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Kuelap, Peru

Jen Ogilvie explores the Lost City of the Cloud People, a forgotten citadel perched between Andean civilisation and the wilds of Amazonia.

A hundred years ago, Hiram Bingham ‘discovered’ Machu Picchu. The site stunned the world and, splashed over the pages of National Geographic, quickly became one of our most iconic wonders. But nearly 70 years before Bingham set up his camera in the Inca ruins, and far to the north, another lost city was quietly reclaimed from the jungle, one of the most awesome monuments in all the ancient Americas.

Kuelap was brought to the world’s attention in 1843 by a local judge, Juan Crisóstomo Nieto, who was guided to the site by villagers while conducting a survey of the area. In a letter to a regional administrator, he wrote of its massive size, and as word got out a straggle of adventurers hacked their way through the vine-entangled forest to see for themselves. But the journey was perilous, and few made it. Tour parties still trundle round the country retreat of its Inca conquerors, but Kuelap rests undisturbed on its mountaintop, wrapped in sky and mystery.

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