Chiclayo and inland to Chachapoyas.

Chiclayo and inland to Chachapoyas.

The easiest way to get from Lambayeque to Chachapoyas by land is to follow the Northerly highway to Moyobamba, which offers effortless driving on an excellent road. Please take this as read. This circuit describes the environment around Chimbote and Lambayeque, and sketched in the cross-country route to Cajamarca, which has been treated elsewhere. Cajamarca itself is discussed in detail here.

The bulk of the trip is concerned with the journey from Cajamarca East across the great Río Marañón, over the mountains and down into Chachapoyas, with its great ruin at Kuellap. As mentioned above, the connection from there to the Piura-Moyobamba highway is straightforward. See here for more detail.


The town of Chiclayo (50m) is the capital of the Lambayeque region, but is set close to the provincial capitals of Ferreñafe and Lambayeque. It is two hours drive (135 Km) from Trujillo on the Panamericana. Chiclayo itself has around 280,000 inhabitants. The town was a small settlement before the arrival of the Spanish, although the region around it is heavy with archaeological interest. Legend has it that a god arrived from across the seas to settle there. At one stage or another, however, Moche, Sicán, Chimú and Inca held the territory and influenced its culture and makeup. The Spanish established their version of the town in 1560, and added a significant dash of Africa by importing large numbers of slaves to work the sugar and cotton plantations. African rhythms inform the dances and music of Chiclayo.

The town has a tropical feel to it, despite an equable climate, with a strong musical tradition and a distinctive cuisine. The people are viewed as being physically uninhibited. Chimbote is, therefore, a favoured holiday spot for the confirmed bachelors of Lima. The beaches such as Las Rocas and Pimentel offer rush boats (cabellitos de totora, discussed under Trujillo) and excellent surf. Puerto Eten has an 800m jetty, from which the fishing is excellent. Lambayeque (below) also has excellent beaches, many of them almost deserted. Locations such as Corral de Chancho - Pig Pen - or La Huaca are more the gathering place for fishermen than bathers.

Chiclayo is intensely commercial, and has a huge and lively market which is well worth a visit in the early morning. There are no notably fine buildings, but the odd Nineteenth century Cathedral was designed by the famous Gustave Eiffel. The real essence of Chiclayo is its sensual way of life and beyond this, the remarkable archaeological sites that surround it. It was once connected to the surrounding ports and sugarcane fields by rail, but this has long ceased to function. Enthusiasts for rail will, however, find much to excite them in the abandoned remains.

Click here to see a series of images Chiclayo has a number of major festivals. The anniversary of its foundation is celebrated on 18th April. The Fiesta del Niño del Milagro de Eten is on the 15th July. The Peregrinación de la Cruz de Motupe occurs on the 25th July to the 7th August and the Semana Turistica happens in the second week of December. National holidays are, of course, superimposed on this, so the town celebrated Semana Santa with enthusiasm.

Chiclayo has a characteristic cuisine, largely oriented around the sea, but with items such as pato con arroz - duck with spiced rice - seco de chabelo, veal soup and a particular take on chifa - hybrid Chinese-Peruvian food - that entails daring taste combinations. The menu tends to be full of words that are not in the most elaborate dictionary - chirimpico, or chiringuito de guitarra - the guitar strings, perhaps?

Lambayeque is 10 Km from Chiclayo and increasingly integrated with it. It has a great deal of colonial architecture - it was developed by wealthy families as a get-away from the valley - and the atmosphere is much calmer than that of Chiclayo. The pleasant Plaza de Armas is full of mature trees, through which the towers and dome of the Cathedral peek. The Cathedral has four such towers, each named for one of the local social classes. The Santa Catalina stands for and sounds its bells for the upper classes, the San Francisco for the Spanish bourgeoisie, the San Roque for the local people and the Santa Lucia for the black slaves. This gives us an insight into the eighteenth century mind.

The Museo Brunning in Lambayeque has over 1500 items of gold, ceramics and textiles. It also has the tomb of the Señor de Sipán, which some have compared to that of an Egyptian pharaoh. The person in the tomb was the local governor-high priest-general, who died around 250AD. He was entombed with his full robes and ornaments, surrounded by vessels and gold objects. There is a gold and silver necklace shaped to resemble peanuts; and a gold-studded belt. The right hand holds a silver sceptre with a golden pyramid at its tip. Under the body was placed a half-moon shaped gold shoulder-piece, 60 cm wide and 40 cm deep. It is this jewel that has Moche symbols and which allows his rank to be estimated. Eleven breast-pieces of gold compliment a ceramic breast plate and a fine gold mask with turquoise eye protectors.

Click here to see a series of images The body was aligned exactly North-South, with the bodies of four members of his court set at the cardinal points. Three young women are buried with him, and a dog. Food and other grave goods are set out around the body. It is not only the Eighteenth century mind that makes itself open to scrutiny by later generations.

Villages around Lambayeque are also of interest. Olmos has petroglyphs, and places such as Illimo, Mochumi and Chongoyape are centres of coastal shamanism which are still much consulted.

Around one hundred pyramids exist in the sands and fields chiefly to the West of Lambayeque and Chiclayo, and often entangled in the spiny desert shrub-tree, the algarrobo (Prosopis juliflora). The largest of these is the Huaca Rajada, from which the Señor de Sipán mummy was extracted in 1987. The area is much raided by huaceros - tomb robbers - but still little studied. The top of this pyramid offers striking views of the whole complex and out to sea. It is probable that the site held as many as 15,000 people during its peak under the Moche, supported by some 100,000 farmers in the outlying villages.

Túcume village is 35 Km North of Chiclayo, just off the Panamericana. It has 26 huge pyramids arranged around a rocky hillock, and a museum. The more important of these are called El Pueblo, El Sol, Las Estacas and Huaca Larga. One can walk around these - scattered in cane fields and thickets of algarrobo, or ride. The museum is useful in putting the Lambayeque culture into perspective, and in giving some sense of the life of the times. This is a remote area and the police want you to sign in and out, so that they can keep a check on your safety.

Batan Grande is located 30 Km North East of Chiclayo, accessed off the road to Chongoyape. It offers around 20 pre-Inca structures, including the Las Ventanas huaca from which the famous tumi knife was extracted. This now in a museum in Lima and is, of course, a national symbol that is endlessly reproduced. The site was abandoned with the fall of the Moche and never revived by the Chimú, who followed them. The road beyond Batan Grande goes to the extremely remote Incahuasi, which is surrounded by the suddenly-rising Andes and which has, as the name suggests, Inca remains

The Batan Grande complex is in the Bosque de Poma Reserva Nacional Ecológica, a site that covers over 130 square kilometres. The reserve is essentially desert and desert scrub, based around the algarrobo and containing everything from iguanas to a phenomenal raptor population. Its entrance is 15 Km before Chongoyape.

It is possible to walk from Túcume to Batan Grande in a day, although you may want to spend some time at both sites and therefore spend two days on the trip. One can get pack animals and a guide in Túcume, and the trip is only around 20 Km. You can extend the route to 36 Km - 3 to 4 days - by crossing the Quebrada de Algorrobal and following the Río Sanjón down to the large Tinajone dam near Chongoyape. Transport to Chiclayo is easily arranged from there. Plainly, if you are going to do this you must either rely on public transport or on a travel company that will drop you off, organise matters and later will pick you up. We recommend the latter, particularly of your Spanish is not that good. You absolutely must have a guide, as the scrubland is extremely confusing.

Chaparri is another ecological reserve, this time North-East of Chiclayo in the Ferreñafe province. It contains the spectacled bear, foxes, wild white turkeys, condors and - as ever - iguanas. Around 2000 local people have been harnessed to maintain this reserve, and whilst they live from the land in deeply traditional ways, they have adapted well to their role as wardens. They have constructed simple lodges in which visitors can stay, and also act as guides. It is possible to arrange long walks within the park. It is necessary to get a permit in Chiclayo from the dirección general de Turismo, which can be done directly or through a travel agencies, of which there are many.

Access is not straightforward. One has to get to the town of Chongoyape and then walk for 16 Km - usually three hours - to the entrance to the reserve. Local people will meet you and show you the options that are open to you: fishing and bird watching, exploring their community or looking for some of the larger animals in the park. You must, of course, bring everything that you are going to need, including food. A mule will carry this in for you. There are petroglyphs at Cerro Mulato, close to Chonoyape, which can be combined with a visit to the town.

South from Chiclayo

The Panamericana South of Chiclayo runs through cotton and sugar cane and then into desert. It passes the road in from Chongoyape. The village of Monsefú (Km 13) is a craft centre, with roadside stalls. Their patronal Señor Cautivo de Monsefú is a major festival, which occurs on March 1th. They also have a craft fair in the last week in July, showing goods made from filigree silver, fine white rush work - "panama" hats, for example - and textiles.

The road drops down into the cotton fields of the Zaña valley. Zaña itself is 50 Km from Chiclayo, tucked under the beginnings of the Andes. It was settled by the Spanish because it served them as a point of access to the Cajamarca sierra. Two important Inca roads also came through this point. The existing local population were displaced and their irrigation systems seized. Unhappily for the Spanish, they did not know how to manage this and in 1720, they were flooded out. The local people resettled the town and now have three important festivals that it is worth visiting, as the already pretty town is full of fun. The town was famous for its opulence, and this got it raided by the British pirate Edward Davis, who sacked it in a gentlemanly manner in 1686. He took a local lady hostage for 50,000 pesos, but when this was paid she refused to return home, having fallen for the dashing pirate. They married and settled down to a peripatetic life of married if piratical bliss.

Click here to see a series of images The patronal of Zaña is that of Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo, celebrated on the 27th of April. The patroness of farm workers, San Isidro Labrador has her day on May 15th and the fiesta central is on the 29th of November. Dancing and processions, caballos de paso, cock- and bullfights, fireworks and late night feasting are all a feature of these events. Hotels are basic but effective and there are ample restaurants.

The town has no less than seven colonial period churches. Of these, four are worth mentioning:

Continuing South, the Panamericana passes Motupe, Chepém and Guadalupe, after which a right turn leads up to the Pre-Inca site of Pakatnamú. This is not particularly impressive, at least by the standards of what we have discussed above, but has a fine view over the cotton fields and down to the beach at Barranca.

East to Cajamarca

At Km 91 from Chiclayo, a well signed turn to the left leads up to Cajamarca. If you are coming from Trujillo, look for this turn after the Pacasmayo turnoff, at Km 683 from Lima. There is a filling station and a good restaurant.

The road follows the Río Jequetepeque through rice, maize, cotton and sugar cane. The hills close in as the Andes approach, and cactus appears as the altitude increases. At 35 Km from the turnoff, the road passes the Gallito Ciego dam and gradually villages appear: Tembladera at Km 49, which has a small archaeological museum with a quite rich collection. Chilete Km 90 is known for its mangos, but is also an important crossroads. North of the town is the archaeological site called Kunturwasi. This is a strange site, based on a hill called La Copa and much influenced by the Chavín jaguar cult. The builders have made a pyramid by effectively plating the hillside with stone, converting it into a pyramid. It has a site museum which emphasises the antiquity (1200BC) and importance of the site.

The Cajamarca road wanders along through picturesque countryside and scattered villages before rising to the 3100m Gavilán pass. Here, the road winds through huge blocks of eroded basalt before descending to the fertile Cajamarca valley. Cajamarca itself is 185 Km from the turnoff on the Panamericana.


The city of Cajamarca has been described in detail here. Two interesting routes lead from it: one to the South, described in a text accessible through the link above, and the other to the East, to Chachapoyas. We are going to explore this exciting road.

Cajamarca to Chachapoyas

The Chachapoyas region is named for a major culture that occupied it from around 200AD to their conquest by the Inca. They left very large ruins, which we are only now beginning to discover, let alone understand. They were separated from the Cajamarca culture by the Marañón river, a formidable barrier, but we know that they traded with each other. The road through this remote region follows the primary trade route. Please recall the need for a full tank of fuel and adequate spare parts. There is public transport, but most of it operates in stages and you may have to make many changes.

The road leaves Cajamarca close to the Baños del Inca, and continues through pretty dairy country, spotted with willow trees and isolated farms. Arum lilies grow in the ditches and milk churns await collection by the roadside. The village of Acobamba (Km 17 from Cajamarca) is the first settlement of any size. A slow descent into the Polloj valley brings several villages and then La Encañada (Km 35), which has various facilities such as tyre repair, fuel and restaurants. Beyond this, small hills close in and the road winds upwards to Pichicllé and other villages into open grassland, and then to the 3550m Comulca pass. This offers some good views forward, with distant clouds piling up over the jungle and an array of hilltops stacked up one before the other, like toast.

Click here to see a series of images The descent begins, winding down an open hillside with dramatic views of the valley ahead. The road settles into the valley - now increasingly arid - and follows a gradual winding descent through a number of villages with red tiled roofs and adobe walls. The town of Celendín is encountered at Km 110.

Celendín (2400m) lies in a bowl, and has around 3000 inhabitants. It is a classical rural Peruvian town, with earthen streets lines with low, pastel-painted houses and a Plaza de Armas dotted with Norfolk island pines set around an elaborate (and hideous) fountain. The church distinguishes the square, being tiled all over in shades of blue, glistening in the midday sun. Celendín has a number of hotels of modest-to-basic quality and a handful of restaurants. Most of all, it has a pleasant tranquil atmosphere. The patronal) of the Virgen del Carmen de Celendín is celebrated in the fortnight leading up to the 16th July, with fiestas in surrounding villages - cattle shows, bull fights, dances - culminating in a major community event in the town itself, with processions, fireworks, dancing and much more. An excellent spectacle.

The road out of Celendín contours around the bowl and then rises quite steeply to the pass at El Lanche (3000m), from which you can see into and across the cañón made by the Marañón river. It is sensible to give yourself plenty of time for this view and for those which follow. The road winds down 2500m into the valley, with each five minutes bringing a changed ecology. Vegetation swiftly becomes sparse thorny scrub - I was reminded of Africa - and then moves into a succession of bands in which cacti of all kind proliferate. This is an area that is virtually ungrazed or disturbed, and the range and richness of the dry land flora is extraordinary. I have not seen it during the wet season (November to March) but I am told that many ephemeral species emerge and flower. I am also told that the road is at times impassable, so temper your interest with common sense.

The valley bottom is intensely arid, and the green-brown Marañón glides through it, around 150m wide at this point. It has, of course, come down a long way from the Callejón de Conchucos, about which more here /trek17#conchucos. Across the river there is a green patch of irrigated mango trees in the otherwise pink, barren Andesite walls of the valley: this is Balsas, Km 165, a settlement that marks the only crossing of the Marañón for a hundred kilometres in either direction.

Balsas (which means "rafts") was once a place where a rope extended across the river and trade was conducted on wooden rafts towed across on this. It now has a strong metal-frame bridge, which brings you to the town itself. This is a hot place, and the ample supply of mangos, oranges and avocadoes is as welcome as the basic food, soft drinks and beer served by the little restaurant. You can easily camp here - but away from the river, which has mosquitoes and, at night, sand flies - but there is no accommodation. The river and the heat make swimming attractive, which you will do before an audience of children. The local police will want to have a look at you, and they are usually informed in regard of the state of the road ahead. You are about to head into very wild territory, and it is as well to be briefed. In a couple of hours you are going to climb higher than Cajamarca.

A brief run through the mangos brings the road into barren cliffs, up which the car claws its way. Look well ahead and remember passing places, because there is not room for a truck to pass another vehicle for many kilometres. In half an hour, the mango woods are a green finger in a huge extent to rock, and the river a khaki bootlace running through it. A turn obscures the view, and brings the road into a far wetter area in which plant life thrives. The rock walls host a range of interesting plants, including orchids such as reed-stem Epidendrons. The road enters patches of mist forest, of dense-foliaged, white-stemmed trees. Orchid enthusiasts should stop and examine these closely, as they are often packed with Pleurothallids and tiny Oncidiums.

A further ascent puts these behind you as the road reaches the Calla Calla pass (3450m). The other side of this gives wonderful views North, across endlessly receding blue hills. A gradual descent brings a return of the mist forest. I was able to count a dozen orchid species growing on the rock wall of the road cutting without moving my head. As a note to enthusiasts, most of the plants treated as tender babies, in need of mist and shade grow in stark exposure to the high altitude tropical sun, spending much of the day dry as a biscuit, frozen at night and happily flowering despite all of this.

Ipaña (Km 234) is a small dairying community that has felled a wide track of mist forest and now raise cattle. Indeed, how long this delicate forest will persist without some protection is questionable. Erosion of the soil is evident where clearance has been made.

Pink Andesite gives way to white limestone, and the landscape becomes correspondingly eroded and patchy. The descent continues fairly rapidly into the Pomacochas and then Utcubamba river valleys, where the road runs parallel with this trout-filled, tree lined river. Vegetation is now subtropical and extremely local: one area will have heavy plant cover, and other cactus and a third will be barren. Birds, butterflies and plants are correspondingly diverse, as - in all probability - are other animals. Driving at night, the road is dotted with red sparks, which turn out to be the eyes of nightjars or what are inaccurately called lechuzas - owls - that hunt insects there. One a damp night, squashed bugs blur the windscreen in minutes, so plentiful are they.

The Museo Leimebamba is encountered at Km 251. This was set up with private money following the discovery of a number of six mausoleums containing mummified bodies at the Laguna de los Cóndores. The lake itself is a day and a half of hard walking away, high in the mist forests across a ridge and in the watershed of the Huallaga river. However, a trip to it can easily be arranged from local accommodation, discussed below, but you will need to bring all the camping and other equipment that you will need. The route is a wet one, said to be dripping with ferns and orchids, and passing through swampy areas as well as granite cliff faces, so preparations need to be thorough and the choice of season sensible.

The lake is a substantial one, surrounded by low hills. The six tombs are a hundred metres above the water, and around 18 other burial sites have been identified. Each tomb was around 3 metres high, divided into wooden platforms. Burials continued for a considerable time - the earliest dating to 800AD, the latest to colonial times. The lake was evidently of great religious significance and a responsible diving expedition would be likely to find things of interest in it.

The mausoleums contained ceramics, wooden idols and other grave goods, and all of these are on display in the museum. Clothing discovered in the graves on the earliest mummies has mixed iconography, combining Chachapoyas and Chimú forms. This was, of course, a major trade route and the hybrid is easily understood in these terms. The bodies were eviscerated, bound in a tightly doubled-up form and placed in the tombs without further preservatives. It is amazing that they survived intact for so long, but unfortunate that they were discovered by tomb robbers and not archaeologists. Much damage was done as the bodies were raped for jewellery.

The museum is pleasingly designed and also has an orchid collection. It is unfortunately managed by strikingly arrogant staff, who regard visitors as a burden that they can only just bear to tolerate. Or perhaps we found them on a bad day.

The road now follows the Utcubamba river. At Yerba Buena, Km 275, a road goes East to the Mamacocha lagoon and the little-explored Chachapoyas ruins of Olán. This is definitively a 4x4 route. The Chachapoyas mausoleum of Revash is also reached from a path just short of the village, following a 90 minute walk up a trail to the cliff-edge site.

Magdalena is a village located just off the main road, at Km 295. It marks the turnoff to Kuellap. Just before this is the best hotel in the region, marked by iron gates with a large humming bird logo on the right of the road. This is the Estancia Chillo, which maintains a web site. It offers sophisticated accommodation and can arrange side trips to the many subsidiary attractions around Kuellap.

This is a fine place to jump off to the various attractions of the region. The owners have horses which they let out. A trout-filled river runs past the gates. There are abundant butterflies in the pastures when the sun comes out. The hotel can organise all manner of trips in the locale, and you can walk from it (steeply) to Kuellap in around two hours, or drive in one. Magdalena also has hotels and restaurants, and there are extensive hostels closer to the Kuellap ruins, chiefly at Longuita, but also at María.

Click here to see a series of images Kuellap (3000m) is one of the largest and least visited archaeological sites in Perú. This is a pity, as it has a romance and a presence that is in many ways stronger than the major attractions such as Machu Picchu. It dates from the Tenth century AD, and was a major centre for the Chachapoyas culture. It is accessed by a poor road from Magdalena. This winds steeply up from the valley to a new village called Nuevo Tingo, and then through dense scrubland, following the valley of the Tingo river, to Longuita. This village has been equipped with numerous guesthouses and a modest hotel in the currently-forlorn hope of attracting tourism.

A further drive through increasingly cultivated land brings María and the Kuellap car park, and a fifteen minute walk to the ruin itself. This is an extraordinary hilltop structure. It runs along the edge of a cliff that overlooks the Río Tingo valley. The slope that leads up to this escarpment has been faced with 10-12m stone walls, and the resulting space filled and levelled with earth. These walls run for around 600m in length, creating an artificial plain of around 500 hectares on which circular houses were built in clusters. The interior is now full of large trees, covered in orchids and bromeliads, through which the vast surround views peek. One enters through a ramp that rises through a gash in the fortifications, and down which large rocks and projectiles could no doubt have been thrown.

Kuellap is one of a number of hill-top Chachapoyas sites. It is surrounded by terraces and a number of subsidiary sites which, like the fortress itself, have been little investigated. Less than half of the main site has been fully mapped. Trepanned skulls have, however, been unearthed, suggesting that like Nazca / Paracas people, the elite practiced infant head binding. There are site wardens and a guides, but no museum.

The main entrance and about half of the city wall at Kuellap.

The road on to the town of Chachapoyas follows the river through attractive wooded hillsides, with many stopping places under large trees by the river. It takes about an hour to drive to Chachapoyas (2330m), a town without much character. It does, however, have a number of adequate hotels and restaurants, and full facilities. There are two further sites of interest near the town, both near Luya, which is accessed through Caclic. A left turn to Corobamba after Luya brings one to Near Karajian, a necropolis, to which it is necessary to walk for a further forty minutes. A similar turn before Luya leads to Cohechan, on a poor road. It is possible to walk between these sites in around an hour. There is a photoseries which explores the local interests aroung Chachapoyas here

Chachapoyas is connected to the main road between the coast and Moyobamba - described here - by straightforward road that is undergoing major improvements. As currently structured, the road rises away from the river to join the highway at Pedro Ruiz Gallo, which is 380 Km from Chiclayo. From here, you can go East to the jungle, or West to the coast at Chiclayo or Piura.