Northern Peru, Chachapoyas
I have been traveling in the last month across the north of Peru and I would like to recommend so much a travel experience I`ve had in this area.
I had heard a lot of Amazonas, Chachapoyas, Kuelap as a different nature and ancient cultures journey and really ,that was the best experience of my visit to Peru.
Casually, some travelers recommend me to visit Chachapoyas ,doing a tour of sustainable tourism with local communities without agency tours.
This travel experience has been the best trip of my life. I promised them to help showing more people know this way of travel across Chachapoyas.
The journey begins in the forest of giant waterfalls in Cuispes where recently there's have been found a waterfall of nearly 900 meters high. There, the Galok family (locals) have a lodge named La Posada Cuispes.
This place in the rain forest is an incredible paradise of waterfalls where few travelers arrive.
The Galok family helps travelers to get to Chachapoyas region cheaply, directly with communities of small villages. For example, I was contacted by the San geronimo community and visited some incredible Sarcophagus of the Chachapoyas culture, helped by the local people of this small town.
I also was contacted by the San Pablo community to get to the Gocta waterfall,this community also helped me.
Then I visited Kuelap, Huaylla Belen Valley and many other places, traveling without assistance from any agencies, just with advices of the Galok family from La Posada de Cuispes.
In this trip I felt the warmth of many people who received benefits from the sustainable tourism, and also visited many amazing places. The human experience have been the best that could happened to me in one of my journeys ever.
You can contact with Cuispes community here,
- Jungle and Rain Forest
- Adventure Travel
Cuispes and Yumbilla waterfalls
Yumbilla waterfall is 895.4 meters (2,937 feet) high and thus higher than Gocta waterfall, which is 771 meters (2,529 feet) high located in Cuispes, very near from Chachapoyas.
I’ve visited Yumbilla waterfalls six months ago and still I can feel the excitement of exploration which I’d experienced during my trip to the 5th tallest waterfalls in the world. Despite the fact that waterfalls are quite easy to reach (in a dry period) and a new hostel was built in a nearby village, there aren’t any tourists. In my opinion it is because of lack of information about Yumbilla and also because of great emphasis on Gocta waterfalls (Yumbillas smaller sister). On the other hand, I found that the absence of tourists going to Yumbilla is really an advantage, because you have an opportunity to live an adventure, to feel yourself like an explorer, to experience a very authentic feel of the cloud forest and the natural kindness of local people.
I didn’t know about Yumbilla’s existence until one old man whom I met in Chachapoyas market while eating a lunch told me about as he told “altiiiiiisima catarata” very high waterfall near Pedro Ruiz town. He told me that on a mountain behind Pedro Ruiz town there is a small village called Cuispes where I could find accommodation and further details on how to reach the waterfall. I rechecked info given by the man in google maps in local net café and it was true. So as I’ve been traveling without exact planning I decided to take a chance and try going to Cuispes in a search for a Yumbillas waterfall.
Pedro Ruiz is located on the most important road from Chachapoyas so it is relatively easy to get there (sometimes the road to Pedro Ruiz is closed due to the landslides). As I remember I paid 7 Soles going in a 5 seated car and in Pedro Ruiz I took a mototaxi to Cuispes for 10 Soles. As mototaxi starts crawling up to the mountain, incredible landscapes start to appear and 30 min ride does not seem anything else but entertaining.
I’ll never forget the view which I saw when I stepped got out of mototaxi in Plaza de Armas (central square) of Cuispes. Behind the little village aprox. 2 KM away, there was a huge ~300m tall and ~6km wide mountain wall (numbers calculated in google earth). I could also see two waterfalls pouring down from the top of the “wall”. This spectacular type of landscape which I’d never seen in South America before, made me feel like being near to a border with some mystical “fairytale world’’. And from that moment all my stay there had something what remembered me of dreaming a very deep dream.
In a central square of Cuispes I met Jarvik a young local man from Cuispes. He has studied agronomy in other town but came back to his village because he wants to help Cuispes to grow and make it more popular place between travelers. Jarvik and his family administrate the hostel called “La Posada de Cuispes”. He built hostel with his friend from Spain who loves Cuispes very much. The place is brand new, very cozy and the rooms are beautiful, it was really surprising to find such place in a totally non-touristic village. More information on the hostel you can find in a link here: https://www.facebook.com/laposadadecuispes. I arrived after the noon so it was already late to go on a trek to Yumbilla so I decided to walk around the village and prepare for tomorrows hike.
The more time I spent in cuispes, the more I loved it. The cows, donkeys, dogs, chickens and ducks were cruising al other the village, there were kids playing on the streets, people returning from the fields were smiling to me asking questions about me, my country, etc. In evening I ‘ve spente time chating with Jarvik. He told me the legends of Cuispes and another stories which in Cuispes are believed to be true. After the chat I enjoyed looking into incredibly bright night-sky.
In the morning I had an incredible breakfast with local fruits. Then about 8 o’clock i and Jarvik started climbing from Cuispes village towards the waterfall wall. For the first hour we were walking on a dirt road. Then we have entered the jungle and continued on a little path. It was very interesting to walk in a Jungle with Jarvik as he was showing a lots of different local medicinal plants plants and explaining how they are used to treat various diseases. The path through the jungle was very beautiful the hundred years old trees and founds of lianas looked amazing. Time to time the path went through open forest places from where we could see stunning landscapes of Cloud Forest. One hour before we reached Yumbilla we’ve found a very nice observation deck. This platform is on quite high and it is a great place to sit an enjoy calmness of jungle or watch how flocks of parrot flying disturb that calmness with they loud squealing. Later we had to cross under some waterfall that was very interesting. Finally after about three hours of easy walk by the jungle path we’ve reached Yumbilla.
It is always exciting to reach waterfalls , the more close you go the louder it becomes. And it was great to see Yumbilla world’s 5th tallest waterfall in front of you and just you (and Jarvik). I’ve been to Gocta, yes, it was impressive, but a jungle path leading to Gocta is full of another tourists and there is not so much authenticity left, whereas Yumbilla is so natural. It is impossible to explain the feeling of walking through the path with Jarvik, who sometimes helps with machete to clean the way, and finally reaching the waterfall in its natural environment.
We spent a while contemplating the waterfall had a snack and on the same day we managed to get back to Cuispes. On the way back I felt tired but very happy because of beautiful views I have seen and the stories I’ve heard from Jarvik during our walk. When we returned to La Posada, we had a nice diner and I went to sleep. In the morning I felt little sad to leave Cuispes and still sometimes today remembering my stay in Cuispes seems like beautiful dream.
- Jungle and Rain Forest
- Adventure Travel
LEMEYBAMBA: MUSEUM AT SAN MIGUEL
This museum holds the treasures found from the burial chullpas at Laguna de los Condores.
Note that there are over 200 mummies and a huge quantity of ceramics, textiles, wooden artefacts, and everyday objects found in this site which is near a beautiful lake in the jungle of this region.
What is interesting about the mummies is that many are wrapped in cloth and amusingly, some of them had faces drawn on the cloth (like using a black marker to draw a skeletonal funny face). I swear, it looks just like someone is pulling your leg.
To get to Lemeybamba to visit the museum is quite tricky. There is a microbus that leaves Chachapoyas in the afternoon 12-1pm (but there are lots of delays, as expected) which means you arrive at 4-5pm. The museum which is still a 5-min taxi ride away, closes at 5pm. So, if you hurry and arrive, you may be able to persuade the museum official to let you enter to visit it hurriedly.
The microbus back to Chachapoyas is an even greater mystery. When I booked it the evening before, various people told me the microbus would leave at 3am, 4am or 5am. So, whatever it is, just pack everything ready and try and be half-awake between these times and wait for the beeping of the horn when the microbus comes to collect you.
Gocta falls now opening
Gocta Falls, the third highest in the world, are now opening for Tourism. The falls were kept secret by the locals of this area because they feared an ancient curse if they revealed it's location. The falls are supposed to be protected by a white haired mermaid like spirit whos hair can be seen flowing down the massive U shaped walls at the bottom of the falls. The trail to the falls is reached via a one and a half hour ride from Chachapoyas on newly improved road that can accomodate 4 wheel drived vehicles. After reaching the small village of Cochachimba in the San Pablo district, a trail leads the intrepid traveler on a 3 to 5 hour tek to and from the falls. The falls appear on no map at this time and a guide is highly recommended. Although no formal equipment or training is required the trail is primitive, muddy and steep in many locations.
- Adventure Travel
Wow. just to be at a place so unseen and so spectacular was a highlight...to save time, we just took the trip through our hotel, think it was a bit overpriced, but it was the going rate, and we didn't want to spend 2 days hping to catch a taxi back...
The guide was sweet, they take turns from the 'town' so everyone gets to make a little money, and we had lots of broken spanish laughs. Hard hike for us lazy city folks, easy for those in average shape, but fun nontheless, and the falls speak for themselves.
Don't make it all the way to chachapoyas without this stop. And go to the one place that serves beer in the cheap market at the edge of Chacha. We were the first tourists to ever go there and drink (they were scared of us at first) but now they love them some drunken Gringos.
- Hiking and Walking
If you consult with the Tourist Information, there are actually countless other ruins and interesting sites, like Levanto, Laguna de los Condores, etc....
The problem is that they are all located spread out from Chachapoyas, about 2-3 hours away by car, and along terrible terrible terrible (and often, very dangerous) road conditions.
This means that to visit them, you have to form a group and share a taxi. The drive there plus the visit and the drive back means that it will take up 1 day for each sight.
Hence, you should find out loads of information and decide which are the ones to target for and arrange with your driver.
Karajia funerary site must be one of the most remarkable tombs you will ever come across... with the wooden-clay coffins still in their original location, set into an impressive cliff face!
Mummies wrapped in cloth were placed inside. The coffins were constructed of stone, wooden poles and slapped with clay. Interestingly, the statues are shaped like humans with a huge head.
Perched up in the cliff overlooking Utucubamba river, there used to be more than 20 such coffins (or so my guide told me). While seemingly impossible to reach, grave-robbers still managed to rappel down and make off with the coffins. Now, these few remaining ones are 'protected' by the villagers. I mean, there is no security guards, no alarm system, no barriers. The villagers just had to keep an eye on them.
How these coffins remain unscathed all these hundreds of years is nothing short of a miracle, considering how exposed they are. Think about the mummies entombed deep within multiple coffins and into burial chambers dug way down in the dry desert of Egypt. These are NOT like that at all.
But I supposed the Chachapoyans knew what they were doing and there must be a natural overhanging perch to shelter the coffins from the rain.
That's why you arrive awestruck, gaping with your mouth wide open, and you are most likely one of the few tourists to have made it as this part of Peru is much less accessible than others.
To get here, form a group and share a taxi. The drive is 2.5 hours long, through very windy and treacherous mountainous road, full of pot-holes and if it had been raining, argh... utterly muddy and wet. Very terrible.
From Cochane, you have to go on foot for another 2.5 hours through undulating hills and tranquil farms. And then, wow!! Highly recommended!!
Kuelap is a prime example of Chachapoyan architecture. The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, were a group of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region.
The Kuelap fortress is located at the summit of a hill at the altitude of more than 3,000m above sea level. It is made up of massive stone walls that curved around. The reason for the curved walls is because a straight wall can collapse easily during earthquakes, but a curved wall is more stable.
Imagine holding a piece of rectangular strip of cardboard, it falls down if it is straight, but if you compress it such that it is wavy, it is less likely to fall down.
From its massize size, Kuelap's construction needed a lot of effort, its complexity surpassed other archaeological structures in the Americas in size. The structure is almost 600m long and its walls, 19m high.
The fortress has very narrow entrances and to enter it, one needs to climb up a narrow flight of stone-steps. This naturally means that any enemy entering will be knocked down in one fell swoop when he arrives, panting heavily (considering also the high altitude), at the top.
There are more than four hundred buildings within. These constructions inside are mainly cylindrical, with pointy grass roofs (which no longer exist, of course). The decorated walls have friezes that seem to symbolise eyes or birds (like V-shapes, or multiple elongated diamonds enclosed within one another).
Get a group to share a taxi to take you here.
It is possible to take a microbus. Near the market around Jr Libertad and Jr Ortiz Arrieta, you can hear some guys calling out 'Kuelap, Kuelap'. Try to get there early in the morning, before 8 or 9am to confirm the time. The microbus will take you to Kuelap and even wait for you before it embarks on the return trip. Check time with the driver. Note that this is a regular microbus for locals, so along the way, it will stop for passengers.
The waterfalls at Pedro Ruiz. The Gocta is thought to get its name from "gota", water drop, but nobody really knows the origen. The Gocta is the third tallest waterfall in the world, 770 something meters above sea level, and with its two tier fall allows you to see the entire waterfall from the very bottom, take a bath in the second tier, or see it from the very top. Each walk takes about 1.5 - 2 hours and you have to pay a small fee to the city that hosts the walk which will provide you with a guide. Really easy trail and quite nice. If you go early enough you might be able to see some rainforest fauna, such as the gallito de las rocas y el mono cola amarilla.
- Road Trip
Being here will make you understand why the took the name of Chachapoyas, cloud people.
Not really a fortress but a city, Kuelap is thought to have nested around 4000 people in its more than 400 individual constructions. Chachapoyas was not a culture per say but more a fusion of different tribes fighting against a single enemy, the Incas, and it is in Kuelap where you see the fusion. We can see different types of constructions, different ornaments & motives (see pictures), etc. On its different levels, 3 of them total, a distinct social status can be observed. Some people, however, think that Kuelap wasn't home to the Chachapoyas, but more of a place where people could look for refuge in case of a war and that most of its buildings were dedicated as warehouses for food. Some points to look here are the needlepoint entrance, which makes it easier to defend the entrance to the fortress with just a few people and the placement of the fortress against a (practically) cliff, with its towers as sentinels.
Your admission fee (around US$ 4 in 2006) gets you a guide.
A few hours by car out of Chachapoyas are the Karajia sarcophogii perched on a mountainside. There is a small museum in the town next to the site that was unfortunately closed when we visited. However, my tour guide went to the trouble of emailing me photos and descriptions of the displays inside the museum after I got home from my trip! The drive alone was well worth the trip with spectacular views of the northern andes.
- Hiking and Walking
- Budget Travel
One of the best day trips from Chachapoyas (in my humble opinion of course) is to visit Kuelap. This is a pre-incan fortress up on top of a mountain (kind of like that southern neighbour, Machu Picchu) only without the massive tourist infrastructure. If you've made it as far as Chachapoyas, you're also capable of making it to Kuelap, just arrange your transportation in town and bring some seat cushions if you value your bottom.
Kuelap gave me a real lost-city feeling considering we were the only people visiting the entire complex that day. The remote location keeps you well off the beaten track and is extremely relaxing if you've battled the crowds at Machu Picchu. The site guardian can provide a tour or you can wander through yourself with a small guidebook available for purchase in several languages. The entrance fee is 11 soles and goes to the Instituto Nacional de Cultura Amazonas to fund further excavations and restorations.
- Adventure Travel
Plaza de Armas
La Plaza de Armas is the term used in most of Peru to designate the main plaza in town. Chachapoyas' plaza de Armas is a lovely town square in the center part of town. I loved this plaza. I loved spending the afternoon people watching.
The entrance to Chachapoyas and your departure point to Laguna de los Condores. Unfortunately because of time I couldnt visit it (requires 3 days there and back) but ill pdate you on it when i do it.
- Road Trip
- Budget Travel
Quite nice scenery ... just 10 km north of Chachapoyas. A 4 hour walk in total - or you can take a taxi from Chachapoyas.
- Hiking and Walking