Gran Vilaya

Northern Highlands

The name Gran Vilaya refers to the bountiful valleys that spread out west of Chachapoyas, reaching toward the rushing Río Marañón. Abutting the humid Amazon, this region sits in a unique microcosm of perennially moist high-altitude tropics and cloud forests – an ecological anomaly that gave rise to the moniker of the Chachapoyas culture, 'People of the Clouds.'

The fertility of this lush area was never a big secret – the valleys successfully supported the huge populations of the Chachapoyas and Inca cultures, and to date more than 30 archaeological sites have been found dotting the mountains. Important sites such as Paxamarca, Pueblo Alto, Pueblo Nuevo and Pirquilla lie connected by winding goat-tracks as they did hundreds of years ago, completely unexcavated, and can be visited on multiday hikes. Immaculately constructed Inca roads weave up and around the hills, past many ruined cities camouflaged by centuries of jungle.

The impossibly green and silt-filled Valle de Belén lies at the entrance of Gran Vilaya. The flat valley floor here is dissected by the mouth of the widely meandering Río Huaylla, coiled like a languid serpent. Filled with grazing cattle and horses, and surrounded on all sides by mist-covered hills, the vistas here are mesmerizing.

Most travel agencies in Chachapoyas offer multiday trekking tours of this region with the classic four-day circuit (S720 per person) beginning at Cohechán and ending at Kueláp via Choctámal. Hikers should be in good physical condition as the trek requires some serious ascents at altitude.