Northern Highlands of Peru Attractions
Peru's Northern Highlands receive few travelers but have a lot of unique sights to offer. Remote towns, pre-Inca ruins, and a beautiful countryside are a few of the features that draw visitors to this area. The altitude in the Northern Highlands is lower than many other areas of the Peruvian Andes, making for a comfortable climate in many of the region's towns. It also contains some interesting hikes and light treks through beautiful landscapes and past little discovered ruins.The main communities in this area are Cajamarca and Chachapoyas. From these towns it's possible to visit the nearby ruins of Kuélap, Cumbemayo, and other smaller sites. As with much of the Andes, the best season here is the dry season from May to September.
Chachapoyas is the capital of the Amazonas department but is still mainly a small town. Despite being in this department, Chachapoyas is not in the Amazon basin, but in the mountains at an altitude of 2335m / 7659ft. The town is in a remote location and requires a bit of journey to get there from other major centers in the north. It is approximately 8 hours by bus from Chiclayo or 16 hours from Cajamarca.This is a pleasant town with some nearby archeological sites to explore. Many of these are visited on hikes or overnight treks that may include camping. This area is cloud forest and best visited during the dry season of May to September.In Chachapoyas there are some easy walks that lead to lookout points over the city and surroundings. Also of interest is the Instituto Nacional de Cultura Museo, with pre-Columbian artifacts and mummies.
Cerro Olan is located high up on a mountain range above the Utcubamba valley. Spread over one kilometer and consisting of three main sections, the northern, middle, and southern, with each area of Cerro Olan having its own appeal.In the northern section of Cerro Olan the visitor will find ten circular platforms and four homes with balconies and friezes. In the middle section one house stands out from the rest. It is in excellent condition and boasts a unique masonry band found only at Cerro Olan. The southern section contains three circular towers, the highest being approximately five meters.Cerro Olan is a difficult place to get to requiring a hike of two and half hours from the town of Montevideo, 70 kilometers from Chachapoyas. There is no formal accommodation in Montevideo, however, local families will take you in if you ask around.
Karajia is an ancient funerary site of the Chachapopyas. Located high up on the left side of the Utcubamba river valley Karajia rewards the visitor with six intricately carved 3 meter high anthropomorphic wooden coffins.The six anthropomorphic wooden coffins at Karajia, known locally as purunmachus, are made from stone, wood poles and clay. The word Purunmachu is Quechuan, purun meaning wild, and machu meaning old. The Chachapopyas people buried their deceased in these purunmachus, through a multi step process that can be explained by the locally knowledgeable guides. The purunmachus are each topped with a human skull.Karajia is located 70km from Chachapoyas and the funerary site itself is a difficult place to reach, requiring a long walk in the jungle heat.
Kuélap is a pre-Inca city perched high upon a ridge above the Rio Utcubamba. This imposing citadel was built by the Chachapoyas people, who were later integrated into the Inca Empire. These are some of the best preserved ruins in the region.The city of Kuélap is enclosed by a 6 to 12m / 19 to 39ft high defensive wall, with three entry points. Inside the walls are some 400 structures, some with friezes on the outer walls. One of the most important structures at Kuélap is a tower, which is believed to have served a religious purpose. Animal remains were found inside, apparently used as sacrifices. The unique aspect of this structure is that the walls get thicker towards the top of the tower.
Purumllacta was built over a thousand years ago and is one of the seven major cities of the Chachapoya Empire who built their empire across mountain tops all over the region. Purumllacta is the closest of the Chachapoya ruin to the city of Chachapoyas and easily accessible to the visitor via public transportation.Purumllacta is an unusual site as it does not follow a typical Chachapoya city layout. It has rectangular houses on terraced slopes all connected via stone stairways. The site is partially excavated and much remains under the tangle of the jungle.There are several large buildings on the site whose purpose is unknown but may have been used as temples or palaces.