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The road from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas

by Jessie Kwak | 17 February 2010 4 Comments

It’s hard to admire the view while pretending your bus isn’t clinging to a mere ribbon of road floating above a thousand meter drop, but the scenery between Cajamarca and Chachapoyas is nothing if not admirable. The road is gashed across the mountainside, a single lane of hairpin curves that winds through an amazing cross section of Peruvian microclimates, from terraced farmland to arid desert, from semi-tropical fruit groves to fog-shrouded cloud forests.

Way down.

Our 2007 guidebook (and most websites I checked) still say that the road is in poor condition and buses are infrequent, but within the past few years the road has been reworked to make it safer, and transportation options have improved. (For a flowery description of this route, check out my article in November 2009 for Living In Peru.)

This route was made for a roadtrip. If you had your own form of transportation this would be an awesome place to explore, but since Rob and I have been bus sort of people this trip, I’ll refer roadtrippers to Kojin’s excellent description of driving this route. If you’re busing it, though, this is what you should know:

Getting from here to there: bus logistics

Bus logic.

Start in Cajamarca: Several bus companies (all located near the 4th block of Av. Atahualpa) ferry passengers every day through sleepy Andean scenery from Cajamarca to Celendin (3 hours, S/.10 [$3.50]), though Movil Tours is the only one I found that goes straight through to Chachapoyas (12 hours, S/.45 [$16.50]).

  • Movil Tours: Leaves from Cajamarca every morning at 6am, barring bad weather in the rainy season. Passes through Celendín at 9am, and Leymebamba around 3pm. Address: 4th block of Av. Atahualpa. Tel: +51 (041) 47-8545.
  • Virgen del Carmen: Leaves from Celendín Sunday, Wednesday and Friday at 9am. Both bus companies stop for a quick lunch break about an hour after crossing the Marañon River. (S/.30 [$10.50]) Tel: +51 (041) 79-3558.

Start in Chachapoyas: From Chachapoyas it’s possible to take combis to Leymebamba, or get on one of the Celendín- or Cajamarca-bound buses. The trip takes about 3 hours to Leymebamba, or 8 hours to Celendín.

  • Movil Tours: Leaves Chachapoyas every day at 6am. Address: La Libertad 464.
  • Virgen del Carmen: Leaves Chachapoyas Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 5am. Address: Salamanca 956.

Finding adventure along the way.

Finding the adventure in the hills of Celendin.

Celendín and Leymebamba are the two best places to break up the trip—both are quite interesting for exploring traditional Andean villages and ancient ruins, and are great places for hiking and trekking.

Celendín: hot springs, burial towers, and Andean life.

Celendín (1000 meters) is quiet town of about 15,000 people with plenty of restaurants and basic hotels within a few blocks of the Plaza de Armas. The rural villages nestled in the hills above can be reached by combi or taxi for a few soles, and the trails through the countryside are a pleasant place for a stroll. Other attractions take a bit more effort to reach, as there is no organized tourism in the area. Check out CelendinPeru.com (English) or Cajamarca-Sucesos.com (Spanish) for more information on local sites such as the hot springs of the Valley of Llanguat or the Chullpas (mausoleums) de la Chocta.

Leymebamba: trekking, mummies, and ruins

The area around Leymebamba (2200 meters) is especially interesting for those who want to explore the pre-Inca culture of the Chachapoyas people. In 1996 a group of farmers discovered a group of chullpas (mausoleums) by the Laguna de los Condores, with more than 200 mummies entombed inside. These are now being studied in the Museo Leymebamba, which is located a few kilometers outside of town.

The hike out to Laguna de los Condores requires a minimum of three days. If you have time, other less famous but equally interesting sites such as Chuquibamba, the burial sites of La Petaca and Diablo Huasi, and the valley of Atuen can be accessed through another three- to four-day hike.

Though there are no tour agencies in Leymebamba, so ask at the hotels La Casona de Leymebamba or Laguna de Los Condores, or the Museo Leymebamba, to be connected with a guide. Alternatively, you can arrange your visit through an agency in Chachapoyas.

Travel in the rainy season

Pavement is cool.

One caution: heavy rains during the rainy season can cause landslides, which are normally cleared out quickly. Always check ahead with locals about road conditions (call the bus companies: Virgen del Carmen (041) 79-3558 or Movil Tours (041) 47-8545, or shoot an email to one of the organizations listed in this article, or to the friendly folks at Vilaya Tours in Chachapoyas).

If in doubt about the condition of this road, consider going through Chiclayo/Pedro Ruiz in order to reach Chachapoyas, instead (the whole road is paved). Be safe, but don’t let a bit of rain deter you!

Written by Jessie Kwak

I am a farm girl who moved to the big city, and then just kept right on moving. I love camping, hoppy beer, and good conversations. See all posts by


  • ALEJANDRO said:

    Just a note; Celendín 2625 meters above sea level.
    Alejandro (Peru)

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    […] Unpaved South America – this is an awesome blog by a couple going to all the out-of-the-way places. They spent a lot of time in Peru, so they have a ton of info. We found Susan in Celendín through their blog. […]

  • Chelsey said:

    I just took this route from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas and it was absolutely breath taking. From Cajamarca to Celendin–I took a combi for just ten soles, they run all day and the taxi drivers are sure to know where to drop you off to catch one of these. They are located on Atahualpa.

    From Celendin to Chachapoyas I bought a bus ticket for 30 soles, the ride was on a single lane perfectly paved road on the edge of a cliff. The views were phenomenal. There were several stops to use the restroom and eat. The bus took 8 hours to reach Chachas. Beware if you get motion sickness as it is a verrrry windy road. I do, and I was okay but had a plastic bag on me just in case.

  • Sarah said:

    Great work.

    I visit Chachapoyas from Tarapoto last month and the road is very good.

    I recommend visiting Cuispes and incredible forest of giant waterfalls, very near from Pedro Ruiz and Chachapoyas. In this small village you can do The best trek ever. This trek follows a narrow ledge with cliffs soaring 1000 feet above and below, with the waterfalls crashing on it and falling below. This ledge is covered in a Pristine Amazon Forest (uncut forests are rare in the Amazon). The ledge also has 5 exotic endangered species including the world’s most exotic bird, the world’s most endangered primate, and an owl the size of a wren.

    In Cuispes you can find Yumbilla waterfalls 895 meters, Chinata waterfalls 580 meters, Pabellón waterfall 400 meters and many others waterfalles, amazing place.

    This is my blog for this trip: