Northern Highlands

Shutterstock/35112247/Holger MetteThis vast area stretches from the western foothills of the Andes across the mountains and down to the fringes of the Amazon jungle. It contains Peru's most spectacular pre-Columbian ruins, some of them built on a massive scale unequalled anywhere in the Americas. A good road rises from the coast to the city of Cajamarca, where the Inca Atahualpa was captured by the Spanish. Only one Inca building remains, the so-called Ransom Chamber, but the city has a pleasant colonial centre with comfortable hotels and good restaurants. Change is coming fast as a huge gold mine is bringing new investment, but also conflict, to the area. Close by are the hot springs where Atahualpa used to bathe, still very much in use today, and a number of pre-Inca sites. Beyond Cajamarca, a tortuous road winds its way east to the functional town of Chachapoyas. This is a friendly place, opening its doors to visitors as it lies at the centre of a region full of fantastic archaeological treasures whose mysteries are only just being uncovered. There are fortresses, mysterious cities and strange burial sites replete with mummies and giant sarcophagi.

From Chachapoyas there are three options: carry on eastwards on one of Peru's most beautiful roads to the tropical lowland town of Tarapoto passing waterfalls and high moors before dropping down to the jungle zone; return to the coast at Chiclayo; or you can head north to Ecuador on a new route via JaƩn and San Ignacio for the crossing to Zumba and Vilcabamba. With new roads and bridges in operation, a great adventure is opening up. It's now possible to travel from Ecuador, through Chachapoyas and Cajamarca on to the Cordillera Blanca, even to Cuzco, without touching the coast, and all by public transport. It may be a slow route, but it will take some beating. All these possibilities are getting easier as the area becomes the focus of tourism development to rival the Lima-Cuzco-Arequipa axis.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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