Living on high-mountain slopes amid the clouds, the Chachapoyas were known as the cloud people. The center of their world was at Kuelap. A huge stone fortress and a place of worship, perched 3000 meters above the Utcubamba River in the Amazonas region of northern Peru.

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The fortress walls are nearly 600 meters in length and tower as high as 19 metres. Some stones weigh up to 3 tons. Within the walls are the ruins of over 400 buildings.

The site was settled in 600 AD and was occupied for 1000 years as a place of ceremonies and burials. (It is 600 years older than Peru’s most-famous ancient place: the Inca site of Micchu Picchu).

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Looking down the narrow entranceway into the fortress

Chachapoyas was not a nation or an empire. It seems they were a federation of small states scattered across this mountainous territory. When the Inca arrived in the area in 1470 AD, they had trouble suppressing the Chachapoyas people. Twice they rebelled and had to be reconquered.

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Reconstructed traditional Chachapoyas house – it’s suggested that the diamond design is a Jaguar eye

The Chachapoyas were a trading people. Kuelap was located to take advantage of the river-canyon trade route between the people of the Pacific coast and the tribes of the Amazon interior.

Chachapoyas residences were also built on high slopes for defence, but also take advantage of the terrain to grow potatoes and maize.

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Clouds close in …

According to Spanish accounts, the Chachapoyas were also known as Sorcerers, consuming herbs and hallucinogenics.

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Sunset from Kuelap

Scholars believe that as well as being a fortress to provide protection to villagers in times of need, it was also where a powerful aristocracy lived, whose primary function was to administer food production and provide religious leadership.

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Fine afternoon looking from the ruins towards valley of the Utcubamba River

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The trail to the ruins is steep; passing occasional locals and mules

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Approaching entrance to Kuelap

Travels in Peru – 2003