Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Peru's Northern Highlands

Megan snaps a selfie in front of Kuélap's cloud forest Megan snaps a selfie in front of Kuélap's cloud forest © Megan Eaves

Megan Eaves, Destination Editor for North Asia, recently returned from a trip to Peru’s Northern Highlands.

Tell us more… In many ways a dream trip, I spent a week in Peru, visiting the lesser-known Northern Highlands (the Amazonas region) and also taking in the urban landscape of capital city Lima. It was my first visit to South America and I’ve definitely got the bug to explore more of that continent.

In a nutshell… This wasn’t your stereotypical Peru trip: no Inca Trail, no Machu Picchu. Instead, we spent our days in what’s known as the ‘cloud forest’ – a high-altitude mountainous region that straddles Peru’s arid strip of the Andes and its dense Amazonian jungle. Hiking to (and repelling down) waterfalls, horse trekking and spotting the rare cock-of-the-rock, Peru’s bright orange national bird, was how I spent most of my time there.

The Gocta Waterfall spotted through the dense Peruvian rainforest The Gocta Waterfall spotted through the dense Peruvian rainforest © Megan Eaves

Defining moment? This part of Peru is still very much developing. Sights are spread out and the region is very mountainous. We spent a lot of time driving from place to place, seeing the incredible Andean landscape from inside a van, winding up and around bumpy (dirt!) roads into lost valleys and next to rushing teal rivers.

Good grub? Peru is gaining a well-deserved international reputation as a foodie wonderland, boasting several key ingredients that have helped nurture a great food culture: coastline, mountains full of weird and wonderful herbs and spices and the cooking traditions of ancient civilisations. I could live on fresh ceviche (raw fish dressed with onions, lime, vinegar and herbs)! We also got a chance to eat at two gourmet restaurants in Lima, including a knock-out five-course dinner at Fiesta Chiclayo Gourmet and a 10-course tasting lunch at Astrid y Gastón, which is on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list this year. I had to be rolled back to my hotel bed after both of those.

Caspiroleta de Hormigas, a Peruvian cocktail using ants as an ingredient This Peruvian cocktail might make your skin crawl © Megan Eaves

Bizarre encounter? Pisco sour might be Peru’s national cocktail (and it is delicious and ubiquitous), but you can’t get weirder than a giant-ant cocktail. The Caspiroleta de Hormigas is a cocoa, cinnamon alco-treat with a twist: ants macerated into the liqueur. The glass is rimmed with whole (dead, mercifully) giant ants. It tastes nice, but I wasn’t brave enough to eat a whole ant.

You’d be a muppet to miss… Kuélap. In many ways similar to Machu Picchu, Kuélap is one of Peru’s most significant archaeological sites. It was built by the Chachapoyas people starting in the 500s. Staggeringly, it sits on the top of a peak, 3000 metres up in the cloud forest, and the settlement is full of round homes and religious structures. The Chachapoyas people have been called the ‘Warriors of the Clouds’, and on the day I visited, a misty shroud had settled over the whole of Kuélap, giving it an ethereal atmosphere. There is a new cable car that has eased access here and also gives you a breathtaking (in my case, literally) ride over the Utcubamba Valley.

A herd of llamas wander the scenic grounds of Gocta Lodge Gocta Lodge boasts a beautiful pool, stunning views and marauding llamas © Megan Eaves

Best stay? Gocta Lodge in the village of Cocachimba. The pool overlooking Gocta Waterfall and the valley is Instagram fodder, but the whole stay was fab, from breakfast with that view to the comfy beds and a fridge full of Peruvian craft beer.

Fave activity? Horse trekking to Gocta Waterfall, one of Peru’s longest. My horse was a tough little grey gelding named Copito (Snowflake) who walked at his own pace and didn’t like the mules in front of him. There is also very little light pollution in this part of Peru, so I was stargazing every night.

Watch the interview

Megan Eaves travelled to Peru with support from PROMPERÚ. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what Key Account Manager Alex MacLeish got up to on her recent trip to Jura, Scotland.