Other Views of Lima

Museo de la Inquisición (The Inquisition Museum)

This museum tells a bit about the history of the Spanish Inquisition in Peru, and shows some of the creative methods used for extracting information (usually confessions related to heresy) from the local population in colonial Lima (1600’s).

The Judgment Hall at the Inquisition Museum.

The Judgment Hall at the Inquisition Museum.

I wouldn't last long in this position.

I wouldn’t last long in this position.

Another means of extracting confessions.

Another means of extracting confessions.

What makes this museum more interesting is that it is the actual location where these forced confessions took place, and you can see some of the original dungeons and torture chambers.

One of the original dungeons at the Inquisition Museum.

One of the original dungeons at the Inquisition Museum.

Display at the Inquisition Museum

Display at the Inquisition Museum

The museum is located in El Centro, near the Plaza de Armas in the historic center of Lima.


Miraflores is a fashionable area of Lima (about 20 minutes by car from El Centro), part of which is located right on the coast, with big hotels, a new multi-level shopping mall and restaurants, parks and museums.

View of the coast in Miraflores.

View of the coast in Miraflores.

Enjoying the view from Tony Roma's in Miraflores.

Enjoying the view from Tony Roma’s in Miraflores.

Miraflores feels “other worldly” compared with the majority of Lima and provides a contrast of the very different economic realities of a small part of the population with the poverty affecting most Peruvians.

A more typical view of a residential area in Lima.

A more typical view of a residential area in Lima.

Sights around the Plaza de Armas, Lima

Lima is about at the midpoint of the coast of Peru, right on the Pacific Ocean.

Lima is about at the midpoint of the coast of Peru, right on the Pacific Ocean.

The Plaza de Armas is the historical center of Lima. It dates from the 16th century, the start of the colonial era of Peru and the beginnings of the city of Lima. Severe earthquakes in 1687, 1746 and 1940 took their toll on this historic area, many buildings were severely damaged or destroyed, but some have survived, and the government has been working to restore many of the historic buildings.

The governmental palace on the historical Plaza de Armas.

The governmental palace on the historical Plaza de Armas.

An example of the excellent restoration work around the Plaza de Armas.

An example of the excellent restoration work around the Plaza de Armas.

There are many old churches near the Plaza de Armas, I’ll share a bit about three below.

The facade of the Iglesia de San Francisco.

The facade of the Iglesia de San Francisco.

Iglesia de San Francisco. This church was built in the 17th century, and contains some fine artwork, including wood carvings in the choir, cloister ceilings, decorative tile and precious metals. I love catacombs and the ones below this church are extensive – the remains of 75,000 people are here. The catacombs are poorly lit and it was hard for me to get pictures (I took a few on my Flip video camera – please forgive the poor quality). The only way to visit the catacombs is via a tour (available in English). Next to the church is a beautiful monastery library with 400 year-old manuscripts but I was not allowed to take pictures there.

The main chapel in the Iglesia de San Francisco.

The main chapel in the Iglesia de San Francisco.

I'm guessing that much of the gold and silver decorating this altar came from Inca artifacts.

I’m guessing that much of the gold and silver decorating this altar came from Inca artifacts.

Note the bowed wall of this church - probably due to earthquakes over the centuries.

Note the bowed wall of this church – probably due to earthquakes over the centuries.

The tunnels of the catacombs are extensive.

The tunnels of the catacombs are extensive.

These bones aren't as neatly arranged as some...

These bones aren’t as neatly arranged as some…

Some of the neatly arranged bones in the catacombs.

Some of the neatly arranged bones in the catacombs.

Convento de Santo Domingo. This 16th century church stands out due to its pink exterior. From the convent’s bell tower, you get a pretty good view of Lima – one of the driest cities on earth. The cloister gardens are well manicured and this church also had an interesting library. The tombs of the first two Peruvian saints are buried here.

The pink Convento de Santo Domingo. (Climb to the top of the tower for a good view)

The pink Convento de Santo Domingo. (climb to the top of the tower for a good view.)

The library of the Convento de Santo Domingo.

The library of the Convento de Santo Domingo.

The cloisters of the Convento de Santo Domingo.

The cloisters of the Convento de Santo Domingo.

Decorative 17th century tiles imported from Spain.

Decorative 17th century tiles imported from Spain.

A view of the Lima Cathedral from the Convento de Santo Domingo.

A view of the Lima Cathedral from the Convento de Santo Domingo.

Lima Catedral (Cathedral). One of the most interesting features of this church is the tomb of Pizzaro, the Spanish explorer who founded Lima as part of the Spanish empire in 1535 and designed the layout for the cathedral. The cathedral had to be rebuilt after earthquakes in 1746 and 1940.

The Lima Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas.

The Lima Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas.

Pizzaro's tomb in the Lima Cathedral.

Pizzaro’s tomb in the Lima Cathedral.

Reference: Fodor’s Guide to Peru, 3rd Edition.

A Day Tour of the Sacred Valley

Day Tour Route - Sacred Valley

On one of our 3 days in Cuzco we did a day tour of the Sacred Valley. We were on a mid-size bus with perhaps 35 people. The tour costs 35 NS per person (1 USD = 2.8 NS). Another option would be to rent a car, but signage on the roads is not very clear, and it was just easier for us to book a tour than to find a car to rent. The tour consisted of a stop at a small set of tourist shops (of course) not too far from Pisac, then the ruins of Pisac, a drive to Urubamba for lunch, then on to Ollantaytambo town and ruins, followed by a drive over a high plateau to the little town of Chinchero, and finally back to Cuzco via Poroy, which is the same town where the trains leave for Machu Picchu. A tourist ticket to visit the ruins below, in addition to others (see my other posts on Cuzco sites) costs 130 NS (about $46), for non-locals. The ticket can be purchased in Cuzco or at your first stop. Unfortunately it’s “all or nothing,” you cannot purchase individual site tickets.

A view of the Sacred Valley from Ollantaytambo

The town of Pisac is quite small (about 4,000 inhabitants), and the ruins are set high in a valley behind the little town. It’s about a 2,000 foot drop in elevation from Cuzco to Pisac, and a very scenic drive. The ruins contain a variety of buildings and varying stone and adobe brick work. This Inca site was thought to contain a bit of everything—religious site, observatory, as well as residences. Due to our limited time with a tour group, we only were able to visit one portion of the site—it’s large, and still being excavated. The views of the valley from the ruins are quite spectacular, even with the heavy mist we had.

A view of the ruins of Pisac

A view of the valley and terraces at Pisac

After lunch in Urubamba, our tour took us to Ollantaytambo, at the northwest end of the Sacred Valley, and the literal end of the road (at least in the direction of Machu Picchu). This is a nice small town, and is laid out on the original Inca city plan. The fortress ruins are very impressive, looking up from the town directly below. There are large terraces ascending straight up a narrow cleft in the mountain to the ruins at the top. This site was largely defensive in nature. The Inca fled here in 1537 after being defeated in Sacsayhuaman by the Spanish. They actually made a stand and won a battle against Pizzaro here, but eventually the Spanish conquered this city. In addition to the main ruins by the town, there are additional ruins on the other side of the small valley, to the southeast of the town. Ollantaytambo and Sacsayhuaman were my favorite Inca sites in addition to Machu Picchu. The trains to Machu Picchu make a short stop here on their way to Aguas Calientes.

Looking up at the ruins of Ollantaytambo

The ruins of Ollantaytambo

Temple of the Ten Niches at Ollantaytambo

We drove back down the road to Urubamba, and then south up over a high plateau in the Sacred Valley to the town of Chinchero. On this road are incredible views of the surrounding Andes mountains. This town is 12,500 feet (3,800 meters) in altitude, higher than Cuzco. The Incan past is very obvious in this little town, with the buildings along the streets built upon their original Inca foundations. The Inca, in fleeing to Ollantaytambo, laid waste to this town to slow the Spaniards. Too bad. Chinchero has a very interesting church, built in 1607, with the wood beam ceiling covered in intricate paintings. I could not take pictures inside, but it was very beautiful and worth the visit. We arrived very late in the afternoon, near sunset, so our visit to this interesting town was limited.

Growing crops at 12,500 feet (near Chinchero)

The soaring peak of Lagrimas Sagradas (Sacred Tears) 5,800 meters (about 19,000 ft) high.

A narrow street in Chinchero--houses built on Inca foundations

The 17th century church in Chinchero - built on Inca foundations, and decorated with ceiling paintings

Images of Machu Picchu

In my post “Machu Picchu–A Practical View” I explained the logistics of our visit. In this post I’ll share some of the photos of this incredible engineering marvel, hidden for centuries (thank goodness!) from the world’s view. A North American archeologist and explorer, Hiram Bingham, “discovered” Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911 (locals of course knew of its existence).

A view of the urban area of Machu Picchu – the ceremonial area is on the left and the residential area is on the right.


I was surprised by the varied construction techniques. In some places, each stone is fit perfectly with those next to it. In other cases, the construction is more rough, not unlike what one sees in medieval castles in Europe. The Inca understood that trapezoidal shapes are stronger than square shapes, and doorways, windows and carved niches are almost all trapezoidal in shape.

The main entrance to the city of Machu Picchu

Trapezoidal entryways and doors are found throughout Machu Picchu, which were much stronger and more resistant to earthquake damage.

Examples of varied construction techniques in the walls.

An interesting wall–the lower part is constructed of carefully cut and fitted stones and the upper part is much more hastily built.

Another example of the varied building techniques–note the trapezoidal niches and post extensions in the background.

Water System

There is a spring on the hill of Machu Picchu and the Incas utilized it to the fullest extent to provide water to the crops and the inhabitants.  They used the law of gravity to provide a running water supply.

Carved channels for water flow–another engineering masterpiece.

Temple of the Sun

One of the most important buildings in Machu Picchu is the Temple of the Sun. It is quite unique in its construction due to the rounded walls, in addition to the windows that align with the summer and winter solstices.

The Temple of the Sun in the foreground–the windows are aligned perfectly with the summer and winter solstices. This building was Hiram Bingham’s first discovery at Machu Picchu. In the distance are the terraced agricultural fields.

Stairway and chambers directly below the Temple of the Sun. Named the “Royal Tomb” by Hiram Bingham, although the function is unknown.

The Agricultural Area

Machu Picchu is divided into two main zones, the urban zone and the agricultural zone, which is the purpose of the extensive terraces.  A birds-eye view would show that the majority of land area of Machu Picchu was terraced (I didn’t have an airplane!).

Looking up at some of the many terraces.

The Urban Zone

The urban zone is really two main areas:  The Sacred Plaza with temples and ceremonial places, and the residential area, which has 109 stairways containing about 3,000 steps, and a sophisticated canal system.  This city clearly had great urban planners!

The Sacred Plaza

Temple of the Three Windows, in the ceremonial part of the city, called the Sacred Plaza. Note that these windows are carved from huge stones.

The near-perfect stone work on the outside of the “Main Temple” – thought to be a temple due to the extremely careful construction

Residential Area

We found the residential side of the city quieter (fewer tourists) than the ceremonial/Sacred Plaza side, probably partly due to the vast size of the residential area.

A view of the residential area, agricultural terraces, and the winding dirt road leading up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes.

A view (in the opposite direction from the picture above) of the residential area, additional terraces, and Waynapicchu (in the background).

One of my favorite images of Machu Picchu, looking toward the residential area.

If you have the opportunity to visit this world wonder, do it!

Information Source: Machu Picchu, Sacred City of the Incas, by Mayer Joel Abanto, 2009.

Machu Picchu—A Practical View

The approximate train route from Cuzco to Machu PIcchu

Most people visit Peru for one reason, to see the Inca site of Machu Picchu. We visited in October 2011, and I can say, having visited many of the world wonders, it is one of the most stunning sites in the world, for both the ruins and the natural scenery. However, be aware that it is expensive to visit and a bit more difficult to do so without crowds. Given the timing of our trip, we had to follow the typical tourist visit approach, which is: take a morning train from Cuzco (actually Poroy), then a bus shuttle up to Machu Picchu from the last train stop, and then the bus shuttle and train again back to Cuzco. We had about 3 ½ hours at the site, which was long enough for a good visit of the main ruins.

Poroy Train Station

I hope my comments on visiting will be helpful:

Cost: Visiting Machu Picchu from Cuzco is not cheap. Total costs will be about $200/person, including a taxi to Poroy train station from Cuzco, using the least expensive train, and the entrance fee. See below for more details. ($1 USD = 2.8 Nuevo Soles.)

Boarding our train to Machu Picchu

Trains. The only way to get to Aguas Calientes (the small town just below Machu Picchu) is via train. The road ends in Ollantaytambo. There are 3 train options: a)“Expedition” formerly called the “Backpacker;” b) Vistadome; and c) the extremely expensive Hiram Bingham (about 4x the cost of the other trains). All trains leave from Poroy station, about a 15 minute taxi ride up a steep hill north of Cuzco (taxi cost was 15-40 NS each way depending on your bargaining skills). We took the Expedition train to Aguas Calentes and the Vistadome on the return trip, to have the experience on each of these trains. The Expedition train cost about $55 US per person (one way), and is very decent. The seats are reasonably comfortable, but since you are facing another pair of seats across a table, the legroom is so-so. The Vistadome costs about $75 US (one way) per person and the seats and legroom are much more comfortable. They also provide little snack on this train and a small fashion show (of course encouraging you to buy the items showcased). The Hiram Bingham train comes with lavish meals and luxury seating. The train trip takes about 3 hours. Purchase your tickets well ahead of time. In October, we bought ours just two days prior to our visit (at the Peru Rail kiosk in the Lima airport) and our train options were more limited, due to many seats being already full. Visit Peru Rail for more information.

View of the Sacred Valley on our train ride to Machu Picchu

The Expedition Train

The Vistadome Train

While there are different times for train departures (although the schedules are pretty similar), ours left Poroy at about 7:30 am, and arrived at Aguas Calientes at about 10:45 am, with one short stop in Ollyantaytambo. Our return train left about 4:45pm.

Machu Picchu site tickets. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time, they are not available at the site entrance, although I understand they can be purchased in Aguas Calientes. We bought ours in Cuzco the day before our visit. The tickets are about $60 per person; they are valid for one day only.

View of the ancient city of Machu Picchu

Shuttle bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. After getting off the train in Aguas Calientes, you wind through a series of tourist/trinket stalls, and make your way over to the shuttle bus departure point. The shuttle buses leave more or less continually with the arrival of the trains, and cost 40 NS (about $14 per person) for the round trip. The shuttle bus takes another 20 minutes to climb the narrow switch backs up to the entrance to Machu Picchu. One can also walk up (and down) the winding, steep dirt road to the site entrance. We wanted to save our energy for hiking at the site itself. Even in October, Machu Picchu was filled with tourists.

The town of Aguas Calientes, the end of the train tracks, at the base of Machu Picchu

I was a bit surprised how busy it was, even well after the northern hemisphere summertime. From what I have heard, the only relatively quiet times at Machu Picchu are January/February, which is the height of the rainy season. We had good weather the day of our visit.

Waynapicchu (aka Huayna Picchu)

The ideal visit to Machu Picchu would include hiking up to Waynapicchu (the steep mountain behind the main site), for the ruins on this peak and the views. But to do so requires getting to Aguas Calientes the night before. The only times allowed to hike up to Waynapicchu are at 7 and 10 am, and the number of visitors is limited to 200 for each time slot. As of now, the only tourist trains leave Cuzco in the morning, so a day would be spent lounging in Aguas Calientes in order to get into Machu Picchu first thing the following morning for the hike to Waynapicchu.

Waynapicchu is on the peak directly behind the city of Machu Picchu

Rather than traveling all the way by train from Cuzco to Aguas Calientes, it is possible to get on the train at Urubamba (new stop) or Ollantaytambo, which would be a shorter trip, by driving to these towns in the Sacred Valley. Both towns have hotels. Ollantaytambo has some interested Inca ruins also, and is the starting point for the Inca Trail, a whole other way to see several others sites and to see Machu Picchu.

Other Tips:

  • Buy a good guidebook on Machu Picchu, and explore on your own, you will see more and will learn as much. There is only so much information known about the Inca, and a guidebook will cover the key points and main historical spots. In addition, there are small guidebooks available for purchase at the entrance which we found useful.
  • Right after the main entrance, turn left and follow the path up the hill for a great, classic overlook to the main city (designated as the “long route”, one of several main routes through the site). This path also goes by where the Inca trail joins the main site.
  • The main site is most crowded in the public building areas, which are on the left-hand side as you enter and overlook the main city. The right side, which is mostly a housing area, seemed to have far fewer visitors and provides some beautiful overlooks to the valleys below and the mountains surrounding the site.

Inca Sites near Cuzco

In the hills above and north of the city of Cuzco are several great Inca ruins. Saqsayhuamán, Tambomachay, Puka Pukara and Q’enqo are all quite near each other, and just off the road on the way to Pisac. Allow a half-day to visit these sites. A tourist ticket to visit these ruins and a museum in Cuzco, plus a number of sites in the Sacred Valley costs 130 NS (about $46, for non-locals). The ticket can be purchased in Cuzco or at your first stop. Unfortunately it’s “all or nothing,” you cannot purchase individual site tickets.

Inca sites near Cuzco

The tour agencies around the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) in Cuzco charge 25 NS for a “city” tour which includes the four sites above, and one site in Cuzco [the Temple of the Sun (called Qorikancha) in the Santo Domingo Church]. Please note that Qorikancha costs an extra 10 NS. For some reason, all the tours seem to be in the afternoon, and by the time we got to the last site it was getting dark (and raining). If I had it to do over again, I would recommend just hiring a taxi for the day to go to the local sites near Cuzco, which would allow you to proceed at your own pace, and visit during the less crowded time of day.

This church (Santo Domingo) is built on the Inca Temple of the Sun, and parts of the original structure remain inside


The most impressive site is Sacsayhuamán, which must have been incredible before much of it was destroyed by the Spaniards. Even still, huge, perfectly cut stone walls remain. There are also excellent views of Cuzco from Sacsayhuamán. The construction on this site began in the 1440’s, and it’s believed 20,000 workers were required to cut and assemble the massive stone work.

A view of the walls of Sacsayhuaman (Cuzco in the distance)

The massive cut stones of Sacsayhuaman


We also visited Tambomachay, which is further along on the same road north of Cuzco. According to our guide, there are 320 Inca sites around Cuzco, 90 of which are water-related, and Tambomachay is the most important. It contains precise stone work over a natural spring, and may have been used for rituals involving water.

The Inca site of Tambomachay

A view of the fountains at Tambomachay

There are two other sites along this same road, Puka Pukara and Q’enqo, which are part of the tourist ticket. Right before it started raining hard, I got a picture of Puka Pukara in the last few seconds of sun.  Very little is known about this ruin, it is likely that it was a fort protecting the entrance to the Sacred Valley sites. We drove past Q’enqo since it was getting dark and pouring rain (after a beautiful day), but this is a site with zig-zag channels, which were believed to be for llama blood and depending on the flow of the blood, a prediction on the quality of the harvest would be made.

The fort of Puka Pukara

On the way back to the main plaza in Cuzco, our tour bus took us to some tourist shops, with a large variety of goods (near Q’enqo).  We found lots of alpaca sweaters, hats, gloves, and many other clothing items, as well as various trinkets. These shops were some of the better ones we saw on our trip. If you want high quality items, visit the store Arte Peru Joyerias, just to the west of the Plaza de Armas. This is where we bought our authentic baby alpaca sweaters.

Cuzco – A Great Base for Exploring the Inca World

The Cathedral of Cuzco at night (built in 1550; interesting 16th century artwork and artifacts in this cathedral)

Cuzco, Peru is known as the jump-off spot for visiting Machu Picchu. However, it is an interesting town in and of itself and there are several impressive Inca ruins very close to the city. In fact, parts of the city are built on Inca foundations, including the huge cathedral. Although there are tourists milling around the town, it still feels like a “real” Peruvian city, with locals going about their daily business, and buying and selling food and other items in some interesting markets.

One of the many markets in Cuzco--this one is selling cuy (guinea pig)!

A local woman and her child in Cuzco

There are many flights daily between Lima and Cuzco—flight lasts about one hour. I watched the landscape change from the barren desert mountains of Lima to the green, cultivated and forested mountains surrounding Cuzco. Even though Cuzco is a fairly large city, I found the air very clear and refreshing compared to Lima.

Cuzco is about a one-hour flight from Lima

Travel information about Cuzco and surrounding area:

  • One USD = 2.8 Peruvian nuevo soles (NS) as of October 2011.
  • A tourist ticket to visit the close-by Inca ruins and a museum in Cuzco, plus a number of sites in the Sacred Valley costs 130 NS (for non-locals). The ticket can be purchased in Cuzco or at your first site. Unfortunately it’s “all or nothing,” you cannot purchase individual site tickets.
  • Plan to stay at least three days in Cuzco: Day 1-visit Inca sites close to Cuzco and in the town–called the “city tour” which doesn’t really cover much of the city itself; Day 2-a train trip to Machu Picchu; Day 3-sites around the Sacred Valley. These three day trips will be covered in separate posts.

    View of Cuzco from the Inca site of Saqsayhuaman

  • There are tour agencies everywhere around the main plaza (Plaza de Armas) in Cuzco. We did a “city” tour for 25 NS per person and a Sacred Valley tour for 35 NS per person (the tour fee covered transportation only, and fees will be similar at all tour agencies). If I had it to do over again, I would recommend just hiring a taxi for the day to go to the local sites near Cuzco, which would allow you to proceed at your own pace. For the Sacred Valley visit, a tour agency is probably best—hiring a taxi for the distances covered would be very expensive, and since directions/signs are not very clear, renting a car on your own might be somewhat challenging; in addition, trying to park a rental car in Cuzco would be a nightmare—the old city streets are very narrow, and I did not see any parking garages.

    Architecture in Cuzco (note the decorative wooden balconies)

    Evening at the Plaza de Armas (main square) in Cuzco

  • Restaurants. There is a huge variety and we found ourselves drawn to two restaurants with very good quality dishes: Tratoria Adriano and Chef Maggie, which are just off the Plaza de Armas. Both restaurants serve Italian fare and other dishes.
  • Hotels. Many options in all price ranges. We found Llipimpac hotel on for $61/night for a triple. It was decent, with hot water (not always a given if you travel on a budget) and breakfast. They even had a large selection of DVDs you can borrow for free if you feel like spending an evening in your room (we found many in English).

    Llipimpac Hotel, Cuzco

  • Be prepared for all kinds of weather at this altitude (10,500 feet). When the sun is out, Cuzco is warm. When the sun goes down, or in cloudy weather, you’ll want a jacket. Rain showers are common, so bring an umbrella or rain jacket. We did not notice any ill effects from the altitude, but if you do, vendors sell coca tea, candy and cookies everywhere.

    Getting a shoe shine

Exploring North Central Peru – Gocta Falls (aka “Gojta”)

A house in Cocachimba

On our 2nd day in Chachapoyas we decided to go to Gocta Falls. These falls (a series of two) are the 3rdhighest in the world. The lower falls is about 500 meters in height, and the upper falls is about 200 meters high. In the travel blogs I had read prior to our trip, it was difficult to know how accessible the falls were. As it turned out, they were pretty easy to get to. As we had done the day before, we went to the main square in Chachapoyas and arranged with a different tour company (simply to spread our business) for transportation to the falls. We paid 30 NS per person for the car and driver and also paid a 5 NS entry fee ($1 USD = 2.8 nuevos soles).

The village of Cocachimba, start of the Gocta Falls trail

On the trail...

Getting closer to the falls...

The lower falls as we arrive...

We were the only ones going to the falls that day, and had a private car and driver. The drive took us north of Chachapoyas about 1 hour (of which only 11km is gravel) to the small village of Cocachimba, where the hike began. The well-maintained trail is 5.3km in length, and it took us about 2 hours to get to the falls. Along the way, there are various signs promoting ecotourism and pointing out some of the natural surroundings (local birds for example). The falls are visible from near the trailhead, and if one did not feel like hiking, just viewing them from the distance would be possible. The trail goes up and down a lot through many ravines, but is not difficult.

The huge falls dwarf our son, Sean...

Standing at the base of the falls, looking straight up 1500 feet is quite spectacular. We had the falls to ourselves. There was a small group of German tourists hiking down as we were going up, and we saw just a few other people along trail. This was a very quiet and an enjoyable experience in the natural beauty of Peru.

A sign for Facebook in the remote village of Cocachimba!

Gocta Falls is 1 hour north (by car) of Chachapoyas

Exploring North Central Peru – Kuelap (“qway-lap”)

On the 2.5km hike to Kuelap

Housing area in Kuelap-the only restored structure on the site

If you’re looking for a less-discovered, uncrowded ancient historical site in Peru, consider Kuelap. It is located 45 miles (which takes about 2.5 hours due to a gravel road most of the way) south of Chachapoyas. The road is much improved from several years ago, when rains would make it nearly impassable. Our tour group included 13 people in a minivan. The tour cost 60 NS (1 USD = 2.8 nuevos soles) per person, and included lunch and the entry fee (10 NS). Most of the tourists were from Peru and other South American countries. When we arrived at the site, we were pleased to see just a few other minivans. After arriving at the parking lot, we hiked about 2.5 km up to the site itself.

The scenery from the mountaintop fortress of Kuelap. The dirt road seen near the bottom of the picture is the road to the site

The massive walls surrounding Kuelap

One of the main entrances to the site

Hiking up into the fortress

I knew little about Kuelap, but enough to know it is one of the great sights in Peru and I wanted to see it. Kuelap dates to the 6th(?) century AD, constructed by the Chachapoyan people, who apparently were warriors, given the defensive nature of Kuelap. We don’t know much about these people, but they were described as a “tall and fair” people by the Inca—supposedly blonde and blue-eyed, and even today I understand that there are some people in the area that fit this description, but they are not European descendants. They were eventually conquered by the Inca around 1472, and Kuelap was inhabited until 1670 when it was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest. It is one of the largest pre-Inca ruins in existence, set on a 10,000 foot mountain top ridge. Massive walls (reaching up to 60 feet high) surround the site, which is 600 meters in length. It is believed that about 2,500 – 3,000 people inhabited about 400 or more homes (most of which are circular) in the site. The site’s construction reminded me of castles in Europe—well built, but not to the exacting standards of the Inca. Based on the skeleton remains and large numbers of skull surgeries at Kuelap, archeologists believe a “medical” school was located here.

Templo Mayor (observatory? prison?)

Another view of the ruins in Kuelap

Decorative stonework in Kuelap buildings

The surrounding mountain scenery is beautiful, and from Kuelap, one is at equal height with most of the surrounding mountains.

Our tour van and restaurant for lunch

A great lunch - Lomo Saltado

Kuelap is 2.5 hours south (by car) of Chachapoyas

Visit now before this incredible site welcomes crowds like those at Machu Picchu!

Exploring North Central Peru—Chachapoyas

Chachapoyas is an 8-9 hour (285 miles) bus ride east from Chiclayo

The countryside of Chachapoyas (on the way to Kuelap)

Chachapoyas is a whitewashed town of about 25,000 located in a very interesting and beautiful part of Peru. It would be easy to spend 4-5 days touring the area—we spent two, exploring Kuelap ruins and Gocta Falls. A green, mountainous area, Chachapoyas is located between the very dry northwest part of Peru and the Amazon jungle region to the east.

Getting on the bus to start our overnight journey to Chachapoyas

To get to Chachapoyas, the logistics are as follows: a flight from Lima to Chiclayo, followed by an overnight (about 9 hour) bus ride from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas. Another option would be a flight from Lima to Cajamarca and then an 10 hour bus ride (mainly on a dirt road from what I understand) to Chachapoyas. There are no commercial flights to Chachapoyas, although there is a small airport where some small charter flights operate.

The comfortable semi-cama bus seats

The bus ride is not quite as bad as it might seem. The operator was Movil Tours. The bus is a double-decker, with more comfortable seats on the lower level and typical long-haul bus seats on the upper level. While the bus makes a few short stops, they are only to pick up and drop off passengers. Seats in the economy (upstairs) section cost 45 nuevos soles (NS) and 75 NS in the first class section. A small dinner (not too exciting) was served, with one movie shown (in Spanish of course). ($1 USD = 2.8 NS).

Hotel Vilaya in Chachapoyas

Our room at Hotel Vilaya--about $35/night (checking in at 6 am!)

The bus from Chiclayo arrives in Chachapoyas at about 6 am. Upon arrival, we asked for hotel recommendations, and took a taxi for 2 NS to the hotel, and got a triple room on the spot for 100 NS per night, with (very) early check-in being no problem. There are several decent, but certainly not fancy hotels in the town. After getting cleaned up, we then ventured down to the main square to arrange a tour to Kuelap which left at 8:30 am. The tourism industry here is just developing and at this time of year (October), it was no problem getting a hotel, or booking a tour. There are at least a half-dozen tour agencies on the main square, and from what we could tell, they all offer similar tours and at similar rates. The main tours in the area include: Kuelap, Gocta Falls, Revash, Karajia, Laguna de los Condores, and Quiocta Caves.

One of several tour operators on Plaza de Armas, Chachapoyas

Pedestrian street, Chachapoyas

Plaza de Armas, Chachapoyas