Often called the ‘New Machu Picchu’ or the ‘Machu Picchu of the North’, the ruins of Kuelap are located in the less explored Northern Highlands of Peru. Kuelap has been under the tourist radar only in recent times and thus it still remains an offbeat destination, most popular among backpackers.
You have to take a cab or bus from Chachapoyas to the village of Nuevo Tingo which serves as the base to visit Kuelap. From here, there is a cable car service that will take you to the ruins in 20 minutes. Another option would be to hike along a well-marked trail to the top, taking in the lovely mountain setting.
The remains of the ancient city stand overlooking the Utcubamba Valley and are surrounded by dense cloud forests. The structure dates back to pre-Inca times and was built by the Chachapoyas culture between 900 and 1100 AD. This makes Kuelap around 600 to 900 years older than the famed Machu Picchu. It is believed that the city was abandoned during the Spanish conquest in the 16th-century.
The entire settlement is composed of over 400 individual structures and is surrounded by highly impenetrable limestone walls with just three entrances. Most of the walls have geometric patterns and carvings on them. All the structures here are circular, with the exception of just 5 rectangular ones. Some of the structures served as residences, some as warehouses and there’s even evidence of some used as burial sites.
You will enter the site through Acceso 3, the main entrance, located along its eastern side. You will first visit the Pueblo Alto, the high town, with its numerous round houses surrounded by 11.5-metre high walls. These round houses are a unique feature of the Chachapoyas culture. Near this, you will see the Torreon, a tower that measures 7 metres and is believed to have been used for both defensive and ceremonial purposes.
One of the most interesting structures is the Templo Mayor, located in the southern part of the site, fashioned in the shape of an inverted cone. Remains of animal sacrifices were unearthed in its underground chambers and thus it was believed to have had religious significance in its day.
While you stroll through the site, make sure to ask your guide or a local about the history of the Chachapoyas and you are sure to hear some truly shocking stories! (It is believed that they kept the dead in their homes and could even talk with them.)
Apart from being an archaeological delight, Kuelap is also a great destination for nature lovers and backpackers. The offbeat location, rich history, ancient culture and beautiful natural setting will surely be a wonderful getaway for all its visitors.
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