Map of Kuelap Archaeological ComplexLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
Kuelap is the ruins of a Chachapoyan sacred city on top of a mountain in a remote area of northern Peru. Although the main ruins are generally referred to as "the fortress" because of its high walls, the general consensus now is that the walls are not primarily defensive in nature but were used to help level the top of the mountain and that the city was a sacred one rather than militaristic with up to 3000 inhabitants. Findings have shown religious offerings and trade from other neighbouring cultures indicating widely recognized spiritual importance of the site. It is just a matter of time before Kuelap makes the List. It has all the characteristics of a significant archaeological site and easily satisfies OUV criteria iii and iv. There is a lot of work being done to stabilize and restore parts of the ruins and it is obvious that there is a push to develop this site as a future major attraction. The investment in the cable car and restoration work shows that easily enough.
The site itself was definitely one of the highlights of 6 weeks in Peru and well worth the effort. The crowds were still minimal and the ruins are very photogenic with excellent views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The tall outer walls (up to 20m high) are impressive and once inside much of the area is still overgrown with cloud forest vegetation. Most of the structures inside were circular residential huts of which faint outlines can still be seen in some areas while in others the bases have been restored or at least better preserved. Some areas are off-limits due to restoration and there is a defined path through the site so there is no real chance to get lost or scramble and climb all over everything. The main temple is unique as well. It is also circular and shaped as an inverted cone, wider at the top than the base.
We visited on a day trip out of Chachapoyas which also makes a great base for a number of other interesting non-WHS attractions in the area. Access to Kuelap is easier now that a cable car (opened in 2017) takes you from the town of Nuevo Tingo to a place near the ruins saving you the trouble of a grueling hike up. There is a trail (or horses) for the last 1 km or so to the ruins from there. If you aren't comfortable with cable cars and heights this one will be tough. It is 4km long and steep, first going down the mountain before crossing the valley and back up the other side. It is easy to find tours to Kuelap in Chachapoyas but we found it easy to do on our own as well. Collectivos to Nuevo Tingo drop you off right at the entrance to the cable car ticket office. Our ticket had a "return time" 3.5 hours later. I'm not sure exactly what it meant and we didn't take it too seriously but found that with the ride up, the walk to the ruins, exploring them and coming back it could take that long if you weren't hurrying.