Day tours from Chachapoyas to Kuelap, the largest pre-Incan ruins in South America, must only appeal to people with little time; they depart every morning and return every evening for 6 hours of just driving roundtrip. After having spent the past 2 days on night buses, we preferred to explore Kuelap on our own account which ended up being a much more interesting journey than we anticipated.
Not long ago before Chachapoyas had a main bus terminal, colectivos with different destinations were scattered throughout the streets. After walking up and down the streets with fruitless attempts at finding any colectivos, it came down to one answer: the bus terminal. But due to our remote location in Peru, limited transportation, and limited tourist options, the only option we had from the bus terminal was a 14 sole (~$4.40) 2:00 departure for Maria, the nearest village to the ruins of Kuelap.
This entire area was truly a cloud forest. Moisture perpetually kept the air damp; when I put on my clothes the next morning I discovered that my clothes were more damp than they had been the night before.
Because the ruins open at 8am and we arrived at around 9:30, there were only 6 other tourists who had arrived by private car hire. The majority of Kuelap’s visitors come from Chachapoyas, which would mean they wouldn’t arrive until 11-12pm. We each paid the 20 sole (~$6.30) entrance fee and made our way up to Kuelap. I should say that the massive scale of the ruins isn’t its only spectacular feature; the fact that most of the ruins are still in its original form is incredible.
After 2 hours of gentle strolling through the ruins, we made our way back down to the ticket office/parking area, only to find at least a dozen tour vans and a shitload of tourists making their way up to Kuelap. We were incredibly relieved to have finished our peaceful, self-guided tour of Kuelap literally before the masses arrived.
Although we had finished touring Kuelap, we still had one little problem: how to return to Chachapoyas. The women who sold us our colectivo ticket to Maria told us there would be a colectivo from Maria to Chachapoyas at around 2pm, but all the locals in Maria told us we should just hitch a ride back from one of the many tour vans. Worse case scenario, we spend another night in Maria and hitch a colectivo at 5am.
We approached at least 5 different vans, asking if they had any room for the both of us. They were either all full, or were private tours. Either way, they weren’t too keen on helping us. Fuck it, we thought, let’s just get back to Maria and hope there really is a 2pm colectivo. So with a bit of hope, we rushed back to the village. I was determined to get back to Chachapoyas so we could continue our journey north toward Ecuador.