In 2005, German economist Stefan Ziemendorff, who was working on a wastewater project in Peru, took a break from his work to go for a hike in Peru’s Utcabamba valley in search of one of the region’s abundant pre-Incan ruins.
When he crossed into a blind ravine, he spied something unexpected: a towering, two-tiered waterfall in the distance that hadn’t appeared on any map.
The following March, after he had returned to the site with measuring equipment, Ziemendorff held a press conference to declare to the public that he had discovered the third-tallest waterfall in the world.
The two tiers combined, the water plummets 2,531 feet, the height of well over two Eiffel Towers.
Of course, Ziemendorff’s “discovery” wasn’t actually a discovery at all.
The residents of Cocachimba had known about the waterfall since the 1950s. Their town was located practically right beneath it.
They knew it as “Gocta,” after the sound made by howler monkeys in the region.
But they had mostly avoided the towering waterfall due to superstitions surrounding it. The natural wonder simply blended into the background of their daily life.
FOR THOSE KEEN to avoid the crowds of the Inca Trail, while still enjoying some amazing Inca ruins and Peruvian history and culture, the nine-day Inca Rivers trek is a must-do.
Starting at a heady 2600m at Cachora, the track soon heads further up – and then down; each day you can expect to ascend and then descend anywhere from 500 to 1000m in altitude – over the course of the nine days, before reaching the final destination of Macchu Picchu.
The track’s final destination is, of course, well worth the nine days’ effort, but it is the daily highlights of this trek that make it a worthy Top 10 inclusion.
Most notably, on the third day, hikers reach the ruins of Choquequirao, (see above) estimated to be only 30 per cent uncovered by archaeologists but, once fully cleared, it is claimed this site will be both more complete and larger than Macchu Picchu itself.
Other highlights over the nine days include first descending, then crossing and ascending, two massive river valleys – the Apurimac and the Rio Blanco, where you can camp by the river.
The condor is prevalent in these high mountains so there’s a good chance of spotting both juveniles and adults soaring above on the thermal air currents. The reclusive spectacled bear makes its home here in the high peaks as well, as do jaguar at the lower elevations.
Due to its proximity to the equator, even at high altitudes (the trek reaches a high point of 4660m), the track is often shrouded in lush jungle and rainforest.
The campsites along the way are near very small villages/settlements, and you’ll also become used to seeing Inca stonework daily along the track on each day.
Iquitos is an important port city of the Amazon and Peru’s largest jungle town.
It is located in the Amazon basin at the confluence of the Nanay and Itaya rivers, about 3,700 km upstream from the Atlantic Ocean and 1,030 km north-northeast of Lima.
Surrounded by water on one side and thick amazon rainforest on the rest, the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there, or travel by boat, which takes a full week of floating along the hot and humid Amazon.
With a population of 422,000, it is the largest city in the world that is inaccessible by road.
The area was inhabited for thousands of years by natives and nomadic hunter-gatherers, who lived in small seasonal settlements close to the rivers, before European missionaries arrived and settled the local population around the rivers Nanay, Amazonas and Itaya.
Some say the city was founded by the Jesuit missionaries in the 18th century; others claim that it actually was not founded until nearly a century later.
In any case, the city did not start attracting settlers until the beginning of the 19th century when rubber was discovered.
Thousands of immigrants from around the world, mostly young single men who hoped to make their fortunes in rubber, came and settled here.
The rise of the automobile and related industries had dramatically increased the worldwide demand for rubber.
Some men became merchants and bankers, and made their fortunes that way.
Many of the European men married indigenous women and stayed in Peru the rest of their lives, founding ethnically mixed families.
The immigrants brought European clothing styles, music, architecture and other cultural elements to Iquitos.
The city became wealthy through its rubber industry throughout the rubber boom,
Although unreachable by roads, the city is not without vehicles. Motorcycles and motocarros – a motorcycle with a small, rickshaw-like passenger cabin in the back – dominate the streets, whizzing manically around as if “an American style biker-gang had taken over a city”.