Kuelap is not, strictly speaking, an Inca ruin but was built by the Chachapoyas, a fierce, Northern tribe who were finally conquered by the Incas only a short time before the arrival of the Spanish.
The fortress of Kuelap lies in a remote part of Peru and averages only a few visitors per week. It is built on the top of a high ridge and is completely invisible from the valley below. The encircling wall of the fortress is 8 meters high and covers a distance of some 2 miles. Inside the fortress are several hundred buildings including a royal enclosure, religious quarters and several watchtowers. It has been estimated that Kuelap contains 40 million cubic meters of stone, compared with a mere 16 million cubic meters of stone used to construct the Great Pyramid in Egypt.
Kuelap has several sinister features. One is the mysterious el tintero (or "inkpot"), a circular building with only an opening in the top, said to be used for housing jaguars which were fed with human captives as sacrifices. Another is Kuelap's main entrance, termed a "killing corridor" in Hilary Brandt's "Backpacking and Trekking in Peru and Bolivia".
"Kuelap was designed to be a death trap. Its walls were so high and backfilled to prevent any chance of breeching. However, its three doors leading inwards were open and laid out to give an optical illusion to the approaching enemy that they could storm inside. However, inside was a killing corridor with huge walls on the sides and a steep climb as the corridor got narrower and narrower to a final point where only one man at a time could squeeze through". This "killing corridor" entrance to Kuelap is littered with bones.
Manco Inca probably considered retreating to this mountain fortress when the Chachapoyas offered him assistance after the failure of the Great Rebellion. The fortress shows little sign of the Spanish destruction evident in other nearby ruins.
Source: Incas & Conquistadores
How to get there: it is quite an adventure to go to Kuelap. I first went to Cajamarca and then to Celendín from where I took a very, very long bus ride to El Tingo. The bus ride is not for those with heart problems and it is definitely on my list of death roads together with the bus rides to Rurrenabaque and Sorata in Bolivia.
Once in El Tingo it is a 4 hour climb through the majestic Andes to get to the awesome ruins of Kuelap. I spent the night in the small hotel at the site and wondered around in Kuelap all alone on a moonlit night (I am having goose bumps again while writing this), and that is still the most spiritual experience I have ever encountered in my life. I visited many other ruins after Kuelap, such as Machu Picchu (Peru) and Angkor Wat (Cambodia) to name a few, but I've never again experienced that feeling I had on that moonlit night in Kuelap. The silence, the moonlit ruins, you could almost touch history... what a wonderful sensation.
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Must See Places in Peru
|Machu Picchu||Chan Chan||Santa Catalina|
© All photographs by Mark Van Overmeire