Peru North aims to combine the pioneering thrill of exploring a raw, unspoiled region. We are a boutique travel agency, specialising in Peru's spectacular, but often overlooked, northern region, which features coast, mountains and jungle.
Read the comments from an epic tour of Northern Peru’s archaeological hotspots.
In company of expert driver-guide, Ronald Watger.
Included Huaraz, Trujillo, Chiclayo, Chachapoyas & Cajamarca.
‘Mike and I had a truly wonderful trip round northern Peru.
The archaeology was astounding - comparable in antiquity and richness of treasures to that of ancient Egypt. We are grateful to PeruNorth for delivering an itinerary which covered everything we asked for plus a bit more.
On the hike to Gocta Waterfall.
Ronald Wagter was an excellent guide, wonderful travelling companion (we were together for 20 days!) and a very good driver. We were impressed by his stamina and concentration on the long drives, on sometimes tortuous mountain roads.
We enjoyed every site we visited, except Las Aldas:
Cumbe Mayo rates very highly for Mike, who observed a distinctive "shimmering snake" optical effect at the "shrines" dotted along the water channel. They arose from reflections of sunlight on rippling water being projected onto a shadow formed by the way the rock above had been carved.
Leymebamba Museum was a gem, and more special because of Ronald's involvement when the mummies were recovered.
The best hotels were Moche Sanctuary Lodge and Gocta Lodge. But the most charming was Casa Mallqui - where Ayako treated us like family visitors to a private home and fed us delicious meals with home-grown produce and home-baked bread.
Another memorable meal was in Chiclayo (I think) where a TV crew was visiting the restaurant to tape an interview with its chef for Potato Day. We got to eat his two creations!
A view of Gocta Waterfall with the village of Cocachimba in the foreground.
Who were your guides? How did they perform?
All very friendly, not great with names so I do not recall specifically - but very professional all around and knowledgeable.
Which was your favourite accommodation and why?
We really enjoyed both - each was comfortable and matched its environment: it was a tropical retreat compared to a mountain top get away (highly recommend both to everyone so they can taste the diversity of Peru)
View of Huallaga River from Pumarinri Lodge bedroom.
Which was your favourite restaurant / dish / drink? Did you lose or gain weight over the course of the holiday!?
As a vegan, I was very pleased with how accommodating both lodges were to my diet needs. I enjoyed all of the potato dishes & even on outings restaurants were able to serve rice beans & plantains which honestly is a simple favorite!
Tim did the meat eating and he like everything he had.
We were always in the shared van which were very comfortable
Did your itinerary involve any hiking? How would you rate it in terms of difficulty?
We did the Gocta Fall hike and it was perfect 1/2 day for us. We did not have any difficulty with the hiking however if one had, it would be easy enough to secure a donkey so it seemed - we always enjoyed physical exercise opportunities on our outing
The visit to Revash involved a short hike to the best viewpoint of the mausoleums.
What was the most pointless item in your luggage!?
Too many books - we were more active every day and didn’t have as much “sitting around” time as we thought; would have been nice to build in an extra day of nothing at both lodges … however work time off never allows for that!
What was your favourite natural encounter?
I loved the river boat tour and spotting lemurs, very cool
Taking a motorboat on the Huallaga River, near Pumarinri Lodge.
Did you suffer any insect bites? Other physical discomforts?
I thought I would have had more mosquito bites in the jungle; however it was worse at Gocta! No physical discomfort just the usual itching
Did you have much interaction with locals? Where and how did this occur?
I do not feel like I interacted much with locals, though my Spanish is pretty non existent. There wasn’t a huge opportunity for socializing outside of the workers/guides
Photo with local family at Kuelap.
Did you feel your money was going to local businesses and people?
I hope so!
Were you given any information regarding sustainability during the course of your trip (e.g. talks on environmental issues from guides)?
Not explicitly though we did ask those questions on our Amazon treks (*forgot to mention that we LOVED the waterfall hike, it was a wonderfully swimming destination!!)
Taking a dip at Pucayaquillo Waterfall, Tarapoto.
Did you notice any areas where environmental practices could be improved?
I was actually impressed by lack of litter on our many excursions and how we could often expect bathrooms and trashcans every so often - not nearly as much trash as in the coastal towns from my experience.”
A far-from-exhaustive list of literature on the topics of Peru, Amazonia and South America in general.
Academic tomes from historians, botanists & archaeologists to works of pure fiction.
At PeruNorth, we certainly see travel as a mind-broadening exercise, and many clients enjoy reading about the region they are visiting before, during and after their trip.
Below is a list of recommended reads that range from scholarly works investigating specific pre-Columbian ruins or Amazon tribes, to fictional books offering a more general feel for the atmosphere of Latin America.
As a hugely diverse and unexplored country, Peru has also attracted many writers and journalists wishing to explore the lesser-known corners of the Andes Mountains or Amazon River … or even the bars of Lima! The result is a number of very entertaining, insightful travelogues.
We are always keen to hear of any other books that you feel should be on the list.
Archaeology:The White Rock: an exploration of the Inca heartland by Hugh Thomson (2001)
Hugh Thomson is a British explorer, writer and filmmaker who brings Peru’s remarkable archaeology to life in this book that is ostensibly about the search to find the Inca ruins of Chuquipalta – the ‘white rock’ of the title - but which also touches upon the history of Inca exploration, as well as his thoughts on modern Peru and Bolivia.
Cochineal Red: travels through ancient Peru by Hugh Thomson (2006)
Continuing on from his investigation of the Incas in The White Rock, Thomson expands his research to include many of the other ancient civilizations to be found in Peru. In so doing, he makes a journey back from the world of the Incas to the first dawn of Andean civilisation, seeing how it all interrelates.
Highly recommended, if visiting the many archaeological wonders of Northern Peru.
The Ancient Kingdoms of Peru by Nigel Davies (1997)
Similar to Cochineal Red, this book examines the civilizations in Peru that preceded the Inca. Inspired by the spectacular discovery of the Lord of Sipan at Huaca Rajada in 1987, Davies, a British archaeologist, analyses and assesses the latest theories surrounding the Moche, Chimu, Nazca, Huari and Tihuanaco cultures.
Lost City of the Incas by Hiram Bingham (1948)
American historian and explorer, Hiram Bingham, relates the story of how he ‘rediscovered’ Machu Picchu in 1911, despite actually searching for the legendary city of Vilcabamba.
Anthropology:One River: Exploration & Discoveries in the Amazon Rainforest by Wade Davis (1996)
Davis is a Canadian anthropologist and ethno-botanist who has lived for long periods with indigenous groups throughout Latin America. He is particularly interested in the native use of plants, and has a rare ability to mix technical science writing with a coherent knowledge of history, culture and politics.
A must-read for anyone interested in the cultures and history of the Amazon basin.
History: River of Darkness: Francisco Orellana's Legendary Voyage of Death and Discovery Down the Amazon by Buddy Levy (2011)
A lively recounting of the Conquistador’s landmark voyage down the Amazon River, from present-day Ecuador to the Atlantic, with plenty of accidents and drama en route.
A Penguin History of Latin America by Edwin Williamson (1992)
UK academic Williamson has created an excellent single-volume history of Latin America that is both knowledgeable and readable.
Updated in 2009.
Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent by Eduardo Galeano (1971)
A left-wing masterpiece by Uruguayan journalist, Galeano, examining the debilitating effects of physical, political and economic colonization on the Continent, from Columbus to the present.
At the 5th Summit of the Americas in 2009, Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, gave Barack Obama, a copy of the book (in Spanish) as a gift. I wonder if he read it?!
The Conquest of the Incas by John Hemming (1970)
Despite being nearly 50 years old, this history is still considered the definitive account of the conquest of the Inca Empire. The author is an Anglo-Canadian explorer and historian, who has also written extensively on the indigenous peoples of Amazonia, based on his own explorations.
Travelogues:Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford (2011)
Setting off in April 2008, from Arequipa in Southern Peru, it took British Explorer, Ed Stafford, 860 days (nearly 2.5 years) to become the first man to walk the entire length of the Amazon River. This is the account of this daring and daunting challenge, offering insight into the current state of the region and its inhabitants.
Andes by Michael Jacobs (2011)
A description of the British writer’s journey along the length of the Andes, through seven countries, starting in Venezuela and ending in Tierra del Fuego.
Cloud Road: A Journey Through the Inca Heartland by John Harrison (2010)
This relates the British author’s five-month journey following the Qhapaq Ñan - the Great Inca Road System - that traversed the whole of the Inca Empire. Starting in Quito, Ecuador, Harrison covers 1,500 km (932 miles), through remote Andean villages, to arrive in Machu Picchu.
Motorcycle Diaries: A Journey Around South America by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1996)
Published almost 20 years after Che’s death, this tells the fascinating and comic story of the road trip that he made around South America as a 23-year-old medical student, in the company of his friend, Alberto Granada. The journey, took in Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, and Miami, over the course of seven months.
Their time in Peru included a spell working at a leper colony at San Pablo on the Amazon River, and it was this experience, along with many other encounters with impoverished and marginalised locals, that inspires Che’s ideological shift towards Marxism, and ultimately armed revolution.
A very successful film version was released in 2004, with Gael García Bernal in the role of Che Guevara.
In the Forests of the Night: Encounters in Peru with Terrorism, Drug-Running and Military Oppression by John Simpson (1994)
As is evident in the title of the book, this covers many of the darker elements of Peru’s recent history. The book relates the visit to Peru in 1992 by veteran BBC journalist, Simpson which includes encounters with coca farmers, Shining Path terrorists, drug runners, the Peruvian military and its leaders.
Happily, Peru is a very different place now to the one Simpson uncovered!
Inca-Kola – A Traveller’s Tale of Peru by Matthew Parris (1990)
Travelling in the late 1980s in a Peru being torn apart by terrorism, this touching and witty book by a former Conservative MP describes encounters with locals and bandits, bone-shaking bus journeys and games of football high in the Andes.
Touching the Void by Joe Simpson (1988)
The remarkable story of a climbing accident in Northern Peru’s Huayhuash Mountains, when Simpson’s partner was forced to cut the rope.
Made into a documentary film in 2003.
Eight Feet in The Andes: Travels with a Mule in Unknown Peru by Dervla Murphy (1983)
An account of the intrepid journey that Irish writer Dervla, her nine-year-old daughter and a mule called Juana made through the Peruvian Andes.
The Incredible Voyage by Tristan Jones (1977)
This book by British mariner, Jones, recounts an epic contemporary challenge to sail up the Amazon and get his boat, Fitzcarraldo-style, to Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable body of water in the world … having previously attempted the same on the Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.
Peregrination of a Pariah: 1833-1834 by Flora Tristan (1838)
A lively and fascinating account of life in 18th-century Peru, as viewed through the lens of an upper-class Peruvian lady with French and Spanish parents, and socialist leanings.
Fiction: The Dream of the Celt by Mario Vargas Llosa (2010)
A dramatization of the life of Roger Casement, a complex character whose remarkable life journey began in Dublin, and saw him have a successful career in the British Diplomatic Service, culminating in a knighthood in 1911.
However, his experiences, firstly in Congo, and then in Loreto, Peru, where he witnessed atrocities against the Putumayo Indians at the hands of the British-registered Peruvian Amazon Company, which dominated the trade in rubber, turned Casement increasingly against imperialism, and in favour of the Irish independence movement.
He was executed in 1916 for his role in the Easter Rising
Tale of a Certain Orient by Milton Hatoum (2007)
Hatoum is a Brazilian of Lebanese descent, who was born in the Amazon city of Manaus. This work draws on his family history to capture the ethnic and social mix of the city in the early 20th-century.
The Dancer Upstairs by Nicholas Shakespeare (1995)
A thriller and detective story inspired by the events in Lima in 1992 that culminated in the capture of the leader of the Shining Path guerrilla movement, Abimael Guzman, in a flat belonging to a dance teacher. PeruNorth actually met the dancer in question, Maritza Garrido Lecca, in Santa Monica Prison in 2006. An interesting experience!
Made into a film starring Javier Bardem in 2002. Shot in Porto, Portugal, rather than Lima.
The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis De Bernières (1990)
Set in a fictitious South American country, this novel offers all the tragedy, ribaldry, and humour that British writer, De Bernières, can muster from a debauched military, a clueless oligarchy, and an unconventional band of guerrillas.
This is the first of a trilogy, and is followed by Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord (1991) and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman (1992).
Very readable and gives an accessible flavour of the magic realism literary style that informs the works of Vargas Llosa and Garcia Marquez (whom De Bernières admires greatly), among others.
Peru's best-known writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has an extensive body of work, beginning in 1963, and it is all worth reading. A few of his works are set, partially or exclusively, in Northern Peru. One such is The Green House whose complex narrative is set in both Piura and the Peruvian Amazon around Iquitos.
Deep Rivers (Los Rios Profundos) by Jose Maria Arguedas (1958)
This semi-autobiographical novel, set in Peru’s southern Andes, provides an interesting insight into the influence and conflict of pre-Hispanic cultures with modern life in Peru. The author is a rarity amongst Peru’s literary canon in that he speaks Quechua, as well as Spanish, and therefore has a real empathy with the indigenous Andean peoples.
Poetry:General Song (Canto General) by Pablo Neruda (1950)
Consisting of 15 sections, 231 poems, and more than 15,000 lines this work by Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, attempts to chart the history of the whole of Latin American.
Section 2, The Heights of Machu Picchu (Las Alturas de Machu Picchu), is of particular interest as it chronicles Neruda’s journey to the ancient Inca citadel.
Finally, a 4-day cruise on the Amazon River itself (M/V Zafiro).
“Leaving the greyish-white skies of Lima, I arrived in Jaen to the vivid colours of the Amazonas. My driver and I travelled to Cocachimba in the gathering dusk, and it was full dark by the time we arrived at Gocta Andes Lodge.
Elizabeth on horseback, with Gocta Waterfall in the background.
I woke the next morning to a panoramic view of the Gocta Falls from the terrace of my room. We were perched on a hillside in the high Andes, with wonderful outlooks in every direction and the lodge positioned to take full advantage of them.
The big draw of course is the huge waterfall hidden in the rainforest. Gocta is some 771 metres high and counted among the top 10 highest in the world. Being tall and narrow, they lack the imposing bulk of Niagara or Victoria Falls, but are very scenic nevertheless, and riding through the rain forest a unique experience.
I had the services of an English-speaking guide and Claudia had suggested (wisely as it turned out) that we hire horses and ride in to the falls. It is about a 5 mile hike in, with a steep descent to the valley floor, and being the rainy season, very muddy (read, slippery!).
Only the first 3 miles are navigable on horseback, so leaving the horses to a well-earned rest, Claudia and I hiked the remaining 2 miles to the foot of the falls. Claudia was a fund of knowledge about the local flora, and we saw many of the brightly-coloured hummingbirds the region is known for.
Also on the itinerary for my stay was a day trip to the ruins at Kuelap. This was a hilltop fortress and is bigger in area than any other structure in Peru. It was continually inhabited from about CE500 up till CE1100.
The complex had an outer wall protecting over 400 circular houses, thought to have been home to about 3500 people.
The Chachapoya people who lived there were known for their shamans, and as great sorcerers and herbalists. The Incas were unable to overpower them, and only 5 Inca buildings have been found among the hundreds of structures in the fortress.
Entrance to Kuelap Fortress.
Claudia and I were saved from another long and steep trek by the installation of a gondola some two years ago, but similar to Gocta Falls, we had to climb the last several hundred metres to the site. I was particularly struck by the numerous and colourful Bromeliads, which seem to grow on every tree, and the spectacular vistas down to the valleys below us.
I was reluctant to leave, but Pumarinri beckoned. The lodge is about an hour’s drive from Tarapoto on the upper Rio Huallaga. The whole area is flora and fauna-rich, and much to my delight that included owls (although I didn’t see any!).
Another beautiful setting on the banks of the river, with 155 acres of private reserve…my bedroom opened on to a terrace right above the water.
View of the Rio Huallaga from bedroom at Pumarinri Lodge.
I shall never forget sitting there watching the cloud forest “breathe” out puffs of white mist, that coalesced into fluffy clouds and drifted away….quite magical!
Once again one of the local excursions involved water, this time the Cataratas de Pucayaquillo; another steep and muddy hike in, but this time with the opportunity to swim in the pools below the waterfall. The water was cold, but with the ambient temperature at 35C, very refreshing.
Pumarinri has its own Tilapia ponds, so I was able to eat some of the freshest fish I have had in Peru. I should have budgeted more time there, but the Amazon River was calling!
And so to Iquitos…..how do I describe this frenetic, noisy city? The faded grandeur of its 19th century colonial architecture is a reminder of how the rubber boom changed it from a frontier town to a city.
A lingering monument to that time is the Malecon Tarapaca, which stretches the length of the river frontage. To the south it runs into the outdoor Belen Market, which covers many blocks and is famous for the huge variety of jungle produce on sale, including bush meat. I saw caiman tails, armadillos, turtles and monkey meat for sale.
It includes the Pasaje Paquito, an alley filled with stalls selling unique medicinal products ‘guaranteed’ to treat any and all ailments.
Stall selling Amazonian delicacies in Belen Market.
Behind the market is Belen village where thousands of people live in wooden houses which float when the river floods in the rainy season. I wanted to visit both places. In the course of a conversation with one of the guides at the local museum, I mentioned this and ‘George’ told me that the market was not safe for a foreign woman alone. So I hired him for the day, and he proved to be a lively and knowledgeable guide.
He took me on a boat tour of the ‘Venice of the Amazon’ which enabled me to see so much more than I could otherwise have done. And then he took me home in one of the motorcycle rickshaws called motocarros, which are the primary means of transport around the city.
Iquitos was the boarding place for my trip on the MV Zafiro, my floating home for the next 4 days. We would be travelling in the Reserva Nacional Pacaya-Samiria, which at 20,800 Sq.km. is Peru's largest reserve.
Today some 42,000 people live in the reserve in 94 different communities, surviving on hunting, fishing and gathering… and growing bananas. They are called ribereños, or river-dwellers, and we were to meet some of them on our travels.
A family home in a village beside the Amazon River.
My cabin on the Zafiro had a full wall of glass, so I had an uninterrupted view of the passing river scene. On board, our naturalist guides were a trove of information about the wildlife and vegetation, as well as the geographical and historical background of the area we were traversing.
Pre-breakfast excursions in the expedition boats showed us the river awakening and evening forays yielded tarantulas, snakes and back caimans in a jungle full of nocturnal sounds. On other day trips we saw troupes of woolly monkeys with their prehensile tails, as well as Capuchins and a single pygmy marmoset.
Pacaya-Samiria Reserve is known as ‘the Jungle of Mirrors’.
We were very fortunate to see the famed pink dolphins and watched them for about 30 minutes as they fed on the whirlpools of fish caused by the river current. Two species of fresh-water dolphin live in the Amazon River – the smaller grey dolphins and the large pink ones. The pink colour is caused by a lack of pigment in the skin, so the underlying blood vessels show through giving a deep pink hue to the dolphin.
We visited the Vista Alegre Community were we were taken on a tour of the butterfly farm to learn about butterflies and their importance to the jungle environment.
We took a side trip to the Yarapa River were we walked in the flooded jungle and looked for sloths and macaws – no sign of either, unfortunately.
One of the highlights of the Zafiro experience was heading down to Parana Creek to catch Piranha (yes, we did) and watch our guide toss them out over the river to be caught gracefully in mid-flight by an Amazon hawk.
Another highlight was an afternoon spent kayaking on a quiet tributary of the main river where we met some of the local residents traveling in their wooden dug-out canoes.
Kayaking along a tributary of the Amazon River.
All too soon it was time to return to Nauta, with a last side trip to the Amazon Rescue Centre (CREA) where biologists and volunteers take care of the endangered species of manatees that the authorities have rescued. There they are rehabilitated and prepared for reintroduction to their natural habitat.
The rescue centre also houses other animals that have been impounded from captors for the trade in exotic species.
Flying out of Iquitos, I caught a last glimpse of the cumulus clouds that rise like Zeppelins from the lush carpet of green trees and the great river that snakes away to the horizon, almost to the curve of the earth. I think about all the people who have come here and found it impossible to leave…I just may be one of them…..”
We had a good mix of activities and I most enjoyed the pottery/chocolate/honey day [Chasuta] as we got to talk with the artisans and see their passion.
I thought the staff and guides were knowledgeable (with one exception, our local guide to El Tigre could have known more about the site and area).
Ron was great and we came home with great memories and lots of recommendations for friends.
What were your favourite cultural destinations in the itinerary? We were excited to see Kuelap and this was definitely a highlight. Second place for me goes to the El Tigre Sarcophagi partly because they aren’t visited very often and partly because of the effort required to get there and the stunning location.
Gocta Waterfall in the distance.
What were your favourite natural destinations in the itinerary? Seb enjoyed seeing the frogs the most near Pumarinri. I loved Gocta Falls and being able to see them from the hotel.
Who was your guide? How did they perform? Ron was great, chatty, friendly, informative and easy to get a long with.
Which was your favourite accommodation and why? I most enjoyed Gocta because of the setting.
Which was your favourite restaurant / dish / drink? Did you lose or gain weight over the course of the holiday!? The hotels accommodated us well for vegetarian and were willing to make changes to existing menu items whenever we asked if we wanted something different. I don’t think we lost or gained weight. I most enjoyed the salads at Pumarinri
What forms of transport did you use? Pros/cons? The bus from the airport to Chachapoyas was long and a I got a bit carsick because of the roads. It was also a bit cramped. All other transport was easy including the shared transport from lodges and the private vehicles. Our drivers were good.
Did your itinerary involve any hiking? How would you rate it in terms of difficulty? Yes, we hiked several days. El Tigre was the most difficult/long but overall was within our ability.
What was the most pointless item in your luggage!? I brought long leggings (like work out gear) which I didn’t wear. I wore a mixture of shorts and hiking pants which were better suited to the heat and activities
What were your favourite natural encounters? Frogs and seeing the sloth in Pumarinri
Did you have much interaction with locals? Where and how did this occur? We spoke with guides, market sellers, staff at the parks as well as local shop keepers.
Did you feel your money was going to local businesses and people? We bought many items while travelling for Christmas presents and I feel that money was going into the local economy.
Were you given any information regarding sustainability during the course of your trip? We chatted with Ron about sustainability because this is something we try to strive to do in our normal (non-holiday) lives. I didn’t notice this being a topic brought up by others on the trip but I did feel that the lodges were good about water usage.
Did you notice any areas where environmental practices could be improved? Use of plastics (especially bottles of water) and take-away containers is an issue throughout Peru that I believe can be improved.”
Redefinition of what luxury means to modern traveller.
More about unique experiences than supreme comfort.
Northern Peru full of this type of luxury!
Traditional, pre-Columbian display of wealth.
In late 2017, Peru’s tourism body, PROMPERU, launched the ‘Peru, the richest country in the world‘ international marketing campaign. The campaign embraces a new concept for the term ‘wealth’, reimagining what ‘being rich’ really means.
It is based on a current trend: the perception that wealth is based on experiences, including travel, rather than the acquisition of material possessions.
This being the case, PROMPERU can rightly point to an extensive list of destinations and experiences in Peru that truly enrich the visitor:
Archaeology: the Caral civilization is the oldest known in the Americas, thought to be more than 5,000 years old. Since then, numerous empires have risen and fallen within - and sometimes beyond - the boundaries of present-day Peru, leaving behind a fascinating archaeological footprint.
The best-known are the Inca, whose empire centred on Cusco was destroyed by the Conquistadors; but they themselves had conquered or co-opted other civilizations, such as the Chimu around Trujillo and the Chachapoya around Chachapoyas.
New discoveries continue to be made, on an almost monthly basis, at various digs around Peru, changing the accepted archaeological wisdom.
Nature: Peru is one of the 10 mega-diverse countries in the world, with a bewildering array of flora and fauna. Much of this can be found in the Amazon Rainforest which covers some 60% of the country, at various altitudes.
Adventure Activities: the geographical richness of mountains, rivers, beaches and lakes provides almost infinite possibilities for hiking, rafting, surfing and fishing.
Gastronomy: Peru has been awarded World’s Leading Culinary Destination at the World Travel Awards for the last seven years (2012 - 2018). The Pacific Ocean, Amazon jungle and Andes Mountains provide a huge range of ingredients which have been manipulated into delicious local and national recipes.
People: Peru’s population of 33 million includes 44 indigenous indigenous ethnic groups and 14 linguistic families. Successive waves of immigration from Europe, Africa and Asia have all left their mark on the culture.
With a different idea of a country’s wealth, comes different definitions of luxury: it is not just about the plushest hotel rooms, gourmet meals and a high ratio of staff to clients; but experiences that are unique, authentic and have the power to ‘make you a better person’.
Northern Peru fits into this concept very well. There are some traditional ‘luxury’ services, most notably amongst the Amazon River Cruises, such as Delfin I, which has only four spacious cabins, two of which have their own plunge pool (pictured above).
But what is more abundant are personalised and one-of-a-kind experiences:
There are in fact only a very few shared - or ‘pool’ - services available in Northern Peru … and even if you take these, you are likely to be accompanied by Peruvians keen to learn more about the ‘gringos’ in their midst!
So to experience the luxury of a sensory overload, just get in touch with PeruNorth!
Who was your guide? How did they perform? Our guide Sheila was wonderful, friendly and and very accommodating
Which was your favourite accommodation and why? We only had one La Xalca in Chachapoyas and it was fine.
Which was your favourite restaurant / dish / drink? Did you lose or gain weight over the course of the holiday!? Breakfast and dinner were provided at the hotel. The portions were more than we could eat.
What forms of transport did you use? Pros/cons? Having a a dedicated van for us was great. Very comfortable.
Did your itinerary involve any hiking? How would you rate it in terms of difficulty? If you really want to enjoy the sights you have to be in good shape. The availability of horses is a plus.
What was the most pointless item in your luggage!? Gloves, it was not cold enough to use them.
What was/were your favourite natural encounter (eg. animal / bird / flora seen)? Only Alpacas. But the scenery and surroundings are very, very beautiful and we were breath taken.
Did you suffer any insect bites? Other physical discomforts? Not really.
And given that northern Peru is just starting to attract a higher number of domestic and international visitors, we feel it is important to assess the impact of this on a naturally and culturally sensitive region.
Did you have much interaction with locals? Where and how did this occur? People are friendly, we spoke the language so it was easy to converse and make acquaintances.
Did you feel your money was going to local businesses and people? I'm not sure how much. Some without doubt goes to locals, specially the entry fees to the parks.
Were you given any information regarding sustainability during the course of your trip (e.g. talks on environmental issues from guides)? Somewhat, mainly history of the pre-incas and Incas, their organizations.
Did you notice any areas where environmental practices could be improved? There is a great deal of panels calling to the people to be environmentally friendly. But more education must be continued and reinforced to avoid littering the highways leading to the visiting sights.
Cacao, the raw ingredient of chocolate, increasingly important cash crop in Peru.
Details of cacao plant, its history & use.
Description of chocolate-making process.
Where to see the plant & the process in Tarapoto.
It is probably unfair to be talking about cacao - and its delicious derivative, chocolate - in January, just as many of us have vowed to watch our calorie intake after the excesses of Christmas and New Year!
But in Peru, cacao farmers must work year-round to ensure the health of their trees, harvest the fruit by hand, and prepare for sale.
The cacao tree (Theobroma cacao) is an evergreen shrub, thought to have originated in high Amazon regions, such as on the eastern slopes of the Andes, which offered the right temperatures and humidity.
The tree produces ovoid fruits, known as ‘pods’, that when ripe are roughly the size of a coconut and weigh about 500g (1.1lbs). Each pod contains 20 to 60 seeds, or ‘beans’, covered in a white pulp. The beans are the main ingredient of chocolate; the pulp can be used to prepare juices and jellies.
There is strong evidence that cacao was first domesticated by the inhabitants of a swathe of Peruvian, Ecuadorian and Colombian Amazon that includes modern-day Iquitos, in order to create an alcoholic beverage from the pulp.
However, it was in Central America and Mexico that the pre-Columbian peoples cultivated cacao and used it in a way that we would identify as chocolate. In fact, the word ‘cacao’ comes from the Aztec language, Nahuatl, and chocolate came to play a central part in Aztec and Maya ceremonies and belief systems.
It is only in the last 25 years that Peru has seriously entered into the commercialisation of cacao as a commodity, but it has done so with spectacular results. In 2018, Peru was the world’s 9th largest producer of cocoa beans - part of a chocolate market worth $100 billion globally.
And the flavour of these beans, which reflect the diversity of cacao species, soils and climates to be found in Peru, has won admirers.
Aside from the taste and economic value, cacao production has additional benefits:
It is a shade plant, which only thrives when protected from direct sunlight. Therefore, it is planted beneath a canopy of trees, which is less damaging to the rainforest than other crops.
Cacao grows in a similar habitat to the notorious coca leaf - the raw material of cocaine. As a result, cacao production has been promoted to farmers as a legal alternative to coca.
Cacao offers two crops a year: in Peru, the harvest is in April - June and October - November.
A great place to see Peru’s growing chocolate industry is in and around Tarapoto. The high jungle of the area is ideal for growing cacao and there are plenty of plantations to visit. For example, Shilcayo Island, in the Huallaga River, near the village of Chasuta, which specialises in the production Fino de Aroma cocoa.
This can be combined with a trip to Mishky Cacao, an all-female cooperative set up in Chasuta with financial assistance from USAID, that transforms the cocoa beans into chocolate and sweets.
To see chocolate-making in more detail, the interested (and sweet-of-tooth) can visit the Orquidea Chocolate Factory located in Tarapoto itself.
In the company of a guide - and made to wear a lab coat, hair net and shoe coverings - each step of the process is followed, as the cocoa beans, still covered in pulp, are converted into chocolate:
The beans are left to ferment for two to three days, which adds flavour.
They are then left outside for approximately five days, in order to dry in the sun.
The dried seeds are placed into jute sacks for storage.
The seeds are mechanically sorted according to size.
The seeds are roasted in an industrial oven at about 120ºC ( 250ºF) for 45 to 50 minutes. The time and temperature vary depending on size of the seeds.
Once roasted, the cocoa beans still have a thin, papery husk around them which needs removing. So, they are placed in a winnowing machine, that cracks the beans open and blows away the lighter shells with fans. What’s left behind are pieces of pure cocoa bean, known as ‘nibs'.
Milk and/or sugar is added to make chocolate pastes of varying consistencies and degrees of sweetness.
In a separate air-conditioned room, a number of women add different fillings, such as coffee cream and nuts, to the chocolate. This needs to be done while the chocolate paste is at 30ºC (86ºF).
The resultant chocolate trays are then cooled in a fridge for 15 - 20 minutes to maintain the desired shape.
Once cool, the chocolate is cut into bars, before being individually wrapped.
The final, and arguably most important part of the process, is the sampling!
The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruvianus) is the strikingly-beautiful, national bird of Peru. Here are some facts about this idiosyncratic species … and where to find them:
The Cock-of-the-Rock gets its name from its tendency to build nests on rocks and ledges.
It inhabits cloud forest areas at 500 - 2,400 m (1,600 - 7,900 ft) in elevation.
Its diet consists mainly of fruit and insects, as well as small frogs and reptiles.
It tends to forage for food on its own, although it is occasionally possible to see groups of up to three.
It is actually the male that has the bright plumage. The female has brown feathers. This difference in appearance between the genders is known as ‘sexual dimorphism’.
Male Cocks-of-the-Rock devote a lot of energy to attracting females at communal areas called leks. Here they display their plumage and compete with other males, in remarkable duels.
These ‘confrontation displays’ consist of jumping, wing-flapping, noisy squawking and bill-snapping. This activity intensifies, if a female approaches!
Males are polygamous and are not involved with the nest-building or chick-rearing.
Females build the nest from mud and vegetation, bound together with her own saliva, in the shape of a concave cup.
Females usually lay two eggs in the nest, and incubates these for up to 28 days.
Cocks-of-the-Rock have a number of predators, including birds of prey, jaguar, puma, ocelot and the boa constrictor.
How to see the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock:
Although its range covers some 260,000 sq km (100,000 sq miles) across Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, it is a shy creature and so you need dedication - or good luck - to see one up close. So, while they inhabit the cloud forest around Gocta Waterfall, for example, you are unlikely to see one while walking there and back.
The best way to see a Cock-of-the-Rock, then, is on a Birding itinerary, such as: