This prehistoric fortress in Peru is the largest in the New World


Peru has a very long and interesting history that predates the Incas. One of the country’s many attractions is Kuelap – a fortified settlement in northern Peru built thousands of years ago. Peru is a land of contrasts with the Amazon rainforest and great deserts and ancient history with some of the most impressive archaeological sites on the continent.

Peru is a fascinating history with the oldest cities in the Americas. Visitors really must visit the Sacred Valley of the Incas with Cusco – the capital of the Incas (as well as Machu Picchu). There are also many pre-Inca towns to visit – such as the ancient desert town of Chan Chan in northern Peru.

Kuelap’s story

Kuelap is located in the southern mountains of the Peruvian region of Amazonas. It was first built in the 6th century AD by the Chachapoyas culture, although most of the structures there today date from between 900 and 1100 AD. It was a formidable citadel perched in the mountains. Kuelap was the beating heart of the Chachapoya civilization which developed into a vast and sophisticated society.

  • Period: 6th century AD
  • Built: By the Chachapoyas culture
  • Conquered: By The Inca Around 1470, By The Spaniard Around 1570

The area was first inhabited around 400 BC, but it really flourished for 500 years between 900 and 1400 AD. The era of prosperity ended around 1470 AD when it fell on the Incas who then attempted to eliminate the Chachapoyas. They were unsuccessful, but it was eventually abandoned about 100 years later in 1570 following the Spanish conquest of the area.

After being abandoned, the town was left derelict and overgrown with tree roots. For hundreds of years Kuelap was forgotten and lost in history until it was accidentally rediscovered in 1843 by Juan Crisóstomo Nieto, and it was not until 1870 that a survey was made. on the site.

Related: What You Need to Know About Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Why Visit Kuelap Fortress

The formidable ruins of Kuelap are perched on a ridge overlooking the Utcubamba Valley at an elevation of 3,000 meters or 9,842 feet. It is estimated that the town may have had a population of around 3,000 to 5,000. The walls of the citadel are impressive to say the least, in some places the mighty walls reach up to 60 feet high.

  • Altitude of Kuelap: 3,000 meters or 9,842 feet
  • Inhabitants : About 3,000
  • Walls: 60 feet high in some places

Kuelap today

In the hundreds of years since its abandonment, Kuelap has suffered from fires, rain, tree root growth and wind erosion which have gradually deteriorated the site. Heavier spring rains have damaged it in 2022.

Today, Kuelap is one of the greatest pre-Columbian monuments in the Americas. The buildings that stand there today are military, religious, civilian and residential buildings. The residential buildings include 420 circular stone dwellings with various works of art (such as relief carvings, geometric friezes and wall iconography).

Related: All Roads Lead to Machu Picchu? Why the Inca Roads Were the Best in the Americas

Visit Kuelap Fortress today

In the past, it was very difficult to get to Kuelap Fortress, but now a cable car has been built and tourists can bypass the old winding and bumpy road to the top. The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily while the cable car is closed on Mondays.

  • Opening hours: 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily (cable car closed on Mondays)
  • Necessary time : 8 hours (round trip) – 1-2 hours (on site)

Visiting Kuelap is a full day trip. In total, it takes about 8 hours round trip with transport to and from the city of Chachapoyas (the capital of the Amazonas region of Peru). Visits to the Kuelap archaeological site itself last around one or two hours.

  • Busiest: During long weekends

Despite its size and impressive history, Kuelap remains largely unknown to the world, and most tourists are therefore domestic tourists. The busiest times to visit are usually the long weekends.

When to visit Kuelap Fortress

Being on the equator, there are no summers or winters, but there is a dry and rainy season. The dry season (between May and September) is generally considered the best time to visit. During these periods, the days are sunny and the temperatures are cooler.

  • Best time to visit Kuelap: During the dry season from May to September
  • Rainy season: Wetter, warmer, more mystical

Alternatively, visit during the rainy season (October to April) and experience a more mystical setting with magical air at Kuelap Fortress. As a bonus, the nearby Gocta Falls are most spectacular during the rainy season.

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