This part of Peru hit the spotlight in 1996 when a group of farmers found six chullpas (ancient Andean funerary towers) on a ledge 100m above a cloud-forest lake. The burial site was a windfall for archaeologists, and its 219 mummies and more than 2000 artifacts have given researchers a glimpse past the heavy curtain of history that conceals the details of the Chachapoyas civilization.
So spectacular was the find that a Discovery Channel film was made about it and a museum was built in Leimebamba to house the mummies and cultural treasures. Some of the tombs, plastered and painted in white or red-and-yellow ochre, are decorated with signature Chachapoyas zigzag friezes. All lie huddled against the cliff on a natural ledge overlooking the stunning Laguna de los Cóndores.
The only way to get to the lagoon is by a strenuous nine- to 10-hour journey on foot or horseback from Leimebamba. The standard tour is three days: one day to hike in, a day of sightseeing (including fishing and boating on the lake) and a day hiking out. Horses and guides can be arranged either in Leimebamba or at travel agencies in Chachapoyas. Bank on paying S850 per person.