Kuelap & Cajamarca

Mystery is alive and well in the lush, untamed and mist-covered mountain ranges of Peru’s Amazonian Andes – the Northern Highlands. Pre-Inca archaeological sites and remains lure you way off the beaten track, down some clearly less-travelled roads, and into the cloud forest where stories of warriors and burial rites awaken a deep sense of adventure. Great and fascinating tombs built into sheer cliff faces defy logic and stir curiosity.

The town of Chachapoyas, hidden within the high cloud forest and reachable by rough roads and now also by plane, is the perfect base for exploring the stunning ancient ruins left by the pre-Inca Chachapoyas civilization (ca 800-1470s CE): “The People of the Clouds.” The most well-known of the sites is Kuélap, a citadel arguably as magnificent as Machupicchu yet scarcely visited. Now accessible by cable-car, the zone’s most well-preserved archeological site perches atop a limestone mountain, and offers fabulous views of the surrounding forest. The site is immense and jaw-dropping: the 700-meter-long oval fortress is surrounded by a massive stone wall, up to 12 meters high in some parts. Inside find the remains of more than 400 circular dwellings and other curious structures.

Enjoy your pick of multi-day treks (by foot or horseback): visit the funerary site of Karajía and its sarcophagi, the bright “chullpas” (tomb buildings) of Revash with its cliff-side pictographs, or hike to the Gocta Falls. Another great base for exploration is Leymebamba, a perfectly isolated town full of horses and genuinely friendly people, and definitely worth a visit. The town hosts a surprisingly impressive museum housing more than 200 well-preserved mummies found less than 20 years ago in the captivating site of Laguna de los Cóndores (Condor Lagoon), and some of the most impressive original “quipus” (pre-Inca recording devices made of rope) to be found in Peru.

Just kilometers away yet the route an adventure in itself—following narrow jaw-dropping roads, and impressive Andean mountain passes,–one reaches the mountain-walled city of Cajamarca. As the setting for Inca Atahualpa’s capture and execution by the Spanish, the city is most famous for its dramatic history but also for its undeniable charm and architectural riches, with the city’s colonial center being filled with beautiful cobblestone streets, baroque mansions, and glorious churches built over old Inca structures. Not to miss is the only Inca building still standing: El Cuarto de Rescate (the Ransom Chamber) where Atahualpa was imprisoned. The city is also well known for its exceptionally rowdy Carnaval celebration, which is celebrated throughout the country at the beginning of Lent (usually in February), but none on par to the throw-down in Cajamarca, which draws an impressive crowd.

Chachapoyas & Kuelap, Cajamarca

  • Impressive natural and pre-Inca archaeological sites and remains: Karajia sarcophagi, Revash, Leymebamba, Gocta Falls
  • Kuelap, breath-taking pre-Inca remain (“the Other Machupicchu”), now accessible by cable car
  • Surprising museums, one with over 200 recently discovered mummies
  • Remote Peru: villages, people, roads and accesses still off the tourist radar


Allow yourself time to travel by road, stop and meet locals and marvel at a completely different archaeological side of Peru.

Enigma’s Top Signature Experiences:
History & archaeology, nature & scenery, wildlife.

Recommended for:
Second-time visitors to Peru, those having time to explore and unwind, those in search of getting beneath the skin of Peru.

Rustic lodges and best available city hotels.

2,500 masl (Chachapoyas), 2,750 masl (Cajamarca)

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The above is just a flash glimpse on this part of Peru. Contact us for more information on this destination, experiences it can offer and for our team to design a tailor-made visit for you.


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