Everyone seems to travel South through Peru, down the coast converging on Cusco and Machu Picchu. Not one for crowds, I began this trip heading North. And since I am not planning to move towards Cusco until early December I continued in that direction through the Andes, towards the Amazon Basin.
Travel options are pretty limited out of Huaraz due to it's mountainous surroundings and most travel requires returning to the coast before moving on. Seven winding hours later I was in Trujillo, where many more travel options exist and the question becomes: Beach or Jungle? I never intended to visit the North Peruvian Amazon, as I plan to access the vast region via the much cheaper and less touristy Bolivian side. But with summer picking up steam and bringing along a lull in the otherwise consistent Peruvian surf (to be revisited come fall) Jungle won out. After a day of mud city ruins and delicious chicken sandwiches it was back on the bus...for 14 hours...
I arrived early in Chachapoyas, a small city in Northern Peru. Still in the Andes but with a lower elevation (2300m / 7600 ft), closer proximity to the equator, and a lot of rain the city is right on the edge of proper jungle. ChaCha for short, is relatively unknown on the travel circuit, but it's likely you will see it start popping up more and more. A massive pre-Incan ruin, Kuelap, a hill top citadel constructed by the 'People of the Clouds', is being primed by the Peruvian government for tourism. Hoping to mirror the tourist gold mine that is Machu Picchu, they have pumped money into renovating and excavating the site as well as making it far more accessible via a brand new gondola and air conditioned bus service. Unfortunately, that also means more pan-flute touting vendors and stands to buy Inca Cola. None-the-less the ruins are striking, at one time home to thousands living in circular stone homes with giant thatch cone coverings.
The region also touts one of the world's (3rd or 5th depending on your source) largest waterfalls, Gocta. A day of hiking lets you visit both the upper and main pool of the falls. Height is the main tourist draw, but I found the wind produced by the falling water the real show stopper. It was a pretty unique phenomenon, like a gigantic version of the shower curtain example found in physics textbooks across the globe. Worth a quick mention is Dolceria Santa Elana on the pedestrian walk in town. The family owned bakery pumps out some of the best sweets I have ever consumed. With cakes that can make you weep and a convenient one block walk from the hostel, I was running two-a-days through this joint.
Onward into the jungle, Tarapoto was the next logical stop. A grueling 8 hour van ride through winding mountain road lands you at the gateway to the Amazon. This is the last major (read: paved roads) city before the jungle. There isn't a ton to do in town, but they do have the best grocery store in Peru thus far. They sell REAL peanut butter that actually contains nothing but peanuts and salt. This was a welcomed sight in a food system that is not afraid to add some sugar. Tarapoto also offers some of the finest haircuts in Peru for the agreeable price of S/. 8 ($2.45). From Tarapoto one last two hour van journey got me to Yuramaguas, a small port town and the launching point for a true adventure.
Getting a great cut in Tarapoto. No changes have been made to this establishment since roughly 1986