Tag Archives: Peru

My year of travel – a summary

Well, the year of travel is over.   And it was absolutely awesome!  So much so, that I’m avoiding “real life” for another year and heading off again!   So more to come…

Here is where I ended up going over the past year:

The Places

Many people have asked me what has been my highlight from the year, which is always a tough one to answer.  

As far as places go, most would expect me to say Antarctica.  And, while Antarctica was truly incredible, what has stayed most keenly in heart is the 10-day Huayhuash Trek I did in Peru back in September (yes, I know the blog post only just came out – too many pictures to process!).   I traveled with incredible people on both of these journeys, but I think the reason Huayhuash pips Antarctica is that I had to work for it.   10 days hiking above 4,200m, with a pass over 4,800m every day – that takes some doing, and delivers a significant sense of achievement at the end.  

The other thing that Huayhuash had going for it, is that the only time my brain completely turns off is while I’m hiking.   And trust me  – that that point in my trip, I really needed to switch my brain off for a while!  10 days of not thinking about anything except my immediate surroundings was absolute bliss!    And the scenery was amazing!

As far as the biggest positive surprise goes – El Salvador takes that one out hands down.   I loved it there, as did all the people I traveled with.   The El Salvadorean people know that their country has a reputation for being unsafe, and go out of their way to help you and ensure you have a great time.   And oh the pupusas…..

As far as the biggest negative surprise – unfortunately, Cuba.   The way everyone raves about it I probably went in with too high expectations – but most of the time I just felt like I was a walking money-bag.   A couple of caveats with this – I suspect most people go on an organised trip and only stay in the “tourist triangle” – La Havana, Viñales, Trinidad, Varadero.    This would give you a very different experience to the one I had during my first couple of weeks in particular – travelling independently in the eastern part of the island.  

I can only speculate, but I have met several other people who where there either at the same time as me (and who I traveled with) or around the same time, who also ended up with the same opinion.

The People

Apart from where you go and what you see/do, the other key aspect of traveling are the people that you meet.  I strongly suspect that this is even more keenly felt by long-term travelers and, although I shared my journey with many, many wonderful people, the following have left a particularly strong mark:

Nicaragua:   Pedro Torres, Keith Manyin, Caite Handschuh, Tom Rendulich, Sven and Caroline Hansen, Sekar Bala

El Salvador:  Andre (did I ever know your last name Andre?), Susan Jung

Guatemala:  Susan Jung, Julia Koch

Cuba:  Wendy Moors, Rebekka Wessels

Ecuador:  Jenny Waack

Peru: Max Abé, Niccoló Quattropani, Jenny Waack, Rebekka Wessels

Bolivia: Jenny Waack, Kimberley Carter

Chile:  My old ESO buddies, Jenny Waack

Antarctica:  Tyson Brooks, Carl Enfohrs, Remco Verstappen

And a very special thank you has to go to Eliza Hernandez – the most awesome spanish teacher ever!   I am infinitely grateful to have had Eliza as my grammar teacher over the total of 3 months I spent at La Mariposa Spanish School both this trip and on my previous visit.  It is largely thanks to her that my Spanish is almost fluent!

What did I discover?

The other thing that people often ask about when they find out I’ve been travelling for a year is “what did you learn by doing it” and/or “how has it changed you”?   Well, it’s not like I specifically set out to learn anything (apart from improving my Spanish), though I did have a few periods of pretty intense reflection of what I wanted out of life.  

So here’s some non-exhaustive dot point musings about travel from the last year: 

  • it makes you live more in the moment.  I was not really worried about the future and what I needed to do/should do next.  Well, right up until the point where I had to decide whether I would return to my job or not…
  • it allows you to relax and encourages you to take time to do nothing.  Though somehow the days are incredibly full and I have no idea how I managed to fit a full-time job in previously!
  • it gives you the opportunity to meet lots of new and (sometimes) interesting people, and have different conversations to what you would normally have
  • it highlights how little you actually know about the world, and that you should ask more questions, always!
  • it really cuts through the rubbish and highlights how similar we all are, no matter where we come from
  • it teaches you patience and resilience.  Fortunatley I already had a good amount of both, having lived in Latin America previously
  • it forces you to live simply.   You cannot fit very much in a 60L bag, and I’m here to tell you that you really don’t need many material possessions to have an incredible life
  • it doesn’t change the fact that Australia is home and always will be (no matter how much I love Latin America).  If anything, I become more patriotic (but hopefully not in an obnoxious way) when I travel.   It also showed me just how little I knew about certain aspects of my own country (e.g. politics)
  • it makes you really appreciate the luxuries we enjoy in our everyday, first-world lives.   Clean drinking water, hot showers with plenty of water pressure,  the huge variety of fresh and cooked food in Australia, being able to buy a truly cold coke on a hot day from the service station or supermarket…

And what do I want out of life?   Well, I’m still not quite sure I know.  But I’ve always wanted to go back and live in Latin America again for a while, and that now factors into my plan for this coming year 🙂  Living in Ecuador (Chile is too expensive 🙁 ), doing freelance work for organisations back in Australia – it’s kind of one of the ideas Tim Ferriss puts forth in “The 4-hour Work Week”, though I’d had the idea before I read the book.   If it all works out like I hope – it could make for a great life for a while!  

Stay tuned…

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10 days – Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit – Part 2

Continuing the journey… 

 

Day 6:  Viconga (4,407m) – Punta Cuyoc (5,000m) – Huanacpatay (4,300m)

Awoke to yet another gorgeous day, and after our usual awesome breakfast (everything tastes so good when you are camping, and Eliceo is genuinely a master with a 2-burner gas stove!) we started our climb to Punta Cuyoc – one of the highest passes on the trek.  

Looking back down to Viconga Campground on the way Punta Cuyoc

Looking back down to Viconga Campground on the way up to Punta Cuyoc

Again though, with the slow altitude pace set by Eliceo – it was really lovely

On the way Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

On the way Punta Cuyoc

And we finally remembered to take a group photo!

Group Photo on the way Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Me, Eliceo, Nico and Max, on the way up to Punta Cuyoc

The gorgeous scenery continued as we approached the pass – Max went a bit too close and ended up with a boot full of mud…

Almost at Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Almost at Punta Cuyoc

Unfortunately, when we finally made the top of the pass, we ran into the rear-guard of the large Israeli group.  I will never understand why you would have (really crappy) music blaring when you are in such a pristine environment surrounded by such beauty.  But that was how they trekked 🙁   Tried to find a quiet bit of the pass to sit and contemplate … fortunately the wind helped in that regard.   Finally, after about 1/2 hour they started their descent and we stayed another 15 minutes or so to just enjoy the silence.

Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Punta Cuyoc

Although climbing up to these passes has given the old heart and lungs a fair bit of a workout, I actually find getting down the other side often more challenging.   This was no exception – very steep and slippery rocky paths where you are half the time skating down it trying to keep upright.   The first part of this was so steep that one of the dogs that was accompanying the Israeli group (this is where our inherited dog came from as well – apparently he liked us better – perhaps because we walked faster and didn’t have crappy music going all the time) wouldn’t actually start the descent!   He was still at the top when we went to depart, whimpering because he was being left behind.  In the end, Eliceo enacted a rescue and carried him down the first part of the slope – almost bringing himself unstuck in the process!

Getting down was harder than climbing up - Punta Cuyoc - Cordillera Huayhuash

Getting down was harder than climbing up – the other side of Punta Cuyoc

We made it to Quebrada Huanacpatay campsite with no real dramas though.   How could you not get used to these views!

Huanacpatay Campground - Cordillera Huayhuash

Huanacpatay Campground

Day 7: Quebrada Huanacpatay (4,300m) – Santa Rosa Pass (5200m) – Huayllapa (3,500m)

This was the day I was most fearful of.   Our highest pass at 5,200m and we were taking a different route to normal.   Almost everyone goes over the San Antonio pass (5,020m), but Eliceo’s opinion was that the adjacent Santa Rosa Pass had a more spectacular view of the mountain range, and at the bottom of the descent you could visit one of the lakes as well.

While we were camped the night before, looking across the Huanacpatay valley, I was seriously wondering where the heck the path was and how we were going to climb what looked to be almost vertical! 

Turns out – via a lot of switchbacks!

Switchbacks - Cordillera Huayhuash

These are only about a foot-width wide and zig-zag up what is essentially a scree slope.   You don’t want to suffer from vertigo here!

After the initial, very steep first ascent, we encountered a nice flat valley which was a wonderful surprise.   It was only a temporary respite, however, we still had a ways to climb to reach the pass.

Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

“Respite Valley” We are heading up and over the high valley you can see

But oh how it was worth it!   One of the most spectacular views on the hike, and there have been so many of them!

Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

The view from the Santa Rosa pass is stunning! 

We were actually really lucky and arrived in time to get the complete view without clouds – you can actually see the clouds starting to roll in on the right hand side of the above image.   About half hour later, the tops of the mountains were obscured.  It was very much worth getting up at the crack of dawn to see this!

Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Max and Nico on top of the Santa Rosa pass. Yes we were still travelling with the dog who had adopted us

We stayed up there for quite a long time, but eventually the cold and wind drove us down the other side.   The way down was ridiculously steep – I would hate to think what coming down the even steeper San Antonio pass must be like!

Descending from the Santa Rosa pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Descending from the Santa Rosa pass.

We took our time with plenty of rest stops along the way, and to give the shaky legs a bit of a break from the steep descent

Rest stop along the way down from Santa Rosa Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

We availed ourselves of plenty of rest stops so that we could take in the incredible views

And finally reached the turquoise Laguna Juraucocha.   It would have been brilliant to have an extra day camped in this area to explore the lakes (that would have been one of the extensions I would have made), but we had to push on to get to the small village of Huayllapa.

Laguna Juraucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

We got to visit Laguna Juraucocha because we took the Santa Rosa pass.

This involved trudging down a long valley, following a river with some pretty cool waterfalls along the way.  

Valley to Huayllapa - Cordillera Huayhuash

It was pretty, but the least interesting part of the walk.    Also hurt to know that we were descending to 3,500m … and we would need to regain all that altitude again tomorrow!

Huayllapa - Cordillera Huayhuash

Entering the village of Huayllapa

Rather than camp on the soccer field at Huayllapa, we all decided to take some very basic rooms in one of the two hostels in town.   Even paid a few Soles more for the opportunity of a hot-ish shower 🙂   Was luxury to sleep in a bed and was not as cold as we have been throughout the rest of the trek

Day 8:  Huayllapa (3,500m) – Punta Tapush (4750 m) – Laguna Susucocha (4,654m) – Cashpapampa (4,400m)

Ok – so regaining all that altitude was not my favourite part of the trek.  It wasn’t technically challenging (always a good distraction), and it wasn’t particularly beautiful for the first part either (always a good excuse to stop for photos) – rather it was a long, 4 hour slog up a hill.

Regaining altitude - Huayllapa to Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

Not the most inspiring scenery of the trek … along the 4 hour slog up to Punta Tapush

Fortunately, after about 3 hours, it did get more beautiful

Approaching Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash And the last part up to Punta Tapush was really cool in my opinion.  Very rocky, almost seemed volcanic to me.

Cool rocky bit approaching Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

Finally made it

Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

and made a special friend too 🙂

Donkey and me at Punta Tapush - Cordillera Huayhuash

Spent quite a bit of time hanging out up there given it was warm and not too windy, and then headed down to Laguna Susucocha.

Laguna Susucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Laguna Susucocha. Diablo Mudo (which the boys climbed the next morning) is in the snowy peak in the background

And our slightly swampy campsite at Cashpapampa

Heading down to Cashpapampa campground

Heading down to Cashpapampa campground – we camped near those green patches in the middle of the image

Day 9: Cashpapampa (4,400m) – Paso Yaucha (4,800m) –  Laguna Jahuacocha (4,150m)

I happily stayed warm in my sleeping bag listening to the guys get ready at 2am for their ascent of Diablo Mudo (the Deaf Devil).   Eliceo went with them of course, which meant that I started the day trekking by myself.   Elijio pointed me in the right direction, said that I really shouldn’t get lost and off I set.   

The valley I ascended on the way to Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

The valley I ascended on the way to Paso Yaucha

On the way to Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Vistas on the way to Paso Yaucha

It was quite a different experience hiking by myself rather than following Max and Nico and Eliceo from a distance.  On the couple of occasions where I thought the path was not entirely obvious – I had to go looking for myself to find the way.  And, on top of the pass, I had to try to take my “pass photo” as a selfie … this is quite difficult to do with an actual camera (rather than a phone)

Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Selfie on Paso Yaucha

The nice thing about it, however, was that I was able to spend as long as I wanted at the top!   And the view did not disappoint, even though the light at that time of day wasn’t the best for photos.

Vista from Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Vista from Paso Yaucha

It was also an  inspired idea to sit and contemplate for a while, as it meant that a couple of Israelis (yes there are lots in Huayhuash) and their guide caught up to me.  Their guide was a good friend of Eliceo and so I joined them as they went for a slight detour out to another viewpoint.

Heading out to the lookout from Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading out to the lookout from Paso Yaucha

Eliceo later told me that he specifically didn’t tell me about this viewpoint because it can be quite dangerous to get down from there.   But can you imagine being so close and not getting to see this?!

Viewpoint over 3 lakes near Paso Yaucha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Viewpoint over 3 lakes near Paso Yaucha

I take Eliceo’s point though – the descent from here was incredibly steep and I fell (softly) several times before finally arriving at Laguna Jahuacocha and our last campsite for the trek.

Camp at Laguna Jahuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Yet another incredible campsite at Laguna Jahuacocha

It was quite a popular place actually – saw more people here than at any other time on the trek.  Fresh fried trout (caught especially by Elijio) for dinner was the perfect final meal, and the others washed it down with a bottle of red wine which had somehow survived the entire trip!

Day 10: Laguna Jahuacocha (4,150m) – Paso Llamac (4,300m) – Lamac (3,200m) – Huaraz (3,053m)

The area around Laguna Jahuacocha would be another place to spend an extra day exploring if you had it.  But unfortunately we had to meet our transport, so it was up, up, up, up another interminable climb.  

The interminable ascent to Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

The interminable ascent to Pampa Llamac

It all looked so similar that you would swear that the corner you were facing was identical to the one you rounded about 10 minutes ago, and because the gorgeous mountains of yesterday were directly behind us, we didn’t have any awe-inspiring views to distract us.

But, one foot in front of the other at Eliceo’s snail’s pace, and we made it to Pampa Llamac eventually.

Pampa LLamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Final pass of the trip – Pampa Llamac

Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Max and Nico made it too!

Elijio caught up to us at the top, made some adjustments to the donkey’s loads, and led the way for our final descent.

Elijio adjusting the loads on the donkeys - Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Elijio adjusting the loads on the donkeys – Pampa Llamac

Descending from Pampa Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

Descending from Pampa Llamac

We passed the ruin of the house (almost nothing there now) of where Eliceo grew up, and finally reached our destination – the village of Llamac – where our transportation was awaiting us and we had to say goodbye to Elijio and his donkeys.

Llamac - Cordillera Huayhuash

The village of Llamac.

Then it was the long road back to Huaraz – dropping Max and Nico off at the highway as they were heading directly back to Lima.

Really amazing feeling to have finished the hike – the sense of accomplishment really is something spectacular.   And I’m just infinitely grateful that I had the opportunity to do it, and share the experience with such amazing people!

Right… time to wash some clothes that are almost walking for themselves :-/

Recommendations

For those of you who have been inspired by the above (and it’s very hard not to be!), a few things to note.   This trek is probably not for you if:

  • you don’t like camping
  • you haven’t done an extended trek before (I did the 8-day Torres del Paine Circuit Trek in Chilean Patagonia last year, which was also awesome.  Actually, it is what inspired me to do more multi-day treks like this)
  • you suffer badly from the cold (OK – so this describes me, but I survived 🙂 ) Make sure you bring a -20 degree sleeping bag – you are going to need it!
  • you aren’t in decent shape – it’s 10 days of trekking at altitude – enough said
  • you don’t do altitude well – you are above 4000m 98% of the time so make sure you can handle the altitude before committing
  • you suffer from vertigo – there are many, many places where there are very, very steep drop-offs as you skirt around the edges of mountains on scree-slopes
  • you have bad knees – there are 3 days that involve very, very steep descents of more than an hour – they are knee killers!
  • you don’t have good balance – read last 2 dot points!

Best months for the trek are May – September and most companies only offer hikes during this time.   I organised through Peru Qorianka which must have some sort of affiliation with Active Peru, and was very, very happy with the trip and the quality of the equipment provided.

Cost:  I paid USD$720 + a tip for Eliceo and Elijio.   This included transport to and from Huayhuash, guide, donkey driver + donkeys, 5 meals/day and all equipment.  Couldn’t ask for more.

Time:  I really liked the relaxed nature of the 10-day trek where we had time to really appreciate the journey and also have some downtime from walking.   Some do it in 8 days, which would be much tougher – especially as there would be at least one day with multiple passes to climb.  12 days would be ideal – so you could add in a few day hikes around Laguna Juraucocha and Laguna Jahuacocha.

 

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10 days – Trekking the Huayhuash Circuit – Part 1

The Huayhuash Circuit Trek (pronounced Why-wash) is widely regarded as one of the best alpine treks in the world due to its remoteness and the proximity to enormous mountains that you can almost reach out and touch.  Even better, the number of visitors is still relatively low.   Most opt for the shorter and more famous Santa Cruz trek in the Cordillera Blanca, though this is changing with the success of the movie and book Touching the Void” – Joe Simpson’s remarkable survival of Siula Grande (one of the highest peaks in the Cordillera Huayhuash).

So after a single acclimatization hike to Laguna 69, and a couple of days in Huaraz arranging logistics, I got picked up at my hostel at 8am to head out into the wilderness for 10 days.   The trek itself is about 130km in total, 98% of which is between 4000m and 5200m, and there are 8 passes above 4500m to cross.  Hmmm… about that acclimatization…

Our route (and where we camped each night) is mapped in purple on the below (thanks to Peruvian Soul for the best illustrative map I could find). 

Huayhuash Circuit Trek - where we walked

Peruvian Soul also have the cool altitude chart of the trek, and although not quite correct (given we didn’t exactly follow the Peruvian Soul route), it gives you a pretty good idea of what we were dealing with though (the major difference is that we did the Santa Rosa pass @ 5200m instead of the San Antonio pass @5020m).

Huayhuash Circuit Trek - where we walked

I was sharing this adventure with Nico (Swiss-Italian) and Max (German) – two awesome, awesome guys who I really loved hanging out and trekking with.

Max, me and Nico - Cordillera Huayhuash

Our guide – Eliceo (an amazing guide/cook)

Eliceo - Cordillera Huayhuash

and our donkey-driver-come-general-helper-who-really-doesn’t-feel-the-cold-at-all – Elijio (along with his entourage of 6 donkeys and 1 horse) rounded out our very small group.

Elijio with donkeys - Huayhuash

I have to say, I was really, really thankful for the smallness of the group … we came across a large (12 people + guides + donkeys) group on about Day 3 for a couple of days (fortunately we were walking much faster and so only really saw them at the campsites) and that really would have driven me mad!  I was relishing the peacefulness and loneliness of where we were hiking – that would have been destroyed utterly with a lot of people.

To be honest, I’m mostly just going to let the images do the talking in the following 🙂

Day 1:  Huaraz (3050m) – Quartelhuain (4300m)

Actually, there was no hiking this day given that they have extended the road all the way to the first campsite.  4 hours in the van getting to know each other.   Set up camp.  Enjoy being in the outdoors.  Read.  Eat.  Sleep.   That was pretty much the extent of it 🙂    So happy to have awesome trekking companions, and brilliant to meet a real-life James Herriott (Max is a ruminant vet).

Cordillera Huayhuash

Approaching the Cordillera Huayhuash along the road

Quartelhuain campsite - Cordillera Huayhuash

Quartelhuain campsite and surrounds

Day 2:  Quartelhuain (4300m) – Cacanan Punta Pass (4700m) – Mitucocha (4220m)

Our first day of hiking.   It was absolutely freezing when we started out (even the -20 degree sleeping bag didn’t keep me warm last night – camping at altitude is a cold, cold business) and it took quite a long time for the toes and fingers to defrost.    

Chatting with locals on the way up Cacanan Punta Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Chatting with locals on the way up the Cacanan Punta Pass

I have come to the conclusion that the first and most important thing they teach the high-altitude guides in guide school is how to walk slowly.  Eliceo set a VERY slow pace up the steep first pass – and while it was not easy, it actually wasn’t that difficult either.  I think the problem I have usually is that I try to walk too fast.   There is a reason they look like they are barely plodding up Everest!

The view from the top of the pass was absolutely spectacular, though I was still not quite warm enough to strip off all the layers!

Me at the top of Cacanan Punta Pass

Me at the top of Cacanan Punta Pass – almost defrosted!

Cacanan Punta Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Cacanan Punta Pass

We then hiked over to check out an absolutely gorgeous lake and to have our lunch, running into some Vicuñas along the way.

Vicuña - Cordillera Huayhuash

Vicuña

Lake - Cordillera Huayhuash 

Lake - Cordillera Huayhuash

Then down to Mitucocha Lake for our second campsite.  What a view!

Mitucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Day 3:  Mitucocha (4220m) – Punta Carhuac pass (4650m) – Carhuacocha (4150m)

Although it was freezing, there are definitely worse places to have breakfast than this.  Yes, Max and Nico are crazy wearing shorts at this time of the day!

Breakfast Mitucocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Breakfast at Mitucocha campsite

Packed up our tents, left Elijio with the rest of the packing job (guided treks are awesome!) and headed out towards the Punta Carhuac pass.  

Our donkeys and packing

Elijio was in charge of the packing and unpacking efforts – his donkeys always waiting patiently

A fairly easy day of hiking, and the scenery just continues to be spectacular.

Heading towards Punta Carhuac pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading towards Punta Carhuac pass

Punta Carhuac pass

Me at Punta Carhuac pass

Max and Eliceo at Punta Carhuac pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Max and Eliceo at Punta Carhuac pass

Heading away from Punta Carhuac pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Laguna Carhuacocha – our next campsite

Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Campsite at Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Not a bad view of the Laguna Carhuacocha and Cordillera Huayhuash from my tent

Day 4: Carhuacocha (4,150m) – Siula Pass (4,850m) – Huayhuash (4,350m)

Woke up to a perfectly calm and gorgeous morning – a beautiful start to one of the toughest days of hiking.

Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Stunning morning at Laguna Carhuacocha

It didn’t start out too bad – a nice flat walk along the edge of the lake towards the mountains.

Hiking along the side of Laguna Carhuacocha - Cordillera Huayhuash

Then around the corner and past a farm with arguably one of the best views in the world.   Interestingly, the Huayhuash Circuit is not within a National Park.  It passes through farming communities and the trail fees go directly to the community who provide basic facilities and look after the campsites.

Farms - Cordillera Huayhuash

Farms (with dogs!) in the Cordillera Huayhuash

Hiked around some gorgeous lakes as well

Cordillera Huayhuash

Cordillera Huayhuash

before the going got tough!

Straight up a very steep path to the lookout over the lakes and mountain range.  Yes, even at Eliceo’s snail’s pace – this was a tough climb at altitude!    

Hiking to the lookout above the lakes below Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

You can see the guys above me on the very steep path to the lookout over the 3 gorgeous lakes (Qanrajancacocha, Siulacocha and Quesillococha) below the Siula Pass

But the reward was worth it 🙂

Lookout over Qanrajancacocha, Siulacocha and Quesillococha - Cordillera Huayhuash

At the lookout of the three lakes: Lookout over Qanrajancacocha, Siulacocha and Quesillococha. Still not quite at the Siula Pass!

But we were still not done…  There was still quite a lot of uphill to go to actually reach the top of Siula Pass.

Heading towards Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading towards Siula Pass

Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Siula Pass

But I did make it 🙂

Siula Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Me at Siula Pass

The rest of the day’s hiking was a doddle – decending towards Huayhuash campsite.

Away from Siula Pass towards Huayhuash Campsite - Cordillera Huayhuash

Away from Siula Pass towards Huayhuash Campsite

Huayhuash Campsite - Cordillera Huayhuash

Huayhuash Campsite

Day 5: Huayhuash (4,350m) – Portachuelo Pass (4,795m) – Lake Viconga (4,407m)

This was another fairly easy day, and our long-awaited reward of thermal baths lay at the end of it.   I was hanging out for that – especially since I hadn’t had a proper wash for 5 days.

On the way up to Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

On the way up to Portachuelo Pass

Donkeys approaching Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Donkeys for the Israeli group approaching us on top of Portachuelo Pass

Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

On top of the Portachuelo Pass

Portachuelo Pass - Cordillera Huayhuash

Rest stop on Portachuelo Pass. This dog had adopted us 2 days earlier and walked with us for the next 3 days. He was a great addition to our group

Lake Viconga - Cordillera Huayhuash

Heading down to Lake Viconga

Viconga Hot Springs - Cordillera Huayhuash

Enjoying the Viconga Hot Springs at the Viconga campground. Stunning place!

Read more about the rest of this incredible trek in the next blog post!

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Free Walking Tours by Foot – Cusco

I’ve become a huge fan of “Free walking tours” in each of the major places that I visit.  The idea is that the tour itself is free and you pay a “tip” at the end depending on how much you enjoyed the experience.  So, given I didn’t really have any plans for Cusco, and I wasn’t planning on revisiting the major Incan ruins in the area, I decided to join Free Walking Tours by Foot for some more insight into the city itself.

I started out doing the Downtown Cusco Walking Tour, which goes for about 2.5 hours and takes in the sights listed on the webpage.   Elvis was our guide and he was absolutely brilliant!  Very knowledgeable, full of information, encouraged lots of questions and had an awesome, awesome sense of humour that I particularly appreciated 🙂

For example, one of the things you do on the tour is learn a little about llamas and alpacas.

Llama:  A domesticated Guanaco.  The llama is the Peruvian version of a horse and it is used to carry cargo.  They are often larger than alpacas but not always, and the way to tell the difference is that the llama looks like it is wearing eyeliner (top image).

Alpaca:  A domesticated Vicuña.  The alpaca is the Peruvian version of a sheep and is used for its wool and meat.  They actually come in 2 types.  As Elvis put it, you have the “French Poodle” alpaca and the “Rastafarian” alpaca.  The quality of the wool is the same for both.

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

Elvis, the llama and the alpacas. He had names for each of them

Elvis also does an amazing job of explaining the layout of an Incan Palace while visiting the Palace of Pachaquteq, including how the Incans got light into the centre of their structures, and how roof slopes and drainage systems worked together.

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

Top: Ruins of a patio in the Palace of Pachaquteq. Bottom left: Original Incan path and drainage system. Bottom right: What is inside an Incan wall – they are thick!

He also explained the importance of why Incan walls slope inward and the significance of the trapezoid that is so ubiquitous in Incan structures (it is the Incan equivalent to a Roman arch, and protects against earthquakes).

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

The only shop we visited on the whole tour was right at the end – an alpaca goods shop where Elvis’ brother works.  But there was absolutely no pressure at all to buy anything.  Rather, they continued to give to their guests by finishing the tour with a small “Peruvian exotic fruits” tasting – Granadilla, Aguaymanto and Chirimoya.  Brilliant!

Contrast this to an experience one of my friends had with a different company – where they mostly visited shops and had a lot of pressure to buy.  Make sure you book with the right company!

In fact, I was so impressed with first tour, that I went back for a second one!  My last day in Cusco I joined Elvis again (yay!) for the Puma Walking Tour.  Elvis recognised me from 2 days prior and said up front that the tour would cover some of the same ground.  I said that was fine – and in the end, there was only a small amount of overlap because Elvis changed the tour up a bit to make sure there was plenty of new stuff for me as well.  Awesome, awesome guy!

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

On the Puma walking tour with Elvis, who is explaining how the important area of Cusco is shaped like a Puma.

Free Tours by Foot - Cusco

Elvis explaining how the (much larger and much harder than normal) stones of the Tupac Yupanqui palace were worked and moved into position

Qoricancha Sun Temple - Cusco

The Puma Walking Tour also takes in one of the most important temples in Cusco – the Qoricancha Sun Temple – that shows pre-Inca, Incan and Spanish stonework

Recommendation:  When you are in Cusco – definitely look up Free Walking Tours by Foot and join Elvis on at least one of his tours.

Cost:  Free, but please leave a generous “tip”.  The tours are fabulous and need to be supported appropriately.  Think of what you would pay for a city tour somewhere else before deciding how much you will give.

Time:  2.5 – 3 hours

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Cusco Culinary – cooking workshop

As you have probably figured out by now if you have been reading this blog for a while, one of the first things I do before heading to a new place is search for cooking classes on offer there. Fortunately Cusco had many choose from, and in the end, I decided upon the dinner menu from Cusco Culinary.

Christian, the chef, came and met me at my hostel and off we headed to the San Pedro Market as our first stop.  Yes – once again – I was the only person doing the cooking class (definitely developing a complex) :-/   The nice thing about that this time was that it turned out Christian had worked in Australia for a few years, so our non-cooking related conversations were largely about Australia and 80s music 🙂

The San Pedro market is quite clean and orderly (markets in South America are much less crazy than Central American ones), with the ubiquous fruit and veg stands and plenty of dried products – including meat and potatoes!

San Pedro Market - Cusco

Always love visiting the fruit and veg sections of latin american markets. San Pedro in Cusco also had dried (and rehydrated) potatoes (bottom left) and dried alpaca meat (bottom right) for sale

It is also full of really cool stuff that costs an absolute fortune in Australia – especially dried fruit and nuts, and all the “superfood” type stuff – quinoa, kiwicha, maca powder, chia seeds, etc.  All this is very, very cheap in Peru.

San Pedro Market - Cusco

The fresh cheeses looked amazing – too bad they were not pasturised (no, not willing to knowingly chance that).

San Pedro Market - Cusco

And for the first time ever I saw a bread section in a market!

cusco market

There are essentially 2 breads in Cusco – the large round one is sweet (and only comes in that size), and a small savory one that is largely hollow and that gets served everywhere with jam.   Neither are loaf-like – apparently the altitude of Cusco (3400m) means that the bread struggles to rise!  There was also only one type of sweet treat – the empanada on the right with sprinkles on it.  It was actually quite yum and a little like shortbread!

After walking through the market, we headed to where the class would be held and I have to say – it was absolutely beautiful inside!   One of the most beautiful and best equipped cooking workshop venues I’ve been in (and I’ve been in quite a few).

Cusco Culinary cooking class - beautiful school

First up, a tasting plate of Peruvian fruits that most people have probably not tried before.

Cusco Culinary cooking class - fruit tasting

Because I’m a cooking school and a Latin American market aficionado, I’d actually had them all – but it was a wonderful way to start the evening.   Clockwise from right:

  • Granadilla – one of my all-time favourite fruits – like a very, very sweet passionfruit
  • Tuna (fruit of the prickly pear) – admittedly I hadn’t eaten the red one before, the green one is what you get in Chile.  It’s full of seeds (as you can see) and not terribly sweet
  • Lucuma – unusual to try it as a fruit rather than as icecream, which is usually the way it is eaten.  It’s texture is that of a boiled sweet potato – and it kind of tastes a little like one as well
  • Aguaymanto (someone told me it is a gooseberry) – slightly tart and, I have to admit, not my favourite
  • Chirimoya (custard apple) – anyone who has been out to dinner with me in Chile knows this is my juice of choice
  • Pepino Dulce – I’d seen these in Australia on occasion but they were always too expensive to buy.  I’d tasted one the week before – it actually tastes a little like a honeydew melon

We also started with a very typical Peruvian drink – Chicha Morada.  Unlike other chichas, this one is not fermented.  Rather, it is made by boiling black corn with other fruits and spices.  Very mild flavour.

Cusco Culinary cooking class - drinks

Left: Chicha Morada; Right: Peruvian Pisco Sour

And the very first thing we made in the class was a classic Peruvian Pisco Sour (right).  I only put in 1/2 the Pisco – which was a good move for someone who doesn’t drink alcohol.   I’m definitely getting the hang of 1/2-strength Pisco Sours now 🙂

Fruit and drinks out of the way, it was time to start on the entree – Quinoa Crusted Causita.   A causita is basically a cold potato dish where the potato is flavoured with the ubiquitous yellow chili of Peru (not spicy).  In this case, we made a sushi roll out of it – with cooked chicken and avocado inside).

Cusco Culinary cooking class - causita

Have to admit, it wasn’t the best dish in the world – not enough flavour for me – but it did look impressive and you have to love my plating abilities: including my plate swirls!

Next up was one of the most common dishes in Peru – Lomo Saltado.  I’d had it a few times before and always thought it was a bit “meh”, but this one showed me how good it could be – it was very, very tasty!  Note that  Christian wore his Qantas chef gear especially for me 🙂

Cusco Culinary cooking class - lomo saltado

Finally – dessert.  I didn’t actually get to make this, as it is prepared by the chef.  Chocolate Lava pudding.  I cannot begin describe how delicious this was!   The best dessert-with-molten-insides I’ve ever had!  So glad they gave me the recipe!

Cusco Culinary cooking class - dessert

Recommendation: I highly recommend the dinner cooking class by  Cusco Culinaryand I’m sure their lunchtime class is just as good.  Food is delicious and it is a lot of fun.

Cost:  $65

Time: ~4 hours

 

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Rainbow Mountain – Cusco, Peru

This is my 4th time in Cusco, Peru.   The previous 3 times I concentrated on Machu Picchu (yes, I’ve been there 3 times but have never hiked the trail), other Incan sites (Sacsahuaman, Pisac, Moray), and (my personal favourite) the Salinas de Maras.

This time around, I didn’t plan to stay very long in the area – but I wanted to catch up with two German girls I’d met previously in my travels: Jenny (from my Mindo adventures in Ecuador) and Rebekka (who I’d met in Cuba) – and was intrigued by the day hike to the Rainbow Mountain (Vinicunca Mountain) – something that I’d never heard of before.  Apparently it wasn’t a thing 11 years ago when I was last here because it was covered in ice and snow.  However, thanks to global warming, it is now one of the most popular day trips from Cusco.

Be warned though – it starts very, very early!   Unfortunately Rebekka wasn’t feeling well, so Jenny and I bundled into the minivan with several other travellers at 3am for the start of the adventure.

After about 2 hours of driving, we stopped for breakfast at a small village just as the sun was rising.  Nothing fancy – bread, jam, cheese, eggs, coca tea – but very welcome.  Then it was back in the minivan for another 40 minutes (and an impressive flat tyre) to the start of the trail head at ~4200m above sea level.

There’s no mucking around in starting to gain altitude – the first 15 minutes of the walk is up quite a steep incline (hmmm…. where did all that acclimatization from the Huayhuash trek go?!).  At the top, you are greeted by about a million locals with their horses!  They cleverly give you the chance to experience walking up hills at altitude before offering up their horses – and there are quite a few people who realise how difficult the hike is going to be and take advantage of the 4-legged form of transport.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

The next 30 – 45 minutes is actually very easy walking along flat ground.  They don’t want you to miss the trail though – it is marked by large piles of rocks.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

And there are some really nice views of the valley with alpacas and llamas roaming the landscape.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

The trail then starts to ascend again and it just keeps going up.  It takes about 2-2.5 more hours to climb to the the viewpoint for the Rainbow Mountain at ~5200m.  I remembered my tricks from Huayhuash though: walk slowly, keep breathing – and was still one of the first up there.   Though there would have had to have been at least 100 more in my wake!

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

Looking down to the trail from the Rainbow mountain viewpoint. It is a very popular day hike!

And despite the fact that it scores 4.5 stars out of 5 on TripAdvisor, and other bloggers rave about it, Jenny and I were more than a little underwhelmed 🙁  It quite literally is one mountain…

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru
Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

Fortunately there were some other nice views as well, not just the main one.

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

Didn’t stay at the top for too long – like all high points, it was very windy and freezing cold and the weather was getting progressively worse – but couldn’t resist some more llama and alpaca photos on the way back 🙂

Rainbow Mountain Hike - Cusco, Peru

It started to hail (only small) about 1/2 hour from the minivan, and then started to rain when I was only 5 minutes away … it could have held off for 5 more minutes :-/

From there it was back to the place where we had breakfast – this time for lunch – then back to Cusco.

 

Recommendation:  Hmmm…. it was great to get out and do some exercise and some more hiking. But it really was quite underwhelming and there were waaaaay too many people for my taste in hiking.

Cost:  120 Nuevo Soles (~$40) is the going rate if you book when you arrive in Cusco.  You won’t miss out so don’t pay more than this by booking in advance.

Time: 3am – 6pm  –  it is a long day.

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Sand Dunes and Sand Boarding – Huacachina, Peru

Huacachina is a small oasis surrounded by sand dunes and looks pretty amazing, until you realise it is only 5km outside the large city of Ica in southern Peru.

Huacachina

If you’ve never seen reasonably large sand dunes and are travelling through Peru – this would definitely be worth a visit (though unfortunately the water in the oasis is rather polluted), but if you are a keen desert visitor like me, you could probably skip.  However, since I ended up there for a couple of days I figured I’d go for the sunset dunes excursion at least.

Huacachina - Sand Buggy

Every agency offers this tour and everybody does it.   Essentially you and your companions strap yourself (race-car style) into a sand buggy, and your insane driver roars around the desert, getting (vertically) sideways and dropping over the crests of steep sand dunes –  making sure that your stomach is well and truly left behind.

Well, unless he happens to get bogged…

Huacachina - sand duning

In between times, there are plenty of opportunities for sand boarding – starting with “baby” slopes and working up to higher and higher dunes.   I’m sure that I sandboarded a much higher dune in Yemen standing up (see one of my all time favourite images, image 10 of this gallery – the two black dots down the bottom of the dune are people), but here they almost insisted that you go down on your stomach to avoid any injuries.

Huacachina - Sand Boarding

You definitely go faster this way (if my memory serves me correctly) and you can be assured to get sand absolutely everywhere throughout your clothing and body, and because you have to hold your legs up, you end up with pelvic bruises – but hey – no pain no fun 🙂

 

Then, if you do the sunset tour, obviously you get to watch the sunset – well, kind of.  It wasn’t really a sunset because the sun simply disappeared behind dunes rather than setting, but some beautiful light nonetheless.

Huacachina

Recommendation:  You can’t really be in Huacachina and not do this excursion.  It’s a bit of a thrill but prepared to get very, very sandy!

Cost: 40 Nuevo Soles (~$12)

Time: ~2.5 hours

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Sarcophagi of Karajía & Quiocta Cavern – Chachapoyas, Peru

The other reason (apart from Kuelap) that Chachapoyas won out over the other towns with archaeological sites was that the Sarcophagi of Karajía really captured my imagination.  I’d come across them on the Atlas Obscura website that Charlotte put me onto and I just had to visit another site with “big heads” given I’d done so in Egypt and Easter Island.

The day started in the same way as the previous – bundled into a minivan with a bunch of other people (though the majority were international tourists this time) and driving 48km (about 1.5 hours) on one-lane roads with the world’s most careful driver to get to a place where we pre-ordered lunch and picked up gumboots.   In addition to visiting the Sarcophagi of Karijía, this tour also took in the Quiocta Cavern – hence the need for the change of shoes!

We actually went to the cavern first (another hour in the van).   And while it was certainly a large cave, if you have been in semi-decent caves before (which, judging from the oohs and aahs of my companions, they clearly had not), this really doesn’t compare.   It is mostly empty, with only a few displays of fairly worn stalagmites and stalactites, and very sticky mud.  In fact, one of the best parts for me was watching the others tentatively pick their way across the floor – why are so many girls (in particular) so tentative and uncoordinated?

Quiocta Cavern - Chachapoyas, Peru

The other interesting thing was the human skeletons (all children under 16 years old) found at the entrance to the cave – significance not exactly certain.

Quiocta Cavern - Chachapoyas, Peru

There was a bit of chauvinism going on from our guide, Ronald, who handed the lanterns only to the guys in the group (who, by the way were hopeless at pointing them at interesting things to look at), but I have to admit it was nice of him to give the girls a hand across all obstacles … he let the guys fend for themselves 🙂

Spent about an hour in the Cavern, then back to the town for lunch at a decent hour – 1pm.  Then back in the van for another hour-long drive in a different direction to get to the Sarcophagi.   By this time, I’d struck up a conversation in Spanish with Sebastian, a German guy who lived in England (and had a very English accent actually) and who I was sitting next to in the van.  And although it became quickly obvious that English was our easier language – we silently agreed to spend most of the day speaking in Spanish 😉 which also allowed us to bring Ronald and the other guide into our conversation.  Interminable hours in a van go much faster when you are chatting about Latin American music and other such things!

We finally arrived at the Sarcophagi (also known as the purunmachu) and had about a 2km walk down a fairly steep hill to actually get to the site.   There are only 6 remaining (up until 1970 there were about 60 in this area!) and they are perched quite high up on the cliff so you can’t get too close unfortunately.    But they are cool!  There are actually 3 women and 3 men here.   The men are on the right – if you look closely you can see ochre paint marks over the cream base that resembles a penis and testicles on the males.

Sarcophagi de Karijia - Chachapoyas, Peru

These purunmachu stand about 2.5m tall and made of mud, wood and straw, with mummies and offerings inside.

Ronald was explaining that the Chachapoyas culture had 5 different types of Sarcophagi – two of which we could see in this site.  The other ones were behind us and were characterized by appearing a little like hunchbacks with their heads below their hunched shoulders.

Sarcophagi de Karijia - Chachapoyas, Peru

That was pretty much all there was to the Sarcophagi so after taking a bunch of photos we walked back up the hill, got back in the van and headed back to Chachapoyas.   And although it doesn’t sound like much – it was cool and I’m really glad I made the effort to get out and see it!

 

Recommendation:  It is a LOT of time sitting in a van – so maybe not for everyone.  I just have a thing for big heads…

Cost: I booked through Amazon Expedition and it cost S/80 (~$25) for transport, guide, entrance fees, gumboot hire and lunch.  The whole tour was in Spanish – I have no idea if they offer in English.

Time: ~9 hours

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It’s healthy – trust us!

Who knew that Fruit Loops had so much nutrition!

Health food

According to the packet, all the Angel brand cereals come enriched with 14 vitamins and minerals that help in the following ways:

  • Iron – to prevent anaemia
  • Vitamin A – to help strengthen teeth and bones, for good vision and to care for the skin
  • Vitamin K – so that blood coagulates well
  • Zinc – for the growth and development of the body and to strengthen natural defenses
  • Vitamin D – to absorb calcium, strengthening the bones
  • Complex Vitamins B – so that you can better use the energy contained in foods

The shield states “A true ally in nutrition”.  Methinks thou dost protest too much!  I think it was probably a good thing that these were on the menu while I was hiking for 10 days!

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Kuelap – Chachapoyas, Peru

Chachapoyas is a long way from anywhere in Peru but, if one looks at it a certain way, it is on the way to Tarapoto where I was headed to do the Vegetarian Cooking and Yoga retreat.  I decided to head here (as opposed to Cajamarca or Chiclayo which were my other options) because of some cool-looking pre-Incan archaeological sites, even though it meant an 8-hour overnight bus from Huaraz to Trujillo, 10 hours waiting in the bus station in Trujillo, and then another 10 hour overnight bus from Trujillo to Chachapoyas – I guess at least I saved money on accommodation!

Chachapoyas itself is actually quite lovely – if you can ignore the fact that they have dug up all the roads at once, even though they only seem to be working on a single block.  The buildings in the centre are in great shape and beautifully whitewashed, there is a pedestrian street that is filled with people every night and a lovely central square.    There’s also some great food to be had!

Chachapoyas

I only had 2 days in Chachapoyas, so the first day I headed out to the main architectural site – Kuelap – one of the largest and most important sites for the Chachapoyas people (the “Warriors of the Cloud”) who existed well before the Incas.  The site itself dates from about the 6th century AD through to the arrival of the Spanish in the mid-16th century, and although it was rediscovered in 1843, it was not investigated archaeologically until 1997.

So at 8:30am I was bundled into a minivan with a bunch of other people (all locals – it’s a good thing I speak Spanish!) and off we headed on the very, very slow journey to the site.    Kuelap is only ~70km from Chachapoyas, but it took us 2.5 hours to get there!   Admitted the road was essentially single-lane for a lot of it, but I do think we had the slowest and most careful driver in the world as an added bonus.

Our first glimpse of Chachapoyas construction came at the 1-hour mark when we pulled off the side of the road for a view across the Utcubamba river to Macro – a site used for agriculture and burials.

Macro - Chachapoyas, Peru

Then it was onward to a town where we pre-ordered lunch and I got my first experience of how frustrating this day would be.  We were stopped there for almost an hour because some of my fellow companions had bought a Mate de Coca and weren’t allowed to drink it in the van.  We had to wait for them to finish – but they certainly took their time about it!

Then it was another hour up to the visitors centre where we bought entrance tickets.   Another whole bunch of pfaffing before we started the 2km walk up to the site itself.   Oh my God!   They all walked soooooooo slowly!     OK – so admittedly I’d just finished trekking for 10 days at altitude and so was in good shape – but still.    As the guide, Ivan, joked with me – they were like tortoises.  I suggested that they were more like mostly-dead tortoises…

Kuelap - Chachapoyas, Peru

We eventually made it to the site and Ivan did a really great job of explaining what we were seeing – it was a great tour once we got there, and for the first time ever – I wasn’t the only one asking questions 🙂

Kuelap - Southern Sector - Chachapoyas, Peru

Essentially the best guess at the minute is that Kuelap was a military fort and a ceremonial centre with about 3000 people living there.  It is built on 3 levels with the uppermost level, obviously being for the most important people – the “retaining wall” that supports the upper level is considered the best construction work done by the Chachapoyans, though there are lots of very long, very tall and very thick walls that feature at the site (some walls are 80cm thick and reach up to 20m in height).

Kuelap walls - Chachapoyas, Peru

There are 3 entrances to the city – unfortunately the main entrance is closed because it is unstable, so we entered through what they think was the “common people” and animals entrance.  There are even llama imprints in the stone!   The entrances were constructed so they were wide enough to admit several people initially, but narrowed to only admit one person to the city in the end – an example of the strategic design of the city.

Kuelap entrance - Chachapoyas, Peru

The entrances to Kuelap start off wide enough for several people (top of right hand image) but narrow to sharply to only admit one person at a time to the city (bottom of right image).

Chachapoyan architecture is very, very different to that of the Incas – the site is composed of 460 circular structures and only 5 rectangular ones (these latter were constructed when the Incas came and conquered the Chachapoyans).  Each of these round dwellings had walls about 4-5m high and housed 5-6 people – the replica in the image below was created about 17 years ago.   The irony is that the wooden supports etc are not part of the design – they are there to support the structure which is crumbling after only this short amount of time.   Yet the Chachapoyan walls have stood for over two thousand years…

Kuelap, Chachapoyas, Peru

Inside these dwellings you can see niches in the walls for placing important items, cooking stones and even a “guinea pig run” (the long covering of stones) where they bred and kept guinea pigs for eating.  Some also had a central “well” that they used initially as a food store (kind of like a refrigerator) but also to place the bones of their deceased.

Inside Kuelap building - Chachapoyas, Peru

On the outside of some of the dwellings, those occupied by the religious leaders, there was stonework that depicted the eyes of the Gods, in particular the eye of the Condor (left) and the eye of the Puma (right; note the vertical in the middle of the diamond – like a cat’s eye).  They also had “eaves” of stone to protect the foundations from the rain (seen above the pattern on the right).

Outside detail Kuelap building - Chachapoyas, Peru

One of the most important structures in the site is at the southern end – the Templo Mayor (Main Temple).  It is a solid stone construction (5m high and 13.5m in diameter at the top) in the form of a truncated and inverted cone with a narrow inner, bottle-shaped cavity.  It is believed that this was a religious construction (especially given the existence of the face of a deity – the only one in the site outside of the primary entrance) and evidence has been found for human burials and other rituals.

Templo Mayor (Main Temple) - Kuelap - Chachapoyas, Peru

Another important structure was located at the northern end of the site in the highest part of the city – the Torreón.  7m high, they believe it wasn’t used for military purposes, but rather rituals, even though slingshot projectiles were found near the structure.  There are also amazing views from here 🙂

Torreon - Kuelap - Chachapoyas, Peru

We also visited the structures built during the Inca times which included a rock “compass” marking the cardinal points and a couple of structures that housed human bones. In one of them, several human skulls with holes drilled in them were found … lobotomies anyone?

Inca part of Kuelap - Chachapoyas, Peru

Left: Incan compass. Right: human remains.

We finished the tour of the site at about 2:30pm, it took 45 minutes to walk (slowly) back to the visitors centre and another 45 minutes to drive back to the town where we had pre-ordered our meal.  “Lunch” turned out to be whatever you call the meal that is a combination of lunch and dinner (linner?) at 4pm – fried trout never tasted sooooo good!    Then another 1.5 hours back to Chachapoyas and the end of the tour.

 

Recommendation:  The Lonely Planet and various other websites make the claim that Kuelap rivals Machu Picchu.   That is a very big stretch!   While Kuelap is impressive and very interesting, it is not in the same league as Machu Picchu I’m afraid and nowhere near as big (though apparently it is one of the largest stone structures in the new world).

The advantage that Kuelap has is that it doesn’t get anywhere near the number of visitors of Machu Picchu – and almost everyone there when I visited was from Peru (apparently 70% national tourism, 30% foreign tourism at the minute according to my guide).

This might change soon though as they are building a teleférico to the site from the closest town – which will cut the trip from Chachapoyas down to only about an hour.   The teleférico is meant to open in November, though they seem to have quite a way to go from what I can see.  And is it OK that the towers are not perpendicular to the ground??    I’m also not sure how they are going to repay the $80M it cost to build!   The story is that they are limiting the number of visitors to Kuelap to 200/day to protect the site, and, at least for the first 3 months of operation, the teleférico will only cost S/20 (about $6) for the 20-minute ride to the site.

Cost:  I booked through Amazon Expedition for a cost of S/70 ($20), which included transport, entrance fees, guide and “linner”.   The whole tour was in Spanish – I have no idea if they offer in English.

Time: About 10 hours

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