After leaving San Pedro it was only about an hour’s drive to Chachapoyas which is the capital of the Amazonas region on a plateau high above the Utcumbamba river. The town is nice but there isn’t too much to recommend it so we continued on our way to the tourist highlight of the region Kuelap.
To get to Kuelap there is a 35km branch off the main road which leads you high into the mountains and skirts the edge of a valley to take you to the isolated ridge where the city of Kuelap is located. We had been warned that we were too big for the road but in fact despite a couple of narrow sections it was a good dirt road with a large number of passing places.
Kuelap itself is a fortress city dating back to pre-Inca times and built by the Chachapoyas Indians. It has been occupied since 600 AD and is considered to be the most easily defended of all the Peruvian fortress cities with walls up to 20m high. The city was however conquered by the Incas in the late 15th century before being abandoned before the Spanish arrived. Some historians believe that if the Incas had made their last stand at Kuelap that they would have beaten the Spanish and South America would be a very different place.
On arriving at the site we were disappointed that the car park area was a building site as they are building a spiffy new visitor centre and car park. We were told to park in the middle of the building site – thank god for 4 wheel drive !
From the car park it is a 10 minute walk uphill to the actual site. We were intercepted at the start of the path by a guide who told us it was compulsory to hire one. We negotiated a good price and set off, the only downside her lack of any English.
The site itself is not restored and trees grow amongst the ancient walls and give it an unexplored feel. The lack of other visitors adds to the feeling that you are exploring an undiscovered city.
Most of the buildings are circular (the Incas built square buildings) and even include a small pen for keeping guinea pigs which were used as food but also to warm the huts at night. The fortress has no water supply and instead water was carried up from the river a two hour walk below.
After a couple of hours at the ruins we slowly walked back down to the Beast enjoying the high altitude sunshine and views. We camped for the night in the building site which was fine apart from the workman starting at around 6am !