Chachapoyas is a nice little town located in the north of Peru in the region of Amazonas. It mixes mountain and jungle, a very rich fauna and flora and very interesting sites to discover. Among others the Gocta Waterfalls, considered among the highest in the world, and the famous ruins of Kuelap – described as the “Machu Picchu of northern Peru” – no less! A beautiful region to finish my Peruvian stay, even if the rain didn’t always make the expeditions easy.
Early morning arrival
Friday 14th December 2018
I arrived around 5.30 a.m. after a tiring bus trip (mountain road all the way long in a very uncomfortable bus with no space for the legs; it was hard to sleep!) and met Dany, which bus was supposed to arrive at 8 a.m. but was 3h in advance. Not that a bad thing in the end as I didn’t have to wait for her!
We immediately found a hostel where to drop our bags and first get some rest. We then went in the morning for some grocery shopping at the market and to visit the centre. Chachapoyas was the sixth city created by the Spanish in Peru and it is still marked by this colonial influence. It’s still a small city, which is known and appreciated for its peacefulness, which we could indeed immediately feel.
Hitchhiking with the police
We came back to the hostel to drop our purchase and get ready for a little walk for the time we had left before nightfall. We then left on foot to the village of Huancas, where can be visited a viewpoint over the Cañon del Rio Sonche. A few kilometres later, a police car passed on the road and stopped by, offering to drive us to the mirador. We couldn’t refuse!
We then went up to the mirador while talking with our driver and its colleague, who were both very friendly, giving us lots of tips about the touristic attractions in the region. They even offered to drop us off at a second mirador located 3 km away. We hadn’t heard of it but it was perfect!
We first enjoyed the stunning view over the vertiginous canyon. Lots of waterfalls were hurtling down the mountains in front of us the scenery was amazing despite the cloudy sky and the frequent showers.
We then left again with our private drivers, stopping on the road to harvest some blackberries on the roadside (much more acid than the ones I know in France). We were now heading to the Mirador Cañon de Huancaurco, another stunning viewpoint that we fully enjoyed. It was also the occasion to take some selfies with our drivers, as we had to immortalize this!
We came back at the end of the day to Chachapoyas – thanking profusely our friends of the day – and went to sleep early as we had planned on leaving early for a hike on the following day.
A rainy and memorable hike
Saturday 15th December 2018
I had read that a 3-day trekking could be done to go to Kuelap ruins, but the climatic conditions (rain season) had forced me to abandon the project. But I still wanted to do the first day’s hike, leading to the village of Levanto and crossing some little ruins at the end of the way.
We then left with Dany and Patricio, a Uruguayan guy met in Cajamarca and found again in Chachapoyas. The beginning of the hike was easy and went without any problem although the trail was already muddy.
But it quickly got harder, as we started to walk on a path that isn’t well looked after (and given the climate there, I don’t need to precise that vegetation is growing very fast in the region!) and full of obstacles: gates, barbed wires, fences… it made us laugh at the beginning but became a real challenge at some points, and even more as the rain started.
The rain even got really strong and it was easy to loose the path, which made the adventure quite tiring. We found shelter in a shepherd’s small hut around 12h30, which would be perfect for our lunch break. The owner nicely started a fire for us, which was more than welcome to dry our wet clothes (and I was not the worst one as I have some good equipment but it was not the case of my companions).
We left unwillingly at the beginning of the afternoon as the rain was starting again after a lull. But we had to reach our destination so to make sure we would catch a bus to go back to Chachapoyas! We then went on until reaching the main road, where it became much easier to walk, and even more as the rain finally stopped.
After 2 more kilometres on this road, we arrived at the ruins of Yélape… but we didn’t see anything of them except for a few stones sticking out of the vegetation that was covering them. We learnt later on that they had not been maintained for more than eight years, hence why nature had taken over its rights. At least the panorama and beautiful views over the sunny valley rewarded us.
It was quite disappointing to have done all these kilometres to see nothing in the end but as Patricio quite rightly reminded us, “life isa journey, not a destination”; and we would indeed keep some good memories of this epic and intense rainy hike!
We finished 2 km later in the village of Levanto, where we were told that there was no bus anymore to Chachapoyas and that we would have to walk to the next village so to find some transportation.
We arrived there about fifteen minutes later and the whole village was celebrating, with an on-going football match. The bus and taxi travers were not decided to move as long as the match was not over, which was not really convenient for us! Luckily we finally found a driver that was ready to drive us to Chachapoyas, where we arrived quite tired. Just some time to prepare our dinner and we went straight to bed!
The famous Gocta Waterfalls
Sunday 16th December 2018
After another early morning wake-up, we left to Gocta Waterfalls. Our hostel’s owner had given us all the indications and tips about how to do this hike. We first went to the terminal and took a colectivo heading to Pedro Ruiz, but the driver drop us off before.
There was then two ways to go the falls, leaving from the village of San Pablo or the one of Cocachimba… and of course it was possible to do a loop, starting from one and finishing with the other one. It is what we had chosen to do with Dany : first leaving from San Pablo, going to the see the first fall, then going down to the second one and finishing in Cocachimba (Good deal: once at the ticket office, you can say that you only want to visit the first fall; you’ll then save 10 soles as there is no control once inside the park).
We were then at the beginning of the road leading to the village of San Pablo and decided to go on foot instead of taking a moto-taxi, so to save some money. Pachamama knew how to reward us as we found lots of bananas from the beginning of our walk, a real gift from heaven! We went up for about 3 km through a nice little path cutting the main road and already offering us some amazing sceneries.
Once in San Pablo, we bought our tickets (be careful, the ticket office is located on the main square instead of the park’s entrance, so you have to go there first) and then started our walk into the park. We first went through abundant banana and other tropical fruit trees. Then started some surprising landscapes reminding me of Fontainebleau’s forest: sandy path, rocks, ferns and pine trees that you wouldn’t expect at all in this region! All of this bordered by some impressive rock walls on our left side, that was just amazing.
We then reached a part of tropical forest that we would even have expected from the beginning in this area: luxurious vegetation, huge trees covered by climbing plants, flowers everywhere… it was superb and the trail was well done, making the hike very pleasant. As the vegetation suddenly got clearer, we had a first glimpse over our final destination, which already looked spectacular from far away.
We reached the first fall at the end of the morning. It was suddenly much chillier and wetter given the strength of the fall but it was so stunning! We came as close as we could but finally got blocked by the too muddy trail (which was even dangerous).
Towards the second fall
We finally came 2 km back to reach a junction of the path (leading to one fall or the other one). We had a break a few meters after at a mirador from where we had a perfect view over the entire waterfall. It was just ideal for our picnic break.
The falls are 771 m high and the locals maintain that it is the third higher in the world… but they actually are the sixteenth… there is some exaggeration in the air! But in the end, no matter their ranking, the most important being the beauty of the place 😉
Once satisfied, we started the trail going to the second fall. A nice and steep slope going through the tropical jungle, which I really enjoyed hurtling down (but it was not the case of Dany that I had to wait quite a lot ^^).
A moment out of time
We then headed at a fast pace towards the village. I was fully enjoying these amazing landscapes we were walking through. As I was way ahead of Dany, walking lost in my thoughts, I suddenly felt like “called” by some birds. I stopped and looked up: I had the incredible chance to see six Gallitos de las rocas (Andean cock-of-the-rock), the emblem bird of Peru that is endangered. Dany had told me about it a bit before, telling me that it was possible to see some in the park.
This bird can be recognized by his red neck and head and his black body. I stayed still for about five minutes, admiring them flying from one tree to another. A suspended and unique moment for which I will always feel really grateful and filled with emotions…
By the time Dany arrived, the birds had unfortunately already left. Of course I didn’t take any picture, being way too absorbed by the magic of the instant. I put you a picture of it taken from Internet so to illustrate it 😉
We finished the last intense kilometres (nice slopes going up and down to kill us until the end) with a nice end of the day sun illuminating the waterfall in the background and the mountains all around. We were really spoiled by the weather, with no rain at all and this splendid sun in the end.
We arrived at the same time of four Peruvians that we had already crossed several times during the day. They had pulled up orchid plants and had a big bag full of them. I couldn’t help being shocked and asking them if it was authorized. They didn’t look worried about it but they were finally arrested at the village. I don’t know how the story ended (fee etc.) but I am glad they couldn’t get off lightly. If all the visitors did the same, the park would already be decimated!
Once on the village’s main square, we took some strength with homemade ice creams that came along just at the right time (I was precisely dreaming of it) and took a moto-taxi to go down the main road. We then came back to Chachapoyas at nightfall in the truck of a friendly deliveryman (but that we had to pay when we arrived, it was not real hitchhiking unfortunately!)
First getting some rest
Monday 17th December 2018
A day off that was necessary after these two intense hiking days. Sleeping, blogging, working on the photos and doing yoga, and nothing more to tell!
An epic trip to Kuelap
Tuesday 18th December 2018
Everybody kept on asking us if we had been to Kuelap since our arrival in Chachapoyas. Going to this region without visiting these ruins is like going to Cuzco without knowing Machu Picchu (or going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower!); in other words inacceptable!
But the problem was that some heavy rains and maintenance work made the visit more complicated. I wanted to climb there on foot from the village of Tingo (about a 4h-climb) but would have needed one day more to sleep in the village, even more as some work on the road force the visitors to go down in the beginning of the afternoon. And there’s a funicular that goes to the ruins but it happened to be close also for some maintenance. Let’s just say it was complex to go there on our own!
Dany had been looking for solutions the day before and the best and only way to get there seemed to be with an agency… they would drop us off about one hour from the ruins, we would finish on foot and do the tour with a guide. I am normally against the agencies in this trip but I finally had to accept (reluctantly) and left quite worried about this tour.
Our bus was full so I couldn’t help fearing the visit conditions! We started the ascent at the end of the morning on a very muddy road. It should be fine for me with my hiking shoes and short gaiters but most of the visitors would have some troubles because they had everything but the appropriate equipment for this kind of expedition!
The climb was quite epic but I was amused of it more than anything. We arrived at the ruins about one hour later, with some heavy rains making it even more difficult.La montée est plutôt épique mais je m’en amuse plus qu’autre chose. Nous arrivons aux ruines plus d’une heure plus tard, une bonne averse s’étant mêlée aux conditions déjà boueuses.
The fascinating ruins of Kuelap
Once on the site (the ascent didn’t take the same time for all the visitors, which occasioned a lot of waiting time in the end…), the group split in two, each going with one guide. I have to admit that visiting the ruins with a guide makes it quite different (I usually do some research before and after to understand what I have seen but it’s not the same than having some explanations on site).
This 6-ha fortress is located on a mountain 3 000 m above sea level and was built by the Chachapoyas civilization – which means “Men of the fog”. One can quickly understand why given the climate, always changing from clouds to fog, then rain, sun… in a few minutes. About 3 000 people could have been living in the village given the number of houses listed.
Dating from -500 before Jesus-Christ, this civilization was invaded by the Incas around 1 450 and some of them were even reduced to slavery (they would even have participated to the construction of Choquequirao as slaves). The Incas would also have lived and participated to the architecture of Kuelap fortress.
DNA traces show that the Chachapoyas may have had white skin and red hair, which could have come from Vikings origins… but how could they have arrived there?
About 40% of the site is known so far, so the excavations are still on-going and there is still a lot to discover and understand about this pre-Colombian civilization, which was relying on a barter economy.
The site itself is well preserved and deserves about two to three hours to be fully visited, even if I was expecting something even bigger. I nevertheless recommend its visit, which changes from the Inca ruins in the region of Cuzco.
An funny slippery descent
We left the ruins under some heavy rains and stopped for lunch break at a restaurant located a bit further down. It was already slippery and quite forewarning the rest of the descent that was waiting for us! The rain luckily stopped by the time we ate, and we then took some side roads to avoid the mud… but we still had to walk in tough conditions and it was funny to see everyone in the group eventually slipping and falling!
Of course I was part of it and came back with my buttock nicely brown; impossible to lie and try to hide my fall! 😉
We came back in the evening in Chachapoyas, more than ever looking forward to a nice warm shower. But water had been cut in the whole town since the afternoon! It finally came back around 20.30 so I was saved.
I don’t regret this excursion with the agency, as the guide’s explanations really gave an added value to the visit. And as the funicular was close, there were apparently less visitors on site. No pain no gain! The aspect that bothered me most were the visitors of the group that were much more worried about taking selfies in front of each stone… but this phenomenon is worldwide and unfortunately inevitable!
Separation and last days in Peru
Wednesday 19th December 2018
We split in the morning with Dany, who left back to Lima. I decided to stay one day more to wash my muddy clothes and keep the work on the blog. I then had two days of travel to Ecuador, where I had to arrive to start a new volunteering from Christmas.
To be continued…
Bus Cajamarca – Chachapoyas : 50 soles with Virgen del Carmen, dinner included. A night bus trip on pure mountain road. No space for the legs and quite uncomfortable.
Colectivo Chachapoyas – Gocta : 5 soles. Take a bus to Pedro Ruiz but tell the driver that you want to go to Gocta. He will drop you off at the beginning of the road going to San Pablo or Cocachimba, where you can go in moto-taxi.
Aventura Backpackers Lodge: 15 soles per night in a 4-bed dorm. Kitchen and hot showers available, with nice owners that give you good tips about the activities in the region. Highly recommendable!
Mirador Cañon Rio Sonche: 3 soles
Mirador Cañon de Huancaurco: 3 soles
Entry to Gocta Falls: 10 soles for the first fall, 10 soles more for the second one… but you can say that you just want to visit the first one and go on to the second without paying for it because there is no control once in the park.
Entry to Kuelap ruins: 20 soles
Tour with the agency Chachapoyas Trip Adventures: 55 soles including transportation, the entrance to the ruins and the tour with a guide. Add 10 soles more the lunch.