In the Andean cloud forest, the myth-shrouded Chachapoya civilization offer some of Peru's most evocative historic sites. And few tourists.
The Chachapoya, traders, artisans and warriors, thrived in northeastern Peru from about 800 to 1540. They left behind majestic ruins, haunting funeral sites and unanswered questions.
Relatively few people have heard of the Chachapoya or visited their domain, which rivals in grandeur Machu Picchu, the Incas' ancient city that is a major tourist attraction for Peru.
Getting here is the problem. A visit requires a lot of ground travel and an adventurous spirit. Once there, it's best to stay four to five days in the zone.
Area travel agencies such as Turismo Explorer, www.turismoexplorer peru.com, and Vilaya Tours, www.vilayatours.com, can arrange vehicle rentals and guides and provide crucial information on weather, road closures and more.
From the capital, Lima, travelers typically first fly to one of three cities: Cajamarca, in the Andes; Chiclayo, on the northern coast; or Tarapoto, in the Amazonas lowlands.
They then head to the colonial town of Chachapoyas, a daylong road trip. It's a logical base for exploring the towering citadel of Kuelap, cliff-side sarcophagi of Carajia and other sites.
Don't miss the extraordinary museum in Leymebamba, a two-hour drive south of Chachapoyas. Mummies are displayed plus fabrics, ceramics and artifacts from the Laguna of the Condors cliff tombs.
Of the three overland alternatives, the Cajamarca-Chachapoyas land route is the most rugged and visually stunning. Its vertiginous drops and steep climbs are not for everyone.
A visit to Chachapoya isn't cozy. There's no luxury train or five-star hotel. But it's worth the effort.
-- Patrick McDonnell
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