If you had just one week in Peru - where would you go? I bet Macchu Picchu.
Macchu Picchu is still the most recognized symbol of the ancient South American civilizations and most often it gets included in the itineraries by default. How can you say you’ve been to Peru, but haven’t visited Macchu Picchu?
Well, that happened to us and we’re very happy with the alternatives we took. We did have Macchu Picchu on our list when we started our South America trip, but every time we heard some other traveler’s story about their visit to Macchu Picchu we were getting more and more frustrated. It sounded very much like visiting Times Square in NYC or Eifel Tower in Paris. I do appreciate both, but these places are becoming harder and harder to enjoy. So we decided to go for the alternatives which in Peru are plenty, but often overlooked in the shadows of Macchu Picchu.
Kuelap was one of them. Kuelap is the ancient center of Chachapoyas indians culture - much older one than Incas (dating back to 800AD). Chachapoyas indians were “cloud people” - rightfully so because their cities literally live in the clouds high up in the mountains.
To get to Kuelap, you’ll first need to get to Chachapoyas town - it is connected to Tarapoto town which in turn is connected to Yurimaguas Amazon river port, and it’s connected to the west by a local road to Chiclayo (there are regular buses from Chiclayo and from Terapoto)
From Chachapoyas you can take combis (public minibus) that takes you close enough to Kuelap to walk, however Chachapoyas Backpackers hostel offers group transport and guides that are very affordable for any backpacker. The trip takes about 2-3 hours and the road to the cloud city is spectacular.
Kuelap is a walled city that sits on a cliff in a remote mountainous area which made it difficult for the following civilizations- the Incas and the Spanish - to conquer it. The only access to the city is a single path up the mountain, all other slopes are too steep to walk or climb. It’s a magnificent structure with most of the citizen houses and governor building bases still visible.
The origins of Chachapoyas are not known, however the older texts written by Spanish explorers describe Chachapoyas indians as predominantly fair skinned, light haired and with blue eyes which is characteristic to Northern Europeans. There are also some theories about the vikings being somehow involved because the method of building (stone circle shape houses) resembles historic viking structures.
The entire area has a surrealistic feel to it - the jungle has taken over many of the city areas producing spectacular landscape designs and mysterious aura surrounding the entire area.
This was an amazing trip in the privacy of about 20 other travelers vs. thousands of people visiting Macchu Picchu every day. Go for the underrated!
This story is written by our team behind What's It Like - helping travelers figure out when to go.