Sometimes everything comes together on a trip – the people, the landscapes, the timing – to make you fall in love with travel again. This year, that feeling came to me in Northern Peru. It had been a long time in the planning. Northern Peru is remote, logistically difficult and very much off the beaten tourist trail. It is hard to get around, with no internal flights and long, arduous road journeys, and there are few good places to stay.
In love with Northern Peru
Make the effort for a trip to northern Peru though, and the rewards are extraordinary: stunning mountain landscapes, vast deserts, misty cloud forests and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
First though, came the real challenge: persuading anyone to come with me. I had been before, so knew what was in store. I had marvelled at the empty pre-Columbian archaeological sites, gazed at the snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, the highest tropical mountain range in the world, and delighted at the hummingbirds and vast waterfalls at Chachapoyas. But, until recently, I’d never recommended the area to upscale international travellers. Real luxury is yet to reach this part of Peru, but what it lacks in top-end hotels it more than makes up for in barely any tourists. While Southern Peru is suffering from overtourism, the north is blissfully empty. And recent improvements in accommodation, coupled with our local connections, meant it was time to give it a shot.
After some gentle persuasion, a few loyal friends and Aracari clients agreed to join me. Our group was very small, just eight very different people, all close to Aracari and all second or third time visitors to Peru. But I was a little worried as they didn’t know each other and had to trust me, parting with their money on an 11-day journey with strangers, into the unknown.
I needn’t have worried. It was a trip of wonders. Our Northern Peru itinerary covered everything from the desert coast and its ancient sites (Caral, Chan Chan and Huaca de la Luna), to the soaring peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and Peru’s highest mountain, Huascarán at 6,768m. Then there was the hair-raising Cañón del Pato, an 85-km route winding through 42 tunnels from the Andes to the coast, and the cloud forest, thick with foliage, and the monumental cities and burial sites of the Chachapoyas. And, finally, the lowland Amazon rainforest where a few of us ended our journey with four luxurious days aboard the Delfin III, cruising the Amazon River.
There was a downside: long hours in the bus (next time, we’ll do it by 4X4). But the immediate chemistry in the group meant that even this did little to dampen our enthusiasm. And our enthusiasm was boundless, thanks to having all these epic sights to ourselves, but also thanks to the incredible characters we encountered along the way. Friends, experts, explorers, archaeologists, owners of lodges – they brought the destination to authentic, vivid, technicoloured life. We rediscovered the joy of the unknown, the thrill of exploration. We ended the trip back in love with travel, and longing for more.