About 5 hours southwest of the city of Chachapoyas lies the Kuelap fortress, a walled settlement found in the mountains near the towns of Maria and Tingo. It is located at an altitude of 3,000 metres in the Amazonas.
Kuelap was built by the Chachapoya which means “People of the Clouds,” a tribe who inhabited the area from 1000-1400 AD. This amazing structure is proof of their incredible engineering skills as the city was built on a mountain summit on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley.
Protecting the citadel are three guardposts, a tower, and three narrow entrances. Standing 8 metres high, the walls completely surround the complex. The walls are made with masonry of limestones which some blocks weighing at least 3 tons.
You will find over 550 structures in the site with most of them circular in shape. Some walls have friezes of rhomboid and zigzag shapes that are protected by the rain by cornices. In fact, many of the stones found in Kuelap have reliefs with geometric, anthropomorphic, and zoomorphic.
The citadel itself is made of stone and features animal figures. Made of limestone, the incredible defensive battlements rise 20 metres high, delimiting the “lower town” and the “upper town” of the citadel.
Consisting of an impressive 335 circular structures, the Lower Town includes the “El Tintero” or ink well that measures 5.5 metres in height and 13.7 metres in diameter. Believed to be a ceremonial structure, there is a bottle-shaped chamber located inside which is over 5 metres deep.
The Upper Town consists of 80 stone constructions, of which the “Castillo” or castle and the “Torreon” or watchtower are the most impressive. The castle is made up of three overlaying platforms and is believed to have been used for ceremonies. The Torreon stands at 7 metres high.
It is believed that the site was home to as many as 300,000 inhabitants at one point but was abandoned in 1570 due to the Spanish Conquest. Sadly, the city deteriorated over time, covered in tree roots. It wouldn’t be discovered until 1843 by Juan Crisostomo Nieto. Since then and in the many years that have followed, many have come to study and survey the site.
Teleférico de Kuélap
Inaugurated on March 2, 2017, the Kuélap Cable Car or Teleférico de Kuélap is a cable car system located near the town of Nuevo Tingo and is the first cable car system operating in Peru. It transported approximately two thousand tourists in its first five days.
It connects the Kuélap Fortress with the town of Nuevo Tingo in the jungle. The departure station is located 10 minutes from Nuevo Tingo. The cable cars are equipped with the latest technology, running on solar power. Each gondola has a capacity of 8 passengers. In the event there is rain, they will still be able to provide service. It covers a 4km distance in just 20 minutes.
How to Get There
It’s best to venture to Kuelap between April to October when the weather is most favorable. To access Kuelap, you can start at El Tingo which is a town approximately 1800, above sea level. Alternatively, there is a horse trail that winds along the left bank of Tingo River that will lead you up to Marcapampa.
But if you want to really explore the beauty of Kuelap, you can join the 5D/4N Kuelap Discoverer tour to the lost kingdom which features visits to the Kuelap temple and fortress, a visit to the Leimebamba museum where you can view its collection of 200 mummies, the Revash tombs, and the Macro towers, and alternative hikes.