The Incan ruins of Machu Picchu outside Cusco, Peru grab the lion's share of that country's travel press. But before the Incas stormed through this region in the 15th century, there were actually some other clever people living in Peru. They built an impressive city and lived in circular houses on a mountaintop in the north, near the town of Chachapoyas (meaning “People of the Clouds”).
The ruins of Kuelap, the citadel they built in those clouds.
We tend to carry a healthy dose of skepticism with us when visiting ruins, but this particular pile of rocks — and its stories — exceeded our expectations.
Our Kuelap tour guide was refreshingly honest — he admitted that almost all the information available about the ruins was speculation. He offered competing theories from archeologists the world over and suggested that we decide which explanations made most sense to us.
Wonder why the “cloud people” lived in circular homes? One theory suggests that this structure offers better protection against earthquakes. Another keys off inhabitants' superstition: circular homes don't provide corners for spirits to hide in.
Our money is on the latter.
See those short rock wall dividers inside the dwellings? (You have to look really hard.) Piles of cuy (guinea pig) bones found in those areas suggest that they were family guinea pig pens. Now, before you think how cute it was for parents to allow their kids to keep their pets inside the house, we remind you of #1 on this post.
Although the Incas steal the limelight for Peru, remember there were groups of people living there before them…and no one really knows much about them.
That's part of the fun.
Practical Information for Visiting Kuelap
How to book at tour to Kuelap: Almost all tour operators in Chachapoyas sell day trips to Kuelap that include transportation, entrance fees and a guide (English or Spanish). Although you can take public transportation out to Kuelap to do it all independently, we suggest taking a tour as we really enjoyed having a guide with us and not having to wait for long periods of time for buses.
Where to stay: Although there are a few smaller hostels and guest houses in the villages near Kuelap, we stayed in the town of Chachapoyas as there were more options for accommodation and food. You can check rates at hotels in Chachapoyas here.