3 Week Northern Mountains & Cloud Forest
As with all our tours you will be met at
Lima's International airport and then travel with us to Miraflores. The
Hotel Carmel is ideally situated close to all amenities and nightlife.
The following morning you'll travel in our
4x4 up the coast to BARRANCA, approximately three hours away. Here you
will receive your bikes and the opportunity to make a short excursion to
the Chimu Temple ruin near Paramonga and the few kilometres beyond, the
small port of Paramonga itself.
We will turn off the main coastal highway
(The Panamericana) just 10 kilometres further on from Barranca the next
day and head for the 'hills'. Depending on stops we'll probably be up to
4,000 mts within a couple of hours but any effect of altitude sickness
will be eased as our journey takes us gently down through llama grazed
plains to Huaraz, the regional capital, and then beyond to the end of the
Santa Valley at CARAZ.
This little town was one of the few places
that escaped the severity of the disastrous 1970 earthquake. The town has
a colonial atmosphere still and is situated beside the high snow covered
peaks of Huascaran and Huandoy. Snow, visible from the main Plaza, gives
the impression that we are really way higher than the true altitude of
2,300 mts. For this Caraz has an almost idyllic climate. Local people are
often very friendly and the owner of our little hotel here is only too
pleased to tell you all about the history of the area. It's been a fairly
long ride to get up here so probably you won't be in any hurry to explore
far away from the Plaza the day that we arrive.
Next day however we can go on a bit further
North to where the Santa Valley ends and the river cuts down through the
spectacular Canon del Pato (Duck Canyon). Here you can walk across a
cable suspension bridge and see evidence of the incredible engineering
feats of the Hydro- Electric Company tunnelling through rock to harness
water power. The road is stony but not too difficult and passes through
dozens of tunnels. These were railway tunnels for the Chimbote to Caraz
train but now the road uses the old railway route.
A 'motorcyclist's' picnic beside the
canyon and we can then return to the valley, up higher, and the few kilometres
over to Yungay at the foot of Huascaran mountain (6,700mts). The original
village of Yungay was covered by a landslide in 1970 after an earthquake
(see TOUR 1. text) now there is a new Yungay founded 2 kilometres further
to the North.
After our second night staying at Caraz we
suggest a bike or 4x4 excursion in the morning up to see the glacial lake
of Llanganuco. and then after lunch back in town riding over to HUARAZ.
The capital of Ancash Department in the
Cordillera Blanca mountain range is a busy city and many climbers and
trekkers from Europe stay here giving it a cosmopolitan atmosphere. There
are plenty of good places to visit at night whether your preference be for
folk penas, discotheques, ethnic restaurants or atmospheric bars.
We make several excursions out from Huaraz
including to the snowline at Pastorouri, to the well preserved
archaeological site of Willkawain, where there is structural evidence of
the thousand year old Huari culture and to the thermal baths at
Monterrey just 5 miles out of town.
Leaving Huaraz we go down to the Pacific
Ocean for a quiet night's stay at Bahia De Tortugas before setting off
next day up the coast to Pacasmayo
Pacasmayo is a little seaside town with old wooden
buildings along the seafront promenade and a long pier (badly in need of
repair ) that fishermen unload their catch onto. Seventy years ago before
the completion of the coastal road from the South passengers disembarked
from ships from Lima here and then , if travelling on to Cajamarca, caught
the train from the end of the pier to Chilete. From Chilete one could have hired a horse or
a donkey or walk the eight hours to Cajamarca. There was no road into
Cajamarca until the 1950s in fact. After a nights stay in Pacasmayo we ride
back out on the Panamerican Highway we continue heading north through
the desert towards Chiclayo. 'City of Eternal Spring' and 'Capital of
Friendship' claim hoardings along the roadside near to the airport - not
that we'll have time to check that out, we should continue on to Olmos
where we turn off the Panamericana and inland. This well engineered and
well surfaced road between the coast and the eastern lowlands winds its
way through one of the lowest crossings of the Andes. Traffic is quite
sparse considering the importance of the route.
Come late afternoon we will make the short ten mile turn off going up to
the sizable town of Jaen and this is as far as we shall be travelling
For a mountain town within the Department of Cajamarca, Jaen has
distinct climatic conditions all to itself. Here it is hot and dry. It
is a busy and largely modern place where the folk live at a faster pace
and have more in common with the Costenos (of the coast) than with the
Campesinos and typical people that inhabit mountainous Cajamarca
Department . There are lots of small capacity motorcycles and motorized
tricycles (mototaxis) buzzing around but no local will be wearing bike
clothing - not even a helmet. Street activity hardly seems to slow down
much after dark either. It's the kind of place where in-between traffic
dodging and people watching, that you might be tempted to go and have a
hamburger and fries instead of traditional food and chat with someone
perhaps snacking after work and on their way to college instruction.
Jaen has a large percentage of youthful population, and education, apart
from obvious benefits, is a thriving commercial activity in town.
Our hotel is modern and well attended and your night's stay should be
Next day enjoy the
sweeping bends of the well surfaced road following along beside the
Maranon River because all this will soon change - for dust or mud !
(mostly dust that is.) We shall be making for Chachapoyas, capital of
Amazonas Department. The possible preconception of this small city of
25,000 people set at 2.200 metres above sea level, being a hot and
steamy metrolopolis, would be inaccurate. In fact you will find here a
slow pace mid size colonial town with a distinctly pleasant climate. It
is an area of largely unspoilt natural beauty, rich with evidence of
past civilizations. Our Hotel is right in the centre of 'town' on the
Plaza de Armas (main square) and has a lounge with an interesting
collection of photographs of local archaeological sites and places of
regional interest. Next day we shall be visiting perhaps the most
impressive of them all - Kuelap. Meanwhile relax or explore around the
town of this peaceful and friendly community, it is one of the less
Heading south along the Utcubamba River Valley we'll arrive within an
hour or so at the village of Tingo. Here is the turn off that leads up
to the ancient fortress of Kuelap. It is a scenic route running up
beside some steep mountainside drops and through several villages but
the road is undergoing improvements so expect to find anything from a
herd of llamas to a bulldozer temporarily blocking your way. The last
half mile to the fortress you'll have to walk. It's all uphill but it's
worth it and would be just for the views alone.
Once inside the actual fortress you will notice that virtually all the
buildings of stone were constructed circular in shape - not angular,
each structure being presented with a description of its known or
assumed function. The Chachapoyas people themselves were reported by the
Spanish to be tall and blue eyed - something that still mystifies the
anthropologists somewhat. You can learn more about the site and the
culture from the wardens that look after the area or from the literature
offered at their small office.
Back down on the Chachapoyas to Celendin road we follow along beside the
river which in many places is flanked by lush green pasture. The water
looks inviting but is too fast flowing to swin in really. An hour up the
road and we'll be arriving at Leimebamba. Apart from the local museum
housing ' mummies' there's not an awful lot to do here but the people
are friendly and you can find Internet or a small cheerful restaurant
easily enough. Shopping is like an experience going back in time. Ask
for what you want - the shopkeeper gets the steps, moves them over to
beside the appropriate shelf, gets the item, notes down the price, shoos
the cat off the rice sacks, greets and serves another customer (because
he knows him) then re-attends you ..and so forth.
Next morning we should start off reasonably early. Climbing away from
Leimebamba will take us passed cultivated and grazing farmland and up
beyond to cloud forest areas. It's nice to halt up for ten minutes on
one of these remote forested mountainsides and in the stillness see if
you can spot or hear some of the native wildlife. A Scarlet-breasted
Tanager with its fluorescent blue, red and black plumage would be a
rewarding sight. There are also very localized plants and small flowers
that love the cool damp surroundings.
From 3,600 metres , the highest point on today's ride, we gradually lose
height in order to cross the River Maranon - here at about 800 metres.
The area down in the canyon beside the river here is generally referred
to as Balsas (rafts) although Balsas village itself is a couple of
kilometres along down river. Most activity however is around near the
girder bridge spanning the river. All travellers, on whatever form of
transportation, will stop here even if only for a drink from one of the
roadside stalls - it is a long way in any direction before you'll be
able to buy anything much elsewhere.
Immediately after crossing the bridge the road begins to climb again and
almost to the same heights as the range to the east that we have just
passed. It's a narrow and rough climb with road surfaces from sandy to
rocky. Take care, especially on the bends because buses and trucks do
come this way infrequently.
Eventually you'll arrive at the last ridge before Celendin. Looking back
down towards the river you'll see perhaps 70% of all the road you've
just climbed zig zagging wildly all over the place. You could be
forgiven for thinking that you must have forgotten passing the junction
of 'another road or two' linking up with our route but that's not the
case. We will have climbed 6,000 feet on a fifteen mile route. The
Maranon River might appear as only a muddy stream from up here but
spotting Balsa's football pitch the size of a fingernail held out on an
outstretched hand puts everything pretty much into perspective. Up from
the river it's been a rough road but half a mile further along the ridge
you'll get your first glimpse of our destination, Celendin. Celendin
town lies in a cultivated and forested valley - a valley nothing like as
far down as from where we have just come and the climate is mild. The
road up from the Maranon River has been rough you'll probably agree but
this section down to Celendin only ten or twelve miles away is
considerably ....err, worse !
Nevertheless whether this sounds like fun or not the town is going to
grow bigger with every few turns. Even if it begins to get dark orange
and white lights clustered off down somewhere beyond your right knee -
or left knee- will be a reassuring magnet towards a welcome (or a beer
if you'd prefer that). Our hotel will be rustic.
'Rustic, wonder what that means exactly'.... you may be thinking . Don't
worry though the days when Celendin only got running water for one hour
a day and every hotel room had a bucket of water provided for residents
use are over.
Celendin is still pretty much off the tourist route but you may meet a
young traveller or two passing through.
We stay over the next day here and may well decide to visit the hot
springs that Franco knows of an hour or so out of town. If you prefer to
simply take it easy you can see all of Celendin just walking around. The
hotel patio is quite a good place to 'hang out' too as some of the local
life and culture will come in to you - Indian women selling herbs, a
shoeshine boy, perhaps the Mayor and his secretary (our friend) for
If you get tired of waiting for them however, go over a corner of the
Plaza and enter Celendin's Cathedral. The exterior is suitably imposing
but upon entering you'll discover what could be the longest/narrowest
place of worship in all of Peru.
The Plaza itself is quite attractive and there is a cafe/shop that sells
ice cream and pastries on the opposite side to the hotel. If this is all
too tame for you, come nightfall you can find a disco where us young
folk can dance to trance till two. It was also here in Celendin that I
came across an exclusive club where members and guests get escorted to a
chair (each), given a pack of cards, a dish with banana skin ash and a
basket of coca leaves for the masticating thereof. I don't think they
like the admission of foreigners much as it was difficult to get in but
in anycase if such an experience appeals it's not hard (or illegal) to
get all the coca leaves you want from certain certified stores in town.
This is not cocaine after all - a couple of gin and tonics might well be
more damaging. Don't quote me though, I'm only the 'umble guide for
Celendin might also be a good place to observe odd solar phenomenon. One
day last summer we were walking through town when we noticed that the
sun was surrounded by an aurora ten times the sun's circumference .
Fearing the end of the World could be nigh I consulted with a passerby
and was told ' Oh, it does that sometimes' ! - Reassuring but not a
totally enlightening response. Possibly some of you readers (people do
read all this occasionaly) will know exactly what this was and can
elaborate for me.
Franco spent a significant part of his childhood in Celendin and still
has an uncle here. 'Uncle' Enis is the number one English teacher in
town but not for that reason alone you may like to meet and chat with
him because this most affable, if mildly eccentric chap owns no fewer
than eleven (old) motorcycles - only one or two of which actually run !
One motorcycle is quite rare and I'm sure I can say that few of you, at
least from The U.K., will have even heard of the make. Here are a couple
of clues ! .....
Begins with 'V'. Velocette is British but sounds French, this one is
German but sounds British.
Give up ? OK, then, 'Victoria' . Now that most folk have Internet
there's no point in me enlarging on this really is there .
For the record though don't get too excited (if you are a collector)
because the bike is not 100% complete and 'needs some attention' one
Getting back to your itinerary - our last base for excursions is
CAJAMARCA, capital of Cajamarca Department.
This is the town (officially a city) from where we run A.P.M. and
invariably tours will start or end up here on any northern route. Most
visitors really like Cajamarca and you can find out lots about it as it
is today or about its important history from any guide book on Peru and
from our website here under 'TOUR 1. & TOUR 2'.
The ride over to Cajamarca from Celendin is not overly long, 115
kilometres to be exact. The local bus used to take 5 hours to do the
route. We are able to stop wherever we want of course so probably
estimate a 5-6 hours arrival time.
There ain't no hurry - it's another pretty run and quite varied. We will
come to rough surface sections but also later nearing Cajamarca find
Dropping down into the valley in which Cajamarca stands we will come
first into the village of Los Banos Del Inca (The Inca's Baths). You
will probably notice steam rising from some streams that we pass by.
They are fed by hot springs of the area. We will have time to come back
and visit the actual baths in a day or two. From Los Banos and across
the valley floor to Cajamarca is only 6 kilometres - a rather unusual 6
kilometres because the road is straight. It may seem so novel that you
want to go back and 'do it again' !