Older, higher more remote: uncovering the Peruvian landmark that’s a rival to Macchu Pichu

Older, higher more remote: uncovering the Peruvian landmark that’s a rival to Macchu Pichu

This is the time when travel companies begin to talk up what they believe to be the hot destinations of the coming year. And the place that keeps recurring – certainly it’s top of the high-end specialist Red Savannah’s trends list – is the pre-Inca citadel of Kuélap in Peru.

A rival to Macchu Pichu in the splendour of its setting, its majesty, mystery and altitude (at 9,800ft, Kuélap is actually the higher), it is, however, altogether less known and less visited, and consequently much richer in bragging rights.

Dating back to the 6th century and reckoned to be one of the largest structures in the Americas, Kuélap thrived for a thousand years, until about 1570, when it was the site of a terrible massacre by the conquistadors.

The tombs of Revash CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES

Those who visit the monumental mountain-top settlement today will see a site encircled by a 60ft wall, within which stands the remains of more than 400 round stone dwellings that were once home to as many as 3,500 Chachapoya “cloud warriors”. It remains only partially excavated so an air of discovery still prevails.

The optimum time to visit is during the dry season, which begins in May, by which time British Airways will have resumed its direct flight to Lima.

This, combined with LATAM Airlines’ recently launched direct flight from the Peruvian capital to Jaén in the north of the country (about 140 miles away from the ruins), and the opening last winter of both a new road and a state-of-the-art $18 million, 2.5-mile-long cable car up to the ruins, means access to the site is somewhat easier than it has been previously.

Hitherto your only options for the final part of the journey were to drive 20 miles on a circuitous unpaved road from Nuevo Tingo (itself 122 miles southeast of Jaén), or to undertake a steep, five-mile, four-hour hike. The cable car takes about 20 minutes.


Kuélap is not the only attraction in this part of Peru. There are ancient mausoleums at Revash and an extraordinary collection of mummies recovered from the Laguna de los Condores (or Lagoon of the Condors) in the museum at Leymebamba, while natural wonders include the two-tier Gocta Falls, which cascade over a combined drop of more than 2,500ft and are among the tallest in the world.

There’s even somewhere to stay within sight of them. With just five simple but comfortable cabanas, Gocta Natura Cabins may be a lot less luxe than, for instance, Belmond’s Hotel Cataratas on the Brazilian side of the yet more spectacular Iguazu Falls, but to have slept within sight and the sound of this staggering natural wonder, this far off the beaten track, has altogether greater swank factor.

Red Savannah (01242 787800) offers a four-night trip to northern Peru from £1,915 per person, including round trip flights from Lima to Jean, visits to Revash and the Leymebabma museum and two nights at Gocta Natura Cabins.

​British Airways return fares from London Gatwick to Lima cost from £658.