Our first tour in the Chachapoyas area was a day trip to Kuelap, the remains of a fortified city inhabited from the 6th to the 16th century by the Chachapoyas. The site is located on a flat mountain top about 3000 meters above sea level and the only way to get there is on a dirt narrow road/track that clings (barely) to the side of a mountain.

The drive to the Kuelap trailhead takes about 2 hours and we went in a “combi” (12 seat mini van) with a driver, guide and 9 other tourists. The tour cost 50 soles (about $20).  To the sound of toto, donna summer and Bryan Adams in Spanish, I held on for my dear life as the combi went up switchbacks on the edge of a steep slope leading down to the Utcubamba (cotton pampa) river.  I did manage to take a short video of the road to Kuelap.  From the visitor center/trailhead it is a 2.5 km walk uphill. Those who do not want to walk can hire a horse. The entrance fee was 20 soles ($8.00) per person. Eliot paid with a 100 soles note and they only offered 10 soles change. Eliot may look like a gringo but he is a Colombian and not only did he catch the error but he told the ticket agent off.

Our guide was young and ardent but his spanish was clear and I understood much of what he said. He earned the nickname of  ” El indomable” after falling off a horse as a young kid. Kuelap is the second most important archaeological site in Peru and is larger than Machu Picchu. Kuelap was an administrative centre for Chachapoyas nobles and government. It was surrounded by other Chachapoyas mountain top cities. The particular mountain top was selected because of its height, separation from other nearby hills and availability of stone. The Chachapoyas built round houses where they would sleep and cook. They would also raise Cuy in a raised enclosure in the back and buried mummified bones of their ancestors. Other fun facts include that the Chachapoyas women were the most beautiful around and that the Inca would try and steal them.

The sun was hot but the air was cool and we saw wild parrots and orchids growing out of tree trunks. Some houses were marked with patterned walls denoting the position of the inhabitants. The patterns are geometrical and represent animals such as puma (rhombus shape with vertical slit for a cat pupil) and snake ( one rhombus inside another).

The Chahapoyas did not do human sacrifices but they did make offerings of food and animals to placate their gods. They practised agriculture in the city and in the valleys where they grew cotton and other tropical crops. Kuelap has a special building with a bottle shaped interior that was used as a solar calendar. Each year on October 12 sunlight would come in through the narrow opening on the top and land directly on a mark in the middle of the floor of the room.

Another impressive structure was the tower used to send coloured smoke signals. Here is a video.  The guide explained how the Chachapoyas would preserve their dead by mummifying them in fetal position. Nobles were preserved alone while commoners were mummified in larger groups. We did not see mummies at Kuelap. We did see some in the small museum in town.

Chachapopyas traded with the Moche, Chanchan and Inca. They mummified their nobles wrapping them in cloth and burying them in holes in their homes. You can still see the impressions the cloth left on the bodies of the mummies. They also performed brain surgery that involved cutting holes in skulls, using needles. Techniques that sometimes resulted in cone headed survivors.

After the Spanish arrived the population was decimated by disease and the Spanish moved them to the current town site which is far enough away from the temples to assimilate them into Christianity.

Here are my photos






road we drove up (other side of valley)



_DSF7944 tower for smoke signals

Kuelip Fortified City Chachapoyas

outer wall

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snake eyes

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Paulo

    Paulo Reply February 6, 2016 at 3:58 pm

    What an awesome site to visit. Interesting that Machu Picchu seems to enjoy more attention.
    p.s. Your video gave me vertigo…really.

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