Northern Highlands

This historic site protects several brightly colored funerary buildings tucked into limestone cliff ledges high above a valley near the town of Santo Tomás. Looking a bit like attractive, yet inaccessible, cottages, these chullpas (ancient Andean funerary towers) are made of small, mud-set stones that were plastered over and embellished with red and cream paints. They are thought to date from the 14th century, but their bright taste in decor is still clearly visible today.

While much of the site was looted long ago, the skeletons of 11 adults and one child, along with a wealth of artifacts such as musical instruments and tools made from bones, were found inside by archaeologists. A number of pictographs decorate the walls of the cliff behind the tombs, and a now empty funerary cave, originally containing more than 200 funerary bundles, lies 1km from the main set of tombs. You can't enter the chullpas anymore, but a wooden mirador (lookout) about 30m below offers excellent views.

The shortest route to the site is to take a Leimebamba-bound combi (minibus) from Chachapoyas and get off in Yerbabuena (S8, 1½ hours, five daily). From here, you can try to find a mototaxi to take you a further 16km along a solid but unpaved road to the hamlet of Cruz de San Bartolo (S20, 30 minutes). Pay your entrance fee at the office in San Bartolo from where it's a 2km hike to the archaeological site along a partly paved and well-marked path. Spanish-speaking guides can be hired for S25.

Alternatively, you can hike up from Yerbabuena. Follow the San Bartolo road to just past the 5km marker where a signposted trail heads into the hills. From here it's a rough two-hour climb to the chullpas (total elevation gain 1000m).

A day tour from Chachapoyas is about S80 and also visits the museum in Leimebamba.

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