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The Lost World of the Chachapoyas

Kuelap FortressChachapoyas, which means "People of the Clouds", is the name of a civilization that fought from high forest strongholds in resistance to Inca expansion and Spanish invasion. One of the last kingdoms to succumb to the Inca, its legacy includes one of South America's archaeological wonders - the defensive fortress of Kuelap. Perched on the shoulder of a 10,000-foot mountain, this 9th Century citadel comprises an urban complex of more than 400 stone edifices - homes, palaces and temples enclosed by a 70-foot-tall stone wall. Their architecture demonstrates decidedly non-Inca features, such as protruding geometric patterns, cornices, and friezes. Kuelap's setting is unforgettably beautiful - a tropical cloud forest festooned with orchids and steeped in mystery.

The Revash Tombs, the Karajia Sarcophagi and the extensive network of Chachapoya paved trails also serve as a reminder of the greatness of this vanished nation. Archaeologists just now are mapping and excavating many important Chachapoya sites. The museum in Leymebamba, which displays 200 mummies recovered from the remote Lake of the Condors, describes the extraordinary embalming methods of the Chachapoya, their lifestyle and culture. The Museum also houses a collection of knotted Quipu, the record-keeping device of the Incas.

Cajamarca is a city of colonial charm, rolling Andean countryside, and home to the important archaeological sites of Ventanillas de Otuzco and Cumbemayo. It is a place of great historical significance - in this city Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured, imprisoned, ransomed, and executed Inca Emperor Atahualpa, unleashing the destruction of the Inca civilization. Travelers may stroll in the town square - site of the first and decisive battle between the Spanish and the Inca - and visit the ransom rooms that were filled with gold and silver by legions of loyal Inca subjects in the attempt to buy the freedom of their doomed regent.

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