Forget Machu Picchu, Head to Kuelap Fortress in Peru



Machu Picchu is virtually synonymous with Peru travel.  People think of the Incas and then images of the cloud city sprout up like weeds in one’s consciousness, ensnaring travel addicts for the 100 years since its rediscovery.  But if altitude is your bane as well as budget and crowds, then you should consider Machu Picchu’s northern rival: the stone fortress at Kuelap.


Stone walls reach over 6 stories at Kuelap

With few visitors to Kuelap, livestock and wildlife roam free.

Why Kuelap is worth the effort

It’s off the beaten path.  Machu Picchu acts like a funnel, draining off most of the tourist traffic (and dollars) that come through Lima.  This is a core benefit for visiting Kuelap. While most travelers are jockeying for space on hiking tours three months in advance and dishing out hundreds of dollars to explore Cusco, travelers to Kuelap enjoy freedom.  Buses to Chachapoyas (the gateway to Kuelap) run frequently from coastal Peru cities and once in town, you can book a trip to the summit within 24 hours.  At the fortress, guided tours escort visitors through stone buildings and green grounds with very few foreigners around.


Besides this, Kuelap is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places that I have ever seen.  It ranks high alongside the monasteries at Angkor Wat and the red mesas in Monument Valley of Utah.  The Chachapoyans were famed masons and boasted some of the most beautiful women in the region.  Some mummies have even been discovered with blond hair and blue eyes.  They predate the Incans and built their fortress to withstand even aggressive Spanish conquerors.


Round houses perch over the promontories of the Andes Mountain at Kuelap

Bragging Rights in Peru

Not that travel is about showing off.  But Kuelap is a far away destination, separated from Peru’s coast by a matrix of tight-turns through the Andes Mountains.  Getting to Chachapoyas is an adventure in and of itself.  An overnight bus shuttles you from coastal Peru through the switchbacks of the Andean Mountains.  By 7am, the night buses arrive at the bus terminal and weary travelers file off, beelining tp a hostal for food and rest.  After the 14 hour haul, Neil and I stumbled with our gear into our cold room, realizing that we’d just planted ourselves in what Peruvians call the “Eyebrow of the Jungle”.  This small town with few tourists is a cross section of Andean mountain and jungle life.


When you get to Chachapoyas, start planning your excursions.  Waterfalls, hikes, cultural centers, and of course the stone fortress itself can encompass three days of sightseeing.  Some people like the day long hike up to Kuelap.  For Neil and myself, we preferred forking over the S./60 (US$20) for the tour minus the hike.  With my altitude sickness, it was an easy decision.

Even the ride up to Kuelap is an adventure! Get a window seat for the real roller coaster ride!


Great day tour out of Chachapoyas!

At the yellow-stone gates of Kuelap, a big blue sky hangs overhead.  Llamas meander freely and the green grass is spared the trampling feet of tourist hordes.  Many visitors are Peruvian so several groups will have Spanish guides.  The tour includes a walk through immaculate grounds with round, stone houses and ceremonial courtyards.  Some burial chambers are still visible today and the diamond shaped decorations used by ancient Chachapoyans are used in the villages below.





Paths and Signage are well maintained along the way to the fortress outside of Chachapoyas, Peru

Travel is about the journey and moments.  The stories you tell are the crazy tales of getting somewhere and the little details of what life is like there.  With a fraction of the tourists and an abundance of guides, Kuelap Fortress is almost a no-brainer.  For 60 soles (US$20) the stone retreat is one of several historical sights in Northern Peru.

About Melissa Ruttanai

Melissa is a social media coordinator, pro-blogger, and certified teacher. Her travel obsessions have brought her to 33 countries and 25 US States. Her work has been published by at DINK Life, International Living Magazine, Escape From America Magazine, Trazzler and On Holiday Magazine. Connect with Melissa on Google+ Twitter: @WorldWinder and