Peru boasts a very long and interesting history that long pre-dates the Incas. One of the country's many attractions is Kuelap - a walled 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 continent's most impressive archeological sites.

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

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The History of Kuelap

Kuelap is located in the mountains in the southern part of Peru's region of Amazonas. It was first built during 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 set high in the mountains. Kuelap was the beating heart of the Chachapoya civilization that developed a large and sophisticated society.

  • Period: 6th Century AD
  • Built: By the Chachapoyas Culture
  • Conquered: By The Inca Circa 1470, By the Spanish Circa 1570

The area was first inhabited around 400 BC, but it really flourished for 500 years between 900 AD and 1400 AD. The time of prosperity came to an end in around 1470 AD when it fell to the Incas who then tried to wipe out the Chachapoyas. They were unsuccessful in this, but it was finally abandoned around 100 years later in 1570 following the Spanish Conquest of the area.

  • Rediscovered: In 1843

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

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

Why Visit The 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 reckoned that the city may have had a population of around 3,000-5,000 inhabitants. The walls of the citadel are impressive to say the least, at some places the mighty walls reach as much as 60 feet tall.

  • Elevation Of Kuelap: 3,000 meters or 9,842 feet
  • Inhabitants: Around 3,000
  • Walls: 60 Feet High In Some Places

Kuelap Today

In the hundreds of years since its abandonment, Kuelap has suffered from fire, rain, the growth of tree roots, and wind erosion that have progressively deteriorated the site. More heavy spring rains damaged it in 2022.

Today Kuelap is one of the largest pre-Columbian monuments in the Americas. The buildings found there today consist of military, religious, civil, and residential buildings. The residential buildings include 420 circular stone dwellings with various works of art (like relief carvings, geometric friezes, and mural iconography).

Related: All Roads Lead To Machu Picchu? Why The Inca Roads Were The Best In The Americas

Visiting 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 bumpy winding road to the top. The site is open from 8 AM to 5 PM every day while the cable car is closed on Mondays.

  • Opening Hours: 8.00 am to 5.00 pm Every Day (Cable Car Closed Mondays)
  • Time Needed: 8 Hours (Round Trip) - 1-2 Hours (On-Site)

Visiting Kuelap is a whole day tour. In total, it takes around 8 hours roundtrip with transportation from and back to the city of Chachapoyas (the capital of Peru’s Amazonas Region). Tours of the archeological site of Kuelap itself last around one or two hours.

  • Busiest: During Long Weekends

Despite its size and impressive history, Kuelap remains largely unknown around the world and so most tourists are domestic tourists. The busiest times to visit are typically 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 times, 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 in the rainy season (October through April) and experience a more mystical setting with a magical air to the Kuelap Fortress. As a bonus, the nearby Gocta Falls are at their most spectacular during the rainy season.