Since prehistoric times the Yukpa have inhabited the Sierra de Perija. Centuries prior to European arrival in the Americas, ancestors of the Yukpa formed part of a Carib Indian migration across much of northern South America and the Lesser Antilles. Limited information on prehistoric indigenous migration precludes any exact dating of the Yukpa arrival in western Venezuela, but linguistic analysis indicates that the Cariban language began to diverge around 4500 B.P., culminating at approximately 1000 B.P. It is believed that the ancestors of the present-day Yukpa separated from Carib groups in either eastern or southern Venezuela or from Coastal Carib groups. Lexicostatistical research indicates that internal divergence within Yukpan does not exceed ten centuries, a fact that has led some researchers to suggest that the Yukpa reached their present homeland by 1000 B.P. Marked differences from other Yukpa subgroups suggest that the Irapa subgroup reached their present homeland approximately 600-700 B.P.
Although exact dates for the Yukpa arrival in Perija are difficult to determine, the Yukpa have preserved the events of this arrival in their oral literature. Folktales recount how the Yukpa encountered and defeated the Wanapsa, the original inhabitants of the mountains. It is believed that the Yukpa were first contacted by Westerners during the early sixteenth century when conquistadores looking for El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, crossed the Sierra de Perija. The encounter was brief and violent, and the Yukpa consequently moved farther up into the mountains. Spanish missionaries followed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and attempted to establish mission stations where the Yukpa and other Indians of the area could live, but missionary efforts were intermittent and only marginally successful. By the twentieth century the Yukpa were in more or less continuous contact with settlers. By 1945 the Capuchin missionaries had established a permanent presence in the region.