Kuelap: Discovering the Ancient Fortress of the Chachapoya

We arrived in Chachapoyas around 6:30 in the morning, feeling groggy from a restless night of sleep on the bus. We set out on foot to find our hostel, ready for the day ahead. Before arriving in the city, we hadn’t had a plan for the day, but we met a few fellow travelers and all decided to venture out to the ancient ruins of Kuelap.

After putting our bags at the hostel, we headed out to find a tour and grab some breakfast. Many of the tour agencies sit around the Plaza de Armas in the center of the city. We found the Santa Maria Travel & Tours agency and booked a last-minute tour with them for 75 soles each. The tour included transport, lunch, a guided tour of the ruins, and tickets for both the gondola and entrance into the ruins.

The park in the center of the small town of Nuevo Tingo
The park in the center of the small town of Nuevo Tingo


Getting to Kuelap

At 8:30 a.m., our group departed for Kuelap in a van. We stopped in Nuevo Tingo to place orders for lunch after the tour and had a quick look around the small town. The van took us 10 more minutes up the street to the gondola station. The cable cars opened in early 2017, eliminating the long approach hike and allowing more people to visit the ruins. It is also the first cable car system to be built in Peru.

Stunning views from the gondola on the way to Kuelap
Stunning views from the gondola on the way to Kuelap


The gondola glided high over the valley and up the hill below the ruins. A short, ascending hike led our group to the towering walls that surround the fortress. Our tour was entirely in Spanish despite our guide telling the group there would be an English-speaking guide at the ruins. Luckily, Matt and I can understand a fair amount of Spanish.

Touring Kuelap

We wound our way outside the walls and entered the fortress on the backside through a small opening in the stone. The fortress was built around 500 AD before Incan times by the Chachapoya and served as a small city and a fortress to protect its inhabitants against intruders. The Incans invaded and destroyed many of the structures, but the foundations of the homes and ceremonial buildings still can be seen. The downfall of Kuelap came with colonialism, and it became a lost city. Due to its remote location, it wasn’t discovered again until the mid-1800s.

Standing structures atop the fortress
Standing structures atop the fortress


The views around the fortress were stunning, as we were surrounded by green mountains that were partially covered in a patchwork of agricultural plots. The day was hot, and we found ourselves overheating in pants even though the morning was cool. There were a fair amount of people visiting the ruins, but our guide did a great job of spacing us between the groups of people so that we could enjoy the area and snap some pictures.

We could only imagine what this place looked like in its prime
We could only imagine what this place looked like in its prime


At the end of the tour, we hiked in the scorching sun back down to the gondola and the bus. Tired and sweaty, the group was ready for a tasty lunch at the restaurant in Tingo.

Extra Notes on Touring Kuelap

Taking a tour of Kuelap is a great chance to learn about the lesser-known cultures of ancient Peru. When on the tour, respect the ruins and the locals who live around them. And for God’s sake, don’t stray away from the group! We had two individuals in our tour group wander away. This was pretty annoying because it held us up as our guide went searching for them. It also would mean that you won’t get into the ruins themselves, and that would be a bummer.

A partially standing home at the edge of the fortress
A partially-standing home at the edge of the fortress


Kuelap is a must see if you are in Chachapoyas. The tour doesn’t involve strenuous activity, but you will be doing a bit of hiking, so wear comfortable shoes and bring water. If you don’t speak Spanish, confirm that there will be an English-speaking guide before you pay for the tour to ensure that you will be able to get the most out of your experience.


Have you been to any cool ruins in Peru? Let us know where!


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