A cable car leaves for Kuélap Fortress. Photo by Tony Dunnell.
The archaeological site of Kuélap is one of the jewels of northern Peru. And with the construction of a new cable car system, the fortress/settlement/citadel is now more accessible than ever.
Kuélap tours leave daily from Chachapoyas (read my Chachapoyas travel guide here), but you can also visit Kuélap independently. Read more about both options below.
Where Is Kuélap Fortress?
First things first: Where is Kuélap?
The Chachapoyan walled settlement is located near the city of Chachapoyas in the Amazonas Region of northern Peru. It’s about 14 miles (22.5 km) south of Chachapoyas as the crow flies. With the construction of the new teleférico (cable car), most visitors now reach Kuélap from the small town of Nuevo Tingo.
Kuélap Fortress, Amazonas, Peru
Kuélap Tours From Chachapoyas
The one-day tour of Kuélap is the classic thing to do from Chachapoyas, along with day trips to Gocta Waterfall. You’ll find tour agencies dotted around the Plaza de Armas of Chachapoyas and surrounding streets, all of which offer tours to Kuélap.
I went with Chachapoyas Expedition (www.facebook.com/chachapoyas.expedition), who I can highly recommend. The agency is located on the main square of Chachapoyas (Ortiz Arrieta 530).
Chachapoyas Expedition, like other agencies, have daily departures to Kuélap every morning. The trip costs S/90 (about $28), which is a standard price for most Kuélap tours.
The tour includes the minibus to Nuevo Tingo; the cable car (S/20 return); entrance to Kuélap (S/20); an English-speaking guide; and lunch in Nuevo Tingo.
Tours leave from Chachapoyas between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Typical tour groups seem to consist of anywhere between five to 20 people. I’m not sure if there are any limits on tour group sizes at Kuélap; as far as I know, there aren’t.
It takes about an hour to get to Nuevo Tingo, where you’ll first go to the shiny new Estación de Embarque (boarding station). You’ll probably have to hang around here for a bit while your group waits its turn to board a minibus for the short ride up to the cable car platform (Andén 1). Once up at the cable car platform, hop into one of the eight-seat cabins — of which there are 26 in total — for the 20 minute ride up to the upper platform (Andén 2).
Once you arrive up at Andén 2 and the Kuélap visitor center, your guide will take you on the walk up to Kuélap itself. It’s maybe a 20- to 30-minute walk; you can hire a horse if needed.
The tour of the site will probably take about two hours, maybe three if you’re going slowly. Once you’re done, you’ll head back to the cable car for the return trip to Nuevo Tingo, where you’ll have lunch. After eating, you’ll board your minibus for the return trip to Chachapoyas. You should be back by 4 p.m.
A Chachapoyas Expedition minibus for tours to Kuélap. Photo by Tony Dunnell.
Kuélap Tours From Other Cities
You can arrange Kuélap tours from other cities in Peru, including Tarapoto and Lima. These will often be package tours to Kuélap that include hotels and transportation. I’m guessing it might also be possible to arrange a package tour to Kuélap from Chiclayo and perhaps Cajamarca.
Considering how easy it is to get to Chachapoyas independently, and then to Kuélap by local tour or independently, there’s not much point in arranging a package tour to Kuélap from outside Chachapoyas.
How to Get to Kuélap Independently By Bus and Cable Car
If you want to save some money and avoid the tour groups, then it’s easy enough to get to Kuélap independently.
First, head to the Terminal Terrestre de Chachapoyas, the city’s main bus terminal. It’s just over half a mile from the city center, so it’s totally walkable, but take a taxi if you’re feeling lazy. Colectivos (minibuses) leave the terminal for Nuevo Tingo every hour, and cost between S/7 and S/10 each way. It takes about an hour, maybe an hour and a half.
Once you arrive in Tingo Nuevo, walk up to the Estación de Embarque. It’s uphill, but not too far. Buy your cable car ticket (S/20 return, keep your ticket safe) and wait your turn to be shuttled up to the first platform by minibus. Once you’re at the platform, hop on the cable car for the 20-minute ride up to the entrance to Kuélap. Enjoy the scenery, or pretend you’re James Bond in Moonraker. On arrival, head to the ticket office and pay for your entry (S/20).
If you decide you’d like a guide, then you should be able to find one near the ticket office or where the path up to Kuélap begins. Ask in the ticket office if you’re not sure. I was told a guide at the site will charge around S/50. That’s OK if you’re in a group of four or five, but pretty expensive if you’re alone or a couple. You might be able to negotiate the price if there’s just one or two of you, or perhaps join up with another group. Look around, weigh up the options and don’t be afraid to negotiate a little (but not too much). To get the most out of Kuélap, it is best to go with a guide.
Two or three hours is enough for exploring Kuélap quite extensively. Once you’re done, head back down to the cable car for the return leg to Nuevo Tingo. You can either eat lunch in Nuevo Tingo or start looking for a colectivo to take you back to Chachapoyas. It shouldn’t be too hard to track one down; ask around if you’re having any problems.
All in all, going to Kuélap independently isn’t all that much cheaper than going with a tour. Let’s say you spend S/14 for the colectivo (there and back), S/20 for the cable car, and S/20 for your entrance ticket. You’ve already spent S/54 and that’s without lunch and with no guide. But if you want to spend a little less, aren’t bothered about having a guide, and want to avoid the whole tour scenario, then go for it.
A cable car descends from Andén 2 (at 2,930 meters above sea level) on its return from Kuélap to Andén 1 and the town of Nuevo Tingo. Photo by Tony Dunnell.
Trekking to Kuélap
If you love trekking up hills then you can skip the cable car altogether in favor of a grueling 5.5 mile (8.9 km) uphill hike.
To do this, you need to take the bus to Tingo (Viejo) rather than Nuevo Tingo. They’re close to each other, but make sure you go to the correct one. Once you arrive in Tingo Viejo, you should be able to find the signposted trailhead (ask around if not).
The hike can take four hours, so you need to set off early in the morning. The trail is well marked, but you won’t find much on the way, so take enough water and snacks for the walk. If you run out of time or decide you don’t want to walk back down after visiting Kuélap, you can always return on the cable car.
Kuélap Opening Hours
Kuélap is open Monday to Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.