpacker that roams northern Peru, as it is a little more out of the way to get to and more time is needed to traverse it. Because of this it is also easier to bond faster to your travel buddies – during this month I’ve made many close friends and it feels like the goodbyes are getting harder as this trip goes on.
The natural scenery here is simply stunning, and surprisingly diverse. I had no idea how good the beaches here were, the Andes lived up to – and exceeded – the very high expectations I have of them, and the Amazonas… a world unto its own and I have only scratched the surface of the lungs of the world. I definitely shed a tear on leaving Peru, it is one of my favorite countries and I will return for some more adventures in the future.
Highlights (very compressed summary!):
– Beaches – Coming from Australia I’m usually a bit of a beach snob but the beaches I visited in Peru were top notch.
Montanita is a surf beach with a good mix of locals and gringos. The sand, sunsets, waves, water were all very pleasant. There were groups of surfers, body boarders, and kite surfing inhibiting different parts of the beach. It had a very peaceful vibe, we were there in a low season so it was very quiet. After some hunting around to find a good hostel (and being very picky about it), we found a 3 storey hostel that was about 80% complete, it wasn’t open but had all the facilities we needed and we had the whole building to ourselves for a bargain based price, great considering we were right on the beach.
Huanchaco is a beach more suited to proper surfers – nice long rolling breaks, however rather than sand it has small pebbles. The location is beautiful, with a good historic decent sized city (Trujillo) nearby. I didn’t spend long here as I was itching to get back into the Andes mountains. Regrettably, I decided against going down to Hauraz for some long treks, I was turned off by the weather reports of rain everyday, but only later realized it was a typical harmless evening shower rather than non-stop rain. Needless to say Hauraz is now on my ‘to do’ list for a future visit to Peru.
– Andes – I’ve now experienced the Andes from the top of South America down to Patagonia – it has never failed to impress. Even now I had high expectation and was worried of seeing ‘more of the same’, fortunately, the Andres here have a different flavor and are just as spectacular as anywhere else. I skimmed my way through from Trujillo towards to Amazon jungle. The best decision I made was to only travel on buses during the day so as to see the awesome sights, staying usually 2-3 nights at a few charming cities dotted along the way.
Cajamarca – a historic city, which was northern HQ of sorts for the Inkas when the Spanish arrived, it features some pretty horrific history of backstabbing and betrayal when the Conquistadors arrived. A highlight for me was seeing an ancient aqueduct (Cumbe Mayo) that is apparently over 3000 years old, and runs for over 10kms – seriously impressive stuff!
Bus ride Cajamarca to Chachapoyas – this was one of the most adrenaline pumping bus rides I’ve ever done, right up there with some hairy rides in the Indian Himalayas. This was a 14 hr bus ride starting at 5am. I’m afraid my skills with words won’t do this justice, but just to say the scenery was stunning, massive deep valleys, the deepest I’ve ever seen, often in the bus when looking across at the window opposite me – it felt as though I was in a plane! Other times when I was in the cliff edge side, looking down my heart would skip a couple of beats when I couldn’t see the road – only a very long vertical drop! It was a memorable experience – definitely recommend it for anyone in this neck of the woods (but not for anyone with a heart condition).
Chachapoyas – another historic city, with a lot of charm and in a valley with tonnes of activities on offer. The main attraction is Kuelap, billed as a ‘machu picchu of the north’. The Peruvian government is investing in upgrading the infrastructure around this area in anticipation of much more tourism in the future. The site itself didn’t disappoint, it is basically a massive fortress like structure on the top of a ridge with spectacular views in all directions. It was build by the local Chachapoyan people before the Inkas conquered them, then the Inkas added a few buildings on top. It had a number of functions, much more than just a military outpost, but like much of the history in South America, some of the details are a bit washy as there was limited writing before the Spanish arrived, and the Spanish themselves went out of their way to eradicate some of the previous culture. Apart from Kuelap, the other main site I saw was the Gocta Waterfalls, after a heavy night of rain the 2 tiered falls that drop over 770m were mighty impressive! A real bonus I didn’t know existed here. Apparently it is in the top 3 waterfalls in the world as measured by vertical drop. After Chachapoyas the goal was to get to the Amazon asap, so we made a quick pit stop in Tarapoto, then made it to Yurimaguas where we prepared for the jungle.
Yurimaguas to Iquitos by Cargo Boat – One of my most memorable experiences to date, 3 days on a Cargo Boat floating blissfully down the Amazon downstream towards Iquitos. For only 80 solles (about $25) we were given 3 days food, and a spot to string up our hammocks on the 3rd floor. The 3 days went by quickly with plenty to do, reading, sleeping, teaching yoga classes at sunset on the top deck!, playing chess, meeting other travelers (we had a good crew which included representatives from Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and a token Aussie), having a few drinks with the friendly locals, and watching the various deliveries ranging from larger towns (where a pitstop was required) to small delivers where a speed boat would just pull up on the side of our boat which didn’t even slow down. I’d definitely do this again – and am thinking of a longer cargo boat trip through Brazil for a potential future trip.
Iquitos and the Jungle proper – I ended up spending about 2.5 weeks in and around Iquitos. Staying for 6 nights with a local community deep in the jungle, which was living almost entirely self sufficiently, then heading north of a small village (Padre Coche) to hang out for a few nights in the wild. It was great to soak up the clean air, experience the powerful thunderstorms, see diverse and beautiful creatures all around us (especially the colourful butterflies) and cook our own food by the campfire. I made some great friends on this leg of the journey and it was very hard to say goodbye! After Iquitos I took a quick boat to Leticia then flew into Colombia – so sad to leave, especially to part ways with some great amigos, but sure I’ll return sooner or later for another dose of fresh beautiful air and keep the local mosquito population well fed.
Now onto Colombia – every single traveler I’ve spoke to who has been here raves about it – I’m trying to temper my expectations, but lets see what is in store!