(0800-1700, US$3, 50% discount for students with ID) . A small Centro de Interpretaciones is open 0800-1630; it has a good model of the site. There is a toilet block. The ruins are locked – the guardian, Gabriel Portocarrero, has the keys and accompanies visitors. He’s informative and friendly. Guides are available; pay them what you think appropriate.
The undisputed highlight among the archaeological riches around Chachapoyas is Kuélap (3000 m), a spectacular pre-Inca walled city that was rediscovered in 1843 by Juan Crisótomo Nieto. Even the most exaggerated descriptions fail to do justice to the sheer scale of this site great fortress.
Kuélap was built over a period of 200 years, from AD 900-1100 and contained three times more stone than the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt. The site lies sprawled along the summit of a mountain crest, more than a kilometre in length. It is divided into three parts: at the northwest end is a small outpost; at the southeast end of the ridge is a spread-out village in total ruin; and the cigar-shaped fortress lies between the two, 585 m long by 110 m wide at its widest. The walls are as formidable as those of any pre-Columbian city. They vary in height between 8 and 17 m and were constructed in 40 courses of stone block, each one weighing between 100 and 200 kg. It has been estimated that 100,000 such blocks went into the completion of this massive structure.
The majority of the main walls on all four levels are original. Also original is the inverted, cone-shaped structure, long assumed to be a dungeon, although recent studies claim it to be a giant solar calendar, known as el tintero (the inkwell). There are a number of defensive walls and passageways as well as many houses. Some reconstruction has taken place, mostly of small houses and walls, but only one building has been completely restored. The remainder have been left in their cloudforest setting, the trees covered in bromeliads and moss, the flowers visited by hummingbirds. Although there are no carvings, some structures are adorned with simple geometric friezes that represent the eyes of animals and birds. An interesting feature is that almost all the buildings (about 420 in number) are circular. Recent archaeological findings indicate that they were public spaces and served as kitchens, toilets and storage areas, rather than warriors’ barracks as was first thought. It is estimated that up to 3500 people lived in Kuélap at its zenith. The site was never mentioned in Inca chronicles, meaning that by the time of the Inca invasion in the 1470s, it was of little significance to the Chachas. The five rectangular structures indicate that the Incas occupied the fortress.
Public transport is not plentiful in this region. Most journeys are done by colectivo and combi, starting their routes in Chachapoyas. To reach the more remote archaeological sites you will have to do some walking, in one or two cases for several days. Tours can also be arranged.
Tingo, about 37 km by road south of Chachapoyas, is the village from which you can reach Kuélap. Much of the village was washed away in the floods of 1993. In the hills above Tingo, 3.5 km away, is Tingo Nuevo, with its plaza of flowers and topiary in front of the church. Market day is Sunday.
There are four options to get from Tingo to Kuélap: 1 Take a tour from Chachapoyas with one of the agencies . Most hotels will organize tours to Kuélap and other archaeological sites when there are sufficient people. Expect to pay around US$12-20 per person for a full-day trip to Kuélap, including guide and lunch. When booking a tour, request a guide who speaks English, if you so wish. Tours leave at 0800 and, after a spectacular, if not disconcerting, three-hour drive, you arrive at Kuélap. The tours usually allow a sufficient three to four hours for exploration before returning to Chachapoyas, with a possible stop along the way for a late lunch. 2 Hire your own vehicle with driver in Chachapoyas, US$35 per vehicle. 3 A less expensive option and, in many ways, the recommended one since it allows you to see Kuélap wrapped in early-morning mist, is to take the local combi to Choctámal, María or Quisongo . You can spend the night in Choctámal village or at María . The next day, it is a relatively gentle 19 km, four- to five-hour walk along the vehicle road to Kuélap. It’s best to visit the site at your leisure and spend the night here, then walk down the steep path (three to four hours) to Tingo the next day. 4 Take a combi from Chachapoyas to Tingo . Either spend the night in Tingo and start climbing at dawn the next day, or hike straight up and spend the night in María. The strenuous 3½- to four-hour hike (with a 1200 m vertical gain) to Kuélap begins on the right-hand side of the bridge, past the police station. At first the track follows the west bank of the Utcubamba, before turning right and climbing steeply into the mountains. The route is intermittently marked with red arrows painted on the rocks. It can get very hot and there is no water whatsoever until the top, but the trail may be muddy in the rainy season. Take water, food, adequate clothing and footwear, etc. You reach the small village of Kuélap first, the walls of the fortress become visible only at the very end of the climb. It’ll take about three hours to walk down....
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