An impressive fortress that dates back to the 11th century -approximately- and is located at 3000 m.a.s.l. Surprising, right? It is the archaeological complex of Kuelap, an architectural jewel built by the inhabitants of ancient Peru and that stands out for the perfection of its finishes, the monumental size of its buildings and how complex it was (yes, past tense) to access it.
Kuelap is located in the province of Luya, one of the seven that make up the Amazonas region. The northeastern Andes were the location chosen by the members of the Chachapoyas culture, those responsible for the construction of this enigmatic city, which has administrative, religious, ceremonial spaces and even homes. It could be said that it was a city, strategically located and guarded by the great walls, but at the same time surrounded by dense nature and beautiful landscapes, worthy of photographs.
Yes, the Chachapoyas culture is even more long-lived than the Inca Empire. Its six hectares of extension were discovered during an expedition made in 1843 by the judge of Chachapoyas, Juan Crisóstomo Nieto. However, this city would have been inhabited from the 11th to the 16th century, approximately. This is the estimate of the time in which Kúelap would have functioned, since it was during the heyday of the Chachapoyas civilization (which was made up of various indigenous communities, each led by its own curaca), which is highly regarded for being masters of construction, engineering and riot strategists.
The perfect finishes of the city of Kuelap, with its narrow streets, and the 420 houses in a circular shape, do nothing more than agree with those who point out that they are privileged when designing and building. This, in addition to its walls up to 20 meters high, for which more than 100,000 blocks and their weight in mud were needed. By having these imposing walls only on one flank of their fortress, they made the work of the soldiers in charge of protecting the safety of the inhabitants from attacks by strangers and wild animals easier -and more effective-.
It is one of the main tourist attractions in northern Peru. It is the essential place for nature lovers, tourists interested in outdoor sports and enthusiasts of history and ancient culture. A single place meets a series of requirements to be the favorite of different types of travelers.
Do they want to amaze you with landscapes that you only think can be seen in books? Kuelap is the place for you. Are you a lover of outdoor sports like trekking? There is still a route to reach this fortress on foot. Physical activity isn't so much your thing, but you are interested in the ancient culture of the Chachapoyas? Don't worry, accessing the Kuélap Fortress by its cable cars is quite simple. You will need 20 to 25 minutes to reach this place steeped in history and tradition!
Kuelap, a fortified citadel that watches over from above. Millennial legacy of the Chachapoyas culture that developed from the year 500 AD. C to 1570 AD. C. Its imposing walls, up to 20 meters high, are the reflection of advanced engineering and monumental architecture.
Due to its strategic location, the Kuelap archaeological complex was designed to defend itself from other ethnic groups. It is enough to look at its great lithic wall with three entrances that narrow as one advances. In the end they only allow one person in.
Inside Kuelap you can admire nearly 500 circular stone houses, 6 of them have rhombus and zigzag friezes. From above, the green mountains show us that nature favored this place. Getting to the archaeological zone is quite an adventure trip.
In Kuelap, how to get there is an experience in itself. The first step is to reach Chachapoyas in the province of Luya, Amazonas. You can fly to a nearby airport and then take a bus to Chachapoyas or take a direct flight.
To start the trip you have several options:
If you come from Lima to Kuelap how to get there by plane: You can arrive directly on the Chachapoyas Airport (1 hour 45 min from Lima)
Or land in one of these cities:
From Lima to the city of Chachapoyas by bus it takes between 22 and 24 hours to travel through the mountains. It can also be reached by bus from other Peruvian cities, such as from Trujillo in a 12-hour journey.
Chachapoyas is a colonial city, capital of the Department of Amazonas located at 2,483 m. s. no. m. It is considered one of the oldest in Peru along with Cusco, Jauja, Lima, Piura and Trujillo.
It is said that its name comes from the Quechua word “chachapoyacuna” which means “Mist Forest”. It is also called "chacha" by its inhabitants.
A good part of the tourist activity is concentrated around its Plaza de Armas. In its narrow streets with old balconies there are a variety of hotels and restaurants. It is ideal that you rest and recover energy from the trip before embarking on the road to Kuelap.
In the Peruvian Amazon there is a lot to see, so we recommend staying in Chachapoyas. From there, embark on tours to places like Kuelap, the Gocta Waterfall or the Quiocta Cavern and the Karajía Sarcophagi.
From Chachapoyas you can take buses that go to Nuevo Tingo. The journey takes about an hour by road. Nuevo Tingo is a small town where you can make a strategic stop before heading towards Kuelap.
In Nuevo Tingo you can have an infusion of coca tea, buy some snacks and get ready to get to Kuelap on foot, by car or on the new cable car. There are also hotel and restaurant offers in case you prefer to stay here before visiting Kuelap.
The route lasts approximately 4 hours of ascent until reaching 3000 meters above sea level, so you must prevent altitude sickness.
It's 9 kilometers. Along the way you can enjoy the very green and leafy vegetation, as well as interesting species.
The return journey takes 2 hours. If you want, you can go up to the fortress by cable car and walk back to Nuevo Tingo to have the full experience.
In 2017 the cable car line that goes from Nuevo Tingo to the base of the fortress was inaugurated. These cabins cover the 4 kilometer route in 20 minutes, offering you spectacular views.
Tickets to the cable car can be purchased directly at the station and cost S/.20.40 and must be paid in cash and in Peruvian currency. The Kuelap gondolas operate from 8 am to 4 pm.
The ticket includes ground transportation from the boarding station to the platform. Ticket sales are until 2:35 pm. The cable car ticket is valid for a round trip, but does not include the fee to enter Kuelap, which is S/30 per adult and S/15 for university students and S/2 for school students and children up to 12 years of age.
From Chachapoyas you can also go to Kuelap by a dirt road. It takes approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes to go all the way.
The best time of the year to go to Kuelap is between April and October because the rains decrease. However, remember that in this area it still rains. That is why you should wear waterproof clothing and shoes that help you with traction on the stones so that you do not slip. The soles must have grip for different surfaces.
Other essentials are sunscreen, hat, sunglasses, pants and long-sleeved polos (shirts) to protect you from mosquitoes. Remember to pack insect repellent and a camera because once in Kuélap you will want to record everything for posterity.
Visits to Kuelap have grown by 14% per year, according to calculations by the Peruvian tourist authorities. The average number of visits to Kuelap is 350 people per day, while 4,000 people arrive to Machu Picchu per day. But this difference, rather than discourage visitors, motivates them to discover more of this special place.
The Chachapoyas culture, prior to the Incas, is one of the most interesting in ancient Peru. Its beginnings date back to the 8th century, it was conquered by the Incas in 1470 and it functioned until the arrival of the Spanish in America.
The Kuelap fortress, for its part, is an impressive archaeological complex almost 600 meters long. Located at the top of Cerro Barreta and surrounded by a wall that reaches 19 meters in height, it is truly impressive to appreciate and explore.
It is still unknown if it was a settlement for families or a military structure. But its importance as an archaeological site is undeniable. Historians presume that after the Inca conquest, the Chachapoyas abandoned Kuelap and only returned to bury their dead.
Kuelap is, in fact, the center of a project to decentralize tourism from Machu Picchu. Offering options in Kuelap such as arriving by cable car or promoting the tourist infrastructure in Chachapoyas, it seeks to attract those travelers who want to live the experience of Peruvian archaeological history in a much deeper way.
Most of the visitors to Kuelap are Peruvians looking to learn more about its archaeological past. The fortress has become one of the places that cannot be missed for locals and foreigners. This turns the trip into a much more enriching cultural experience for everyone.
Many are the routes that take you to Machu Picchu, but none is like the Inca Trail Tours, the most famous pedestrian path in the Americas. After flying from the capital of Perú, Lima, you will arrive in Cusco to walk for four days along a path through forests and dense fog, millenary stone steps and discovering the ruins of ancient fortifications and Inca cities, and all the time enjoying majestic views.