The hidden city of Chachapoyas, set high in a remote cloud forest in the Andes is one of Peru’s best-kept secrets. The region of the same name is home to the Kuélap ruins and plenty of other remarkable pre-Inca archaeological ruins. If you’re looking to explore a place undiscovered by many; check out the Chachapoyas region.
According to archaeologists and historians, the Chachapoyas ruled over a large section of what is now the Amazonas region in northern Peru. The Incas gave the Chachapoya their name. The word is derived from the Quechua phrase meaning “cloud forest”. The Chachapoyas did live amongst the cloud-covered tropical rainforests lining the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains.
The Chachapoya civilization was vanquished by the Incas before the Spanish conquest. Consequently most of our knowledge about the their culture made its way to us second or third hand. This has left the culture and history of the Chachapoya somewhat a mystery. We do know that the Chachapoyas were extremely fierce warriors. Evidence shows, they left behind a large number of astounding architectural and cultural wonders even more impressive than those of the Inca Empire.
Without a doubt, the walled city of Kuélap is the most impressive of Chachapoyas ruins. Three times older than Machu Picchu; this incredible fortified town is perhaps the most well-known and best example of Chachapoyas culture. Within the city there are approximately over 500 structures in total. It is theorised that the population of this single city could have been in excess of 300,000 people.
While it’s unknown, it’s believed that Kuélap was constructed specifically for defence; due to its position high atop a major hill and 60 ft walls fortifying the city. Most speculate the giant walls were constructed as protection against hostile people trying to invade. Archaeological evidence indicates that the structure was built around 500 AD and occupied until the mid-1500s (Early Colonial period). As one of the largest stone ruins in the Americas, Kuelap is one of the most fascinating and mysterious sites in Peru and definitely worth a visit.
The Chachapoya had very elaborate burial rituals. You can find two cliff burial centres in the Chachapoyas region. Near the village of Cruz Pata lies one of the burial places known as Karajía. Here you can see six massive and ornately decorated sarcophagi that are up to two metres in height, perched on a narrow cliff edge high above a river gorge. The sarcophagi contain the mummies of high-ranking people of the Chachapoya culture. Another burial place is Pueblo de los Muertos (‘Town of the Dead’), which contains similar sarcophagi. Although the villages are hard to reach due to the lack of public transport, they are incredible to witness.
The Chachapoya region takes you back in time, hidden amongst the Andes, the exceptionally well preserved ruins exude culture and history. It’s obscure but that is part of why it is so special. Anyone looking to travel off the beaten track and explore the land of an historic civilisation should definitely set their sights on Chachapoya.