Kuelap, the not so ugly sister…

Days: 277 (29 March 2015)

Total distance travelled: 53,572.3 kilometres (33,274.72 miles)

Living in the shadows of Machu Picchu (not literally) must be hard, but this not so ugly sister, (by all accounts) receives a fraction of the attention it deserves.

With us settling on some time in Chachapoyas to explore some ridiculously high waterfalls, it made sense that we took the time to go and visit these ruins in the hills.

We shopped around, ultimately booking ourselves a day trip with the cheapest operator we found, using the rationale that all of the operators are likely to consolidate their groups into one or two buses in any case. At least this is what experience had taught us!

The morning of our excursion, it certainly appeared that this was indeed the case and under grey skies we set off on our journey.

At times we were treated to various levels of drizzle and others even rain, recent wet weather illustrated by the ridiculously high water levels of the river that ran parallel to the road on which we travelled.

There were points in which the banks had burst, but thankfully at no point was it too deep that we couldn’t traverse, the greater concern being the points where the edges of the road had eroded away, leaving us very close to an icy dip should our van slip!

A supposed viewing stop (where we were set to observe from afar some old ruins built/dug into a mountain side) was for some reason skipped, so instead it was directly to Kuelap that we went.

Out, it looked cold and when we first arrived at the wet gravel carpark we had fears for how long the weather may hold.

We paid our entrance fee, before beginning a slippery, uphill walk to the ruins proper. With glances to our left revealing a wall of white (we were shrouded withing a blanket of cloud), we began to wonder what we’d be able to see at the top.

Thankfully, things weren’t so grim when we completed the climb.

Introducing a cloudy Kuelap!

Introducing a cloudy Kuelap!

We loitered with this view for some time as our guide gave a bit of a spiel about the site and its history, but to be honest, I was barely listening.

When confronted by this, all I could think about was rushing off to explore, so instead, I repressed these urges by snapping photos whilst he talked.

Eventually we continued our walk around what were some pretty imposing walls, before making the ascent up into the ruins proper.

Like thieves in the night, we sneak in via a service entrance...

Like thieves in the night, we sneak in via a service entrance…

Scrambling up aged stairs, that incredibly even have Llama tracks, worn into the stone (right)

Scrambling up aged stairs (left) & Incredibly there are even Llama tracks worn into the stone (right)

We weren’t actually able to make a grand entrance through the main city gates, but that was solely because it was closed (possibly permanently), the wooden support structure in place suggesting restoration works may be in operation.

The small entrance we did enter via was pretty cool. Apparently used by traders hauling their Llamas up the stairs (which were very worn by both the passage of countless feet and time), it was amazing to see this solid rock worn so much, that the claws of these Andean beasts were clearly visible!

Once within, the first impressions were very good. The combination of ancient ruins, gnarled trees (laden with mosses and lichens) and floating cloud made the place look almost magical, for me again like a scene out of a Tolkien novel (I know, that’s exactly what I said about Ecuador’s Parque Nacional Cajas as well… or was that a Scottish moor? Can’t it be both?!).

Exploring the almost mystical ruins

Exploring the almost mystical ruins

We wandered through this elevated forest on what I thought were rather subtle boardwalks, at times able to see little at all as cloud drifted through at a fairly rapid rate.

The chance to view some ancient bones buried behind the solid stone structures wasn’t as eerie as may have been expected (in fact that is one thing that is always overplayed in the movies), but despite every tourist here being given the chance to do so, it didn’t feel too intrusive.

We were told that the size of the ruins is actually bigger than Machu Picchu, however we’ve thus far not been able to verify that possibly local dream…

A decorative touch...

A decorative touch…

We wandered further, whilst I battled with an itching/burning sensation on my hand after foolishly touching an admittedly pretty flower. It obviously proved far smarter than I!

The most apparent difference we’d noted thus far in the few Incan ruins, from those of their Aztec or Mayan counterparts, was the lack of decoration, especially carvings.

As such, it came as a nice surprise when a lone face, apparently part of a lunar worship temple, was presented on an innocuous corner of a fairly large structure.

Lovely, but a bit of a prick (left) & the only carved feature in the whole site (right)

Lovely, but a bit of a prick (left) & the only carved feature in the whole site (right)

We snapped a couple of local Llamas, explored the grandest structure on the site, not surprisingly the Templo del Sol (Temple of the Sun) and that was it.

Our time at Kuelap all too quickly came to an end.

A stunning reminder past peoples lives, with past peoples homes...

A stunning reminder past peoples lives, with past peoples homes…

What is very apparent from the couple of Ecuadorian and now Peruvian Incan sites is that they know how to pick a choice location, with each being on an elevated location with stunning views.

It was whilst soaking up these stunning valley views, admittedly broken by those pesky patches of cloud, that I began to wonder, “If Machu Picchu is far better than this, it must be a sight indeed!”



* Our tour was booked through Santa Maria on the Plaza Mayor for $40.00 Soles per person.

* Entrance into the ruins cost an additional $15.00 Soles per person.

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5 Responses to Kuelap, the not so ugly sister…

  1. Your photos are always so beautiful! If I ever go to Manchu Picchu, I’ll add Kuelap to the itinerary. How far apart are they?

  2. I had heard of this place Chris, but we didn’t get a chance to visit when we were there. And great photos. Those precarious stairs leading in look like Raiders of the Lost Ark stuff, and a perfect place to twist an ankle – or worse. The overgrown qualities are slightly reminiscent of Angkor Wat. ~James

  3. Thanks for this enlightening entry! I am totally pinning this entry to one of my pinterest boards as a place to go to one day!!!!!! I had never heard of this place!

  4. Pingback: Our day of the dead: The Caverna de Qiocta & the Sarcofagos Karajia | theworldwithchrisandsarah

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