Chachapoyas and around

Chachapoyas, or 'Chacha', as it is known among locals, is the capital of the Department of Amazonas. It was founded on 5 September 1538, but retains only some of its colonial character, in the form of large old homes with their typical patios and wooden balconies. The city's importance as a crossroads between the coast and jungle began to decline in the late 1940s, with the building of the road through Pedro Ruiz. However, archaeological and ecological tourism have grown gradually since the 1990s and there are hopes that these will bring increasing economic benefits to the region.


The modern cathedral faces a spacious plaza that fills with locals for the evening paseo. Other interesting churches are the
Capilla de la Virgen Asunta
, the city's patroness, at Asunción y Puno, and
Señor de Burgos
, at Amazonas y Santa Lucía. The
Instituto Nacional de Cultura
) has a small
. It contains a few artefacts and mummies in display cases, with explanations in Spanish.

Mirador Guayamil
offers fine views of the city, especially at early dusk. Nearby is the
Pozo de Yanayacu
, also known as the
fuente del amor
, at the west end of Avenida Salamanca. Legend has it that those who visit this well will fall in love and remain in Chachapoyas. A decisive battle for independence from Spain took place at the
Pampas de Higos Urco
, at the east end of town, a 20-minute walk, with great views of lush Andes to the east.


Huancas, a picturesque village, stands on a hilltop north of Chacha. It's a two-hour walk starting on the airport road. There is some small-scale pottery but not much else in the town. Walk uphill from Huancas for a magnificent view into the deep
of the Río Sonche. There is good walking in the area, which also has Inca and pre-Inca ruins.
for Huancas leave from Jirón Ortiz Arrieta y Libertad. A large prison complex has been built nearby and all
go there on the way to the village.


The Spaniards built this, their first capital of the area, in 1538, directly on top of the previous Chachapoyan structures. Although the capital was moved to Chachapoyas a few years later, Levanto still retained its importance, at least for a while, as it had been one of the seven great cities of the Chachapoyans as described by Cieza de León and Garcilaso de la Vega. Nowadays Levanto is a small, unspoilt colonial village set on flat ground overlooking the massive canyon of the Utcubamba River. Kuélap can, on a clear day, be seen on the other side of the rift. The town is a good centre for exploring the many ruins around.

The Kuélap east-west Highway starts at Levanto and links with the Inca military highway at Jalca Grande . Levanto was about midway on the north-south route from Colombia to the Huari, then Inca hub, at Huánuco. This stone road crosses the modern vehicle road at La Molina, about 5 km from Chachapoyas. The nicest way to get to Levanto from Chachapoyas is by the Inca road, four to five hours. Take the heavy transit road out of Chachapoyas for 40 minutes, then take the stone path on the left. It is in pretty good shape, with one 15-m-long stone stairway in excellent condition.


About five minutes' drive, or a pleasant 30-minute walk, from Levanto on the road to Chachapoyas are the partly cleared ruins of Yalape. The local people are helpful and will guide you to the ruins, which can be easily seen from the road (look for the three, linked curving walls above the road, opposite a solitary modern building). Yalape seems to have been a massive residential complex extending over many hectares. The majority of the walls visible from the road are of white limestone and there are well-preserved examples of typical Chachapoyan architecture and masonry with elaborate friezes. It is easy to climb up to the ruins, but many of the structures are overgrown.

Near Yalape is the site of
San Pedro de Wushpu
: coming from Chachapoyas, at the point where the road drops over the crest, is a fork in the road. Take the left branch (right goes to Levanto). The ruins are similar to Yalape but easier to get to; ask at the first house on the left on the side road.

Morgan Davis has reconstructed an Inca building at
Colla Cruz
, about 20 minutes' walk from Levanto. On a classic Inca stone terrace, a regional-style round building has been constructed, with a three-storey high-thatched roof. This garrison guarded the road that ran past Colcamar, over the Cordillera Oriental on a 1.5-km staircase, through Gran Vilaya, to Cajamarca's central north-south road and on to the coastal highway.

Kuélap and Tingo

The undisputed highlight among the archaeological riches around Chachapoyas is
(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
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.

, 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.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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