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 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.
- 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.