You've heard of Machu Picchu — and maybe even trekked to it, the intrepid adventurer that you are. But you're about to have new access to another Peruvian archaeological site that will give you bragging rights to shut down any cocktail-party travel conversation.
A pre-Incan engineering marvel in northern Peru — the Kuelap archaeological site built and inhabited by the Chacahpoyas people, who pre-date their more famous Inca cousins — is about to get much easier to reach, thanks to some thoroughly modern engineering: a new cable car.
Kuelap is also one of the largest pre-Columbian stone cities in South America. The remains of the city, which is thought to have been home to thousands of people until it was abandoned in 1570, were re-discovered in 1843. Exploration and excavation of the site began in 1997 and Kuelap was submitted for UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2011.
The excavated bluff-top site is 2,000 feet wide and more than 350 long, and is encircled by an enormous wall made of massive square-cut stones. Three dramatic cuts in the wall, which is 60 feet tall in places, served as entry stairways into the city where the foundations of hundreds of small, circular buildings (thought to be homes) can still be seen along with temples and other important structures.
Around 40,000 people visit Kuelap every year... but that’s about to change.
In 2014 the Peruvian government approved a $25 million project to construct the country’s first cable car — with the goal of taking up to 100,000 visitors a year to the Kuelap site. A French company which has constructed more than 8,000 cable transportation systems in 73 countries has started work on the project along with a Peruvian partner and the Telecabinas de Kuelap is expected to be open for business on July 19.
The 2.5-mile-long cable car system, which will cost 20 Peruvian soles or about $7 round trip per passenger, will start at 6,900 feet in the village of Tingo Nuevo and then climb up the lush and dramatic Utcubamba Valley to more than 9,800 feet at the Kuelap site.
Twenty six cars with floor-to-ceiling windows will each carry up to eight adults on the 20 minute ride up to the site, often traveling hundreds of feet above the expanse of green below. For culture seekers who like their adventure on the soft side, this is a vast improvement on the current access options to the site which include a steep 5.5-mile hike or an hours-long drive over a rough, winding, narrow mountain dirt road.
Later this year, LAN Airlines will inaugurate a new domestic flight from Lima to the town of Jaen, which will mean substantially shorter travel times for those who want to explore northern Peru including the new cable car and the Kuelap site.
Photos: Eric Mohl
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