After a few days in the searing jungle, Ryan and I headed down to the far more temperate city of Chachapoyas via a six- (read nine-) hour bus ride. Chachapoyas, which is the capital of the Department of Amazonas, is a beautiful town tucked high into the cloud forests where the Chachapoyan people faced conquest first by the Incas and then by the Spanish. Although the town itself has a number of well-preserved colonial buildings as well as a slow-paced, friendly atmosphere, the real attractions here are the surrounding landscapes and ruins.
On day one, we headed out to the nearby town of Huancas where you can hike into a beautiful canyon for one sol.
The next day we visited Kuelap--a large set of ruins located high atop a mountain.
Here we walked through what was once a powerful administrative and religious center run by the Chachapoyans. It is estimated that this huge site operated from around 700 A.D. into the 15th century when the Incas conquered the Chachapoyans. Unlike Machu Picchu, this site has hardly been excavated and most of the ruins are covered in vegetation. The buildings here are unlike any others constructed by Andean peoples, as their round structure, according to our guide, resists the small earthquakes that still shake the region.
A few fun facts about the people who lived in Kuelap:
1. Most researchers believe that they lived with their dead.
2. The canals running through Kuelap didn´t carry water. Rather, they were used to keep guinea pigs (cuy)--a delicacy that is still available throughout Peru.
3. Some of the remains here appear to be those of people who were blonde with blue eyes and generally taller than other Andean peoples. Scientists aren´t sure why.
On our third day in Chachapoyas, we hiked out to Gocta, where we saw the world´s third- or fifth- or sixteenth- highest falls. (There are actually two waterfalls running into one another here, so the fall´s height is still under dispute.) Although we started in an arid climate, the two-hour hike toward the falls brought us into a jungle, as we entered one of Peru´s eighty-four microclimates.
We also visited Karija--a site where you can see seven-hundred year-old sarcophagi built into the edge of a cliff.
Lastly, we visited a large and muddy cavern, which made up for its lack of insects with its abundance of bats...