News Arequipa

An out of the beaten track destination: the Chachapoyas Kingdom


Kuélap, the Chachapoyas Kingdom

Chachapoyas, capital of the department of Amazonas is the starting point to the Kuelap archaeological complex, discovered in 1843.  Kuelap was the last outpost of a supposedly lost white race, called the Shachapuyans, who retreated from the Inca invasion.  Remains of high buildings made of stone, passages, massive high walls (18 metres / 60 feet) and towers impress the traveller.  The other attractions are the standing mud coffins perched on the cliff overlooking Lamud, the Revash caves the Leymebamba Museum with its display of mummies and the Gocta waterfalls. There are two ways to arrive to Chachapoyas, either by air to Tarapoto or by bus from Chiclayo (it takes approximately 7 hours one way).


2,334 metres/7,700 feet above sea level
Population: 16,000 approx.
Warm during the day, cold at night, rainy season from December to April (80º-35ºF / 20º-10ºC).

Suggested stays:  Private and Group services available


Gocta, Kuelpa & Chachapoyas

3 days – 2 nights


Two full day excursions to the Gocta waterfalls and to Kuelap and the town of Chachapoyas.
Suggested means of transportation: by land from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas.
This tour can be combined with a visit to the Moche Route (Trujillo and Chiclayo).


Gocta, Kuelap & Amazonas Region

5 days – 4 nights


Four full day excursions to Chachapoyas, the Gocta waterfalls, Kuelap, Alto Mayo, Abra Patricia, Pomacochas Lake and Moyobamba.
Suggested means of transportation: by plane to/from Tarapoto.


The Chachapoya's Kingdom

6 days – 5 nights


Five full day excursions to Alto Mayo, Abra Patricia, Gocta waterfalls, Kuelap and Chachapoyas, a choice between Leymebamba or Luya Valley,  Pomacochas Lake and Tarapoto.
Suggested means of transportation: by plane to/from Tarapoto.
Main attractions:

a. Fortaleza de Kuelap

Best described as a fortified citadel, Kuélap stands on the peak of a strategically-located mountain, from where it dominates the surrounding valleys. To get here we have traveled for three hours along a rough road from Chachapoyas, through a dramatic and precipitous landscape.

According to scholars, Kuélap was occupied about a thousand years ago by some three thousand inhabitants. Neither the Incas nor the Spanish knew of the site’s existence, and it seems that the city was suddenly abandoned by its occupants. Several hypotheses exist to explain the sudden disappearance of the builders of this great fortress.

It has been theorized that a civil war or an epidemic decimated Kuélap’s population. But researchers can only speculate, and the reason for the sudden decline of such an apparently thriving culture looks set to remain lost in time.

Today the silent, impassive walls of the citadel stand as the only surviving witnesses of the sudden passing of this once powerful people.

The site covers an area of six hectares and is protected still by an outer wall more than nineteen meters high and almost eight hundred meters long.

b. Gocta

The third highest waterfall in the world (771 meters/2,530 feet) is located in the Amazonas region.  It can be reached after a two and a half hours walk from the town of Cocachimba whose inhabitants avoided for centuries to go near the waterfall in fear of a spell about a blond mermaid and a serpent who garded a golden treasure.  In the last years, a peasant of this region disappeared near the waterfall and was said to be turned into a stone statue behind the falls.

c. Karajia Sarcophagi

The Karajia sarcophagus were known to the world in 1984.  These burial elements of the Chachapoyas culture were made around the years 1000 to 1300 a.c.

These sarcophagi are strategically located, as they are at the border of a lime cliff. It almost seems as if they were left there to overlook the everyday life, as they face the abyss of the death summit. It actually seems as if the Chachapoyas left their great lords there (it has been proved that these sarcophagi belonged to great lords) to avoid them from being plundered in future years. The sarcophagi are elaborate sculptures of over 2 meters high and have a head and bust, which form a compact burial capsule of mud. The heads are decorated with a trophy skull, the faces are flat and wide and the rest of the body is decorated with geometrical figures. The Chachapoyas left these sarcophagi in groups of 4 to 8, the reason for this is still unknown.


d. The Museum of Leymebamba

Opened in June 2000, the Museo Leymebamba displays the more than 200 mummies and their burial offerings recovered in 1997 from the Laguna de los Cóndores

The Museum’s design reflects local architectural traditions, with regional building techniques and materials used in its construction. Gardens filled with rich and varied native flora surround the museum, while an orchid garden displays more than 100 native orchid species.

In addition to the three museum halls dedicated to the archaeological finds from the Laguna de los Cóndores, an ethnographic hall presents the varied lifestyles of the region’s modern inhabitants, and a fifth hall is designed to host cultural and scientific activities.