If you search for Kuelap on Internet or travel books, you´ll find it playing the role of: “The next Machu Picchu, with fewer tourists and a beautiful view”. It is often named amongst the best peruvian destinationsDoes it live up to the hype? Find out in this Peru By Bus review.

Kuelap Fortress, Chachapoyas

Of course, Kuelap is not Machu Picchu. But Kuelap is an incredible ruin, and if you are planning to travel through northern Peru, you like history and archeology and you want to spend some time getting to know an authentic pre-Inca citadel less exploited by tourism, do not forget to visit Kuelap.

Kuelap Fortress Chachapoyas 2
Photo: Flickr @Dan From Indiana

The History of Kuelap

This ancient citadel is located close to the city of Chachapoyas in northern Peru, right in the middle of the Peruvian lowland jungle. Given its remote location, Kuelap was hidden in the jungle of the mountainous jungle until 1843. It is estimated that the Chachapoyas people dominated this border area between the Andes and the Amazon long before the Incas even existed, more than a thousand years ago.

The Chachapoya civilization was known as the Warriors of the Clouds or Cloud People, and just like the Incas, they built high in the mountains in order to be closer to their gods. It is estimated that this pre-Columbian culture lived between the eighth and sixteenth centuries when the Spanish arrived.

Chachapoyas, the capital of the Peruvian Amazon department, is a simple village, with white painted buildings and colonial architecture, where there isn´t much “to do”. However, the attractions nearby do make the trip worthwhile. Being 22 hours from Lima, travel time is one of the main reasons why few tourists make this journey.

How to reach Kuelap?

There are three possible ways:

-The cheapest but most tiring is to take public transport to the town of Tingo about 70km from Chachapoyas (8 to 10 soles) and from there, three hours on foot and up to reach the entrance of the ruins.

Nuevo Tingo Kuelap Fortress

-Join one of the daily excursions organized by the many travel agencies in Chachapoyas (almost all have offices in the Plaza de Armas and nearby); costs between 40 and 60 soles (including minibus, lunch and two hours guided tour).

– Hire a private tour with a driver in Chachapoyas; It costs 150 soles and can be a nice option for groups.

The citadel entrance fee costs 15 soles.

What is the best time to go to Kuelap?

From April to November, when there is no rainy season.

What to expect?

The great stone citadel of northern Peru rises on a hill at an altitude of 3,000 meters in the valley of the Utcubamba River. Due to its location, it has a wonderful view of the whole region.

The city, built as a fort, contains 12 sites and more than 400 circular houses in reference to immortality, like a cycle that has no end. The walls have jaguar and snake designs symbolizing the strength of the warriors who lived here. The Chachapoyas were masters in the art of mummification and some site even have human skeletons.

Kuelap Chachapoya Fortress 3
Photo: Flickr @ Edwin Bellota

The Templo Mayor, used for rituals, is one of the most important sacred places. Take your time to walk inside the fortress, enjoy its peace and admire the valleys scenic view and llamas. 

Kuelap’s nature and true purpose still remains a mistery. The ruins seem defensive in nature, and experts belive it was more of a bunker of sorts.

Do you want to know something really impressive? Kuelap is the largest stone ruin site in the ancient world. It contains three times more stone material than the largest pyramid in Giza, Egypt and… Guess what? 90% of the entire complex still remain undiscovered!

Aside from Kuelap, there are many attractions nearby. Check out the beautiful Gocta Falls, the Revash Mausoleum, the Karajia Sarcophagi, and the Quiocta caves. 

We can not deny Machu Picchu as Peru´s masterpiece, and it totally deserves its reputation. But we can not either deny how special Kuelap´s peaceful vibe and history is.