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Chachapoyas, Peru

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

All its tourist attractions: the fortress of Kuelap, which is considered the Machu Picchu of Northern Peru, the mysterious sarcophagi of Karajia, the cave of Quiocta and the Cañon de Huancas Sonche through my filming adventure story. Definitely one of my greatest travel favourites.

Forteresse de Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Pérou
Fortress of Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Peru

Choice of transport

During my first visit to Peru in 2014, I had not had the time (or taken the time) to visit the region of Chachapoyas and its fortress, Kuelap. Proudly proclaimed “the Machu Picchu of Northern Peru”, this ancient city has everything to make you dream. However, only by the distance that must be traveled to be able to visit it, more than one traveler drops the idea of going there. Wrong, believe me! Yes, of course, it takes 24 hours by bus from the capital to the city of Chachapoyas… But the tourist buses in Peru impressed us with their comfort. Without wanting to advertise too much, I highly recommend Civa! Each time, we have been satisfied with the value for money and for long journeys, films and meals are served on board and included in the ticket price. The big class for only $40, what! Obviously, if you want camas (bed seats), you will have to pay a little more, but it is still inexpensive for the offer. Something that must have improved over the years in Peru because I remember that in 2014 my girlfriends and I really hated bus transport, with anecdotes such as: non-functional toilets without stops for more than 12 hours , seats that smell of old ham cheese sandwich or bus drivers who leave without waiting for you during a toilet stop! Brief! Nothing happens for nothing. Now I know it and you know it too. If you go to Peru, definitely use Civa or Cruz del Sur!

organized Tours or not?

We are not fans of organized tours, because first of all, they always go too fast for capturing images for films and we must admit that we do not like to follow in single file. On the other hand, in the Amazonas region, you will not be disappointed to have taken an organized tour for your activities. To have a guide that answers your questions is one of the reasons, it is always the best reason. As far as transport is concerned, unless you have your own car, I remember congratulating myself on having paid for the organized tours, because you have to tell yourself, it's not driving easy, through the mountains and in addition, in the surroundings of the 3500 m of altitude. The tourist attractions are very far from the city of Chachapoyas (a few hours) and between them too (a few more hours). So you will be able to regain energy that will have been stolen from you by altitude sickness during bus journeys. The choice is yours, but I think the most sensible choice would be to take the organized tours!

Kuelap Fortress

Forteresse de Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Pérou
Fortress of Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Peru

We are therefore about to discover the people of the Chachapoyas, an Andean people who existed approximately from the year 800 to 1500 of our era. They are a misunderstood people, because the main sources about them are those that have come down to us from their rivals, the Incas, as well as the Spanish conquistadors. The word Chachapoyas means: “people of cloud flowers”. Their civilization disappeared like about all pre-Columbian peoples in history, assimilated by a more powerful civilization. We learned something that day that made us appreciate the civilization of the Incas more: the Incas did not like to annihilate those they converted; they preferred to improve what they already had. This is why their empire had become so big... the civilizations that preceded them could evolve while benefiting from the genius of the Incas!

Forteresse de Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Pérou
Fortress of Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Peru

Kuelap Fortress is considered the Machu Picchu of northern Peru, with good reason. The preservation of this incredible place is impressive. You can still see the architectural details of the walls, the irrigation systems and the ceremonial structures with, we are told, human bones inside, because the people made offerings to the gods there.

We are told that the site was once separated into three: The dwellings, the ceremonial sites and the palaces of the chiefs and that they were around 3000 inhabitants at their peak. The site also offers us a breathtaking panorama of the green and utopian region of Amazonas. I did not ask myself the question several times to know why the civilization of the chachapoyas had decided to live in this place!

Paysage à la Forteresse de Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Pérou
Landscape near Kuelap Fortress, Chachapoyas, Peru

Paysage près de la Forteresse de Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Pérou
Landscape near Kuelap Fortress, Chachapoyas, Peru

Karajia sarcophagi

A few hours' drive further, we would discover mummies with a most intriguing story, still coming from the knowledge of the Chachapoyas. The Karajia mummies are placed in sarcophagi which represent human forms and are almost 2.5 meters high, they survived the looting by their ingenious location, in the middle of a ravine! The head represents a funerary mask and two of them are decorated with a skull. According to archaeologists, these mummies would have been great warriors. Inside each sarcophagus, a single mummy could be inserted in the fetal position. Our guide explained to us that little funding is deployed for this ancestral mystery, because they prefer to put the archaeological budget on Machu Picchu which is, obviously, a much more lucrative activity. The mystery therefore hangs over whether there are mummies in each sarcophagus and what is really inside! All these mysterious details about ancient Peruvian customs fascinated us and we were just beginning to explore…

Sarcophages de Karajia, Pérou
Karajia Sarcophagi, Peru

Quiocta's Cave

On the same day that you discover the sarcophagi, you will go about 30 minutes away to the cave of Quiocta. To tell you, it's not the attraction I was most looking forward to exploring, but I was really surprised! Firstly by the beauty of the surrounding landscape and by the 455 meters of the cellar that can be visited, really added value to my day! We will obviously lend you flashlights and rain boots to accommodate you. The stalagmites and stalactites are sometimes more than 10 meters high, an experience that is truly out of the ordinary!

Paysage près de la caverne de Quiocta
Landscape near the Quiocta cave

Canyon of Huancas Sonche

Back in Chachapoyas, the only attraction left for us to see was the Canyon Huancas Sonche. A small walk of about fifteen minutes to get to the terminus of collectivos will be required on the tiny and cute sidewalks of the city. The canyon is then about ten minutes in the countryside and you have to pay the price which is equivalent to less than a Canadian dollar to be able to appreciate the places. There are watchtowers set up there so that you can safely observe the natural beauty of the surroundings or make it easier to take your selfie… Bring a good windbreaker!

Mimi Tremblay au Cañon de Huancas Sonche
Canyon of Huancas Sonche

But what I think I liked the most about this region is that its authenticity has remained intact. Although it is a tourist place, Chachapoyas is obviously less visited than Cuzco or Lima and I appreciated this retreat in a slightly less touristy region to discover the real Peru, I recommend that you do the same. It's pretty incredible a place like this, despite the tourist traffic of this country, let's enjoy it!

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