While most of Peru’s well-known crowd-pulling attractions are centred in the south of the country, it’s well worth getting up north if you can – not only will you escape most of the crowds, but the ancient fortress of Kuelap & the towering Gocta Falls are every bit as impressive as their counterparts further south.
Now we know that everybody who visits Peru does the obvious tourist things like visiting Machu Pichu, and… other… stuff… maybe, but definitely heading straight to Machu Pichu is most people’s main priority. And I’m not saying that Machu Pichu isn’t amazing, cos it totally is. But did you know that up in the less visited northern region of Peru there is a set of ruins almost as awesome as big daddy MP itself (or maybe more awesome depending on who you ask), as well as one farken tall waterfall (either the 3rd or 5th tallest in the world depending on how you measure it, measuring waterfalls is a highly contentious issue apparently). Given that two seriously kick-ass attractions are up this way, and that hardly any visitors venture up here meaning not only will you have the attractions almost to yourself but you’ll also get to see a more authentic side of Peru away from the tourist hordes, don’t you think it’s worth making a trip up here? If you think so then it’s time to head up norf bro!
Fine, so now you’ve decided to make a trip to northern Peru, only a couple of things stand in your way – some seriously questionable roads & even more questionable transport options. Maybe you could fly if you really are that much of a pansy, although to be honest I have no idea where you would fly into, but anyway I personally prefer the adventure of a 28 hour bus trip from Lima through the stunning northern Peruvian landscape. If you’re down for this adventure, then wherever you’re coming from make a beeline for the little town of Chachapoyas.
Chachapoyas is a seriously cute little town, and makes a perfect base for exploring two of Peru’s lesser known but still fully awesome attractions – Kuelap & Gocta Falls. There are a few outfits in Chachapoyas who will arrange trips to both places, you could certainly attempt to make your way there independently, however this area is definitely not well set up for tourism so if you’re on a tight timetable like I was, and if your grasp of Spanish doesn’t extend far beyond “dos cerevesas por favour” then it could be your best option to jump on an organised trip there.
Whether you visit Kuelap & the Gocta Falls independently or on an organised tour, it’s going to be a full day trip to each one. On the way to Kuelap you’ll pass through traditional Peruvian settlements & some seriously nice Andean scenery. By the way, Kuelap is pronounced Que-lap, the first syllable is like the start of the word "queef", except queefs usually occur during penetration whereas the fortress of Kuelap was never penetrated. Boom.
Anyway Kuelap is one hell of a ruin, it is in fact the largest pre-Inca ruin in all of South America. Some people say it’s even better than Machu Pichu, and while I wouldn’t necessarily go that far (sorry to all the travel-hipster-douchebags who reckon MP is overrated) it is still very very cool. This place is actually way older than Machu Pichu, if you think Peruvian history starts & ends with the Incas then you better check yo self fo you wreck yo self fool cos construction on this place started in the 6th century & those Chachapoyans didn’t vacate the premises until nearly a thousand years later. Yes that’s right, these ancient people were known as the Chachapoyans, and there is a common theory that the main town in the area – Chachapoyas – was named after that, but this theory is still up for debate. Maybe.
The most impressive part of Kuelap is the walls, seriously, look at that picture above. Now my knowledge of construction may be limited to what I managed to pick up from watching reruns of Bob the Builder whilst thoroughly baked but goddamn that brickwork is fucken tight. No wonder this place was never overrun by invaders, the Chachapoyans even had a really smart way of dealing with any mofos that tried to get in here – they had a main entrance with a big-ass gate, which then led to an uphill corridor which got more & more narrow, until at the top it was only wide enough for one person, and then they’d all surround the area above the corridor with long spears. So, anyone who managed to get through the gate would get impaled by numerous spears (not in a porn movie kind of way, in an actual “you gonna die” kinda way) and no one would stand a chance of getting all the way in.
Now the inside of Kuelap may not be quite as impressive as Machu Pichu, but that’s only cos it hasn’t had nearly as much reconstruction, it’s like comparing Jane Seymour to Joan Rivers (I used to have a major thing for Jane Seymour back in her Dr Quinn Medicine Woman days). Actually that’s not a great analogy, I actually do like Machu Pichu. But regardless, Kuelap is much more of a “ruin”, apart from the walls which are still very much in effect, but with a bit of imagination you can imagine a bunch of Chachapoyans hanging out in this hilltop fortress thinking they are totally untouchable (which they were, aint nobody want none of this). Having llamas grazing all over the site adds to the effect, even if they’re probably put there just to help gringo tourists get the perfect Andean photo. I should add that, much like Machu Pichu, the surrounding scenery is absolutely to die for – seriously, if you get a photo of yourself at the top of Kuelap citadel, with the rolling green Peruvian landscape stretching out below you, and you post that shit to Facebook, your friends back home doing their 9 to 5 drudgery routine will seriously want to commit suicide, or at the very least start seething internally & then block you from their timeline.