The city of Jaen (or Jaen de Bracamoros, to give it its full name) is the capital of Jaen Province in the Cajamarca Region of Peru. At an altitude of 740 m (2,428 ft) above sea level, it is considered High Jungle, but the landscape around the town is primarily undulating hillsides with dry scrub, riverside marshes and rice fields.
The city has an agreeable climate and a population of around 150,000 people, who pride themselves on their hospitality. It has traditionally been well off the tourist routes. However, this is likely to change with the start of direct daily flights to and from Lima, making the city and its environs much more accessible.
The history of Jaen dates back to the Late Horizon period, between 1,000 and 1,500 B.C. Evidence of this has recently been found at the ancient pyramid complexes of Montegrande and San Isidro, in the Jaen Valley, where pottery in the style of pre-Chavin cultures has been uncovered.
These investigations were also significant, in that the large mounds here revealed evidence of monumental architecture, which had previously been thought not to have reached the Amazon region in the pre-Columbian period. Ramps, and walls of up to 1 m (3 ft) in thickness were revealed, and there were signs of successive building phases stretching back some 2,800 years.
There are a number of other pre-Columbian sites in the region, such as the cemetery of Turuco, in Bellavista, and Ingatambo, in Pomahuaca. These have been little-studied, and are likely to reveal more insights into the network of trading and cross-cultural fertilization throughout ancient Peru.
The Incas did try to conquer the region, during the reign of Huayna Capac, but were repelled by the Jivaros, an Amazonian people that inhabited the area. Nonetheless, Inca influence can be found in the ceremonial artefacts.
The Conquistadors had more success in subjugating the Jivaro people and founded the city of Jaen, in honour of the Spanish town of the same name, in 1549.
A potted collection of the region's archaeology and ethnology can be found at Hermogenes Mejia Solf Regional Museum, located a short distance outside Jaen city.
Other urban highlights include a modern, but pleasant Plaza de Armas, with greenery and a fountain. It is overlooked by the Cathedral, which contains a stature of the Lord of Huamantanga, the patron saint of the city, among other works of art.
There is a Botanical Garden, on the outskirts of Jaen, which boasts more than 600 varieties of regional plants.
However, the real attraction of Jaen is its proximity to a myriad of little-visited, natural wonders. It offers a gateway to the riches of Amazonas, such as Kuelap and Gocta Falls, with the city of Chachapoyas a four-hour drive away. And the border with Ecuador, at La Balza, is only four hours north, on a paved road.
Yet, without leaving Cajamarca Region, there are plenty of highlights. Gotas de Agua is a private Equatorial Dry Forest reserve 7 km ( 4 miles) from Jaen city, which is the best birding site in north Cajamarca.
25 km (16 miles) from the city are the Almendral Hot Springs, whose water is rich in health-giving sulphur and iron.
Located only three hours West of Jaen, Huamantanga Forest is the source of the Amoju River and one of the province's small ecological paradises, hosting a diversity of orchids, birds such as the Cock-of-the-Rock, and mammals such as the Spectacled Bear, among other natural attractions.
50 km (31 miles) to the South of Jaen, lies Cutervo National Park, the oldest protected area in Peru. Located between 2,200 m and 3,500 m above sea level, the micro-climate ensures almost year-round moisture, and a flora rich in epiphytes.
Of the many endangered species to be found in the park, the Oilbird (Steatornis caripensis) is one of the most interesting, being the only nocturnal, flying, fruit-eating bird in the world. During the day they sleep in caves, and at night they use echolocation (like a bat) to orient themselves in the search for the fruits of oil palms and tropical laurels.
Typical of High Jungle landscapes, there are also a large number of scenic waterfalls - including La Bella Encantadora, La Momia, San Andres, Velo de la Novia, La Yunga, Calabozo, and Chorro Blanco - within reach of Jaen.
Jaen is the jumping-off point for a couple of PeruNorth tours:
- Kuelap & Gocta Express 4D / 5D / 6D: a Chachapoyas highlights tour, taking advantage of the flights between Lima and Jaen.
- Southern Ecuador 4D / 5D: an overland tour into Ecuador's little-visited, but fascinating, Southern region, ending in Guayaquil.
It is also visited on our Birding itineraries, as its riverside, marsh, dry bush and scrub habitats offer a variety of bird-spotting opportunities. Even if you are not a birder, Jaen itself easily merits a day or two of exploration, before heading onwards.