Peru really is one of South America’s iconic destinations, especially if you have never been to this vibrant continent before. If you have images springing to mind of colourful local costumes, markets, lilting Andean music and, of course, Machu Picchu as the ultimate monument to a once mighty empire, the Incas, then you are right on the mark.
Now, we are not for one moment suggesting that you might miss seeing Peru’s biggest attraction, even on your bespoke holiday. We cannot deny you will share your sight of it with plenty of others, even those dedicated enough to arrive for sunrise or stay until just before the gates close at sunset (definitely the best times for photography though) but Machu Picchu is without doubt a very spectacular sight in the most dramatic Andean setting and should absolutely be on your must-see list.
But what of the many predecessors that farmed, built magnificent structures and ruled over the many parts of Peru’s territories before the rise of the mighty Inca Empire? If, like us, you are fascinated by the interwoven and colourful history of all of the ancient civilisations that sprung up across the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans, then a whole hidden world awaits in Peru, a brilliant odyssey of discovery if you have a more adventurous spirit.
Anyone who has watched any of Dr Jago Cooper’s really engaging documentaries on the Lost Kingdoms of South America on BBC2 earlier this year or a recent re-showing of Lost Cities of the Ancients on BBC4 that highlighted the mass of pyramids constructed around Tucumé in Northern Peru will know that the earlier civilisations that dominated the landscapes before the Incas were powerful rulers and skilled craftsmen, not to mention strong warriors who were more than a little bloodthirsty! The names of cities such as Chan Chan or Kuelap may not be nearly as well known as Machu Picchu but the secrets they are revealing are easily as fascinating as their more famous southern neighbour. Not only that, but you may well have the site to yourself; if not completely, then at least with an excellent chance of finding an empty corner for some incredible photos.
Up until recently, access to some of the pre-Incan civilisations’ cities beyond the northern coastal centres of Trujillo and Chiclayo required hours and hours on bone-shaking roads by 4WD to access them – hence why there were so few people there! Just recently – and it’s worth perhaps visiting soon, before others cotton on and the sites get busier – the road between Chiclayo and Tarapoto has been paved, making access to the incredible hilltop city of Kuelap built by the Chachapoyans and the unique mountainside burial sites at Laguna de los Condores, Karajia or Revash where mummies were discovered in their hundreds (and thankfully preserved now from poachers at the wonderful museum in Leimebamba) not just quicker but considerably more comfortable. Journey through tiny remote villages, chat to locals who are excited to see visitors and watch the landscape change from coastal sand dunes through high Andean mountains down to the tropical lushness of the rainforest. Stop at Gocta Falls, the third highest in the world and stay in comfortable local lodges which, if not the height of luxury, are surprisingly comfortable for this remote region.
We would love to help you discover not just Peru’s Inca history but its pre-Inca past for yourselves and would be delighted to talk you through your own adventure into the North of Peru.