The modern cosmopolitan Lima proudly shows itself along robust cliffs and a rough coastline of the Pacific Ocean. Under a nice mild climate with sunny summers, Lima is becoming the new must-see stop for all backpackers.
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 founded 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.
Kuelap, 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!
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.
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.
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.
In active Lima you can find our trendy backpacker hostel right in the epicentre of very safe Miraflores, The hot-spot where everything happens in Lima. Our top location is situated in an impressive building constructed in the 1920’s with the biggest terrace in Miraflores. The hostel has an excellent view of the central park in Miraflores, where you can always find local music and art. To top it off, it is not for nothing that we keep receiving a top-score of 93% as average impression from all our visitors on Hostelworld.com, not to speak of our award winning Cusco location!
South of Lima you will find the amazing Desert Coast of Peru, existing out of some great mystical sights. The mysterious Nazca Lines are probably the most known site, existing out of a series of giant ancient symbols that can only be seen from high up in an airplane.
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.
Our hostel in Cusco your main stop to travel to Machu Picchu and well deserved one of the highest rated hostels in entire South America by the world’s main hostel booking sites. Situated in a huge 400 year old colonial mansion, it has won the award of best 2010 hostel in Peru by Hostelworld and 2nd best hostel in all South America by Hostelbookers in the category of best atmosphere. Read more about this in our article about the awards that our great hostel has won.
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 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.