You won’t see many castles in Peru. Sure, plenty of fortified archaeological sites. A palace or two. An occasional coastal fortress. But Italian-style medieval replica castles? In the high jungle? Nope, not many of them. Just one, in fact.
In 2005, Nicola Felice, an Italian expat and businessman, started building a medieval-style castle in the middle of a small town in the San Martín Region of Peru. A few years later, this towering structure loomed over the town, an eyesore to some but widely welcomed by most of the locals.
The Castillo de Lamas is a totally random but undeniably impressive sight. Kitschy, sure. Totally in contrast to the local history and culture? Certainly. But the locals seem to love it, so who cares?
Lamas is considered the folkloric capital of the San Martín Region and one of the most culturally significant settlements in the entire Peruvian Amazon. Its history goes back to the 1430s and the time of the Inca Empire, when the Pocras and Hanan Chancas were defeated by the Incas and driven from their lands. Fleeing in the face of a potential total downfall, the tribes headed east and ended up on the hilltop where Lamas now stands.
The Spanish conquistadors and their missionaries came later and supposedly made friends with the locals, who allowed them to occupy the top of the hill. That, however, is open to some debate.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, and now an Italian has made an indelible mark on the town with his faux castillo: an ersatz castle, complete with mock turrets and fairytale battlements. You could call it a culture clash on an epic scale. But the clash never came. Rather, the locals quickly came to love it.
The castle was built shortly after a traumatic local event: an earthquake in 2005 that killed five people and left hundreds homeless. The castle’s construction created some much-needed jobs. And now, it’s arguably the most famous attraction in the historic town, drawing in both foreign and Peruvian tourists visiting the nearby city of Tarapoto, just 25 minutes away.
For a few soles, you can stroll through the castle’s occasionally tasteful but frequently cheesy interior. There’s a restaurant and a small pool and some reproductions of famous paintings. But the main reason to visit—apart from the sheer eccentricity of it all—are the spectacular views from the castle’s turrets, looking out across the town and surrounding fields to the jungle-covered hills beyond.