Kuelap, the Ancient Fortress That Aims to Become the Second Biggest Tourist Destination in Peru

Final del camino, Kuélap. Foto en Flickr del usuario Luis Cordova (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

End of the road, Kuelap. Image on Flickr by user Luis Cordova (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Kuelap is an important Peruvian archaeological site located in the province of Luya, in the Amazonas region, built by the Chachapoya culture of Andean people 1,000 years ago. It might not be so well known worldwide as Peru's Machu Picchu, the ancient, sky-high estate built by the Incas, but Peruvian authorities are trying to change that.

Kuelap, a kind of walled city, has the following features, according to tour group Tambopata:

Forma un conjunto arquitectónico de piedra de grandes dimensiones, ubicado en lo alto de una montaña a 3.000 msnm. Se encuentra […] en la provincia de Luya. Se estima que su construcción se realizó hacia el año 1000, coincidiendo con el período de florecimiento de la cultura Chachapoyas.
En lengua nativa, Kuélap significa “lugar frío” y es que, a pesar de encontrarse en la selva peruana, tiene un clima templado, seco durante el día y con temperaturas muy bajas durante la noche.

It's a huge stone architectural complex, located at the top of a mountain 3,000 metros above sea level [about 9,800 feet]. According to some estimations, it was built circa 1,000 AD, when the Chachapoya culture was at its peak.
In the native language, Kuelap means “cold place”, a reference to the fact that despite its location in the Peruvian jungle, it has temperate weather, dry during the day and with very low temperatures during the night.

The archaeological complex was “rediscovered” in January 31, 1843, by Juan Crisóstomo Nieto, a judge from Chachapoyas. While carrying out work related to his position, he arrived at the virtually unknown site — due to its location in a forested and rainy area that is hard to access — with the help of some local guides.

Kuelap is not free of mystery:

Los habitantes de Kuélap, abandonaron su ciudad antes de la llegada de los españoles, por razones que hasta hoy no han sido descubiertas. El sabio italiano Antonio Raimondi, el primero en estudiar la zona en 1860, encontró en el lugar el esqueleto de un hombre de dos metros de altura y cráneos con cabellera rubia, lo que creó un misterio no descifrado hasta hoy.

The old occupants of Kuelap abandoned their city before the Spaniards arrived, for reasons that remain unknown. Italian researcher Antonio Raimondi, the first one to study the area in 1860, found a skeleton of a two-meter-tall [6'5″] man and skulls with blonde hairs, which sparked a mystery that goes unsolved to this day.

In its day, Kuelap's residents used limestone to build the complex; its main architectural attractions include the Torreón (fortified tower), the Castillo (castle) and the Tintero (inkwell). The latter, as noted by historians, seems to have been used as an astronomical observatory and is considered a ritual structure because of its unique inverted cone shape.

Kuelap has several attractions, as seen on this short list from travel agency Aracari:

Petroglifo en Kuélap. Imagen en Flickr del usuario Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0).

Petroglyph in Kuelap. Image on Flickr by user Jorge Gobbi (CC BY 2.0).

Podrá ver de cerca los Sarcófagos de Revash con sus petroglifos rojos, los de Karajía que tienen la forma de las estatuas de la Isla de Pascua, descubrir algunas de las estructuras deterioradas de La Congona, La Joya o Macro. Un sitio que no puede perderse es el Museo Leymebamba donde se encuentran las momias que se encontraron cerca de la Laguna de los Cóndores.

You'll be able to see up close the Revash sarcophagus with their red petroglyphs and the Karajía ones that have the same shape as the Eastern Island statues as well as discover some of the deteriorating structures of La Congona, La Joya and Macro. A place you can't miss is the Leymebamba Museum, which holds all the mummies that were found by the Lake of the Condors.

Peruvian authorities would like to transform Kuelap into the country's second biggest tourist destination, and with that in mind the first cable railway will be ever built in Peru. Plans are to have it finished by July 2016, according to reporting from newspaper El Comercio:

[…] en el distrito de Tingo María (Luya, Amazonas). Este permitirá acceder a la fortaleza de Kuelap en tan solo en 20 minutos, en un viaje cómodo y seguro en el que se podrá admirar las montañas de verdor y el bosque de niebla.
El objetivo final es transportar mil pasajeros por hora.

[…] in the district of Tingo María (Luya, Amazonas). It will allow access to the Kuelap fortress in just 20 minutes, in a comfortable and safe trip where you will be able to admire all the greenery of the mountains and the misty forest.
The ultimate goal is to transport a thousand passengers per hour.

Twitter users have posted photos, facts and comments about their own visit to Kuelap:

The Kuelap fortress is located in the Amazonas region on top of the Barreta hill at 3,000 meters above sea level

January 31, 1843, discovery of Kuelap…

Kuelap, the impressive fortress on the 171st anniversary of its discovery.

I've posted 106 photos on Facebook in the album “FORTRESS OF KUELAP – Province of Luya – CHACHAPOYAS”.

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