For those fascinated by mysterious civilizations and grandiose citadels shrouded in jungle, Machu Picchu is a must-see. For the explorer truly enchanted with the riddles and ruins of these ancient cultures, who wishes to travel way off the beaten path and dive into these archaeological treasure chests before they have been put on display, the answer is Chachapoyas.
(c) Walter Wust
Long-isolated from any outsiders, Chachapoyas sits in a fortuitous natural cradle, high in the remote Andes in northern Peru. Straddling the rocky mountain and the dense jungle, the city is a unique Spanish settlement that seems strangely out of place in the intense natural surroundings. Indeed, once outside the city limits, all connections to the outside world are cut off by the mist. This is a land lost in time, and a playground for the savvy traveller.
When heading to this forgotten corner of the earth, don’t be fooled into thinking style must be sacrificed. Distances are great, and the fierce nature prevents efficient access by land. The real play here is to heli-hop between the remote, enigmatic sites, as few have the ability to do. Choppering over dense jungle, arrive to Kuelap Fortress, the Machu Picchu of the North. 1,000 years older than its more mainstream counterpart near Cusco, Kuelap is a primeval metropolis and regarded by legend as the only city the Inca could not take by force. Explore the intricate archaeological designs, discover ancient dwellings, and even peer through tree-shrouded windows onto human remains from over a millennium ago. The mountaintop fortress seems eerily abandoned, as it once held thousands of warriors and its walls now rarely see more than a handful of visitors in a week. As the history seems almost too tangible, break for a freshly cooked 3-course lunch and views normally reserved just for condors.
(c) Walter Wust
A quick heli-hop down the mountain and it is time for the Mummies’ Lagoon. An archaeologist’s dream come true. The prehistoric-feeling lake has an aura of mystery in its dark waters and dense foliage. That enigmatic essence is not misplaced. Merely 20 years ago, 70 perfectly preserved mummies were discovered along the lagoon’s shores and are now on display.
The next morning, it is time to conquer a new challenge – hiking to the 3rd tallest waterfall in the world. Sipping local coffee over the treetops, arrive by heli to Gocta Falls for a bit of exercise and soul-nourishing vistas. After lunch, chopper over the mountain to discover Easter Island-esque statues hidden in remote cliffsides. These are not merely decor for the passing condor. These statues are mausoleums, safeguarding more mummies as they will for centuries to come, out of reach of any thieving animals. After an archaeologist-scramble up the cliffs for the best views, it is time to return to home base for another dinner in Chachapoyas’ exotic Amazonian restaurants.
To plan your unique, individually tailored Peru itinerary, contact the Peru Empire Company at firstname.lastname@example.org or call +51-1-700-5100 or, if you are in the US, 1-347-713-7030/34.