My friend Miriam and I already saw Machu Picchu, just as David did about one year later. Just like he was, we were so amazed by the incredible setting, the surroundings, and the history of it. Machu Picchu is almost perfectly restored and made accessible for tourists, so when we heard about some other ancient ruins in the north of Peru we were intrigued. The ruins have been left like they were found and still mainly covered by rain forest, which made it sound even more interesting. Unlike Machu Picchu, Kuelap wasn’t built by the Incas, but by the ancient culture of the Chachapoyas, which lived around the same time as the Incas.
To get there we traveled from Lima to Chachapoyas, a lovely old town with colonial buildings and very cheap accommodation. We got a very nice and clean private room for only 5 dollars per person per night. From there we booked a tour to Kuelap. The tour picked us up early in the morning and drove us up to the site. The fortress is situated on top of a mountain, and the bus dropped us at the visitors center from where we had to hike up about 20 minutes. For the lazy ones (or horse lovers) there is also the possibility of renting a horse to take you up. Unfortunately the weather was pretty bad that day, as it was cold and rainy. The rain and fog did add a very special sense to the whole surreal scenery.
The first thing we saw when we came up the mountain was a huge stone wall. On some parts it’s up to 21 meters tall and 2 meters thick which makes it seem indestructible. At the time it actually was; the city was never conquered until the Incas came there and even they failed the first time. They never managed to break through the stone wall, they could only conquer the Chachapoyas by a siege. Eventually when they ran out of water and food they had to give in.
The city is over 200 meters long and still mostly covered by rainforest. Archeologists have started to dig out some of the old buildings and are still just learning about the culture of the Chachapoyas. Unlike the Incas, they always built their houses in a round construction. In some of the ruins we could still see a huge stone, which they used for cooking and fire.
Just like in Machu Picchu, there were Alpacas running around and staring at the strange invaders of their home.
The only thing which is left as proof that the Incas invaded Kuelap is one building. The Incas always constructed their buildings in a rectangle shape, so there is one building like that to be found in Kuelap. Unlike some invaders, the Incas always let the culture and traditions of the invaded people continue to exist; in some cases they even incorporated them into their own cultures. There is one building, the tintero, which no one knows what it was used for. It is wider on the top and smaller on the bottom with the only entrance on top of it. Some people think it was some sort of prison, or death cell, or an observatory. I think the later sounds a little nicer, but apparently they found some animal bones in it. Unless back then the animals liked to look at the stars, I fear the prison theory makes more sense.
Overall Kuelap is not as impressive as Machu Picchu of course, but it is still a very good experience and I can highly recommend visiting it. It is a very mystical place, which still has so many secrets to it.