We left Kuelap first thing in the morning to try and avoid traffic on the narrow section of the road and we were successful in this. We carried on down the main (dirt) road towards the town of Leymebamba. This is the site of a really good museum which houses hundreds of mummies that were found in a nearby but fairly inaccessible place, the Lake of the Condors.
The museum would have been a perfect place to stop for the night but we asked to stay and were told we couldn’t. So instead we set out on the road to the town of Celendin.
The road to Celendin is an amazing mountain track which rises to 3600m over the first set of mountains and then drops down to under 900m in a hot and steamy valley at the town of Balsas before rising again over another set of mountains to over 3200m and descends into a lush highland valley where the town of Celendin is found at only 2600m. This is one of the most beautiful drives we’ve ever done.
The surface of the road is in really good condition but at times the road is so narrow, with a 1000m drop off on one side and a sheer cliff rising the other, that when we drove round the corners one of our back wheels would be half off the edge. Hair raising stuff ! There was absolutely no room for mistakes.
As nightfall approached on our first day on the road we had climbed over the first path and were descending into the valley as we looked for somewhere to stop. There were a number of pull offs littered with rocks that had fallen from the cliffs – we weren’t too keen to get a rock through our roof in the night. We eventually found a space next to a small hut that looked deserted.
We had a good nights sleep and in the morning we were preparing to set off when the farmer whose hut we’d slept next to appeared. He was really friendly and surprised to see us I think. He gave us some Avocados from his farm as a gift – these were exceptionally tasty and much better than the shop bought ones !
The second day of driving this road was just as exciting as the first as we hit the valley, crossed the river over a narrow bridge and then started climbing up the next mountain range. We drove through desert avoiding the occasional mixed flock of sheep, donkeys and cows. As we gained altitude the country became greener and we climbed through a beautiful upland valley. At one stage we went over a short bridge that I’m pretty sure was not designed for 8+ tonnes.
After reaching the top again at over 3200m we could see the town of Celendin below us. We had been told the road widens out here but we weren’t bargaining on roadworks leading to a diversion through some small local towns and up a singletrack road for 18km before reaching the main road which was under pretty heavy construction – this will be paved in the next few years.
Unfortunately this main road, although wide, was very potholed and not an enjoyable drive at all. Eventually though we reached the town of Cajamarca and the pavement, a few km’s before town, which was well received after a couple of hundred km’s of dirt. Cajamarca is a big town with a mall, supermarket and a decent price for fuel !
This loop from the coast through Chachapoyas, Celendin and to Cajamarca is a beautiful drive and is wholly recommended for anyone in Northern Peru.