Poor in money, extremely rich in beautiful landscapes and experiences

Exchange rate at time of travelling: 2,76 Sol to 1 Dollar 


I awoke at dawn and looked out. We had arrived from the lush mountains in Ecuador two hours ago  to a desert. No trees could be seen, nothing… just desert. The change was just incredible. I wanted to stay alert but lack of sleep caught up with me.

When I awoke next, we were still travelling through the desert, albeit this time with cities dotted in between. A desert is actually not hard to describe because it is a lot of nothing, but the feeling it evokes are much harder to describe. Loneliness, the smallness of living things etc... A good idea again would be to look at the photos I have made (my camera had broken. It could not take any sharp photos without zoom, hence some photos are out of focus).

Desert in Peru

Town in the desert


I arrived at around 9-10ish at Piura, a big desert city. The bus station of CIFA (the bus company that I took) was new and located quite far outside of the town. A taxi driver told us that CIFA had built this new station outside of town because it was getting sick of their customers always being robbed at the town centre. Very reassuring…

I did not have any sols with me (the Peruvian currency), so I had to find a place where to exchange them. As it happened, two other persons also needed to exchange dollars against sols so we decided to share a taxi into town. As it was Sunday, all the banks had closed so, as we had asked the taxi driver to drive us somewhere where we could exchange our money, he drove us to a street with some “official” exchange people. They did give us a high but still manageable exchange rate (2,70 instead of 2,74), so I decided to exchange 200 dollars, enough for 10 days. This was a mistake I made. I should have just exchanged 40 dollars because exchange houses are plentiful in Peru. At every corner it is possible to exchange dollars. I didn’t know that and was fearing that I wouldn’t find any exchange houses further in the country (like in many other countries I have been to). Ah, in the end, I just lost 8 sols for exchanging 200 dollars.

We then got driven to the bus station where we separated. I went to look for a bus to Trujillo, my next destination. I found one in the end that left (like the other more expensive ones) in three hours. I killed the next couple of hours by wandering around, heading the advice from locals not to go in certain corners otherwise I would get robbed. During this stroll, I compared prices of goods that I knew the prices for (internet hour, grenadillas, water etc...) in order to have an approximation of the prices of Peru. As it turns out, the prices of Peru are comparable to Ecuador in a lot of things, however marginally cheaper in others. Accomodation did turn out to be cheaper (by something like 10%), with me being able to always find good accommodation for 15 sols (which is round about 5 dollars).

The only other noteworthy thing is the quality of the buses. The hourly travel is slightly more expensive than in Ecuador, however the buses are newer and absolutely massive. There are three categories: Normal (which is indeed a normal bus), Panoramico (the passengers sit above the conductor, resulting in an absolutely massive bus) and double decker (slightly bit more massive than Panoramico). Most buses that I have seen belong to the category Panoramico or double decker.

For my next journey, I sat in the front seat of a Panoramico and had a superb view over the landscape that we drove across. It was mostly desert with a couple of interspersed habitation. As far as I could see, the desert was constituted of sand with interspersed rubbish....

The desert seems to be the garbage dump of the nation.

We also came across fields of green. I got told by the guy that was sitting next to me that the locals have been building for thousands of years channels that take the water from the nearby river(well, like 10 km away) and use that water to steal land for agriculture from the surrounding desert. Considering that the Moche and the Chimu (two civilisations that came before the Incas) have been using the same technique for agriculture, it does seem to work.

After I arrived at Trujillo really late, I decided to go for the safe option and take a taxi. I didn’t know the city, had not checked out its criminality level (which is actually very low) and didn’t know the way so I took a taxi to the city centre to a place called El Mochilero (4 sol). It cost me 15 sol a night in a dormitory.



During the night, another fellow traveller arrived. I only met him in the morning. Shortly afterwards we decided that we would visit the ruins of nearby Chan-Chan together. For that, we first asked for information at the hostel and then took a bus to the entrance of the Chan-Chan ruins.

The Chan-Chan ruins were built by the population of the Chimu (or Chimue) around 850-900 AD and were finally conquered by the Incas in 1470. They are a series of nine fortresses that were built at this place. The fortresses were built consecutively and each was built by a different king. The tomb of each king was found in each fortress.

To be fair I did not expect the ruins to be very big. I was very mistaken…

Artist representation of the ruins

The bus dropped us off in the desert. The desert actually starts as soon as the city ends: the city is green with plants - outside of its boundaries there is nothing but desert.

We had arrived at a cross-road where the tarred road continues out into the desert in direction of the beach town Huanchaco while a small packed dirt road leads into the desert towards the ruins. We were accosted right at the crossing by a tour guide who offered us his “protection” for only 40 sols. Although it was a laughable offer (the town being completely secure), the guy still gave us valuable information: two more sites were accessible with the same ticket as the Chan-Chan ruins and it was a 1.5 km walk towards the ruins. In the distance we could see a wall that had been reconstructed. We obviously did not take up his offer…

We embarked swiftly on the walk. In front of us, in the desert, there seemed to hills dotted around everywhere. Never having seen a dune, I went closer and actually discovered that I was standing in ruins!!!!


Chan Chan ruins


The ruins were very large...

Still standing ruins...

The Chimu had constructed their fortresses out of bricks consisting of a mixture of sand and stuff that is used for pottery (clay) as well as conch mussels and some chalk. With time and the wandering of the dunes, the walls have been covered with sand. The rain had done its own work by degrading the bricks back into sand. I have made a video of how I rub at a brick and it degraded just by this action (not sure if I was supposed to, but there was no sign…).

It was an incredible sight. The ruins stretched as far as the eye could see (we later got informed that they are 14 km longs and have an area exceeding 20 km2), most of it consisting of ruins not yet excavated. We just stood dumbfounded there. Again look at the photos I have made. Unfortunately, these are not of the high quality that I can normally achieve with my camera. It does not seem to work very well in the desert: it is unable to focus a lot of time.

We then climbed onto the walls of a ruin that could be seen. This ruin had clearly not been restored and allowed a good view of a tiny part of the massive area. I have made a 360° photo that should show the awesome sight (although this one is also not perfectly sharp).

DSCF7937 stitch (Copy)

I then went to explore a section of wall that stood tall and proud about 4 to 5 meters tall. I could actually observe the sand bricks that made up the wall in places where a hole has been created in the outer cover layer. The holes had been taken over by wasps who were busy building nests in there so I did not quite dare approach.

After walking for half an hour through the ruins (I was happy that we did not take a taxi), we arrived at the restored parts of the ruins. The entrance price was 12 sols but since I am a student (I did not have my studentpass so I just showed my drivers licence on the assumption that they could not understand English) I got it for 6 sols (2 dollars).

The restored ruins were surrounded by a 7 to 10 meter high wall, apparently the height of the original wall.

Entrance to Chan Chan

As we walked in, we walked through a maze of hip to chest high mudbrick walls that were covered by a thin layer of smoother clay (We later learned that these used to be 3 m high) to arrive at a small plaza. There we saw our first depiction of the art left over by the Chimu. They were molding done on all the walls around the plaza. I have taken photos of these, have a look at them.


Although some of these moldings had been redone, one could see that all along the side of one wall, the original ones were still present.

As we walked on through the massive maze, we came across a section where every wall was covered with a section of rhombus like 3D molding that also looked quite artistic. Again look at the photos.

Rhombus like decoration

Ruins of Chan Chan

We walked on from plaza to plaza in this immense structure. The most interesting though was when we stumbled on a group of workers that were preserving the wall of a structure that had just been discovered 1 year ago. The omni-present roof construction to protect the fragile walls against rain were already in place.

The archaeologist who we talked to (we ventured into a section that was normally roped off for tourists) told us how the conversation of the current monuments are done.

Conservaztion of the ruins

Conservation of the stuff

Adobe (the mudbricks) are very sensitive to rain and the ones on the top have generally been degraded by the rain. Luckily, the lower parts of the walls have been covered in sand for centuries thus preserving the mouldings that are present in the lower parts. Part of the restoration consists of digging the walls out, thus removing the sand. The mouldings are then protected by putting a plastic representation of the moulding in front and filling the space in between with sand. That way, the moldings can be seen by tourists and the originals are conserved for studies behind the plastic plates.

Considering the size of the ruins and the effort taken in the conservation of each part, I do think that the crews working on this site can be pretty sure that enough work is there for them for the rest of the life.

We then came across more interesting sights, for example a lake that was apparently used for religious purposes or more plazas as well as the robbed tomb of the king who built this fortress. It’s best to look at the photos. I will not comment on more now because this entry is getting too long.

A plaza

A copy of an original Chimue statue

Tired, we went back to our hostel. After a siesta, I decided to have a walk around the city. To be fair, the city is nothing special, just another South American city, however the town centre is quite cute with its quite beautiful cathedral. In the evening, I ate, like at lunch, in the market at one of the wonderful little street stalls that sell delicious local fare at a very low price (in the north of Peru usually 4 sols).

The church, the most beautiful building in the whole city



Laurent had left the last night to the beach of Huanchacu so I did the next visit by myself. I wanted to visit the other nearby ruins: the Huaca del Sol y de la Luna. I asked around which bus I could take me and a nice guy was so nice to show me where the buses left. It was actually quite far but the guy still agreed to show me the way for no money (as in he walked along with me).

Although I could barely understand his speech because he had a couple of crucial teeth missing, I still conversed nicely with him. The bus to the Museum of Huaca de la Luna cost me 1,40 sol, so nothing compared to what one pays for a tour. The bus drove past some quite delapidated industrial centers and then through a town that didn’t look too inviting. Seeing this, I was happy that I had taken the bus. In the town, I also saw my first channel that was transporting water from the nearby river to the fields surrounding Trujillo.

Channels carrying water from the nearby rivers over dozens of kilometers

Both the Huaca del Sol and the Huaca de la Luna were both built by the Moche culture that came before the Chimu culture and existed from about 100 AD to 850 AD. Like the Chimu, they built with mudbricks, however their architecture was totally different. Chan-Chan was a defensive building, however the Huaca de la Luna was a purely religious building, while the nearby Huaca del Sol was an administrative building. Unfortunately, up to this point, only the ruins of the Huaca de la Luna have been conserved to a point that access is given to tourists and visitors. I got informed later on that the diggings had only started a week ago at the Huaca del Sol.

Hueca del sol y de la luna

Anyway, the road that the bus was taking led straight past the ruins of the Huaca del Sol. The sight was again incredible. Although the photos I have are nearly all out of focus because my camera broke (at no-zoom, the autofocus does not work but as soon as I put in a tiny bit of zoom, it works again), the pictures show more than I can explain here.

The bus dropped me off at the museum of the Huacas and I bought a student ticket again, using my driving license again to prove that I am a student...

The museum was quite interesting because it presented quite nicely the culture of the Moche who constructed the ruins. I learned that they were quite an advanced culture that had very crafty pottery -some of the pottery recovered is really beautiful.

Their pottery is very detailed...

They also practiced the human sacrifice. Two of their own soldiers would have to fight a wrestling match. The loser would then be undressed and brought naked to the temple (Huaca de la Luna) and there would be prepared for the ritual by drinking some hallucigenic drink from the San Pedro Cactus. Then, depending on the situation, he would have his jugular cut (for asking the gods to preserve the good weather), or be completely dismembered (in case of droughts or torrential rains).

The Moche culture did not practise writing. All the information that currently exists on these people comes from drawings on the temple that were preserved or from drawings on pottery that were offerings given to the dead upon entombment.

The entrance ticket also entailed a visit to the temple of the Huaca de la Luna so I made my way over there.According to the drawings found, the location of the Huacas has been chosen due to religious reasons. Both buildings have been built near a pyramidal shaped mountain that stands out from the rest, with the temple Huaca de la Luna being the closest. The Moche believed that this mountain was the house of the Grand spirit, to which they prayed.

Hueca del sol and the mountain in the background...

They did have other gods, however the Grand Spirit seems to have been their ultimate one. To be fair, I have to agree with the Moche, the mountain with its darker stone peak standing solitary in the middle of the desert looks somewhat impressive. The fact that it sports stripes of darker probably basaltic stone seem to heighten the specialness of the mountain.

Already from far, I saw a construction of modern roofs that had been built over the ruins. The reason here is again the Adobe. It tends to be destroyed by the rains and therefore protecting it against is primordial for conservation.

Hueca del sol with loads of corrugated roofs.

Huaca de la Luna is solely accessible using a guide (guide is included in the price of the ticket) so I presented myself at the ticket office and got allocated a guide. The guide spoke only Spanish but by now my understanding is very advanced so I didn’t have any problems with that.

The first thing I asked the guide was why the mountain had these weird stripes. I wanted a geological explanation, however the guide told me that the Moche apparently believed that these strips where produced when the “devil”, who had left the region beneath earth and roamed free on earth, had been transported back to the mountain. The burn-marks were then produced when the Grand Spirit burned the “devil” back to the underworld.

We entered the building through an entrance that did not exist in the Moche time. It just proved to be nowadays the easiest access to the whole structure, now that the building has eroded so much. This entrance led to the sacred sacrifice place. Here, the religious fights were carried on, the house was used to cleanse the body of the looser of evil spirit by making him drink the hallucinogenic drink and then to sacrifice them on the nearby stone altar. Their blood then was collected in a chalice and given over to the king who sacred it. The bodies were then left to decompose on the same spot, often sinking under in the mud and therefore being conserved.

The sacred fighting place

The guide then explained the most important in understanding the ruins of the Huacas. During the 700 year period, the temples were build 5 times new. Interestinglz, instead of breaking down the old temple and replacing it with the new temple, the old temple was filled with adobe bricks (and people were entered in the old temple) and then another temple was built on top of the old one. The side walls were also covered with the building of the new temple. Imagine it like a Russian Matruchka, where one doll is covered by a bigger one.

The rain had completely degraded the outer and last level of the temple, however the other levels were still in perfect shape. The stones were still looking like stones, and, most importantly, the paintings that were present on the old levels were also superbly conserved (because they were covered in adobe bricks). Look at the photos.

On the inside...

The amount of details was incredible

The Moche were skilled at pottery and arts. This could be seen at the high skill employed when drawing the big images. No molds were used in any of the drawings and still the drawings are perfectly symmetrical, demonstrating the high skill of the artists.

What I also found interesting was the way that the Moche had filled up the lower temple with adobe. Instead of linking all the stones to each other, they linked only stones together within a square meter of each other, in effect filling the lower temple with unlinked 1 m2 pillars.

 This was done so that the structure would the earth quake resistant. After admiring some more the 4th and 3rd level of the structure as well as the grave that had been excavated, we went on the outside. From the high viewpoint of the Huaca de la Luna, one could see straight across to the Huaca del Sol. All the valley in between both temples had once housed a whole city of people.

All the valley between both temples was inhabited

Remnants could still be seen in the shape of ruins that were present. According to the guide, the King did not live in any of the Huacas, instead the Huaca de la Luna was used solely for religious purposes, without anyone living in this temple apart from the High Priest. Instead the King and the clergy were living in the valley between the two Huacas. Add to it the artists that were needed to decorate the walls, the adobe producers, the engineers, the workers etc.. and one got a very sizable city together. Indeed, the city was apparently once the biggest cities of the Moche.

The view was really quite impressive. In the distance, one could see the Huaca del Sol and dotted around the valley, archeological excavations. Look at the photos. I should mention here that the excavations are still going on at the current and everywhere archaeologist could be seen as well as heavy machinery removing the sand from around the building.

Loads of excavation still needs to be done

We then went down the ramp that was used in ancient times to access the temple. On the outside of the temple, one could see the drawings that told the archaeologists everything they knew of the Moche. I have decided now not to go into it, this journal entrance is really getting too long.

The outside of each stade of the temple was decorated a lot...

The only thing I still want to mention is that each of the steps on which the drawings were done symbolized some part of the sacrifice ceremony. I have made photos of the explanation, it will be easy to follow them on the photos.

Archeologists analyzing the paintings

The guide then told us that a lot of clues point towards the fact that the Moche culture disappeared because of 30 dry years followed by 20 wet years. The surviving people of the Moche then formed a couple of years later the new Chimu culture. It should be remarked that the Moche were never conquered but rather died due to some unknown cause.

Afterwards, I had a look around the ruins of the Huaca del Sol. It was really quite worn down due to the rain. I could not walk all the way around it: a local warned me that if I continued on this path, I would get robbed. I didn’t want to test my luck and went back.

Hueca del sol seen from the bottom. The damage caused by the rain can clearly be seen.


I had already booked in the morning my bus to Cajamarca which left at 21.45 in the night. I killed time until I had to leave.



I arrived at 4 o’clock at the terminal in Cajamarca. Since this is really not the right time to travel inside an unknown city in the really quite dangerous Latin America, I just took over four seats in the waiting hall (the waiting hall was really small and shabby which did seem a bit strange) and slept there for about two hours. It was a relatively safe place to sleep so I just did.

As soon as I deemed it safe to leave the terminal, which was around 6.30, I went in search of a place to stay. The city itself did not seem that interesting (an observation that was later confirmed) and the first places I came across were more than 30 sols for staying (a little more than 11 dollars). I searched for quite some time, and asked as well locals and finally found the Hostal Choca. The first room that the guy wanted to show me could not be unlocked so he decided to give me another one in an annexed building. The room was pretty basic, and not quite worth 5 dollars, however I still took it because I was tired. It proved quite a bad decision. As I found out that night, the rooms could be booked by the hour and the beds squeaked every time one moved on it. One can imagine the concert I was subjected to that night...

However, I was completely ignorant of this fact as I slept until 11. After that, I thought that I would wander around the city and in the evening go to the Baños de los Incas which had been described as really interesting by the owner of the hotel I stayed in in Trujillo. In the end, after arriving to the conclusion that this town was not really beautiful, I went to spend the rest of the day on the market.

I love markets and the fruits were really cheap here at this place, so I ate my way through quite a lot of granadillas. In the evening, I took a combi (also called micros or microbus or simply bus in other Spanish speaking countries) and paid 1 sol for the travel to the town Baños de los Incas. Arrived there, I soon spotted the thermal bath, asked for the lowest tariff of 4 sols(the guy did not even propose me the lowest tariff at first, which was still higher than what the locals have to pay) and went inside.

Thermal Bath near Cajamarca

The guy at the counter was talking about something like having two taps to regulate temperature, privacy, big small, communal etc... I didn’t understand I must say. Instead I just went inside the enclosure and saw a couple of basins from which fumes were rising. The pools were proper hot water pools. Again, I haven’t got any good photos because I hadn’t realised by then that my camera only works when it is in zoom.

In the end, I found out what I had paid for. Cabins were built near the hot sources and each cabin was filled pretty much by a large stone basin. I had rented a whole basin for myself. As I entered, I spotted the two taps and using them I filled up the basin. Basically it was a hot bath, probably something that the locals don’t get very often. They tend to shower and wash cold...

One of the hot water basins

I stayed a long time in there, enjoying my first bath in at least a year (I did have showers, so nobody can say that I was dirty… just a little bit smelly…) and then went home. After a lunch on the street sold by one of the many street vendors, I went to bed to listen to that awful concert of squeaking and woman breathing rather loudly (also called screaming in ecstacy…). After damning myself for a couple of hours for having taken this shit accommodation, I finally fell asleep.


After a terrible night, I went to look for a bus to Chachapoya. I had decided that there was really not that much to do in Cajamarca, especially that the surrounding attractions, apart from the Baño de los Incas, were not that interesting. I found after some searching the streets were all the transportation firms were and then bought a ticket for 45 sols (16 dollars) a ticket to Chachapoya. Unfortunately this bus did not travel through the night but rather used the 12 hours of daylight available. It left at 6 in the morning and was scheduled to arrive at 6 in the evening.

All the other buses went through Chiclayo, which is situated at the coast. Going through there would have been an awesome detour of nearly twelve hours, and it would have been more expensive.

I had to stay another night, however I changed my room. It was really needed. I ended up paying 15 sols, the same price as in the hostal with the squeeky bed that I was in before, for a room with a big bed with a comfy mattress and a HOTcommunal shower. The hostal beforehand did not even have that.

In the afternoon, I took another bus to Ostuzco which then dropped me at the Ventanillas. This was the place where the old Incas used to bury their dead. To be fair, they were not much to look at, just a couple of caves meticulously built into the rock. To be fair, the work involved must have been awesome, especially that some caves stretched a couple of meters into the rock with tombs branching from the main cave, thereby creating a mausoleum.

The burial mound of the Incas

I met a Spanish elder traveller who was really interested in archaeology and who had brought a guide, however the guide could not tell very much more than was apparent and that was that only the upper classes got buried at this point. Like I have seen before, for example in Indonesia, the dead were first buried in the ground and later their bones were dug up and entered into the Ventanillas together with their belongings.

The ventanillas are really not that interesting...

I just thought, “great!”, and left. There was really not much that the guide could have told about this site.

After going back, I had my dinner at the really awesome foodstalls and then went to bed.



Got up at 5 and decided to take a cab at 5.30 just to be sure not to be robbed. The bus departed at 6 towards Chachapoya.

Interestingly, the road between Cajamarca and Celendin (a small town of a couple of hundred inhabitants) and then onwards to Chachapoyas was a dirtpacked road and led through purely agricultural landscape. The people here could classify as the poorest of Peru with the remoteness of their location prohibiting them from having access to flowing water or electricity, or probably, schools for their children...The travel from Cajamarco to Chachapoya was scenic

Anyway, after Celendin, the road led up and down mountains, thereby allowing a great view of the valleys and the surrounding mountains. It was spectacular!

The road went through the mountains

In the evening, I got really sick. I think I ate some bread that was off, but no matter what I ate that was wrong, I was spending quite a considerable time on the toilet.



I had organised the previous day a tour to Kuelap (two other persons I had met on the bus and me managed to get it for only 30 sols, a bargain compared to what the others paid, more than 50 sols), however considering that it was more than 2 hours of travel and that I could not last that long without a toilet, I decided to forgo the tour that day. I had already talked to the tour operator and just told him that I would go the next day.

I did nothing that day apart from reading.



I met the rest of the group at 8.30 am. After waiting for some more people who came too late, the tour left at around 9. We were 5 foreigners as well as round-about 12 persons of Peru. The thing was that we only had a Spanish-speaking guide. Since 3 of the foreigners could not really speak Spanish, another girl and me were translating from Spanish to English what the guide had to say for the rest of the day.

Chachapoya lies on a mountain, with the bottom of a valley at around 1500 meters while the actual city lies at 2500 meters. The valley, as well as the surrounding valleys, was once inhabited by the Chachapoyans (meaning warriors of the cloud), a culture as advanced as the Incas (who conquered them later on) about whom unfortunately not much is known. They colonised the whole of the joining valleys to the main Chachapoya valley. In total, this collection of valleys contained an astounding number of people.

What should be mentioned here is that the valley is uncommonly wet compared to the rest of the northern Peru, the high mountains forming a natural barrier for clouds to leave the mountain, thus creating a kind of mini-clima inside the valleys, while the surrounding mountains are really wet.

The surrounding mountains are all quite steep, however the people have found nowadays (and probably in the ancient times as well, since the agriculture nowadays in Peru is still done like a 1000 years ago) little fields at places where the mountain is less steep. It is quite interesting to observe the dense vegetation, and in the middle of nowhere, a corn field. I have made some photos which should show this (they didn't actually... the camera being broken...).

View of the surrounding mountains

The road we took went through the same dirt-packed road that I had taken before as well. It led along the river Tomebamba. The valley is very narrow, something like barely 200 meters large, sometimes just allowing the width of the river. The sides of the mountain rise sharply from the valley floor. I got to really appreciate the beauty of this valley, as we were travelling along it.

In El Tingo, we turned onto a road that led us into a side valley of the main valley. Shortly after turning in that road, we arrived at a lookout point over a part of valley. On the other side of the valley, a couple of ruins could be seen (unfortunately, the photos I took where no good). The guide told us, in Spanish, that, although the main cities of the Chachapoyas are located between 2500 and 3000 meters, underneath and above are located several small towns. These survived by growing plants that only grow at this altitude and then trading with the upper lying cities. The presence of a lot pre-Inca paths indicate that indeed the trading was relatively advanced during the Chachapoyan times.

Unfortunately I have lost the photos from it so I will describe the ruins I could see here. We had stopped at a turn of the road, a spot that overlooked a good part of the valley. On the other side of the valley, we could see about 20 round stone construction that were jutting out of the relatively steep mountain side. Apparently the Chachas used these structures to position their houses on top of them. As the ground is really steep, the houses needed a flat base and got it via these round structures that still could be seen.

We then got back into the car. The drive lasted for a total of 2 hours and was very scenic. We stopped at a restaurant where we were told that we could order some food for eating after we came back at 3 oclock, for 10 sols. It was incredibly expensive so I decided not to order anything. I had taken with me two pieces of bread and that had to suffice.

Once arrived at the end of the road, we paid the entrance fee for the park. Again I used the trick with my driving license and it worked superbly. The normal entrance costs 12 sols, but the reduced student version only 5.

The walk up to the fortress was not really remarkable apart from that it allowed beautiful vistas of the surrounding areas. When I first saw the immense walls of the Kuelap fortress I mistook them for a part of the mountain. They were massively high. We then went around the structure, but the circumference did not want to end.

The fortress blended in with the mountain...

Kuelap itself is located at 3000 meters. In 1821, the peruan indigenous tribes, which were held as slaves by rich hacienda owners, rebelled against their masters. In the following redistribution of lands, the indigenous got the land that was lying at high altitudes, however these did not have access to enough water. In a shrewd exchange, the indigenous mentioned that their land contained a massive ruin, which has been known for ages to the locals. In 1843, the Kuelap ruins were first discovered

Plan of Kuelap

The ruins are in fact 600m long and 110 m large, and considering that they were built in the 6th century, extremely large. It is commonly called the Machu Pichu of the north. The walls are up to 20 m high, and 800 structures have been discovered on there.

It is structured in 4 tiers, of which it could be discovered that the top tier has 4 houses, the third one 8, the second one 200 and the first and last one, all the remaining. Currently there are several theories as to what the buildings were used for. Clearly the 20 m high walls show that it was used as a defensive building (indeed the Chachapoyans were, unlike the Incas, defensive warriors. They did not conquer.), however the current discussion rages around the exact use of the structure.

Was it a castle, with a constant military presence? Or was it a place of refuge for the powerful that was only used in the times of war, but whose main use was for protecting the religious temples inside?

The walls where gigantic!

It was probably a mixture of both. Scientists have found in all the protective walls tombs of warriors. These apparently served to protect the people (or things) on the interior from supernatural powers, while the caserns at the top housed soldiers, representing protection from worldly powers. The garrison of soldiers being relatively small, it was maybe just used for the gathering of taxes. The exact use is unknown.

The reason why this immense structure has survived the invasion of the Spanish is probably its remoteness.

Kuelap is very remote...

Indeed a town was discovered in 1950 by a tourist that was so isolated that it still had one house that had been built during the Chachapoyan times. The tourist made a black-and-white photograph of it, a couple of weeks before it was destroyed by an earth quake. It is the only clue on how the Chachapoyan houses may have looked like and a reconstruction of a building has been made at Kuelap.

The Chachapoyans have been conquered by the Incas, shortly before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. Some Incan houses could still be seen among the ruins. The fortress, although it looks really strong and impregnable, does have a weakness: it hasn’t got any access to water and needed to get its water from the towns below.

Exploiting this weakness probably allowed the Incas to conquer this massive fortress. Our guide told us that Kuelap was used from 500-1500 as a fortress/sanctuary, during the Inca times as a city and then during the Spanish times as a cemetery.

After having a good look at the exterior of Kuelap and appreciating the immensity of the building and its remote placing, we entered the structure through its northern point.

Kuelap is BIG!

Unlike Machu Picchu (which I have not visited but seen photos of it), Kuelap is still in the same state as it was discovered 170 years ago (apart from some minor reconstruction work). Trees are growing in the ruins and everything is weed-overgrown. The thing is that the Peruan government does not have the money to properly restore the ruin (they do indeed have many of these kind of ruins and need to spread the little money they have between these ruins). Another factor that augments the lack of money is the corruption of the local government in Peru. The profit from the entrance prices should be used for the restauration, however the people from the local government uses the profits to line their own pockets, as was explained to us by the guide.

Trees are growing everywhere in Kuelap

A structure of Kuelap with trees

The guide also explained us the reason why still so many trees are standing inside the ruins. Although the roots of the trees damage the ruins of the houses inside the ruins, they soak up the rainwater and hence help preserve the outer walls. If not soaked up, the rain water would form pools that would eventually flow down the mountain, in the process destroying the outer walls. Since local government has not got the money to install a proper drainage system, leaving the trees inside the ruins is a trade-off.

We then walked around the whole of the structures. To get an impression of what the place looks like look at the photos.

The structures in Kuelap


The other noteworthy thing that cannot be shown by the photos is the temple that is present in the northern part of the structure. After conquering the fortress, the Incas very likely instilled their own deities and languages in the Chachapoyans.

As Kuelap had a big temple complex dedicated to the Chacha gods, the Incas destroyed this partially and built their own temple in its place. Although they destroyed one temple, the Incas left another temple, very likely the minor one, untouched.

Temple of Kuelap

The temple, from the outside, is shaped like a cone turned on its head, which is a very impressive architectural feet, especially considering that it survived more than 600 years without being tended to. Inside the temple is another structure that was discovered to be bottle shaped, with the top of the bottle opening up to the sky. To give an idea of the dimensions, the upper opening is 70 cm big, while the lower bottom of the bottle is 3 m and 40 cm large. A recent study has revealed that the sun shines down through the larger hole into the middle of the structure only three times a year. It could be surmised therefore that the temple was used for calculating the midsummer and midwinter eve and other solar cycles.

This led researchers to the conclusion that the religion of the Chachapoyans was, like the Inca’s, a sun-based worship. A further study of the temple revealed that animal bones, of very different animals ranging from chicken to puma, were found at the top of the temple. These were obviously sacrifices.

Right next to the temple that still stood were discovered the remains of the “bottle” of the other temple that had been destroyed by the Incas. I took a photo of it, so have a look at it if something still seems unclear.

The bottle...

After three hours, we left the ruin and drove back to the place where the others had ordered their lunch. I sat outside and was talking to an Israeli couple that was in the same group as me. After sharing our packed lunch, we decided to meet up in the morning and go over to the waterfall that I had heard about in my previous conversations with other travellers.


Kuelap was one of the most impressing buildings I have seen, an awesome mixture between restored and conserved buildings. The best though were the awesome surroundings!

The view from the top



In the morning, I met the Israeli couple at 8 and we set of to the Cataracta de Gocta (Waterfall of Gocta). We took a mini-van, locals call it a combi, in direction of Pedro Ruiz (5 sol). The van waits until it is full and only then leaves. It could be that one has to wait for quite some time, however from my experience they do fill up within half an hour.

5 sols for 40 minutes driving time seems a lot, however this is the price that everyone pays, no matter how far they go or where they want to be dropped off. It seems, due to the remoteness of the valley, the transportation is really quite expensive, very likely helped by the fact that these are small minivans that consume more fuel per person than the buses.

Either way, we drove down the valley on the only tarmacked road in the whole valley, the road that leads to the coast and the city of Chiclayo. It was again a very scenic route, this time one that led along the bottom of valley. It could be seen that it had been constructed with a lot of effort, sometimes the valley being so narrow that long stretches of the road had to be carved out of the jutting rock.

The mini-van dropped us off at a place where a dirt road led into the tarmacked road. After waiting at this place a long couple of minutes, a truck came past. The guy was so friendly as to take three hitch-hikers with him up to the next town where the little path to the fall of Gocta starts.

The path to the fall is a dirtpath which is easy to miss.

The discovery of the Cataracta de Gocta is interesting. It remained “undiscovered” by the authorities and satellite imaging until 1999, when a tourist happened to go to the little town near the falls. Considering that the falls are 771 meters high(as was found out in 2005) , the 5th highest in the world, the late discovery was quite surprising.

When the truck driver dropped us off near the town (whose name I have forgotten but is not further important), we could already see the fall. After taking a couple of photos, we walked onwards. The little town next to the fall has also been reached by tourism, which can be seen at the hotels that have sprung up near the entrance to the path to the falls, however it remains largely a town full of farmers set in a stunning location.

The cataracta de Gocta

The entrance to the path to the fall of Gocta cost us 7 sols, and here unfortunately no student discounts were available. The path was a bit tiring, however I am in a very good physical condition.

The path was difficult but very scenic

The Israeli girl had some trouble because the path does not go strait to the fall but rather winds around some hills and then crosses other. In total it takes around an hour.

Unfortunately, right now it was summer in Peru which meant that it wasn’t raining too much and the falls did not have that much water. It was still quite an interesting sight, again look at the photos to appreciate what I experienced.

The fall did not have much water...

The way back was a little bit of a pain. Although it is possible to walk in 40 minutes from the town from where the path departs to the Fall, the Israeli couple did not feel like walking. Instead they hoped to be able to take another car that was eventually going to go their way. I decided to start walking already.

The Israelis caught up with me a bit later on when they had hired a mototaxi downwards.

Taking a combi back to Chachapoya at the road is rather hard. All the cars leave only when full in nearby Pedro Ruiz so actually going to Pedro Ruiz may be a better idea than standing on the road side

and waiting till a car comes by. There aren’t that many going along on this road...



The next day was planned a day of rest. I had seen so much in so little time that I was mentally exhausted.

Unfortunately, I found out that the next leg of my trip was rather difficult. I needed to go to Bagua Grande in order to then make my way back to the border with Ecuador. Unfortunately, all the buses left at 1 oclock in the afternoon or later and they charged at least 15 sols, apart from one company that did not leave today (7 sols).

In the end, I decided to leave today because I did not really see any reason to stay in my current hotel. I was changing once in Pedro Ruiz for a bus to Bagua (5 sols and 1 hour, and 10 sols and 2 hours, respectively). Once in Bagua, I took another bus to the town of Jaen (6 sols, 1 hour) and arrived there at around 5 ish. I decided to search for some accommodation nearby but that proved to be a mistake.

 The towncenter is much more secure and more accessible, although a bit of distance away from the bus terminal.

I stayed in a quite basic hostal for 15 sols, about 3 minutes away from the bus terminal. It really was not that great and loads more hostels are available in the towncenter. I won’t bother to describe Jaen because it is a convenient over-night stay to the border but nothing more.



At 6 I took a moto-taxi to the terminal of the buses to San Ignacio. Only combis or autos (hired cars) were leaving for San Ignacio along the winding dirt-packed road. I payed my 12 sols, waited for 15 minutes, half an hour and then we went. The views again were really interesting but I have seen something like that already quite often so was non-plussed (as the reader may have realised, I had the travelling sickness… a sickness that affects everyone if they see too many beautiful things too often).

In San Ignacio, apparently only autos leave for the border “town” called Balsa. I paid 10 sols for another round about 2 hour ride, and once arrived got my exit stamp without problems as well as my entrance stamp into Ecuador. I had planned it so that I would be able to stay until the 14th, the last day that I could safely leave for Bogota to reach my plane on time on the 21st, all of that in order to spend the most time possible with Karla.

From there I took a chiva to the town of Zumbes (1.75 dollars, although I think the locals paid 1) and managed my connection to the town of Vilcabamba, about an hour away from Loja (6.5 dollars, 6 hours). I arrived late in the evening and looked for a room. The cheapest one I found was a tiny room for 7 dollars...


I awoke relatively late, at 7, and started walking around the town of Vilcabamba. It is horrible.

It has been invaded by expats, and is, due to the expats, really expensive. It has signs in English everywhere, expats prices, main language being english etc...

I went up to a lookout point, which really was nothing especially interesting, tried to go somewhere else but couldn’t find it and then was so disappointed that I left for Loja at 3.30.

In Loja, I caught a bus to Quito which goes overnight for 15 dollars. That was very expensive but not to change.

I have listed below the amount of bus hours I did during this trip:

Quito-Cuenca 10 hours
Cuenca-Piura 13 hours
Piura- Trujillo 6 hours
Trujillo-Cajamarca 9 hours
Cajamarca-Chachapoya 12 hours
Chachapoya-Kuelap-Chachapoya 5 hours
Chachapoya-Gocta-Chachapoya 1.5 hours
Chachapoya-Jaen 4 hours
Jaen-San Ignacio 3 hours
San Ignacio-Balsa 3 hours
Balsa-Zumba 1.5 hours
Zumba-Vilcabamba 6.5 hours
Vilcabamba-Loja-Quito 15 hours
Total of hours in 14 days 89 hours

This was some awfully fast travelling and I will not do something like this again. It is far too fast.


Read on what happened to me in the travel guide to Ecuador (Part 3)

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