When considering our next Peruvian adventure, we sifted through scant, outdated material on the internet that described the road from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas as impassable. The minimal amount of information portrayed the route as navigable and warned us that the bus was forced to navigate hairpin, 360 degree curves on narrow, unstable dirt roads. Fortunately for Lisa’s stomach and the rest of our fellow passengers, we found that the 12 hour bus from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas was more exhilarating than laborious.
Amid the myriad of bus companies, all located near the La Linea company on Ave Atahualpa, that take passengers every day from Cajamarca to Celendin, we only found one company, Virgin del Carmen, that goes somewhat directly to Chachapoyas (although we read Movil Tours does as well). The route consists of three legs, stopping in Celendín and Leymebamba, the two best bases for exploring the area’s quiet Andean villages and ancient ruins.
The section between Celendín and Chachapoyas has quite a bad reputation–the bus winds upwards through lovely Andean farm scenery to a pass of 3100 meters before plunging into the Marañón River valley to cross the river at 975 meters–and many guidebooks advise travelers to take other routes, especially in the rainy season. However, the road must have been recently improved, because we enjoyed smooth pavement (and sunny skies) as the bus descended through practically untouched desert wilderness of cactus, palo verde, spidery agave, and flowering shrubs.
The bus honked its way around every blind corner, until suddenly it stopped and the driver and his assistant hopped out to negotiate with the oncoming natural gas delivery truck which vehicle had to perilously pull to the side of the road–either pinning themselves against the sheer cliff wall or balancing on the last bit of gravel before the terrain gave way to an immeasurable drop to the canyon below. The roller coaster decent suddenly settled as the Marañón River came into view, a flat tan ribbon woven through the magnanimous mountain range.
When the bus finally reaches the Marañón and the tiny improbable town of Chacanto on its banks, passengers crawl out from under their blankets, and the bus driver pops open the rooftop ventilation to counter the sudden jungle heat. The road follows the river for a bit before beginning its torturous climb back up into the arid mountains.
After many more hours of desert the bus begins to encounter signs that warn of “Area de Neblina” (fog), as well as “Abra del Barro Negro” (Black Mud Pass) at around 3700 meters. The stunning views continued all the way to Chachapoyas, where we discovering a quaint town with a beautiful central square, before settling into The Backpacker’s Hostal.
Our adorable, comfortable hostal was ran by Jose and his wife Dona (as well as several other family members you’ll meet in passing). They helped us decide between the myriad of options we had to visit the ruins of the Chachapoyas people, including the spectacular fortress of Kuelap, the mausoleums of Revash, and the sarcophagi of Karajia. Jose even offered an opportunity for Ryan to play soccer with his friends on Sunday morning at a private Catholic school, which he gladly accepted despite the extreme elevation.