The Hidden World of Peru’s Ancient Cloud People

Overview

Orchid-draped cloud forest, impressive ridge-top citadels, eerie cliff tombs, astonishing painted sarcophagi—this is the hidden world of the Chachapoya, “the Cloud People,” a warrior-shaman society who reigned over a large swath of northern Peru from 800 AD until their conquest by the Incas in 1470. Set on the divide between the upper Amazon and the páramo (grasslands) of the Andean highlands, the Chachapoyas region is little visited and largely unknown, despite being one of the richest archaeological areas in the world. The secret will be out soon—the time to go is now, before it is discovered by mass tourism. We've created a fantastic hotel-based hiking adventure here—no camping! You'll experience these archaeological wonders by day and be welcomed at a comfortable boutique lodge each night. One 'must-see' on our journey is 9th century Kuélap, an enormous, walled pre-Inca city perched on a mountaintop at nearly 10,000 feet and rivaling Machu Picchu in its size and stunning location. Most of our hikes are on well-defined trails, and on one day, we’ll make a point to go completely off the beaten path and hike a forested ridge to reach two, or even three, Chachapoyas ruins, bringing us to seldom-visited sites festooned by vines and flowers of the tropical forest. Be prepared to hear the zing of our guides’ machetes as we explore these mysterious ruins and awaken our inner “Indiana Jones!”  We limit our group size to just ten travelers, so we encourage you to sign up soon. Experience Chachapoyas now, while it still has its wonderful sense of discovery.

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-2
Lima, Peru

In Lima, we’ll visit the Larco Herrera Museum, housed in an 18th century mansion and home to the largest collection of Peruvian antiquities in the world, and dine in one of Lima’s celebrated haute-cuisine restaurants, where ingredients are sourced from the country’s mountains, jungles, and seacoast.

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Days 3-4
Jaén / Yumbilla Falls

Fly to Jaen and head up into the lush Chachapoyas highlands, where tangled cloud forests drape down the slopes of Andean summits. Our first hike brings us to the impressive Yumbilla waterfall, which tumbles a total of 2,936 feet. Our accommodation is Gocta Natura, with its en suite cabins in the cloud forest.

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Days 5-6
El Tiger Sarcophagi / Kuélap

A fantastic hike on a forest trail brings us to viewpoints of the El Tigre Sarcophagi, Chachapoya painted cliff tombs at 7,000 feet that, amazingly, were only discovered in 2010. To reach Kuelap, a massive walled citadel at 9,870 feet, we’ll hike up to it, as the Chachapoya once did. Nature has reclaimed much of the city, sprawled across 15 acres, but beautiful details remain, including jaguar and snake designs carved along the walls of the round houses. Overnights in a restored hacienda on the Uctubamba River.

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Days 7-8
Jungle-Draped Chachapoyan Site / Leymebamba

A full-day ridge hike brings us to several little-known Chachapoya ruins, many engulfed in vines. Each site has intact stone buildings to explore. After seeing the famous Chachapoyas mummies at the Leymebamba Museum, we hike up to a viewpoint of the multicolored La Petaca cliff tombs at 10,440 feet, with overnights in a delightful mountain inn

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Days 9-11
Cajamarca / Lima / Depart

The small, off-the-beaten-path city of Cajamarca has graceful colonial neighborhoods, Baroque architecture, and few tourists! We’ll visit the Inca-built El Cuarto del Rescata, where the doomed Inca ruler Atahualpa was held ransom by the Spanish in 1532, and enjoy the hot springs and spa at our hotel. Depart via Lima on Day 11.

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Highlights

Highlights

Exhilarating day hikes and charming lodges—no camping!
Explore magnificent Kuélap, a walled citadel at nearly 10,000 feet
Hike to little-visited archaeological sites of the Chachapoya culture
Enjoy comfortable lodges in cloud forest settings

Details

Length: 11 days
Cost From: $4695  
Arrive: Lima, Peru
Depart: Lima, Peru
Lodging: 10 nights hotels and boutique lodges
Meals: All meals included (B=Breakfast, L=Lunch, D=Dinner)
Activity: Hiking / Trekking
Trip Level:

Moderate to steep trails, 2-6 hours a day, altitudes up to 10,000 feet