Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Trip for Two to Kuelap: the second Machu Picchu

Good day fellow travelers – It has been a while since we met and I thought I’d write something up on a recent return trip my wife Karin and I undertook to Kuelap, and how traveling to these amazing Northern ruins has become a lot easier over the past ten years.

My first trip to Kuelap was a ten years ago and was none to easy, but if you’ve spent some time traveling you’ll agree that on some occasions, the harder a place is to get to - the more worthwhile it is once you get there.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The beauty of Kuelap far outweighed the hardships of getting there, and so it was with very little hesitation and a lot of excitement that Karin and I set off once more to return to Peru’s secret ruins. Ten years ago I was fascinated by the enchanting ruins of Kuelap – described by many as a second Machu Picchu – and ever since then I have been eagerly trying to getting myself back there. Well, I was in Peru recently with Karin, and with some spare time on our hands we set off once more for what would be an inspiring trip up north.

To reach Kuelap one has to spend a few nights in Chachapoyas, a mountain town only accessible by road from either Cajamarca or Chiclayo. The route from Cajamarca passes though the Utcubamba Valley and provides superb views from a road that is literally carved into cliff faces thousands of feet high – it is visually stunning but can be very dangerous. Ten years ago Karin and I took the overnight bus from Chiclayo. We arrived early in the morning and after having spent the entire evening bouncing around on wooden seats at the back of a bus, we were tired, bruised, and in some serious need of sleep. At present however things have changed, one can now arrange private transport to Chachapoyas and the roads are in a better - albeit not perfect - condition. What this means is that the proverbial ‘pain in the ass’ has both literally and figuratively been removed from the trip. We were driven in private transport, were able to stop and walk around at sites on the way, and managed to get some sleep on route. I actually felt refreshed when we reached Chachapoyas this time around.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Surprisingly few tourists make it to Chachapoyas which I find remarkable; not only is it close to the ruins of Kuelap and a number of other attractions in the area, but over the years it has become increasingly more accessible to reach. It’s a laidback town, one of the most scenic in Peru, and perhaps one of my favorites. Outside the hotel a local kid proudly tells me that Chachapoyas means ‘Misty Mountain’ and that Chachapoyans are all ‘Cloud Warriors’. And who am I to disagree? - Clouds float through the town at eye level, and while the townsfolk seem too friendly and laidback to ever be warriors – they are said to be descendants of the Chacha culture that built Kuelap and warred with the Incas.

Nowadays private tours run daily to Kuelap from Chachapoyas leaving at about 8am and returning at about 4 or 5pm the same day. This doesn’t mean there are hordes of tourists visiting – on the contrary there are very few indeed. What it does mean is that one doesn’t have to spend 3 days waiting to get to the ruins as I had to ten years ago.
Even though Kuelap is only 27km from Chachapoyas (as the crow flies) – the drive there today can take up to three hours. It’s a rough drive it must be said that it scarcely compares to the hardships I went through in getting there the last time. On my first trip I was assigned to the rattling back seat of a collectivo (a minivan) with a couple of chickens and a collection of rusty farming implements for no less than seven hours. This time around I got to enjoy the stunning views over the canyons and ravines on the way there from a comfortable car seat, and we even stopped in one of the local villages to enjoy a fantastic Chacha lunch on the way back.

Ten years ago I finally arrived in Kuelap after taking a 14 hour bus ride to Chiclayo, an 11 hour bus ride to Chachapoyas, a hellish 7 hour ride in the back of a collectivo, and a half an hour steep hike. Minutes before I set my eyes on Kuelap I wondered whether it would all be worth it.

It is. Believe me.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

And it still is now. Only this time round I actually enjoyed getting there.

Like the time before - I strolled around a corner and quite unexpectedly, there it was – towering yellow walls amid an explosion of vivid plant life. Groups of Llamas graze on green grass while being dwarfed by the gigantic walls of Kuelap, which appear barely able to restrain the natural overgrowth spilling down their sides. It took my breath away once again.

It is very easy to see that Kuelap was built as a fort; it is quite literally impenetrable and it is no wonder it took the Inca so long to conquer the Chacha people. Entering through the very narrow yet impressive entrance way we arrived within the complex to find an extensive number of ruins hidden under a jungle of brightly colored Air-plants, Bromeliads and Orchids. As with my first visit to Kuelap, I was filled with this inexplicable contentment – I had the same feeling when I first visited Machu Picchu, and while both places are very different from one another, they inspire the same kind of awe and admiration one reserves for sacred sites.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

This time around, one of the most extraordinary parts of the trip to the ruins for Karin and I was that we were there for the better half of an entire day and were, save for the guide who had brought us, completely alone. We did not see another face, Peruvian or foreigner, for the entire time we were there. Ten years ago there had been a few other foreigners on site – but this time there was no one. We spent most of the day walking through the labyrinth of forgotten ruins and temples, and were filled with a sense of peace and isolation. Besides taking the occasional picture – there isn’t very much to do in Kuelap other than sit and admire the ruins in wonder and contentment. In the early afternoon we returned to the car for the ride back to Chachapoyas.

Once again Kuelap lived up to my expectations. Easier to get to this time around, my feelings of awe and my veneration for this sacred site are no different today as they were upon my first visit. Kuelap certainly has something very special about it, something I will never forget, and something I definitely want to see again.

Go for it – and keep on traveling


Useful Information on Kuelap

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

  • Kuelap is the largest ancient building in the Americas and is estimated to contain 3 times more stone material in its construction than the largest pyramid at Giza, Egypt.
  • Only 1% of tourists visiting Peru journey to the north of the country and only a tiny fraction of these few visit Kuelap
  • At 3000 masl, Kuelap’s outer walls measure 600 meters in diameter in some areas and are as high as 19 meters in others
  • Kuelap contains over 400 buildings within its walls with three distinctive sections, the first for the commoners, the second for the military, and the third for the royalty and high priests
  • The Chacha culture, about whom very little is known, began building Kuelap circa 800AD
  • Towards the beginning of the 16th century the Incas took control of Kuelap after a lengthy war, only to abandon it when the Spanish arrived in the middle of the same century.
  • There are plans to possibly build a cable car up to the Kuelap fortress. While this project may take some time to be implemented, it will be much less detrimental on both the culture and environment around Kuelap when mass tourism discovers this amazing secret.

Travel Advice and Tips

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

  • Keep your eyes open for blond haired, blue eyed locals in the area. Many theories surround the origins of these people who claim to have no European ancestry whatsoever. One such theory is that they are the direct descendants of the Chacha people whom the Inca described as a ‘tall and fair’ race
  • Make sure you take a lot of water and a small snack on your tour of Kuelap
    El Chillo is the best hotel in the Chachapoyas area and is well worth checking out, but do not expect any luxury there.
  • There is far more to the region than just Kuelap. If you have some extra time you should visit Revash, Yalape, and the cliff hanging Karajia Sarcophagi close to San Miguel de Cruzpata, which featured in National Geographic some years back. All are very impressive sites
  • If you can, take a private tour to the ruins. Not only is the ride more comfortable, but its faster, safer, and provides a more personal experience

Friday, July 28, 2006

Video Blog Test

Hi There,

Its amazing how technology makes things easier... one or two years ago working with videos on the internet was painfully heavy. Now it is so easy, I´m thinking in combining the blog entries with podcasting. This is just a test of a reel made for our tour operator Class Adventure Travel . I´ll be back soon from somewhere in South America with my first video blog entry!

Keep Traveling!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Machu Picchu with our baby girl!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Hi there fellow travelers! Long time no see..I've been spending some quality time with the family, and by now you should know quality time can only mean one thing: traveling!

Who said traveling with a child is difficult?

2 Months ago, My wife Karin and I decided to go back to where we started off 10 years ago: Machu Picchu. Times have changed since then and our personal situation has evolved as well. Since August 2004 we are the proud parents of Edie Annemare, our by now 1,5 year-old daughter. Edie is used to traveling, as our line of work pushes us around the globe throughout the year, but we had never before taken her to places too far off the beaten track, let alone high altitude. Therefore we were a bit anxious to know if we would be doing the right thing by bringing her along. We were basically weary of Altitude Sickness, or “Soroche”.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Soroche is caused by 2 main factors:

Lack of oxygen in the air:

The higher you go the less oxygen you will find per m3 of breathable air. Therefore your lungs will obtain less of this existential gas per each breath taken, while your brain and heart need the same amount. Therefore you need to breath more often to get the same amount of oxygen, which gives you the feeling of being “out of breath” constantly.

Lower outside air pressure at higher altitudes:

Due to the fact that at 3,400m (10,000ft approx.) altitude there is the same amount of meters/ft less air above your head and therefore less air-pressure on your body then at 0m/ft. At sea-level your body has to have built up a certain inside pressure, to withstand that outside air-pressure. This is done through nitrogen bubbles in your bloodstream. These bubbles have a certain size and strength as to create an inner pressure that meets the outside pressure. Once you get to a certain altitude (for me the barrier lies at 3,000m/9,000ft) very quickly (for example in a plane), your body may have difficulties adjusting itself to the sudden difference in outside pressure and for a while (mostly a maximum of 24 hours) your inside pressure may be higher than the outside air-pressure, causing a series of possible discomforts, such as headache, dizziness, intestine unrest, etc. This all has to do with the fact that your body tries to make the nitrogen bubbles in your bloodstream smaller and readjust itself to the outside pressure, but hasn’t gotten there yet. Normally this is no big problem and you will get over it within 24 hours.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

After some research, it turned out that actually smaller children do not or hardly suffer from this sickness, as their bodies tend to adjust themselves much faster then those of grown people. So, we took the plunge and it turned out to be a great experience. People ask: “why would you do it at that age, when they do not have any recollection of it later?”, but we feel children are as susceptible to travel experiences as they are to languages at that age; their mind is a spunge and they will pick up a lot from a trip like this. Maybe they will not remember much in the future, but at some level (I have no medical proof of this of course, but it feels right and some of our friends who traveled with small children confirm it) it will make an impression, open up their mind, make them more open to the different ways the world can present itself… Or at least so we hope…

Bottom line is, we had a great time, Edie as well, and we feel we can take her along on many more of our trips, until she has come to the age where it becomes necessary for her to be in school and with her friends. It will give us a couple more years of traveling freedom and we hope will open up our daughter’s mind for the world. We sincerely feel that getting to know different cultures and ways of living should help in becoming a more tolerant person, and as far as tolerance goes, one cannot start learning early enough.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Best regards from Buenos Aires!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Just Back from Patagonia...

You won’t believe it when I tell you, but I have found a portal into mental piece and quiet. My last journey to the southern parts of Argentina and Chile turned out to be the most mentally relaxing and creativity inspiring trip I have made in a long time.

Image hosting by Photobucket

The ancient ice near Calafate and Puerto Natales, the whales and sea elephants near the Valdes Peninsula, a glance at the end of the world (which was actually quite comfortable!) in Ushuaia… Amazing experiences, dotting a region that is so vast, so open, so wild and unexplored…

Image hosting by Photobucket

All this beauty and peacefulness makes one wonder if we humans -allegedly at the top of the evolutionary chain - are making a good job in managing the rest of the "civilized" world. In this remote spot of the globe, almost untouched by men, species co-exist within an incredible balance... For those of us who believe in ecologically conscious adventure travel and understand the necessity to leave a soft footprint during our encounter with this amazing regions, the experience of visiting Patagonia is a remainder of our duty as keepers of our planet instead of just acting as temporal tenants.

Image hosting by Photobucket

Monday, February 13, 2006

New version of CAT Travel's site Online!

Hi fellow travelers!

I'm very proud to announce that the new version of our site is up!

If you're thinking on a Peru Travel or a trip to any other Latin American destination, we'll be very glad to help you out planning it!

One of the main changes we've made is to present example tours so you can see what we're capable of doing, instead of just listing tours that are "ready to go". That way we can emphazise our conviction that every traveler is different from the other sowe can plan our clients' trip together based in their wishes and our experience.

I can't thank enough to all people involved in this project: our IT and design department, the MK people and every single person in the company who gave us great ideas to have the travel site our clients deserve!

Image hosting by Photobucket

But above all we want to thank you, readers of this blog and of the various travel forums of which we are members, for giving us inputs of what you think a tour operator site should look like!

Of course and as always, your comments , critics and praises ;) are very welcomed!

Have a nice day


Friday, January 20, 2006

Bart's Travel Guide Reviews II: Footprint Peru Hand Book

Image hosting by Photobucket

Footprint Peru Handbook is original in its kind as it focuses on information and not storytelling.

It has more up-to-date info on the things you actually need in day-to-day travel, most of it presented in a factual way rather than using endless pages of interesting but not-really-necessary info.

From a tour operator point of view, I need to know as many facts as possible in order to prepare, quote and carry out the tours we offer to our public. The Handbook is a great source of information in this area, as I don't have to read around the stories, but get the facts presented in a direct way. Due to the inclusion of much better maps and a very serious work at updating the info accurately, the latest edition is a big improvement, and one of best single guides on Peru currently available.

If you decide to visit the awesome Manu Reserve in the Amazon Jungle, fly over the mysterious Nazca lines, or If you hike the Inca Trail on your way to Machu Picchu, this guide is a must as you'll find all the data you need.

As a matter of fact, if you decide you're going tojust Cusco, I'd advice to get this guide instead of a Cusco-only one. You'll find all you need in Footprint Peru Handbook for sure.


Monday, January 16, 2006

When traveling touches your heart.....

Image hosted by

Dear fellow travelers:

Today I'd like to tell you two travel stories that ended in something even more special than unforgettable memories and amazing pictures.

These are the kind of stories that reflect how much getting in touch with new cultures and realities can put your life in a whole new perspective.

These are the stories about two foundations dedicated to help Peruvian’s poorest children.

Both were born during some of my trips through Peru. Those travels begun as any journey does: like a brand new book with blank pages waiting to be filled with new experiences. But the journey never ended and instead evolved into beautiful initiatives which proof that any of us can make a difference if we really want to.

These are the stories of Paz Holandesa and Pasa la Voz.

Image hosted by

Paz Holandesa, was founded 19th august 1999 by Mrs. Marjan van Mourik and Dr. Daniel Paz y Geuze.

In december 1998, Marjan van Mourik was on holiday in Peru and happened to get in touch with the 'street children's'-project of in Cusco. In June 1999 she returned to further learn about the needs and possibilities for starting a project on her own. It appeared that the Lions lub in Cusco just had kicked of a programme aimed at the lowest social classes of the people in and around Cusco. For this programme they were looking for medical teams that could possibly help out. When back in Rotterdam, Marjan discussed the possibilities to support the efforts of the Lions Club in Cusco and encountered an unexpected and spontaneous enthousiasm.

The Academic Hospital in Rotterdam was more than willing to help with expert knowledge as well as by sending medical teams to fix the job in Cusco. Dr. Daniel Paz y Geuze is helping his country Peru already for a long time by executing operations on children from time to time. He also collects and ships medical tools and goods to help Peruvian hospitals. However, he was more and more looking for some kind of continuity and a more sructural and durable way of cooperating with local Peruvian hospitals in his home town Arequipa as well as in other locations in Peru. Marjan van Mourik and Dr. Paz understood eachother and all things fell in place: the foundation Fundacion PAZ-Holandesa became a reality.The foundation Fundacion PAZ-Holandesa is officially registered in The Netherlands as well as in Peru (please click on the link above-right for the English version)

Image hosted by

Pasa la Voz is peruvian slang for "Tell everybody" and is also the name of our second sponsored foundation, set up and led by a Dutch/Argentine couple; Liesbeth Kerstens and Martin Maleta.

In the city of Cusco, they cooperate with several other projects directed at working children. PLV offers a platform for information exchange between the children and teachers/group leaders of the various participating organizations. This way PLV creates a cooperation network for a variety of entities through the production and sales of a children’s street newspaper. The Dutch Foundation “Hoedje van Papier” (Paper Hat) supports PLV from The Netherlands in the areas of policy development, fundraising, collection activities and management support. PLV’s own website is under construction; I will inform you when it goes live!.

We at CAT Travel are very proud to support both Pasa la Voz and Paz Holandesa as sponsors and active members in some of their projects and are thankful to have the chance to give something back to Peru's amazing people.

Donations can be made in any of the above-mentioned websites. In case you want to know more about Pasa la Voz, please write to: Liesbeth Kerstens ( In case you want to know more about Paz Holandesa, please write to: Marjan van Mourik (

Have a great day!