The Fortress of Kuelap – Chachapoyas

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Everyone has heard about Machu Picchu, in the South of Peru, but most travellers neglect the North. That is very unfortunate, because it is home to a whole different culture, the Chachapoyas, with its own crown jewel – the fortress of Kuelap.

Read more: Chachapoyas is in the Jungle?

Chachapoyas were a northern people, famous for being tall and fair, with light eyes and hair. They left behind a rich culture that peppers the North-Eastern Peru with archeological sites. The most impressive is Kuelap, a fortified city on a high hill top. The humid climate of the North that regularly envelops Kuelaps in cloud blankets gives it its second name: “Ciudad sobre las Nubes”, or “City above the clouds”.


In order to get to Kuelap you need to travel to the city of Chachapoyas first, which is about a day’s worth of a bus ride from Lima (almost 24 hours).* Once in Chachapoyas, you go to the local combi station to arrange a ride to the village of Tingo. It’s only an hour away, so the ride is very cheap at around 10 soles or less, depending on your negotiation skills. Tingo to Kuelap is what Aguas Calientes is to Machu Picchu, in other words, that is where the trek begins.


It is a 3-4 hour trek, which can get quite tiring despite the low elevation. It’s very hot in the beginning, though not sunny, but gets chillier as you go higher. When you finally get to the fortress itself, all yellow and majestic, you will be happy for going through all the trouble of getting there, because Kuelap does not disappoint. Seeing all those buildings in such an inaccessible place is inspiring, because being impressed with something other than yourself is what inspiration is, isn’t it?


It’s even possible to stay there overnight, although that would have to be at one of the locals’ house, quite a big difference from the comforts of Pariwana, because the people there are very poor. Although spending a night is not necessary, visiting Kuelap definitely is, if you want to widen your horizons and get away from swarms of tourists. Just be advised that working on your Spanish before this trip is recommended, as the tourist industry is much less developed in the North and it is hard to come by an English speaker.

Read more: The Gocta Waterfall

*Civa is the cheapest company that provides great service with its bus-cama for 110 soles or semi-cama for 80 soles, with meals for both.

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