Get off the beaten path and explore rural communities on this 16-day tour of northern Peru. Discover fascinating archaeological ruins and perfectly preserved mummies as you encounter the pre-Inca Chachapoya, Chimú, and Moche cultures. Stay with host families in remote villages where you'll learn traditional Peruvian handicrafts and farming techniques.

Highlights

  • Learn about the fascinating history of pre-Inca cultures 
  • Stay with local host families and engage with their communities
  • Explore rich archaeological sites off the beaten track
  • See the famed Chachapoya mummies

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Tarapoto – Chazuta Chazuta 
Day 2 Chazuta Chazuta
Day 3 Chazuta Chazuta 
Day 4 Chazuta – Lamas – Moyobamba Moyobamba
Day 5 Moyobamba – Cuispes Cuispes
Day 6 Cuispes – activities in the community Cuispes 
Day 7 Cuispes – walking to Yumbilla Cuispes 
Day 8 Kuelap Leymebamba 
Day 9 Leymebamba – activities in the community Leymebamba
Day 10 Leymebamba – activities in the community Leymebamba 
Day 11 Leymebamba – Cajamarca Cajamarca
Day 12 Cajamarca – free day Overnight bus to Chiclayo
Day 13 Chiclayo Chiclayo 
Day 14 Chiclayo – El Brujo – Trujillo Trujillo
Day 15 Trujillo Trujillo 
Day 16 Trujillo - Lima  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Tarapoto – Chazuta

From the air, the Amazon river can be clearly seen winding its way through the lush forest
From the air, the Amazon river can be clearly seen winding its way through the lush forest

Welcome to Peru! You will be greeted at the Tarapoto Airport and transferred to the village of Chazuta in the Amazon Rainforest, located just an hour by car from Tarapoto. You'll be welcomed by your hosts and enjoy a delicious family meal. 

Day 2: Chazuta

A local holds a handful of un-roasted coffee beans, one of the agricultural crops of the region
Coffee beans are one of the main agricultural crops of the region

Spend today getting to know this tight-knit community, located on the banks of the Huallaga River. Explore the exquisite chocolates, ceramics, and artisanal handicrafts for which this region is famous. The women in the community have revived the traditional cocoa industry to worldwide acclaim. Chazuta's chocolate regularly wins prizes in major international competitions in cities like Paris and New York. 

Chazuta is also well-known for its unique way of making paper — from banana bark. In the afternoon, learn how to make this paper from the masters, and take some home for a special occasion.  Later, enjoy the hospitality of your host family and finish the day with a tasty home-cooked dinner. 

Day 3: Chazuta

In this densely forested region,  river travel is more convenient than road travel
In this densely forested region, river travel is often more convenient than road travel

Today you'll have another day to explore the beautiful community of Chazuta. Start your morning with a boat trip on the river — the most common method of transportation in the rainforest. These water roads will lead you to a farm downstream, located in the middle of the jungle. 

When you arrive at the farm, you will be greeted by the owner. Take the afternoon to explore — walk to the nearby waterfall and discover a working cocoa farm in the middle of the Amazon. Return to Chazuta in the afternoon and spend the night with your host family. 

Day 4: Chazuta – Lamas – Moyobamba

Despite conquest by the Spanish colonists, many local people still speak their native language- Quechua
Many local people in Lamas still speak their indigenous language of Quechua

This morning you'll leave Chazuta and head northwest to the town of Lamas, a two-hour car ride away. Known as "the village of three floors," Lamas is home to the indigenous Quechua community. Visit the town and stop in the local craft shops to purchase any souvenirs. Enjoy a healthy locally-sourced lunch before getting back on the road. 

Continue to Moyobamba, the capital of the San Martín region, which is another two-hour journey. Stay in town and enjoy warm hospitality from a Peruvian couple whose family emigrated from Japan. Tonight's dinner is a home-cooked meal, made with extra fresh produce and fish. 

Day 5: Moyobamba – Cuispes

Today's adventure in the conservation area includes a canoe trip on the river to spot wildlife
Today's adventure in the conservation area includes a canoe trip on the river to spot wildlife 

Get an early start — you have a long day ahead of you! Begin with a short half-hour car trip west to Rioja. You are heading to the Santa Elena Nature Reserve, a private conservation area managed by the local community. Take a canoe trip down the river to spot wildlife — birds, various insects, monkeys, and fascinating tree species all call this stretch of river home. 

Continue down the road for lunch, where you'll sample the regional specialty, avispa juane. Then make a quick stop at a private reserve. This special stretch of forest is managed by a local activist who has spent the last three decades reclaiming the marsh and restoring the wetlands to make them a haven for wildlife. 

The afternoon will be spent traveling along the Belaunde Terry Road, named after the president of Peru in the 1960s. Cross the ever-changing landscape of the Andes as the road climbs more than 6,500 feet to Lake Pomacochas before descending to Pedro Ruiz. This road takes you out of the San Martin region and goes deeper into the Amazon. After three hours of driving, you will reach the small village of Cuispes — home to just 400 people — and your final destination for the night. Meet your host family, feast on a home-cooked meal, and rest after your long journey. 

Day 6: Cuispes

A young boy transports sugar cane, a common agricultural staple in the area
A young boy transports sugar cane, a common agricultural staple in the area

Spend your day learning about the agriculture and farming techniques of the region. You may choose to join a coffee farm for their daily activities, or visit a guinea pig farm. Although this may seem unusual to some visitors, guinea pigs are the traditional and historic food of the Andean people. If you like, you can ask your host family to prepare guinea pig for dinner tonight. 

In the afternoon, meet a baker and learn how to make various regional bread types, which are often quite sweet. If you have a sweet tooth, stop for a visit with artisans who make chankaka, or blocks of unrefined sugar made from sugarcane. At the end of the day, join your host family for dinner and unwind. 

Day 7: Cuispes – Walking to Yumbilla

The locals take great pride in the beauty and conservation of the local forest
The locals take great pride in the beauty and conservation of the forest

In the morning, a guide from the town's association for tourism will take you on a beautiful hike to the spectacular Yumbilla waterfall. Take care and be attentive as you walk through this incredible section of forest — its beauty and splendor are the pride and joy of the locals. If you are quiet, you might see the gallito de las rocas, the national bird of Peru. 

Alternatively, you may choose a more adventurous morning and explore the canyons around one of the many waterfalls in the area. Bring a picnic basket and enjoy a lovely lunch. Spend the afternoon as you choose. 

Day 8: Kuelap

Kuelap
The ancient site of Kuelap was built by the Chachapoya people and predates the Inca empire by a millennium 

Today you will leave Cuispes and take a ride on the cable car to Tingo Nuevo, a 20-minute trip which takes you up nearly 3,600 feet. From here, it's just over a mile to walk to the archaeological site of Kuelap. This fortified citadel was built on a high plateau by the Chachapoya people around 500 BCE and is surrounded by a 65-foot-high wall which encircles much of the structure. 

Enjoy visiting the ruins and exploring the ancient culture of this Andean civilization before breaking for lunch. Afterward, drive two hours to Leymebamba and meet your next host family. 

Day 9: Leymebamba 

More than 300 mummies were discovered in this protected burial site, tucked into a steep cliffside
More than 300 mummies were discovered near Laguna de los Condores, tucked into a steep cliffside

Today you will explore the remote region of Leymebamba. In this varied terrain, horses are often used as the main form of transportation. During your stay, you will often see farmers returning home from a chacra, or small farm, loaded down with the day's harvest. You will also use horses for transport to reach the famed Leymebamba museum. 

Famous for exhibiting more than 200 exquisitely-preserved mummies and their accompanying funeral offerings, this museum is an absolute must-see. Don't miss the impressive collection of Peruvian quipus — an ancient Inca method of recording information by tying intricate knots in different colored lengths of string. 

Day 10: Leymebamba 

Miguel Harman's fascination with the ancient artifacts has led to a career in creating replicas
This local sculptor's fascination with the ancient artifacts has led to a career in creating replicas

Join the craftspeople of Leymebamba today in making traditional handicrafts. Try your hand at weaving with wool on a hand loom, which is trickier than it looks. The locals also raise cows in the mild climate and lush green pastures of the high Utcubamba valley, primarily for milk. Learn how to care for the cows, milk them, and make fresh cheese from the harvested milk. After all your hard work, don't forget to try the results — eaten with a little bit of honey, this fresh cheese is delightfully light and flavorful. 

After lunch, spend some time getting to know a local sculptor who participated in the original operation to remove and preserve the mummies and other archeological objects discovered at the Laguna de los Cóndores in 1997.  He currently supplies the archeological museum with replicas of statues and carvings from the Chachapoya period. 

Day 11: Leymebamba – Cajamarca

The mountain road weaves its way through steep terrain and provides many incredible views
The mountain road weaves its way through steep terrain and provides many incredible views

Today you leave your host family in Leymebamba for a trip down one of the most impressive roads in the world — the mountain road to Cajamarca. From Leymebamba, the road climbs to 11,800 feet giving you a breathtaking view of the Andes Mountains and  the Marañón Valley. For the rest of the afternoon, the road winds and dips, crossing several ecosystems as you make your way to Cajamarca. 

Once you reach Cajamarca, consider staying at a unique hotel that employs people with hearing loss. The revenue from the hotel is used to fund a center for disabled and under-resourced children. 

Day 12: Cajamarca – Free Day

Cajamarca
The ruins in the city of Cajamarca date back to the conquest by the Spanish in the 15th century

Spend the day exploring Cajamarca, known as the "city of the encounter." This is the location where the Spanish conquistador Pizarro and his group of 180 soldiers defeated the Inca empire. Visit the last Inca building still standing in the city, where the Inca Atahualpa was held for months after his capture and eventually executed here in 1453. 

Then stop by some of the extravagant colonial churches, such as the Church of Belen. Make sure to visit the historical sites on the outskirts of the city, including the aqueduct of Cumbe Mayo or the crypts of Ventanillas de Otuzco. In the early evening take the night bus to Chiclayo on the coast. 

Day 13: Chiclayo

Learn the preparation of Pachamanca, a regional slow-cooked specialty 
Learn how to prepare pachamanca, a regional slow-cooked specialty 

Arrive in Chiclayo early in the morning, where you will be met for your brief transfer to Túcume to meet your new host family. Your first activity of the day will be to learn how to cook pachamanca, a slow-cooked dish of meat and vegetables, with your host family. After preparing the ingredients and placing them in the earth to cook, head out to explore. 

See the museum and the pyramids at the Túcume Archaeological Complex, the location of the last capital of the pre-Inca kingdoms of Lambayeque and Chimú. Spanning 220 acres, this complex is one of the principal pre-Hispanic conquest monuments in the north and contains fascinating architectural features such as patios and canals. Archaeologists believe that the nobility of Túcume lived in luxury —  in enormous palaces decorated with drawings and exquisite jewels, surrounded by crowds of attendants including administrators, priests, servants, and talented artisans. 

Return from your visit to the museum in time to enjoy your pachamanca dinner, before visiting with local community members to learn the indigenous method of painting on cotton with natural dyes. 

Day 14: Chiclayo – El Brujo – Trujillo

The Royal Tombs Museum houses a wealth of archeological treasures, including the remains of a woman warrior
The Royal Tombs Museum houses a wealth of archaeological treasures, including the remains of a warrior woman 

Depart from your host family in Túcume in the morning and head to the Museum Tumbas Reales, or Museum of the Royal Tombs, in Lambayeque, located just outside of Chiclayo. This museum contains a wealth of archaeological treasures buried with the pre-Inca Lord of Sipan. In 1987, when the tomb of the Lord of Sipan was discovered, it was compared in opulence and detail to the tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt.  

After the visit to the museum, continue south towards Trujillo, stopping by the archaeological site of El Brujo on the way. Believed to have been inhabited by humans for roughly 5,000 years, the site is mainly associated now with the Moche culture (100-700 CE). Here you'll find a large 98-foot tall adobe pyramid, with clearly visible drawings of the Mochica god, as well as the tomb of the Lady of Cao, also known as the Lady of Tattoos. Her tomb was the first female Peruvian mummy to be discovered dressed as a warrior and buried in a manner similar to the male aristocratic warriors. 

After the visit to the museum continue south to Trujillo, known as the "city of eternal spring," for dinner and a well-deserved rest. 

Day 15: Trujillo

The rhombus wall decorations on the Nik-An citadel are representations of the importance of fishing nets
The rhombus wall decorations on the Nik-An citadel are representations of the importance of fishing nets

Today you will explore the colonial city of Trujillo and the beautiful indigenous sites that surround it. This area is the historic home of the pre-Inca cultures of the Moche and Chimú. Your first stop is the archaeological complex of Chan Chan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Nik-An Palace. Once the epicenter of the Chimú Empire, which thrived in the area after the fall of the Moche, the Nik-An citadel depicts the culture's love of the sea in its detailed illustrations of fish. Look closely to spot other illustrations of sea life — rhombus fishing nets, pelicans, and even anzumitos, a mythical animal somewhere between a sea lion and an otter, grace the walls. 

Continue to the Temples of the Sun and the Moon and their accompanying museum to learn more about the Moche culture. Exquisite colorful murals decorate the walls of the Temple of the Moon, which has been built and re-built several times. You will notice the religious symbol of the Ai-Apaec, or "The God of the Mountains," appearing many times on the walls of the temple. 

Despite the prevalence of archaeological ruins, the Mochica culture is not dead. After visiting the temples and museum, continue to a pottery and crafts workshop to view and learn about the traditional methods of handicrafts that have been preserved by the Mochica people over the centuries. 

Day 16: Trujillo - Lima

The colorful buildings of Trujillo are built in a Spanish style, reflecting the effect of the conquest
The colorful Spanish colonial buildings of Trujillo 

Today is your last day in the region. Transfer to the Trujillo airport for your flight to Lima, before connecting to your flight home. Safe travels! 

Map

Map of Explore Rural Northern Peru - 16 Days
Map of Explore Rural Northern Peru - 16 Days