Posts Tagged ‘trail’

The Biggest Fortress in Peru

Contrary to popular belief, Machu Pichu is not the biggest stone structure in the country. In fact, the biggest stone structure is located on the opposite side of the country altogether! That structure is the massive fortress of Kuelap.
You’ll probably have arrived first the wonderful city of Chachapoyas, a name shared by the ancient inhabitants who also constructed Kuelap. From your hostel in Chachapoyas, you can hire a taxi or go with one of the many, many tour operators who offer service to the fortress. The tourist office is located right on the corner of Independence Square, and you can get all your info there.

Fachada este de la fortaleza de Kuélap.

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If you don’t reserve a trip with one of the tour operators, you could always go early in the morning to the far northeast corner of the plaza, where many drivers yell out their price to Kuelap. Remember to take some food and water with you, because the pickings are slim once you’re at the fortress.
The road up to the fort’s perch is long and winding. The landscape gives you the feeling of immensity, and the near-vertical drops that arrive right up to the road are damningly frightening. Perhaps your driver will stop and share some coca leaves with you on the way!
When you get to the fortress entrance, there’s a small hut where you pay, and a several locals offering horseback rides to the entrance. The ticket to get in will cost 12 sols, or 6 if you have a student card.
You’ll walk for about 30 minutes up a hill to get to the fortress. There, llamas graze at the base of the towering yellowish walls. The thing is HUGE. You have to spend another 10 minutes just to circle the thing to the entrance.
You’ll simply melt at the views from up on top of the fortress. It is a vast complex that was inhabited as a fortified city by the Chachapoyas people. You’ll want to catch your breath before spending the hour or so it takes to see the whole thing. Don’t forget to take a photo of yourself as proof for Pariwana’s Challenge.
As viagra uk delivery you’re a die-hard backpacker, perhaps you will have opted to hike the several hours it takes up the footpath from the town below. Your reward will be spell-binding!

The Northern Highlands; Kuelap & Chachapoyas

Want to travel off the beaten track? Then check out Peru’s northern heritage! In these majestic Northern Highlands you find yourself on a challenging and deserted backpackers track. Covered by cloudy mountains in the middle of the mysterious jungle there is no end to its natural beauty while you stay in basic hostels. Top this up with one of the worlds’ greatest waterfalls and amazing ruins equalling Machu Picchu and you can see the adventure.

This not often visited area was once home to a civilization referred to as the Warriors of the Clouds (The Chachapoyas). That is, before they got conquered by the powerful Inca civilization. These ancient civilizations left some gems of culture behind in a gorgeous environment, to be explored by the adventurous backpacker. And believe us, it will be worth your while!

Starting point: Chachapoyas, capital of the Amazonas

The relatively small capital of the Northern Highlands was housesinclifffounded in 1538 and appropriately called Chachapoyas (or Chacha, as called by the locals). This city functions as starting point to move on to all the smaller villages and cities around the region. You might find it here a bit cooler than other areas in Peru, with an average of 18 degrees on the meter. In some areas it even gets down to freezing point, so don’t forget to bring some warm clothes!

There are plenty of things to do in Chachapoyas and around. Start off on one of the many breath taking mountain tracks through the region, stop by the legendary Cuyana fountain or explore one of the many caves just outside the city.

Around Chachapoyas are some of Peru’s best hidden gems; the fortress of Kuelap, better known as the undiscovered Machu Picchu of the north and the amazing Gocta waterfall, one of the biggest ones in the world.

fortressKuelap, the Machu Picchu of the north

The city of Kuelap is only a few hours away from Chachapoyas and is known as the archaeological hot spot of Peru. The excavation of Kuelap’s fortress continues on a daily basis, revealing an amazing sight in the mountainous Northern Highlands. This sight receives few visitors on a yearly basis and is considered the “Machu Picchu without the crowds”. In comparison, this site receives some 20,000 visitors on a yearly basis against 1 million per year in Machu Picchu. And with a variety of basic backpacker hostels around, you don’t need to worry too much about planning out your entire trip, just go with the flow!fortress2

No matter how many ruins you may have seen along your travels, Kuelap should be on your to-do list when visiting these Highlands, as the combination of a stunning environment combined with an adventurous trek and ancient building structures is a unique experience!

The huge Gocta Waterfall

The amazingly tall Gocta waterfall has been kept a secret until only a few years ago and astounding backpackers ever since. With its 771 meters in height, this waterfall ranks amongst the highest in the entire world.
The sound on the bottom of the waterfall displays an amazing thundering sound and clouds of rain in your face. Check out our video and article about the Gocta Waterfall.

Other places
There are also other amazing sights, like an ancient fortress, burial complexes, caves, more waterfalls and so on. Below we compiled a short list of great stops along the way that are worth visiting, depending on your time schedule.

  • Visit the cultural burial sight of “Sarcophagus of Kirajía”
  • Take a trek to the unforgettable Lake of Condors
  • Be amazed in the wilderness of the Gran Vilaya Valley
  • Cerro Olan
  • Levanto, Jalca Grande & Yalape
  • Revash (painted burial site in the cliffs)
  • Quiocta Caves


You will find the Northern Highlands around 1,000 kilometres north of the capital Lima. You can either take a bus (16 hours from Lima) or plane to Chachapoyas (1 hour, although they don’t run that often).

If you want to find out more on how to get there and how to get around in this great region of Peru, you can check out our video and article on recommendations to explore Kuelap, Gocta and around.

Backpacking the ruins of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu, according to us the most amazing world’s ancient gem, towering out impressively over the Peruvian jungle and endless mountains. Machu Picchu is well deserved one of the New Wonders of the World in this unique location, descending from the rich Inca culture.

In this magical place a lot of backpackers experience the mystical Inca spirit and presence that still surrounds this wonderful place. The great ruins of Machu Picchu are well hidden in the mountains around Cusco, where you can find our award winning hostel Pariwana Cusco.

The area around Cusco and Machu Picchu is considered by many as the belly-button of the world, with the center exactly located in Machu Picchu. The ruins have attracted a lot of tourism in the last few decades, but then again, you simply can’t argue whether to visit this sight or not. This is a must for anyone backpacking in South America!

As you can see in the above posted video, there are three main ways to get from our hostel in main stop Cusco to the ruins of Machu Picchu, here a short recap. To get a taste of this juicy adventure you should choose the way of getting there depending on how much time you have at hand and how adventurous you are.

The cheapest option is the fastest and with most comfort. The two alternatives may cost a bit more, but as you can see in the video, the challenge and experience of trekking through the jungle around Machu Picchu is an unforgettable experience!

#1 do it cheap and fast, take the train & bus!
If you are a bit tight on travel time or budget, you can take the train option up to the ruins. Start off by taking a bus trip from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, which will take you just under 2 hours. From here you can start the train to the sight, take the train to Aguas Calientes, which will cost you around $64 for a 2 hour round trip.

When you arrive, the ruins are only 20 minutes away by bus. With an entrance fee to Machu Picchu of $44 this option will cost you in total just over $120. This trip from Cusco can be done within a day, if you are willing to wake up at 5am and return at approximately midnight the same day.

#2 take the adventurous Inka trail through the jungle

If you haven’t spent your last money on some beers in our great Pariwana hostel Cusco and you are not too pressed for time, than definitely try to take the very famous Inca trail up to Machu Picchu.This means trekking through the former Inca occupied jungle for a few days to arrive at the astonishing sight of Machu Picchu.

For this great adventure you also start off with the almost 2hour during bus ride to Ollantaytambo. From there you will be trekking, climbing, jumping, puffing and enjoying it under guidance of an experienced guide until you hit Machu Picchu from different angles along the way.
The trekking will take you in total 3 days of heavy trekking and 3 nights of snoozing in the Peruvian jungle, before you enjoy your last day in Machu Picchu and conquering this intense experience. All by all, the total costs for this option are around $230, including entrance to the park and return.

#3 going extreme on an unforgettable bike/trek tour
The last option to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu is also the most challenging backpacker journey. Going on a gorgeous bicycle tour through the jungle, before heading further by foot when the jungle becomes inaccessible for the bikes.

To kick off this adventure you first need to take a 3 hour bus trip to Abra Malaga from Cusco, to start a great 5 hour biking experience to Santa Maria and subsequently trek to Machu Picchu. On this route you will see some great views of Machu Picchu from a variety of angles as you near the ruins bit by bit. This incredible trip takes you, like option #2, 4 days and 3 nights and will cost you around $250 including entrance and return.

Once you arrive in Machu Picchu, also consider hiking up to the peak above Machu Picchu, named Huayna Picchu. This is a 2 hour amazing hike, accessed from within the park, to check out Machu Picchu from different angles.

The Gocta Waterfall

On your list of Peru’s must-be-explored natural wonders, the Gocta Waterfall should definately hit your top three! The waterfall has an astounding height of 771 metres and has been a well hidden secret for many years untill it got uncovered from Peru’s northern jungle in 2003. You can find the Gocta waterfall just outside Chachapoyas, in the Northern Highlands.


Be smart and leave your heavy packs in your hostel in Chachapoyas or Cocachimba. Be prepared for a short bus ride from Chachapoyas to arrive in Cocachimba.  From there a gorgeous 2,5 hour hike follows to be amazed at the botom of this amazing Gocta waterfall.

The hike

The hike from Cocachimba to the Gocta Waterfall is probably the best selling point that local guides use. This does not mean you will need a guide per se – on your own is no problem, just be safe! Don’t forget to take your camara and some batteries as you will keep on clicking your camara non-stop. From one valley, to another incredible steep mountaintrack, the challenges and amazing views follow eachother up minute after minute!

Your destination: amazement

After climbing, jumping, running and rubbing your painfull jaws that probably have been open the entire hike, the reward awaits: the Gocta Waterfall in full glory, looking up up and up to be marvelled with every of its 771 metres. You can play around in the water, take a shower or simply enjoy the beauty of nature .

At least have a breather, as another trip is waiting, your return! The 2,5 hour walk to get there can either be repeated on a hike back to Cocachimba, or you can smartly arrange for horses that can take you back.

If you want to find out more about this gorgeous area, then also check out our video and article about the places to see in the Northern Highlands. Or read our article on how to get around in Peru’s Northern Highlands.


Recommendations to explore Kuelap, Gocta & around

cavesLooking to explore the undiscovered jungle of Peru? Well, here we have some very practical tips to backpack to and around the Northern Highlands. For stunning views, the most recommendable route to reach Chachapoyas, the capital of the Amazonas in the Northern Highlands, is through Chiclayo. Take a bus from Lima to Chiclayo, and then another bus from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas.

From Lima it will take you around 10 hours by bus to get to Chiclayo, costing around US$ 30. From Chiclayo the bus ride will take you around 12 more hours to reach Chachapoyas.

So how many days do you need for this adventurous experience?

tostayThis depends on how you travel; on a time schedule, or wondering freely around without any constraints. Let’s look at both options. If you want to take a quick tour visiting only some of the highlights we can recommend you to stay 5 to 6 days, visiting at least Chachapoyas, the fortress in Kuelap and the Gocta Waterfall. These three places mark the must-sees while backpacking in the north!

But if you are looking for a more Indiana Jones alike experience, visit also places like thhe Great Vilaya Valley and the Lake of Condors. You can stay at least 2 weeks highly entertained in this challenging terrain!

Let’s give you some practical pointers on how exactly to get around in the Northern Highlands.

How to hop from A to B in the Northern Highlands


The capital of this region is Chachapoyas. We also take this as the starting point to get to all the different places in the Northern Highlands (described below). In this city you will find plenty of locl touristic agencies that could take you to all the below spots, so feel free to arrive without an agenda or previously purchased tours.

kuella_fortressThe fortress of Kuelap

In this location you’ll find a great fortress, also known as the Machu Picchu of the north. This is worth a full day trip from Chachapoyas. To get to the fortress, take a local bus from Chachapoyas to the town of Tingo. Here your journey starts; a 2,5 hour trek (8 kilometres) to get to the fortress. The track is an adventurous and rough hike through the wild. You do not really need a guide, although some people do arrange this, mainly from Chachapoyas. Alternatively, you can take a car ride from Tingo which takes you around 1 hour to get to the fortress.

If this is intriguing for you, then check out our awesome video and article about the Northern Highlands right here!

Gocta Waterfall

This is one of the worlds’ highest waterfalls and worth a daytrip from Chachapoyas. The waterfall is a short bus ride north of Chachapoyas, dropping you off in Cocachimba. From that point on, you will a have a challenging hike ahead (+/- 2,5 hrs.), with a breath taking waterfall scenery as “grand finale”. Expect to see birds, butterflies, local producers of sugar cane local alcohols and the real Peruvian jungle.
Check out our great video and article of the Gocta waterfall right here!.

The Lake of Condors / Lake of Mummies

This lake is known for its 200 some mummies and more than 3000 Chachapoyas & Inca artefacts that have been found in the banks of the lake. First travel to the town of Leimebamba, which is around 3 hours south from Chachapoyas by bus or car. From here you can get to the lake on a hike of around three days Check out one of the many travel agents in the area to verify the exact times of this trek.

Gran Vilaya Valleyclimb
This almost untouched valley is covered by rough terrain, mainly accessible by walking or horse. It lies between 1 and 3 days west of Chachapoyas, depending on whether you take a bus, car or want to stretch your legs for a hike.

Revash is a full day trip from either Chachapoyas and Leimebamba. Revash is located on a 3,5 hour steep hike from the Leimebamba – Chachapoyas highway, right at the turnoff for Santo Domingo.

This is a full day trip from Chachapoyas. To get here take a minibus from Chachapoyas to the villages of Luya (50 minutes) and from there take another one via Cohechán to San Miguel de Cruzpata (another 50 minutes). From here you need to confront a 45-minute walk to reach the site. After the other walks, this should be a walk in the park for the true backpacker!

When (not) to go, hiding from the rain

Finally, beware of the rain…and with that, the roads! The climate in the mountains of the Northern Highlands is totally different than in the rest of Peru. You are basically dealing with a dry and a wet season, rather than the regular four seasons. The dry season is by far the most comfortable to travel in this region, this is between May and October.

But if you don’t mind taking the adventurous route, the wet season is great for the true adventurer as usually you won’t see that many mountainviewbackpackers around in this season. Keep in mind that the ancient route from Cajamarca to Chachapoyas might be temporarily closed in the wet season.

During the wet season the transport over the road can take a bit longer, as not all the roads are 100% perfectly paved yet. And yes, even these bumpier rides add to the experience of backpacking Peru, as you’ll end up finding the undiscovered secrets of The Northern Highlands!