Lima & Trek Team


What comes to mind with Peru is usually Inca, as in Machu Picchu. Yet dozens of different cultures flourished pre-Inca, among them the Chachpoyas, or "Cloud People," in the northern Andes. I recently took an 8 day trek in this remote region, on the Andes’ eastern or Amazonian slopes, where elevations range from 5,000 to 11,000 feet. Commercially viable airports don’t exist, so you have to drive or take a bus over the mountains from the coast. With poor road conditions the journey once took over 20 hours; construction recently completed brought the drive down to 10-11 hours. Seeing other tourists – unlike in the popular sites of southern Peru – is a rarity, hardly more than several a day. This is what I call travel bliss.

I’ve arranged photographs chronologically within themes. As traveling in and out of Lima is necessary for most visitors, I’ve added a sub-page on this impressive Pacific city (click on the top-of-page bar, where you'll also find shots of the trekking team),

Tilla Pass

I've visited the cloud forest before, in Costa Rica where I lived for a year, but this was total immersion. In spite of the Andes’ habitual aridity, the cloud forest humidity kicks in above 7,000 ft. Here, appropriately, the forest is called "La Ceja" for eyebrow of the jungle – that is, of the Amazon, just east. As relatively new geological formations, the Andes are tall from lack of erosion. While our itinerary generally followed the Utcubamba Valley, when we crossed the Marañón River the last day the elevation dropped over 2 kilometers from mountain pass to river bed. We climbed, hiked, muled, pick-uped, and vanned over nearly a dozen mountain passes from 9,000 to 11,000 ft. during the trip.

Archaelogical Sites
Kuelap bird carving

Chachapoya means "People of the Clouds" in Quechua. They were one of the longer lasting pre-Inca cultures, from roughly 800 A.D. until their conquest by the Incas in the 15th century. Compared to the Incas, who specialized in architecture, conquest, and administration, the Chachapoyas were more artistic, leaving colorful mausoleums and ceramics, mantles and other textiles, abstract stone carvings and paintings. Our southward journey through the region took us to ruins, cliff dwellings, and archaeological sites in roughly chronological order, from the more primitive Pueblo de los Muertos (c. 900 A.D.), to the Gran Vilaya ruin complex only uncovered in the 1980's, to Revash (c. 14th century).

One of the most astonishing sets of ruins in the Americas, Kuelap is a ridge-top fortress of over 400 constructions whose volume of masonry is believed to be three times that of the Great Pyramid’s. Due to difficult access, it is startlingly under-visited. While several of these sites, including Gran Vilaya, were re-discovered by the American Gene Savoy, the "real Indiana Jones," who claimed to have found 40 lost cities in Peru, there are many hundreds of excavations yet to be undertaken and, perhaps, a few lost cities yet to be found. The most recent, discovered only in 1996, was the extensive mausoleum complex of Lake of the Condors. Get out your trekking gear.

Town & People

You can still feel the mysterious Chachapoyan influence throughout the region. The original Chachapoyans were described by the Spanish chronicler Pedro Cieza de Léon as the "most handsome of all the people I have seen in Indies, and their wives were so beautiful that because of their gentleness, many of them deserved to be the Incas’ wives and also to be taken to the Sun Temple..." While unable to find the Sun Temple, I was constantly surprised by the politeness of the Chachapoyas' descendants. Not only is Chachapoyas lauded as the friendliest town in Peru, but every child I crossed paths with in Leymebamba – there were dozens of them – saluted me with Buenas dias or noches, which makes them the most polite I’ve met.

Although the towns of Celendin and Cajamarca, from the last two days, are outside the original Chachapoyan territory, they maintain a traditional northern Andes feel. (We visited the last town in parade-celebration of receiving 6 new police vehicles, quite an event.)

Innkeeper's daughter, in Maria
Unknown traveler returns to wi-fi-li-fe at Cajamarca Airport